Joshua 5:9-12;Psalm 32;2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
March 31, 2019 –Fourth Sunday in Lent
March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Christ comes into Jerusalem like a lion and goes out like a lamb.
But this is the rarest of creatures we can behold: a lion who is like a lamb. He submits and he roars. He roars and he submits.
In his submission, like a lamb, we hear him roar like a lion. In this one divine…human…being the lion lies down with the lamb.
When God’s will is done, when the Kingdom of Heaven shall come, Jesus Christ the Lion and Jesus Christ the Lamb shall be one.
We are in the middle of Lent, the fourth Sunday of seven in Lent. If the season has an arc to it, we are at the top of the arc.
At the top of the arc we are at the height of our powers…which means we are as needy as even of humility.
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble,
When you’re perfect in every way.
I can’t wait to look in the mirror,
‘Cause I get better lookin’ each day.
To know me is to love me.
I must be a heckuva man.
O Lord, it’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doin’ the best that I can.
We deal with birth order today. We reflect on our sense of entitlement. We ask if entitlement and being first entitles us to a claim of entitlement simply because of who we are.
We also ask if being second justifies a sense of injustices entitles in us and to a sense of even greater entitlement.
Are you entitled to anything? We are in a season calling us to repentance. It is an act of spiritual cleansing, if we can do it.
It is when we suddenly understand the value of something we have lost, carelessly, due to unjustified presumption, that we can truly repent.
So we read this morning, in the middle of this season of repentance, the parable of the Prodigal Son. As you can see, we read a few verses then jump eight verses to get to the story.
The Pharisees are complaining here that he is hanging out with bad people. Anyone who hangs out with the down and outers, they are arguing, is of no account himself.
But Jesus tells thee stories about finding that which is lost, and with these stories he says, “Don’t watch where I am hanging out without also seeing what I am doing.”
He tells about a shepherd with 100 in his flock. His job is to watch over them, to keep them safe, and to equip them and encourage them to thrive.
One of the sheep slips away from the flock. Does the shepherd say, “Oh, well? There are still plenty left?”
No. He goes and finds the one who is lost. He calls his friends and asks them to celebrate with him. He is happier at having found a sheep that is lost than he is about one who has remained with the flock.
Then he tells about a woman living alone…which was taking your life in your hands, for a woman in those days. She loses a small coin. It is only one small coin, but she lights a lamp and sweeps the whole house to find it.
When it is found, she calls her friends together to celebrate with her because she feels better about having found a lost coin than she would have if she had known where it was all along.
One of my Course of Study summers when I was staying with my sister in Virginia, they lent me a silver Honda Accord to drive across the District of Columbia every day and back.
One day, many of us went to National Cathedral to complete a homework assignment. It started to rain just as I pulled up and we had to park a little bit away before we ran in to complete the checklist.
When we came back out, we couldn’t find the car. We got in another student’s car and drove around National Cathedral for two hours.
My fellow students started praying, I had to stick the key in every silver Honda Accord parked around the Cathedral…and then we had to admit defeat and drive back.
I was upset and stifling my emotions. When the driver went up the wrong road, I didn’t say anything for fear of what my voice might sound like.
There, at the end of the wrong road, where we all knew we would have to turn around and go back… was my brother in law’s silver Honda Accord.
Deb said, “Wrong road. Have to turn around.” I said, “There it is.”
We all celebrated. We were happier than we would have been if I had never … misplaced … the car. When we knew we were headed in the wrong direction, it was soon obvious what the right direction was. We must never quit looking.
Now…remember that Jesus is rebutting an accusation that he is hanging out with people he should be staying away from…people belong his class…if he is the Messiah.
So now he tells a story about, what? About the Prodigal Son? No, that is what we know the parable as, but it is not about a wayward youth who gets lost in youth and suffers terrible consequences on themselves and on their family.
It is not just that any more than it is an admonition to not be judgmental like the older son, who could expect a double inheritance, the father’s blessing, and a more responsible job, a bigger house and more money.
That may have been what triggered the younger brother’s hopelessness that he acted out while he was away, but that is not what the story is about either.
