3/14/2010 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - The Fourth Sunday of Lent

posted May 21, 2010, 6:55 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:56 PM by Terry Brady ]
“A priest seated himself at a coffee shop counter next to a man who immediately noticed his clerical apparel. ‘Where is your Church?’ the man asked. The priest pointed in the direction of the Church on the corner and the man said, ‘Why that’s the church I go to.’ ‘I’ve been there five years and I don’t believe I have ever seen you,’ said the priest. The man replied: ‘I never said I was a fanatic!’”

I would suggest this morning that the parable told by Jesus of the Prodigal is a call to fanatic and radical reconciliation. Let us look at the setting. Jesus was under heavy criticism from the Pharisees for eating with tax collectors and sinners, the most outcast at that time. He responded with three parables…the lost coin, the lost sheep and then the lost son. He was challenging the establishment to look beyond their rigidity and to recognize that God was and is a God of radical love and forgiveness.
Let us look briefly at the main characters in the story. First, the youngest son dared to ask for his share of his inheritance prior to the death of his father. Normally there would have been a division – 2/3 to the eldest who would care for his mother and unmarried sisters, and 1/3 to the youngest. Not only did the father give the youngest his share, but he also turned over the remainder of his wealth to the eldest. It could be surmised that the younger son didn’t trust his brother to divide things fairly.
The younger then went off to a distant land and squandered his fortune. By his behavior he sullied his father’s name and showed himself to be an immature wastrel. When he found himself feeding pigs to survive, still thinking only of himself, he came crawling home.
The father, seeing his son walking while still far away, ran to him and embraced him. This would have been highly unusual for an elderly, austere Jewish man to do in those days. Further, when he reached his son he embraced him and kissed him, a sign of forgiveness. Before the younger could even ask for forgiveness, the father called for a robe, a ring and sandals to replace his tatters. He then told the servants to kill the fatted calf for a feast.
The elder brother, on the other hand was not so generous. He had stayed at home, been very obedient, as only we eldest children can be, and was angry that his wastrel brother was being honored in a way that he, who had obeyed all the rules, had not been. It is pretty clear that he thought he had earned it! In many ways, he was like the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking. He, too, disappointed his father by not being willing to welcome his brother home.
The elder brother was much like the Pharisees, the establishment, who followed the rules and made judgments as to who followed them. He put greed and entitlement above relationship. We, too, often behave in this way. The younger brother was like us also…putting greed above relationship, wanting only his own way and selfishly seeking it.
The father, however, illustrated the radical reconciliation and forgiveness of God. We, in God’s eyes, have been forgiven before we even ask. All our trespasses have been forgiven as we are welcomed home to our God of pure and unadulterated love. The sacrifice of Jesus for all of us was the ultimate expression of that fanatic and radical forgiveness.
Lent calls us home to God, to renew our relationship and intimacy with the one who created us. In addition to prayer and worship, Barbara Brown Taylor has said that the only way to work out our relationship with God is to work out our relationship with one another. (Copied) The two sons thought that they could be in relationship with their father and not with one another. True healing in the parable would only come through the reconciliation of the two sons.
Desmond Tutu wrote an incredible op ed piece in the Washington Post on Friday calling for radical reconciliation on the continent of Africa regarding treatment of gay and lesbian persons. He chastised politicians and clerics of all faiths for daring to exclude anyone in God’s name.
Let us in this latter half of Lent come home to God through a radical reconciliation with the members of our families, our parish, our church, our denomination, our city, our nation and the international community. Help us to dare to be fanatics for God as we demonstrate outlandish love for one another. AMEN