Fourth Sunday in Lent
God reaches out with open arms
- Psalm 32 “While I kept silence my body wasted away…”
- 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21 Christ is our reconciliation…ministry of reconciliation
- Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Parable of the prodigal sons
Beginning with “Good News” – or “bad News”
Every Sunday is a “Little Easter” in which we acknowledge and celebrate the Risen Christ. So there is always “Good News” in worship. But going to Jerusalem with Jesus can seem like bad news. Lent sometimes feels like it is primarily “bad news” as we journey with Jesus — knowing what the disciples did not know – this journey leads to Jerusalem leads to a cross!
On this 4 th Sunday in Lent and 4 th anniversary of the war in Iraq, we let the scriptures present boundless “Good News” in the midst of endless “bad news.”
Breaking Silence and Living Joy — Psalm 32
The Psalmist, in chapter 32, tells us that there is joy in God’s forgiveness from our sin. That is good news. The Psalmist also tells us to confess the bad news of our sin. The Psalmist goes on to tell us that there is no sin God will not forgive. That is truly good news. The Psalmist then tells us the bad news that our silence is sin and that sinful silence starves our body and soul.
While I kept silence , my body wasted away…. (32:3)
Silence is sin when our silence in word and deed acquiesces to the forces of oppression and injustice that harm God’s people and creation and does not interfere with or resist theses forces. Our silence may harm another body even when we don’t know or deny it. When it does we are harmed and our body too “wastes away.”
Our response to the sin of silence is confession. God’s response is forgiveness. The fruit of breaking silence and taking action is joy: Be glad…rejoice…shout for joy sings the Psalmist (James Waltner, Psalms , BCBC, 170.)
With the Psalmist we break silence and live joyfully – which is to live the “good news.”
God’s Cosmic Ministry of Reconciliation — 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
The words of the Apostle Paul in chapter 5 of his second letter to the Christians at Corinth are the “Good News” of Jesus Christ in a nutshell. None of Paul’s writings surpass these words in “lyrical grandeur, cosmic scope, theological depth, and emotional appeal….Paul’s Christian conviction shines through with the brilliance of the North Star on a clear night: God has acted in Christ to re-create the world and restore humankind to a right relationship with the divine” (V. George Shillington, 2 Corinthians , BCBC, 126).
So if anyone is in Christ , there is a new creation : everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to God’s self through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation ; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to God’s self , not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
God is redeeming the cosmos – the world – in Christ, making Christ the reconciler par excellence. Jesus Christ not only reconciles us to God but gives us this ministry of reconciliation. Thus we are new creatures – a new creation . That is truly “Good News!”
Our Anabaptist forbearers made much of this scripture. Pilgrim Marpeck spoke of it as God’s work re-creating Christ-followers into Christ’s character and making them minister’s of Christ’s reconciling liberating grace (Shillington, 140) .
In other words, we are to be Jesus in and for the world ; that is to be the Body of Christ.
We have no greater calling and commitment. That too is “good news.”
Jesus & Sinners & “Prodigal Sons” as Good News: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Paul and the Psalmist bring us to the truth of Jesus and the God of Jesus. Nowhere is that more brilliantly summed then here in this parable at the heart of Luke’s Gospel.
One of the great biblical scholars of our day, Kenneth Bailey has spent most of the past 40 years in the Middle East studying and teaching Luke’s Gospel, specifically the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Once in Jerusalem and once at our annual Biblical Storytelling event, I have heard Kenneth Bailey talk about this Parable at greater length and more passionately than anything I have ever heard anyone say about it. He told me that he has studied everything in every language that has found on the Prodigal Son.
A testimony to the Truth of the Bible as the Living Word of God , is that we can mine these words forever and still not know all their mystery and truth and at the same time, we can hear the Word however simply and let it live within us. We are going to do the later because we don’t have the next 40 years to spend with this one parable.
We would do well to spend 40 days with it! Six years ago we did spend 4 Sundays with the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Today’s encounter with Jesus begins with good religious folk grumbling and accusing Jesus of “welcoming sinners and eating with them!” That accusation, far from being unfaithful and forbidden, sums up the Gospel: “Welcome sinners and eat with them.”
Jesus was living a life of healing, humility and hospitality in faithful obedience to the will of God. He had just told the Parable of the Great Dinner. Much of Jesus life and ministry takes place at the table, especially in Luke’s Gospel. Read Luke and note where Jesus eats and who he eats with and you will get to the heart of the Gospel.
When Jesus hears their indignant accusation that he “welcomes sinners and eats with them,” he doesn’t accuse them back or even argue with them. Instead he tells stories – two short stories about a lost sheep and lost coin and then a longer story about two lost sons. The Prodigal Son is misnamed; it is about two sons, not just one son.
The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan are the two longest and best known parables Jesus told. Without the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan, “Christianity would be something different” (Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel , 127).
