A sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
The season of Lent affords us an opportunity, an invitation really, to pause, step back, and re-integrate God into our daily lives.
It’s not that we don’t include God in our lives on a regular basis outside of Lent. But, we don’t necessarily have the same intentionality throughout the year either. We prepare for Jesus’s arrival in Advent, we celebrate that arrival in Christmas, and then we find ourselves enjoying Jesus’ ministry in the time between, but we begin to be absorbed by the ways of the world again. We hit February and our New Year’s Resolutions are long gone, we’re firmly into the next year, and we begin to think of what will come this year. As we give into that trap of the “daily routine” we lose sight of God being present with us, and this is where Lent comes to remind us that we have an ability in our faith to connect to God, regularly, with intention, and in this season of Lent, connecting to God, through prayer, through intentional practice, renews our understanding of God being present with us, in our daily life, giving us strength, giving us direction, giving us the opportunity to connect with God and one another in community as we work together towards the celebration that is coming.
Today, we hear one of the most known parables, the Prodigal Son, a phrase that has become part of the secular lexicon, and it is before us today, in Lent, because at its core, this parable is about the limits to our accessing God.
There are no limits to our accessing God.
Before, I dive into this, I want to take a step back and consider the question of why Jesus is sharing this particular parable in this moment.
Who is the audience today?
The scribes and Pharisees.
The religious leaders and workers.
People of deep faith.
People who have committed their lives to the order of faith that they have been taught and are expected to live into, according to the rituals and customs they have received.
They complain about the crowds that gather around Jesus, a man who is presenting himself as a religious teacher, “This man welcomes outcasts to join him at the table and eat with him.”
This is preposterous behavior.
Not because these people are bad people at face value, but because they are not people who are keeping the faith. In many ways, they are people who are persecuting or holding down others of faith.
And yet Jesus, someone who is supposedly modeling faith for others, invites these people to listen, to break bread, to be with him, when those seats should be reserved only for those who are keeping the faith.
So, Jesus tells a story.
It is a familiar story.
I hope that you caught a different nuance in the story in the First Nations Version translation read today.
I certainly was struck by these insights into the father, “who was good-hearted and loved his sons…”, who “looked kindly into his older son’s face.”
There is a deep sense of level at the heart of this story that follows through the entire parable.
It is unwavering.
It is unshakeable.
Even in the face of righteous anger is the gentle expression of love.
This is the love that we all strive to show our loved ones, our friends, our neighbor.
This is the love of Christ made manifest in this world.
This is the love that is so very hard to model.
There is a danger in our faith, in the practice of our faith to create silos.
Silos that make our faith only accessible to certain people, certain types of people, certain types of people that only believe the very specific things we believe in the exact same way we believe them.
This siloing has the very damaging effect of creating echo chambers within which we hear only our own voices, never being challenged, never being asked to see the world differently, never being willing to see the world differently, throwing up barriers to access our space.
Sometimes this is done in harmful, traumatic ways that persecute.
Sometimes this is done by those trying to protect themselves from the outside world that has harmed and caused trauma.
This siloing is most evident in the reaction of the older son today.
He’s done everything he’s supposed to do and the person who has done everything wrong, so wrong that it was unfathomable that he would even ask in the first place, is simply welcomed back in with a loving embrace.
How is this fair?
How does this take into account all of the work and love and energy we have spent following the rules, living under the roof, tending the fields?
The older son sees the party and instead of coming in to celebrate that his brother, long thought dead, has returned, is found brooding outside.
What a wonderful addition of story by the First Nations Version.
I can definitely picture myself brooding outside, upset because someone I have a personal conflict with is receiving praise and adulation, all the while I’ve put in all of the work of creating a wonderful and joy filled experience for the wider community, not that I have any specific moment from 2014 in mind…
And yet, the father looks kindly into his face, and responds in love, “‘My son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always close to my heart, and everything I have is yours.”
My son, you are forgetting at this moment, that your access has not changed. In many ways, you have so much more access because you have always been right here with me, you are close to my heart because you have stood here with me and shown you love for me and I for you, throughout this time.
“‘But it is a good thing for us to celebrate with glad hearts, for your brother was dead, but now is alive. He was lost, but now we have found him!’”
Jesus is telling us today that the father’s love is not just for those who have kept the faith, have lived the life, have talked the talk and walked the walk. Those that have accomplished this are deeply loved. They are deeply appreciated, because the father knows their hearts deeply from their commitment to one another.
And, the fathers love is also for the one that was lost but has now been found.
The father rejoices and celebrates the return of the lost because it grows the household.
It strengthens the household.
It reunites and opens the door for more growth for the family is made whole again.
This is what the season of Lent is for.
For the family to be made whole again.
For us to invite those who have gone long astray to return.
To welcome them in as the father welcomes the long lost son.
To not create barriers to their return, to their access, but to celebrate that they have found their way back into community with us.
This season of Lent affords us the opportunity to once again find our strength in faith and, if we aren’t the prodigal son ourselves, to seek out those who have gone wandering far afield, and let them know that they will be welcomed back in, in loving embrace, with great celebration.
And, even if we don’t have a fatted calf to slaughter, we will have a heck of a brunch on Easter Sunday.