Sermon, March 31, 2019
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15: 1-3; 11b-32
Excuse Me, Did You Know Him? “The Ring”
Here we are mid-lent and it calls for a bit of a celebration because lent can be a challenging time for, we who journey to the cross with Jesus. Challenging because we hear the Pharisees grumbling about this fellow who welcomes sinners and eats with them and we know where this leads. The people don’t know who Jesus really is and frustratingly, Jesus calls himself a prophet, a rabbi, a son of man.
We who have read the back of the book, so to speak, know what is ahead. Good Friday isn’t the last chapter. I’m looking forward to Easter more so this Lent because I have been with you on this Lenten journey. We know resentment is all around Jesus, and we know God has the last word.
Anyway, I digress for we are still on a journey to Jerusalem. Our journey continues as Jesus meets the tax collectors and sinners as they draw near to him and as the Pharisees grumble and point to Jesus’ faults known to them alone. Parables are a wonderful way to explain something and Jesus uses them often. In this parable, it was not so much the value of the ring the father gives the Prodigal, although very likely it was the most precious possession the family had in both the monetary and sentimental senses of the word. It was the betrayal the brother felt at the gift. I can totally understand where he was coming from. I cared for my parents in their old age and my brother came and swept my inheritance away to Arkansas. I understand the anger and the betrayal that a sibling can bring to a relationship with the Father.
Jesus is speaking to tax collectors and sinners who are marginalized in society and even shunned by self-satisfied and smug, rigidly religious people. The Pharisees are unable and incapable of hearing Jesus’ radical message of God’s acceptance of sinners.
How do we bring our life into the parable and what is Jesus trying to teach the sinners and tax collectors? How do we bring ourselves into the parable? Religious smugness may be the worst kind of sin, I’m thinking, and the Pharisees are forever lurking in the background gathering fuel for the crucifixion. The parable is trying to tell us about a God who has an all-encompassing love, forgiveness and calls us to ever-pursue this love of God. Neither son in the story, originally has a real relationship with the father (who is depicted as God). The younger son views the father as a source from which he can derive sufficient funds to live as a prodigal who by the way, is an addict to wasteful living; extravagance, bountiful and lavish living. He treats the father as if already dead and takes his father’s goodness for granted and abuses him. I know this action to be true to many who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Ones focus is only on how to feed the habit.
The elder son can relate to his father only in a sense of being duty-bound. He feels more like a slave than a son. He has never really experienced the love and generosity of his father having these duty-bound feelings that are really his own. Many might understand the relationship of the sons and the way that they relate to God, the Father. Is that what Jesus is telling us in the parable? For they probably didn’t have a true sense of who God is for them only a duty-bound one or a gimme, gimme relationship. Perhaps God is calling them and we who hear, away from having a distant unknown relationship to a close intimate relationship.
The younger son came to himself as he pondered the reality of the person of his father. We can hear in the parable that God’s goodness means we are forgiven and invited to celebrate with God a new and loving relationship. Moreover, we can stand with the older son, overly secure in the knowledge of our faithfulness in service to God. Some could see themselves as not in need of God’s grace at all, thinking they do not sin. God calls us into the joyful arms of the father having a new sense of God’s goodness. We might stand apart from God either as a sinner like the younger son or as religiously superior as the elder son. Neither is a comfortable place for me. If I say, no not me, I don’t sin, then I am putting myself in a superior place like the elder son. Lent is about making us squirm in our seat. Lent is about God wanting a new relationship characterized by joy rather than greed or mere duty.
The parable has more to offer than anger over the ring. If we live long enough to have found ourselves ‘lost’ ourselves — perhaps more than once — and if we are fortunate, like the younger son, to have been ‘welcomed home’ with open arms. If we have children of our own who have certainly experienced their own hearts being broken and as beloved children have found ways to get themselves lost and (hopefully) found again. Our hope for them would be that while we may see ourselves in the ‘older son,’ we might also recognize that he was as ‘lost’ — maybe more so — than his younger brother ever was. And that the great yearning of this parable is that we might allow ourselves to be ‘welcomed home’ as well.
For we know this is so, don’t we? One can surely get ‘lost in place.’ One does not have to travel far distances or squander huge fortunes to be as ‘lost’ in our relationship to one another and God as was the younger son in the parable. Only because it is less obvious if you are ‘lost’ in this way, you may never even have to admit it. And never admitting it? You also never know the wonderful ‘grace’ of being found. Of coming home again. And so, it would seem that the younger brother in the story is the fortunate one for he has experienced the wondrous grace of the ‘welcome home.’ Some among us can see ourselves in him. But for many, I expect, we are more like that older brother whose ‘end of the story’ is still untold. And Jesus journeys on…. Amen.