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Lent 4C RCL March 6, 2016

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Corinthians 5: 16-21
Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

In our opening reading today, Moses has died and God has called Joshua to lead God’s people. They have crossed the River Jordan and have reached the promised land. They celebrate their first Passover in their new home. They have escaped their slavery in Egypt and they are now free. They will no longer need the heavenly manna that has sustained them, for they will be enjoying the produce of their new land. In this lesson, we hear the important themes of freedom from slavery, new beginnings, and, of course, God’s generosity and guidance and love for all of us.

Our gospel for today is the beloved parable of the prodigal son. Some people call it the parable of the lost son because it follows the parable of the lost sheep whose shepherd left the ninety-nine other sheep and searched until he found the lost one. It also follows right after the parable of the lost coin. The housewife searched and searched until she found it. Some people call this the parable of the loving father or the generous father.

Although this story is familiar, every time we hear it we can see it in a new way. We can identify with the younger son in that we, too, have made some unwise decisions in our lives and have asked God’s forgiveness. We can also identify with the older son in situations when we feel that our loyalty has been taken for granted and we have not received enough recognition for our hard work. We can also identify with the father when we think of all that we have done for our children.

The younger son asks for his inheritance and he goes to a far country and spends it all. He ends up feeding pigs, which, for a Jewish young man is terrible because pigs are unclean and now he is considered unclean. He comes to himself. We have all had experiences like this. We go off on a tangent and make a series of bad choices, and one day we realize that this is not who we want to be. This is not our real and true self. This is not who God is calling us to be.

The younger son goes home to ask his father for forgiveness.  His father is out there at the end of the driveway waiting for him with open arms. There is a feast because this son was lost and now is found. When one of us finds our way back, there is great joy in heaven.

The older son is fuming and he tells his father what is on his mind. “Here I have slaved and slaved for you and you never so much as let me have a party with my friends. Now you’re throwing a big wing ding for this son who has spent our family’s money.”

And then the father says the thing that tells us so much. “Son, I know that you have been with me always and you have worked very hard. Everything that I have is yours. This feast is for you, too. But we have to celebrate because your brother is now found.”

It’s a both-and. It’s not that the feast is just for the younger brother. It is a continuous feast for all of us in the Communion of Saints, and it is also a feast for those who have gone way off the path and have returned. It is a feast for those who have been faithful from the word go and all the rest of us who have made mistakes along the way.

Saint Paul addresses some of this when he writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view.” He knows what he is talking about because when he did regard things from a human point of view, he thought that anyone who did not follow the law and anyone who was not part of the in-group should be killed. That is why he went around persecuting the followers of Jesus.

But then he met our Lord on the road to Damascus and Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  Scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he saw the world in an entirely different way. He saw the world from the point of view of Christ. And that is why he can write, with stirring conviction, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new!” Now I know that just because my father gives a feast for my brother who lost his way does not mean that I don’t get a feast, too. God is incredibly generous, loving, and inclusive.

God is reaching out to everyone in a spirit of reconciliation. and God is calling us to carry out the ministry of reconciliation.

But there is an important point to keep in mind. If Saul had not listened to Jesus, if he had continued on his destructive path, we would never have had this letter to read.  If the younger son had not come to himself and repented and turned back toward God and gone home to confess his destructive behavior which affected not only his family but all the workers on his father’s land and all the folks in the surrounding area who depended on his father for their livelihoods; if we humans do not come to our true selves and acknowledge our destructive behavior, and confess it with a sincere intention to change our behavior, there is no reconciliation possible. It is a two-way street. There are people who do all kinds of destructive things to other people and have no idea of the damage they are doing. They think they are doing just fine. Their chances of true repentance and full commitment to changing their behavior are small.

Most of us in this sacred place right now are somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. We are acutely aware of our errors and are genuinely pained by our sinfulness.  We sincerely confess, and we truly want to change. We know we need God’s help. The parable of the prodigal or lost son is for us. We feel so distressed and sad about our sins that it is easy for us to feel hopeless. This is why, especially during this season of self-examination and repentance and metanoia, conversion, we need to hear this parable.

God is out there at the end of the driveway waiting for us to come home—home to God, home to our best and truest self, home to the human family, home to the feast of forgiveness and new life. God is waiting to wrap us in a big hug and welcome us home to the awareness that God’s love and healing are far bigger and deeper than we could ever imagine and that we are welcome to God’s infinite and eternal feast.  Amen.

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