Monday, March 7, 2016
Everything old has passed away
Scripture Lessons: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21 and Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32 Sermon Title: Everything old has passed away It is a particular feeling to walk into a waiting room and to notice that there is only one other person in there with you. I walked into a waiting room last week with a book. I was on time for my appointment, but sometimes doctors run late, so I was looking forward to reading a few pages of this thick Bible commentary on the Gospel of Luke, and I was averting my eyes from the smiling man who was also waiting to be called back, because I didn’t really want to small talk, I wanted to read, but, as I was signing in, determined not to start a conversation I hear, “Now that looks like a serious book.” I was caught. It’s not really that I’m antisocial. But don’t you sometimes just want to read and be quiet? However, I was raised not to be rude. If someone speaks to you, you speak to them, and I turned my head and he told me that he never reads much besides the Bible, and then I thought, “now I’ve really been caught.” When you’re a preacher caught by a smiling Christian man who is eager to share the Gospel with you, it’s not always clear to me exactly what I should do. How do you say, “Thank you for being courageous enough to share your faith, but I don’t really want to hear about it right now because I’m a preacher and faith is all I ever get to talk about”? You can’t say that, because you have to listen even if you don’t want to, and this is especially true for us because Presbyterians aren’t much for talking about our faith and we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who do, so I listened to the man – of course, I didn’t really have any other choice – but I’m glad I listened because he said the most beautiful thing about the Bible: “Every day I wake up eager to read Scripture because every day it tells me what God is like, and how we should be.” I hate to get caught, but sometimes I love it once I am, because rather than just read what the Bible scholars have said about our Second Scripture Lesson from the Gospel of Luke, this smiling man provided me with a new framework to understand this tried and true story, this story of the Prodigal Son and his father that the great reformer Martin Luther called, “The Gospel Encapsulated,” because this story so truly tells us “What God is like, and how we should be.” First – what God is like. According to the parable, God is like a father, and just two weeks ago Jesus compared himself to a “mother hen who longs to gather her chicks under her wing” which offers us a metaphor to understand God, just as this parable about a father offers us a slightly different metaphor to understand what God is like. God is like a father, but a very particular kind of father. God is not like the father who comes in late for dinner, sits down at the head of the table, and promptly flies into a rage because the food is cold. God is not like the father who was never around. God is not like the father who loved you if your grades were good but disowned you when your grades were bad. I played baseball for years and years, and I saw so many different versions of fathers out on the little league baseball field. Some were reliving past glories through their sons, others never had time to show up, and one evening game when I was 8 or 9 and playing left field, I remember this one dad who yelled to his son as he stepped up to the batter’s box and while pointing to me he said – “hit it to that kid, it looks like he’s asleep out there!” If God is like a father, what kind of father is God like? To answer that question, we have to really get to the heart of what this son did. To start, when the son goes to his father asking for his inheritance, the son is basically saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead. If you were I could receive land and money, so would you just give me all that I stand to inherit now?” The father obliges, and I think the father shouldn’t have. Have you ever heard of a father who did anything like that? And then, what does the son do with the father’s kindness? He liquidates his assets – the property is sold and those who lived on the land for who knows how many generations, where do they go? Then, to make it worse, what does this son do – he takes the money and squanders it. He wastes it. All that money. All the work that the father put into earning and maintaining his legacy – where does it go but up in a puff of smoke that the Bible calls “dissolute living.” If ever there was a way to squander money it is dissolute living. This chain of unfortunate events leads us to the other part of our framework for understanding this Scripture Lesson: How should we be. If we are like a son who inherited wealth and property only to sell it and waste it away, we have two options: stay in the pig slop, just sleep in the bed that we’ve made for ourselves where no one knows us and no one will make us pay for what we’ve done, or, return to the father and be caught in our sin. You see the two options – and you see the danger in both. On the one hand there is the pig slop with the pods that the pigs were eating. Those can look good enough if you are choosing between living there in the pen and eating slop and returning home and owning up to what you’ve done. That’s not always an attractive option, and sometimes it’s not an option at all. This other option is to return home where everyone knows what you did. Where they’ll probably hate you and your father will probably disown you. To be caught is to be caught in your wrong doing, your sin, your pathetic mistake. So badly what I want when I find myself in this kind of situation is to hit a re-set button and start the whole thing over – if only I had never asked my father for my inheritance, if only I had never left my father’s house, but I have – so now there are only two options, stay in the misery that I have created for myself or return and face the music. How should we be? We should return home. Now that’s not how the world sees it, but the ways of God and the ways of the world are not the same. According to the world, the one who has been caught in wrong doing is most often dismissed, never seen from again, and never has to return home to try and make a new life out of the wreckage of his mistakes so they just go someplace else where no one knows who they are or what they’ve done. Even the church sometimes mimics the world in this regard, and maybe that’s how it sometimes has to be, but that is not how it should ever be with God, because God is like a particular kind of father. Let me tell you what I mean. I was young, 6 or 7, but somehow I was strong enough to climb up on our next-door-neighbor’s garage, and while up there I got the stupid idea to pull off the shingles of this garage threw them down into the neighbor’s yard. It was one of those things that was really fun to do, because if you’ve ever thrown a shingle you know that they spin kind of like Frisbees, so once you start it’s hard to stop, but once you do stop you realize what you’ve done and you worry about getting caught. Not only are you destroying property, you’re up on a garage roof! So after doing this I was consumed by guilt and the fear of getting caught. I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t want anyone to see. I imagined that we’d have to move away or something because in my mind, once you’ve been caught there is no way back to where you used to be. But hear the Scripture Lesson again and ask the question: what is God like? When the son returns, the father rushed out to this prodigal son, and wrapped him in his arms. So what if getting caught is something like jumping down from your neighbor’s garage until you are wrapped in the arms of the Father? What if when we are finally caught, we are caught by the grace of God? Oh to be caught. How we fear it, but how wonderful it can be. Everything old has passed away, and only love remains. Do you believe it? Is this good news too good? It was for the Prodigal Son’s brother as we all well know, but if the Father can forgive, then why can’t we? Why not accept the abundant grace of God and share such grace with your neighbor? Amen.