Rev. Cathy Cox

Sermon – Lent 4C Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Today’s readings are all about the prodigal Father.
We have badly misunderstood the story to call it “the prodigal son”

“Prodigal” isn’t a bible word, anyway.
But if we are going to use it, remember that it has two meanings – wasteful, and GENEROUS.

So let’s not get hung up on the son who messed up, badly.
Who wasted his father’s money.
Or even the resentful older brother who is so darned unattractive.
Let’s notice the Father, first.

In Joshua, God has erased the shame of Israelite enslavement in Egypt – The disgrace of Egypt was “rolled away.” The 40 years of wandering were over. The disobedience of the people on that journey is forgotten.
And now, having crossed the Jordan and entered the land they were given, God’s temporary provision of manna ended, as the people of God were enabled to settle down, and plant, and eat the fruit of their own labor.
That’s how God treats people who have been ungrateful, neglectful, even hostile to the freedom they have been given. They still don’t get it. But God doesn’t care.

In the Psalm – the moment the psalmist confesses his wrong-doing, he realizes it’s already forgiven – “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sin is put away.“
It is after recognizing wrong-doing and acknowledging it, God that “surrounds us with songs of deliverance!”
God’s songs!
It is God’s great delight to be that kind of God. The God who rushes out to meet God’s own beloved children.
And look at the Epistle – “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ – reconciled the WORLD to himself, not counting their trespasses against them!”
Done. Finished.
So it is our privilege to tell everybody that God has already rushed out to meet us – all – all – all and wrapped us in the robe of his love, and put a ring on the world’s finger, so to speak. Done. Nothing to fear. No threats. None.
A God “out to get you” is a figment of your anxious imagination…or, sadly, a figment of the imagination of preachers and teachers and sometimes parents.

We have a prodigal God – a prodigal Father, too generous for the taste of many who love – and fear God.
But this God is also the source of our astonished joy.

And so we come to the Gospel story itself.
But you know it already.
The Father is watching, waiting, and seeing his son “from afar” runs out to meet him, embracing him and rejoicing before the son has a chance to say anything and more or less ignoring everything the boy has rehearsed when he does speak.
It’s irrelevant.
This story is about the Father. Dancing for joy. Giving his errant kid the best robe and an expensive ring – and a party.

Well, it’s also about the older brother who angrily refuses to rejoice – or to even go into greet his brother – who calls him “this son of yours” – who furiously argues that he has always done everything the “right” way – who claims to have “worked like a slave” for his father… who resents his Father for not giving him a calf – even though it all belongs to him and he could have enjoyed it all – including a young goat if he has dared to trust it!
But wait a minute. Who ever asked him to think about himself that way, to react to his Father’s love with such an attitude of servile, unhappy obedience?
That’s an interesting question, isn’t it?
It doesn’t seem to be his father – so where did he learn to see himself, his rigid obedience, his careful observance of the rules, as “good” – and his father as a hard-to-please slave-driver? Ask that – consider it for a long time if you need to.

Remember that the younger son remembers him differently:
“Even my father’s hired hands have bread enough to spare…”

And listen to this from Father David Janus:

“He wants them both,
Though only God knows why.
The younger-selfish, sensuous, scheming.
The older – selfish in his self-righteousness way, happier with his junior gone,
Not willing to spill one drop of compassion.
Me, I would dump the pair.
Doesn’t the old man have any daughters?
He’d be better off with them.”

“How to understand this God?
In the late Catholic playwrite, Terrance Mc Nally’s play, Love, Valor, Compassion, a young, gay blind character named Bobby, speaks this soliloquy to the audience:

“Do you believe in God? Do you?
I think we all believe in God in our own way.
Or want to.
Or need to.
Only so many of us are afraid to.
Unconditional love is pretty terrifying.
We don’t always think we deserve it.
It’s human nature to run.
But God always finds us.
God never gives up.
I use to think that’s what other people were for,
Lovers, friends, family. I had it all wrong.
Other people are as frightened as we are.
We love, but not unconditionally.
Only God is unconditional love.
And we don’t even have to love him back.
He’s very big about it.
I have a lot of reservations about God.
What intelligent, caring person doesn’t lately?
But the way I see it,
God doesn’t have any reservations about me.
It’s very one-sided.
It’s unconditional.
Besides, he is God. I am not.”

This is the way God is.
And nothing you imagine, or that you have been taught can change that.
Nothing you fear can change that.

And that is why, today, we read these stories – and rejoice that God is not like us – and wear rose-colored vestments, and eat rose -colored pie and rose-frosted cupcakes and drink pink lemonade and laugh right outloud.

Amen

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