In a religious climate of propriety and purity, the oldest son is primary heir to the father’s inheritance. This younger son commits an unpardonable offense. He demands inheritance from a living father. In effect he said to his father, “Drop dead and give me what will be mine when you die.” He adds injury to offense by taking it all and running away from home to a foreign land and blowing it all on “loose living.” We’re not told what “loose living” is – but it is like pornography that we don’t know how to define but “we know it when we see it.”
Pitifully penniless the younger son finds himself in a pigsty with nothing to eat but pods of pig food. In the pig pen he “came to himself” and realized that he would be better off as a hired hand of his father than living in this silent starving disgrace. On the long road home he rehearsed how to plead his pitiful case to his father.
What happened when he came home?
What did it mean for his father to be watching and run to meet him?
Father runs out to greet him, won’t listen to his feeble plea and throws a huge celebration. The offending son is welcomed home to a feast.
The elder son chose to live in squandering silence “far, far away from home!” The older son chose to live in resentful silence right at home! Both the younger and the older son were living a body and soul killing silence. “Staying-at-home” ways of being “good” is often as deadly as “straying-from-home” ways of being “bad.” And returning home, even without a pure heart, is more faithful than staying at home with a resentful heart.
But this parable is less about two silent sullen sons than it is about God. God is waiting to run and meet us and welcome us home to the table of celebration. We are all a son or daughter of our God of limitless love and boundless mercy. God created you and watches for you and seeks you and runs to meet you if you but turn to God and return home. “Everyone’s son [or daughter] will do.”
Michael Bade wrote a song called “Anyone’s son will do” that he will sing for us. Listen to the words of this song as Micheal sings it and hold that image of anyone’s son [or daughter] used for “cannon fodder” in stark contrast to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Micheal Bade singing “Anyone’s Son Will Do”……………
Anyone’s son will do It doesn’t matter who
They’ll wrap you in the flag and new pair of boots
And while you’re out there dyin, They’re the ones high flying
God too sings, “Anyone’s son [or daughter] will do” Every son or daughter is somebody.
It is the polar opposite of Uncle Sam pointing at you and saying “Uncle Sam wants you!”
This uncle is not the father of two sons of this parable.
There is another song in our Hymnal that has been singing in me this week. It is a song I grew up with but that I never really heard until three years ago when Ken Nafziger led our worship with “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” as the theme song.
Hymnal: A Worship Book # 145 There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice, Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.
But we make God’s love too narrow By false limits of our own;
And we magnify its strictness With a zeal God will not own.
For the love of God is broader Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple we would rest upon God’s word, And our lives would be illumined by the presence of the Lord.
Breaking Silence, Coming Home to God
There are many ways “we make God’s love too narrow.” One way is the silence of running “far far from home” with God. Another is to remain silently and sullenly “at home” while trying to constrain God’s love from the “other” whom we consider to be not as pure as me.
On this Sunday we call Peace Sunday – every Sunday is “peace Sunday” if Jesus’ life death and resurrection means anything – our hearts are heavy knowing that it is also the fourth anniversary of a war laden with lies, deception and death.
One year ago today 3 of the members of Christian Peacemaker Teams held captive in Baghdad – James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, and Norman Kember were freed after 118 days of captivity. Their colleague and ours, Tom Fox was killed on March 9 a year ago. Also four years ago this morning I was on the way to Baghdad to join CPTers.
Almost a half century ago, none other than a US military general-become-president, Dwight Eisenhower, warned citizens of this nation about the danger of being a “military-industrial complex.” [Quote]. His warning has largely been ignored.
Today our nation reigns as empire by economic and military domination. More than half our tax dollars toward making war. The United Sates spends more to make war than the next 42 nations combined.
At 8:00 this morning I checked the “Cost of Iraq War” website to find that we have spent $409,298,958,885 on this illegal and immoral war – that’s two billion dollars a week! And these are above budget dollars not even counted in the $400 billion of our tax dollars spent every year on making war.
Does that not call for our response? I hear Jesus’ parable this morning as a call to “break silence” and return home to God in faithful living. Does it not call us to stop our complicity with the war-making machine and in some way say “No” to making war in our name and in God’s name? Are we the younger offend-father-and-run-away-from-home-in-silence son? Or are we the elder stay-at-home-safe-sullen-silent son?
Is not “war tax resistance” one way to concretely say “No” to war? It is time to break the silence. It is time to “get in the way of war.” It is time to interfere with financing the military-industrial complex that we depend upon and that is destroying the world.
You are invited to join a conversation about war tax resistance over lunch in the adult study room.
In a moment the members of our Peace and Justice Committee will lead us in a prayer of confession and commitment with ways to respond. Let us sit for moment in prayerful silence pondering God’s Word and Jesus’ parable before Michael Bade leads us in the song “If the war goes on.” Please turn to Sing the Journey page # 66 and have that ready as we sit in silence.