Fourth Sunday in Lent – 10 March 2013
As we gather for worship today, have you ever thought that you might be participating in some kind of “religious scandal” or a subversive plot to change the world? Well as we look at the Gospel readings from Luke 15:1-32 you might be surprised by the underlying meaning of some pretty innocuous and familiar stories of Jesus. In this fourth Sunday in Lent, let’s be prepared to be ‘unprepared’ so that God can be God and we can be found in a way that’s refreshing and new whilst we travel this ‘purple pathway towards the cross’.
I am again using the biblical reflections by Rev John Barr from Uniting World in his Bible Discussion Series for Lent Event “A People on the way” as a stimulus for my sermon. Here are John’s reflections on the Luke 15:1-32 passage.
There is a common theme about being “lost”. But things do not stop here. The passage moves on to detail a period of waiting and/or searching – and it then goes on to deal with a process of recovery. This is followed by a significant time of celebration.
Here, the lost are as significant as the found. In his reference to the lost sheep, Jesus makes it clear – there are no “ifs” or “buts”. God is not concerned about finding faults, harping on or exploiting our deficiencies. Moreover, God’s love and concern is offered without cost. It’s a love and a concern that is unconditional and generous.
The story of the Lost Coin reinforces these matters. Here, the response could even be described as obsessive.
In the story of the Lost Son, the younger son claims his inheritance and spends it lavishly and carelessly on himself. Note that, while the younger son had the right to claim his inheritance; he had no right to dispose of it while his father was alive. Here, the younger son operates as though his father were already dead. This is an act of great disrespect. The younger son fails to honour his father. For him, life is about manipulating and bargaining.
The older son, by contrast, is the consummate insider who keeps the rules. It’s hard not to sympathise with him. But Jesus is quick to highlight the older son’s predicament. For, he also makes mistakes in a demonstration of acute self-righteousness as the older son harbours resentment and grudges.
This story is about the subversive, extravagant nature of God’s grace. It’s “subversive” because God’s grace is not about who is in the right and who is in the wrong. God’s grace is not about what we deserve and it’s not about entitlement. Both sons are welcomed home. Both sons have a place. Both are claimed by the father and are drawn into relationship with him.
Some commentators refer to the “scandal”, even the “foolishness” of God’s grace here because the focus is not on who is in the right and who is in wrong. The focus is also not on what a person deserves. Neither is the focus on their rights. Rather, the focus in on the sheer joy of being found and of being brought back into relationships with others.
The focus is on the sheer joy of being restored to life. Here the father’s response to the younger son is a dynamic, joyous one as “he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him!”
It’s not too late, for you to experience the ‘sheer joy of restoration’ today and then be a participant in God’s Scandal of Grace…this week.
Rev. Brad Foote