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Lent 4C RCL March 14, 2010

Lent 4C RCL March 14, 2010

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

In today’s lesson from the Hebrew scriptures, specifically the Book of Joshua, the people Israel celebrate their first Passover in the promised land. Their wilderness wanderings are over. They will settle in their new home. The people recount their history and remember how much God has helped them and guided them through all their challenges. The manna now ceases and they begin to live from the produce of their new land. God’s generous providence has brought them to this point.

It has often been said that the parable of the Prodigal Son should be called the parable of the prodigal father. The expectation was that the younger son and his older brother would run the farm together. When the younger son asks for his part of the inheritance, he is breaking up the family’s legacy. When he actually spends the money, he is acting as if his father were already dead. The level of selfishness and destructiveness is almost impossible to describe.
He sinks as low as anyone can sink. For a Jew to be tending pigs and eating their food means that he is associating himself with unclean animals which cause him to be ritually unclean. He has gone as low as anyone can go.

And then comes that line. “But when he came to himself.” Sin and selfishness are like that. Sin takes us away from our true self, the person that God calls us to be. “When he came to himself.” Lent is about this. Lent is about coming to ourselves. Lent is about cutting through all our dodges and defenses and rationalizations and seeing our sin, the ways in which we have allowed ourselves to be separated from God, from other people, and from our true self, the ways in which we have failed to respect others and to take God’s promises seriously.

It is not easy to do an honest inventory of the state of our souls. In fact, it is extremely difficult. This is why we have this parable. If we attempt to look at the horror of the brokenness which our sins, individual and corporate, create, without the sure and certain knowledge of God’s unconditional love toward us, we would all go into bottomless depression. This parable assures us that God is waiting for us at the end of the driveway even before we get there. We have not even given our accounting and owned up to all out thoughtless foolishness and uncaring and lack of trust before God wraps us in a hug that says, “I’m so glad you’re back. I missed you so much,” and then throws a party.

We would not be able to confess; we would not be able to come to ourselves and look at what we do if it were not for God’s loving care.

Let’s look at the older son for a moment. He represents the Jews, who have followed the law all these centuries, and now comes this Jesus turning everything upside down and extending salvation to everyone, even tax collectors and sinners and drug addicts. When we read the gospels and the text refers to the Jews, we might insert the term “The Good Church People.” The Good Church People were upset that Jesus was associating with people on the margins of society.

I think that we know that we are the younger brother. We know that we have sinned. But we need to realize that there are parts of us that can be like the older brother—you know, those self-righteous parts of us. Here I am, trying to lead a good life and do the right thing, but what’s the use if God is going to go out and scour the countryside and bring in all these social undesirables to attend the feast? There’s an older brother inside every one of us. And he breaks up the family legacy just as much with his legalism and smug, closed attitude.

God is bringing to birth a new creation. Everyone is welcome. Rich and poor, young and old, black, white, red, yellow, people who can run the four minute mile and people who are in wheelchairs, sanitation workers and CEO’s.

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away. Part of being in Christ is taking a long, hard honest look at the ways in which we have squandered God’s love and head home asking for God’s help to get back on track. We can’t do it alone. We need God’s grace, and we are called to open our hearts and lives to that grace.

In this whole process of opening up to God, getting honest with God and with ourselves, owning up to who we really are, it makes a huge difference, I think, to picture God, knowing exactly what the reality is, loving us in the midst of that reality, rejoicing that at last we have seen the light, overjoyed that we are coming home, and waiting there, arms wide open.
Amen