Since the start of the year, the Monday morning Bible Study group has been reading one of my all time favorite books: Good news of Jesus. Now to be honest, the book could really be summed up in the first chapter--God loves you and forgives you NO MATTER WHAT. And for the most part, , we could sit back and live in that abundance of love and forgiveness and really never have to be concerned with the things of the world for the rest of our lives. But the fact is we’re human, and we mess it up, so we have to be reminded repeatedly.
The chapter the group is currently working on uses the parable of the Prodigal Son as an example. Bill’s point is that if we expect God to be FAIR, then we’re going to be disappointed. The fact is: God isn’t “FAIR”--God gives us love and forgiveness unconditionally, abundantly, NO MATTER WHAT. It isn’t about what we deserve, about our success, or about how “good” we are. God just gives because God loves us...and sometimes that’s really, really hard to accept.
In the gospel from Luke, we encounter the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling because Jesus is welcoming and eating with sinners. They are grumbling because they’ve lost sight of their relationship to these folks. They are grumbling because instead of seeing children of God, they see what’s wrong with the person—“the sinner”. They are grumbling because they are driven by pride, jealousy, anger and self-righteousness. But Jesus is a man of grace and compassion, and so instead of scolding the Pharisees and scribes for their grumbling, he tells everyone a story.
Most of us are familiar with the parable of the Prodigal Son. At some point in our lives, for better or worse, we’ve probably identified as each of the three characters—the young son who left home and comes back begging forgiveness, the older son who has stayed home and is resentful about the welcome his younger brother was extended, and the generous and loving father who welcomes his son home.
We don’t like to admit it when we’ve behaved like the older son, but the truth is, we’ve all done it at some point. So why is it that the older son can’t be happy for his brother’s return and his father’s welcome?
Perhaps it’s because he assumed the worst about his brother and he was driven by his anger, pride, jealousy and self-righteousness. And these are all expressions of fear. He is afraid that if his brother is welcomed home, there won’t be enough room for him, he won’t have a place in the house, that he won’t be loved anymore. Like the Pharisees and scribes, he is afraid that if Jesus welcomes the “other” then there won’t be room for them in God’s kingdom.
How often have we felt that same kind of fear in our lives? The fear that if we welcome the “other”—the homeless man, the immigrant woman, the gay couple—that we will somehow lose our place?
But God’s love and grace don’t work like that. Every time God’s love and healing reaches out to welcome the “other”, we are not diminished; there isn’t less for us, but more! So wait, how does that work? Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Anna, the math doesn’t add up”.
Here’s how it works…
God’s love and grace are based in God’s reconciliation with humanity and all creation. Because God is reconciled with us through Christ, we become, as 2nd Corinthians tells us, “ambassadors for Christ”…in other words, we become instruments of reconciliation. So as we have been reconciled with God, as we reconcile with others, as we act as an extension of God’s love and reconciliation, we only multiply God’s healing in the world…not take away from it. .
The only way this is not a “winning” situation for us is if we chose NOT to receive or extend God’s love and reconciliation. When we aren’t actively working towards reconciliation, actively working towards re-membering the body of Christ in the world, then we are diminishing the Kingdom of God in our midst. Or as Bill writes: “if we say ‘no’ to God’s forgiveness, we are saying that we want some other kind of relationship with God and the world--probably a relation based on what we deserve rather than what God freely gives.” (p59)
Charlene Spretnak wrote, “all forms of life are composed of relationships and function in dynamic relationship with everything else…Nothing exists in isolation” (Kindle location, 377-380).
This idea that “nothing exists in isolation” is not really a new idea. I think we’ve all known that for a long time…even if we didn’t “know” it. When we were created, God intended us to be in loving relationship and communion with God, each other and creation. And yet, we sometimes forget that and end up being angry, unhealthy and detached. We become more focused on ourselves than on our community.
So this is a great parable for Lent, and an invitation into the final weeks of Lent to prayerfully examine which relationships need to be reconciled in our lives. As a matter of fact, reconciliation is what Lent is all about, and why confession is so important…it can help us move into a place of healing and well-being, so that we can be a new creation, so that we can be resurrected in Christ.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is, I believe, a saint. His work on reconciliation has been life-altering for so many wounded and broken people in the world. On the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation he said, “without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals…” Without forgiveness we exist in isolation. Without forgiveness, we are not as God had intended us to be.
Let us pray:
Holy God, Word Shaper: you are not our accountant, but our lover; you are not angry at us, but you forgive us; you are not our enemy, but the One who runs towards us with wide open arms,throwing steaks on the grill to celebrate our newness!
Jesus Christ, Shaper of our story: you travel to that distant country called our sin to bring us home once again; you share your inheritance with us so we might be blessed; you know the famine of our spirits and fill it with your hope.
Holy Spirit, Life Shaper: surrounded by your grace, we offer glad cries of salvation; encircled by your constant love, we shout for joy; enclosed in your comforting arms, nothing can overwhelm us.
God in Community, Holy in One, from now on we will remember our life in you: Broken, we are made whole; lost, we are brought home; empty, we are filled with songs of gladness.
We rejoice and give thanks to God who has graced us with mercy. Amen.
(adapted from Thom M. Shuman’s blog Lectionary Liturgies http://lectionaryliturgies.blogspot.ca/2013/03/fourth-sunday-in-lent-c.html)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.