Listen to Jesus tell us what the story was about: “There once was a man who had two sons.” The subject of the story is the father, the character who gets the last word is the father, and the character who engages in transformative behavior is the father.
This is the story about the man who had two sons. His younger son disappointed him when he took his inheritance early and left home.
I would be surprised if he did not think of the son. There was no mail service and it was before cell phones, so the father never heard anything about his son, except that he was wasting his money in wild living.
He had a strong, faithful son at home. That son was responsible and industrious and his father could see the evidence of that fact every day.
But it seems to me that every time he felt pride in his oldest son, he would also have felt a sense of longing for his younger son…a wondering and worrying, maybe, what else he might of done he might have done when the boy was little, or on that day when something happened.
He had done his best, but it wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Where did I go wrong? And how did I get it right with his brother? I wonder how he is…
When we look at this story from the father’s point of view, it all makes so much more sense to me than it ever has before. Of course, he ran to meet the boy even while he was still far off.
Like that sheep, like that coin, like that silver Honda Accord, he is happier now that his son has come back than he would have been if he had never lost him.
Like the shepherd and the widow and my Course of Study classmates, the father who had two sons wanted to celebrate the moment…to deepen the experience of it…to burn it into his memory banks.
Meanwhile, it is not at all surprising that the oldest son would have felt overlooked and unappreciated. They have never killed the fatted calf and what had he done but his duty?
Now Jesus closes the net on the Pharisees. They have complained about his acceptance of the rough crowd around him and he has told them these three stories of lost and found.
These people were lost in so many ways and now they are in his company. He has not come to save the righteous…to hang out with the rich and powerful. He was sent to save the lost and the last and the least…like us…and that is exactly what he was doing…and will do.
Now, here he is, celebrating the return of the lost children of Israel and the dutiful elder brothers are standing around complaining that he’s not giving them any attention.
He is grateful to them, but he can’t help being overjoyed at the return of a lost sheep to the sheepfold.
Make no mistake about it, we who were born a couple of thousand years too late to see him walk the earth and still have been introduced to him, have had him offered to us, have heard the love and wisdom in the stories he left behind…we are the lost children of Israel who have come home.
It is not a conditional welcome, either. There was no way we could be saved…but Jesus welcomes us into the fold. He calls his friends together like the woman who found the coin because he understands how precious we are to our Creator.
Somehow we all found this beautiful place and discovered this open-hearted little church. Somehow we have discovered the love of God in the scriptures together.
Maybe some of us can identify with the older brother, too. You signed the notes to build this church. You have stayed as preachers came and went, as new friends came and went, praying that the church someone started here some time ago will carry the Word to a generation beyond this one…maybe the generation after that…or after that. You stay here through the winter, doing your duty as responsible Christians.
But isn’t it nice to have your brothers and sisters beginning to gather again from all over the world? Can’t we all find at least a little of the man who had two sons in us?
Our job is not to decide who deserves God’s grace and who does not. The Pharisees thought that was their job, and they were wrong.
Our job is to call to all people. Come hear the story. Come buy without money and drink and eat. Come find meaning in the whole of your life, and in this moment now.
Let us see the past for what it was…and the future for what it could be…so that we can make the most of the time we have to serve and dream and launch the Spirit into our community and our world in a way no one has ever seen.
Let us run to greet the humblest of opportunities even though they may appear to be a long ways off. We show the world a community of people who have been transformed by their worship together and the friendships that have renewed their faith again and again.
We have been gifted this life of love and faith. We are the lucky ones, and the only way we can keep it is to pass it on, again and again.
We come into a season of repentance as we consider ways we can improve the ministries we provide to the community.
We find ourselves in the middle of Lent…a season of self-denial…as we consider ways we can make our house of worship ever more ready for the next 30 years.
We find ourselves together as one as we give thanks…that we have been found…that we have been given the opportunity to serve faithfully and perform the duties expected of us.
We have been called to be here as one by the one we all have in common, Jesus Christ who shows us how limitless the gift of life that we have received from God can be …if only we will say ‘Yes, Lord.’
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.