The Pas Lent 4
31 March 2019
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Eternal Lover of our wayward race,
you open your arms to accept us
even before we turn to meet your welcome;
you invite us to forgiveness
even before our hearts are softened to repentance.
Hold before us the image of our humanity made new,
so that we may live in Jesus Christ, your new creation. Amen.
Have you noticed that the term ‘reconciliation’ has become a ‘buzzword’ in today’s society? And not in ways that fill us with joy. Rather in ways that cause us to roll our eyes, sigh deeply, and ask “are we done, yet?”
At the same time, we treat the word ‘reconciliation’ with kid gloves as if its something new to each one of us, new to the twentieth and twenty-first century vocabularies. But looking at the readings for today we can see that this isn’t the case at all.
The term, the concept of reconciliation has been around since Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery, and since Joshua led them into the promised land.
“9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.” (Jos 5:9)
So, this word, this concept that we want to treat either with kid gloves, or treat as if we’re being told to swallow Buckley’s cold medicine (it tastes bad, but it works, is their slogan) isn’t as fragile as we think, nor is it going to go away as quickly as that bottle of cold medication.
Rather this is the place where we can find God, where we can find Christ breaking down the barriers between us, all the while encouraging our participation in the promise, in the process that all are created equal, and that all are able to live in harmony and in the love that exists between family members. After all, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, right?
Now, this description may feel like I’m describing a Norman Rockwell painting. And I’m sure most of us are familiar with the iconic sights of the Saturday Evening Post from many ‘moons’ ago. But in researching this train of thought, I’ve discovered that Rockwell painted on most of the social issues of his day.
We have the quirky Saturday Evening Post cover images. There are images of homecoming and reconciliation after the world wars. He even painted on the issues of desegregation, and the social revolution that sprang out of the need for change in the USA in the 1960’s and the 1970’s.
So, really, reconciliation is something that is ‘near and dear’ to Rockwell’s heart as well as to the texts of the bible, and to the strategies of today that will lead us into tomorrow. After all, in his lifetime, he saw the world change dramatically, and so our need for reconciliation also grows to ensure that we are all able to grow together.
And, really, if we think about it, how much are our lives changed when one whom we love comes home from a long and uncertain time away?
Many of Rockwell’s works look at how we interact with each other, and in some cases how those interactions are fraught with emotion, both for the good, and the not so good of our lives, and society all around.
But when we look at God’s reconciliation, when we look at how God guides us and encourages us, and provides for us through the reconciliation process, we can see the beauty of God’s love, God’s plan, God’s desire for the world to live in harmony every day.
But it takes time to see, and to achieve.
“10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.” (Jos 5:10-12)
The passage we see from Joshua, today, didn’t just begin four chapters ago. Rather this is the end of a journey that we saw begin when Moses was confronted by a burning bush on the sacred mountain, and he was told to return to Egypt, to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery.
But even that isn’t the beginning. We could look back to the stories of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by jealous brothers who then hoped that would be the end of him. Instead, God saved the whole family through such actions, a family who grew from twelve extended families to a nation.
But even that isn’t the beginning. Really, we can go back to the promises God made to Abram to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
So, reconciliation is God’s desire for all people to be free, together. Reconciliation is learning to live together in the love of God, that for the Hebrew people took forty years as they crossed the desert, as they crossed the chasm from slavery to freedom. Reconciliation, then, is a change of how we live our lives, how we look at our lives, and how we love ourselves, based on how God loves each one of us.
So, when we contemplate reconciliation, there is always history behind it, even when we don’t want to acknowledge that history, or don’t remember it in the same way.
Today’s gospel shows us the parable of the prodigal son. But if we look the brother doesn’t want to acknowledge the return of the son. In fact, he feels gypped, cheated, or swindled because all this fuss is being made over this one, his brother, who squandered the property, lowered the land values, and even lived a life not in keeping with traditions or laws of Israel.
But here he is, back, and apparently basking in the father’s love, and ecstatic joy, while the brother worked in the hot sun to ensure that there was food on the table, that the bills were paid, and that all who looked to this family for aid and assistance had such at the time of need.
The gospel tells us: “25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”” (Lk 15:25-32)
In this way, Jesus is telling us that reconciliation true reconciliation goes both ways.
Yes, we welcome home the one who was lost, we open our arms, we embrace them like the one who we thought to be gone forever. But at the same time, there is the one who was always at home, who now feels jilted, shoved to one side, because an effort of reconciliation, of seeking peace between parties is taking place.
The younger son seeks reconciliation because he’s been away, squandered the inheritance he received, and really was looking for work. He wasn’t looking to be welcomed back with open arms. He wasn’t looking to be installed back in the bedroom that still bears the posters from his high school experiences.
At the same time, the older son wants to know what’s going on, he finds his father, finally out of mourning, and he feels once again left out in the face of his brothers return. He feels that his contribution to the family has been shunted to one side because of this one who was lost but now is found.
Jesus leaves the parable there, and we’d like to see a neat tidy ending of a family estranged yet able to work it out.
But at the same time, he leaves us with homework to do because this parable isn’t a tidy ending. It’s not something we can take away with us and just apply like a band aid to the wounds of our lives, of our relationships.
Instead, there’s work to do, here, and in the lives of those in the parable.
There’s the work of reconciliation to take place between the siblings. There is the work of reconciliation to be done with the father by both sons.
We want to look at reconciliation as a quick process. The kind of thing we experienced when parents would line us up before the one we’ve offended with the instructions to say: “I’m sorry”, and to mean it!
But it’s not that simple. It’s not that easy, and it’s never that straight forward.
I’m sure, after his brothers and their families joined Joseph in Egypt, he never turned his back on them again, because that was how they managed to capture him and sell him into slavery in the first place, but the text doesn’t say that, anywhere
Then there was the forty years in the wilderness, where the people of God, the descendants of Joseph and his brothers learn to be the Israelite nation, where they learn to be the people of God, letting go of what they thought they knew of worshipping the Egyptian gods was a time, for them, of reconciliation.
That was the time when they learned what it meant to be the people of God, to trust in God, and , especially, to listen for God. At the same time, they learned what this meant for them, and how that called for changes in the way they thought and the way they did things.
So, really, then, what does this mean for you and for me?
When we see, hear or experience the term reconciliation, where do we stand?
After all, reconciliation affects us as much as it does those who feel that reconciliation is a necessary process, a necessary step forward in their lives, both in our families, and in our society.
It’s a process of learning who we are, and how we relate to each other. It’s a process of letting go of what no longer serves and learning how to embrace what will see us into the future, together.
We see this in the passage from Joshua, for today, when at the end of their journey, God provides them with a land brimming with produce, so they no longer need the manna that fed them in the wilderness. They no longer need God to hold their hand, their journey to becoming the people of God has reached its end.
And reconciliation isn’t a quick process. For the Israelites, it took forty years, and two dedicated leaders to see them through that journey of reconciliation from the beginning of that journey, in slavery, in Egypt to its logical conclusion, as a free nation, in the Holy Land.
For the brothers, prodigal and steadfast, it will be a process of learning how to be family, once more, and letting go of the hurts that were caused along the way.
In our lives, this is a process we need to leave in God’s hands but be open to the experiences that will help us learn of the in-depth need in our lives, and in our society. It’s something for which we need to keep our eyes open, as well as our hearts, as God draws us together, encourages us to learn from each other, and to build tomorrow together.
Because the one thing we know, is that God gives us the tools as well as the opportunity, not just today, but for as long as the process takes to make life long changes in our lives, in our hearts.