Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Why do we choose estrangement?
I recognize that separation often gets imposed upon us. Geographical moves. Death. Relationships too toxic and abusive to maintain. Another makes the choice to leave and we’ve no say in the matter. And yet, sometimes we are the ones who ask for our inheritance and hit the road. Sometimes, we are the ones who refuse to come into the house and join the party. The parent grieves our going, pleads with us to be a part of the celebration, return or remain in the household, but there seems to be something we just can’t stomach. The grace? The generosity? The inclusion of those we deem unworthy? The fact that those we thought needed to be punished were welcomed and loved instead?
We conjure up sibling rivalry when the father knows no favorites. We calculate how much is left when the inheritance gets split even when there is more than enough for all with baskets leftover. We hang out with pigs when we could be living with loved ones at home. Jesus comes that we might have life and have it abundantly, but we go our own way and choose to follow lesser gods. The father says, “All that is mine is yours,” but even that is not enough for us if we must participate in forgiveness and reconcile with those we have judged and disdained.
The epistle for today reminds us that we regard no one from a human point of view anymore because anyone in Christ is a new creation, the old has passed away. Reconciled to God and one another, we are ambassadors for Christ. We emulate the father of this familiar text of the prodigal son. We run out to meet those who even gesture toward turning to God. We lavish radical hospitality on those once lost but now found — no matter their past associates or behavior. We call together others to celebrate their new life, the fact that they are no longer dead to sin, estranged from community, or destined to live hungry among the pigs. We cheer on their transformation and lament with them when they wander back to old ways and throw a party with each small step toward home and wholeness.
I so wish that Christians were the ones brokering reconciliation rather than fanning estrangement. I so wish that Christians were running to get the rings and robes for those ones on the fringes but eager to be enfolded, loved and freed instead of calculating how much punishment is enough to earn them a begrudging place at the table in the back. I so wish Christians were the ones proclaiming the abundance of God’s grace, forgiveness and power to heal, rather than fighting over who should be allowed full inclusion in the Body of Christ.
The story of the prodigal son is, of course, the story of God’s extravagant, unbelievable-to-us love and forgiveness and grace. The story of the prodigal son is, of course, the story of God’s joy when a child returns to the one who created and loves them. The story of the prodigal son is also a story that invites us to examine where we stand in relationship to God and one another. The story of the prodigal son asks us to consider whether or not we can tolerate the grace God lavishes upon sinners and whether or not we will choose reconciliation or estrangement.
Our culture seems enamored with the older brother of this text, supporting policies that make fresh starts and new creation virtually impossible. We relish not grace upon grace, but punishment upon punishment. Instead of practicing forgiveness seventy times seven times, we practice being punitive as much as possible. We forget that we, too, were once lost but now are found, through no merit of our own. We forget that we are heirs of God through Christ and not through any goodness of own.
We of all people ought to rejoice with those who make the slightest turn toward new life because we know the power of Christ to make all things new, to make us new, to unite us to God and each other. But too often we choose estrangement rather than becoming the righteousness of God.
What would it look like for us to be ambassadors for Christ in our current culture and context? Imagine if we were the people on the lookout for hints of transformation, glimpses of life, ever anticipating the promised new creation in Christ. I suspect we would find many occasions to celebrate rather than judge, embrace rather then reject, work for justice instead of seek retribution. I am sure if we looked to the Father as our guide, we would discover abundance not scarcity, and our life together would be so much more joyous for all.
Earlier this week I was behind a car at a stoplight on a busy street. Just as the light turned green, the driver in the car ahead of me held out a grocery bag with what appeared to be two Styrofoam containers in it. My first thought was that the driver was going to litter, but instead he crept through the intersection, gently beeped the horn and held out the bag to two people standing in the median. The person behind me honked the horn for the 10 seconds it took for this small act of kindness to occur. The brief exchange reminded me that often our judgment is altogether wrong. In a moment, I felt chagrin, assuming a transgression when instead an example of goodness played out right in front of me. I knew, too, that all too often I am honking the horn in frustration and judgment when I ought to be celebrating the exhibition of reconciliation and love unfolding all around me.
God has rolled away the disgrace of Egypt. Our cups overflow. Goodness and mercy chase us down. No longer do we regard anyone from a human point of view. Everything old has passed away. We’ve been welcomed home, no matter our past transgressions. In response, will we become ambassadors of Christ, seeking reconciliation, celebrating and sharing abundant life, or will we choose the estrangement that diminishes us all?
- How are you being an ambassador for Christ in your context?
- What does it mean to not regard anyone from a human point of view? How do you regard people?
- Have there been times when you felt like the prodigal son of this story? The father? The older brother?
- Why is God’s grace difficult for us to accept for ourselves and for others?
- If you read the story of the prodigal son in the liturgical context of Lent, how does it color your interpretation of the text? Can you see how this is a story of death and resurrection?
- Are there circumstances in which you need to practice the reconciliation won for us in Christ? How will you begin to bridge the divides in your life, church and community?
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