God has come out of the house to bring you back into the party of God’s love; and now sends you out to find others to bring home.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday in Lent, year C
Texts: Luke 15:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Now we finally see openly what’s been hinted all Lent.
Since Jesus’ temptation, our Gospel readings have shown God’s people rejecting God’s people one way or another. Whether resisting having “those others” under God’s wings with us, or secretly thinking that some people whom we could name deserve God’s punishment, we’ve been hearing rumblings for two weeks.
It all comes to a head today, because now people in the story actually name their rejection. The Pharisees and scribes simply cannot accept Jesus because he, in their words, “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Whatever bad behavior these people have done, their religious teachers don’t even call them by their names, or see them as valuable. No, they’re just “sinners.” And Jesus welcomes them. Eats with them. Therefore, he’s to be rejected.
It’s about as clear as it can be. And this clarity produces a breathtaking response from Jesus. Three parables about lost things being found: one lost sheep among 100, one lost coin among 10, and the one we heard today, the parable of the son who was lost.
This parable breaks everything open for those who have ears to hear. It opens up the image of the hen and her welcoming wings, of the gardener and the careful nourishing of the tree, and says, in case you missed it, this is the true nature of the God Who Is.
And this parable does this because it’s not just about one lost son.
This is a parable of two lost sons.
Both boys are deeply in the dark. Neither believes in their father’s love. The younger would prefer his father dead, and receive right now what he’ll get in the will. His brother is just as lost. He has everything now, the estate has been split. All the work he’s done since profits him and his future, but he sees it as slaving away for his father.
One son finds himself starving in a pigsty, and wakes up to his lostness. The other son is starving in the midst of wealth, and . . . well, Jesus leaves the door open. We don’t know if he wakes up.
But the father knows both his boys are lost. The astonishing love of this father leads him to cross his doorstep twice to find his boys. Two times he leaves the house looking for a lost son. Two times he embraces a lost son and welcomes him into the party, into the love, into the life of the family.
Imagine: Jesus is saying God wants to cross the doorstep to find the Pharisees and scribes, and bring them into the party, too. Welcome them. Eat with them. If only they could hear that.
This parable is about what’s “mine” and what’s “yours.”
The younger wants “what’s mine.” He believes money will fill the hole in his heart. “Give me my share. You’re not mine and I’m not yours anymore,” he says to his father. The older wants “what’s mine,” too. He has everything, but believes he has nothing. “Give me my feast, my party. You’re not mine, and I’ve never been yours,” he says to his father.
But for this father, “what’s mine” is both of his boys. “I’m not worthy to be called your son,” the younger says. But the father says, “this son of mine – my son – was dead and is alive again.”
The elder says, “this son of yours” wasted your property. Not my brother. Your son. And the radiance of the father’s love explodes over this beloved, lost son: “Everything I have is yours, not mine. You are always with me, you have my love, you have my property, you have my everything.”
And here’s what takes our breath away, what Jesus wants you to see: If everything the father has belongs to the eldest, and the younger son belongs to the father, then he also belongs to his elder brother. “Everything I have is yours,” the father says, including “this brother of yours.”
This is the reconciliation Paul proclaims today.
All old things have passed away, the old order of “mine” and “yours,” of limited love and limited resources. God in Christ has made a new creation in you, a new being. You are reconciled to God, welcomed into the party, embraced with tears and love by the God who died and rose from the dead to prove how loved you are.
And God in Christ has reconciled the whole world back to God, everything, the entire cosmos, Paul says. God’s crossed the doorstep billions of times to find all who are lost, to show them the love revealed on the cross, an endless, vulnerable, suffering, death-breaking love, to bring everyone home.
Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. You don’t have to sit in the dark, starving for God’s affection. Be like the younger brother and wake up, Paul says. Believe that God has reconciled you back into God’s own life.
But then you face the elder brother’s dilemma: if, in God’s reconciliation, all are made a new creation, and if all things belong to God, and if everything God has is yours as Jesus says, then all things belong to you. There is no one who doesn’t matter to you, no creature you can exclude from God’s love.
We’re way past the question of rejecting others now.
Now you know you’re in God’s party, under God’s wings, nurtured and gardened to bear fruit, now you know that nothing can separate you from God’s love, it isn’t about not rejecting others anymore.
God needs you out there proclaiming reconciliation, opening God’s wings for others, providing nourishing fruit so others can live. God needs you as an ambassador, needs you to leave the house to look for more lost children. “Everything I have is yours, and you are always with me in my love,” God says to you. “Go, find the others who are lost and love them home. They’re yours, too. Welcome them. Eat with them. I want everyone at my party.”
God needs you out there proclaiming reconciliation, opening God’s wings for others, providing nourishing fruit so others can live. God needs you as an ambassador, needs you to leave the house to look for more lost children. “Everything I have is yours, and you are always with me in my love,” God says to you. “Find the others who are lost and love them home. They’re your children, too. And I want everyone at my party.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen