Laetare Sunday March 10, 2013
Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3,11b-32
|adjective.||Lavish – profuse – extravagant – wasteful – spendthrift|
In my old school, when I was a child¸ I remember that this parable was commonly called the Prodigal Son.
Lessons focused on the young man who left with his premature inheritance to squander it unwisely, until muddied and hungry he had no choice but to return home, where – no surprise to those of us with many siblings – he was shown so generous a welcome that his obedient brother spent the evening in a snit.
The same priest, who heard our weekly confessions of ongoing squabbles with our siblings, might ask us who we identified with in the story, and what we could learn from that.
More recent writings on this uniquely Lukan parable focus on the Father, who as one scholar observes, is neither domineering nor disinterested.
He respects the decisions of both sons, even when he disagrees with them.
And when it becomes clear that these young men have been mistaken, he forgives them.
This metaphor for our God is that of a truly Prodigal Father, one whose boundless joy in his son’s return is symbolized by the barbequing of the fatted calf.
Not enough for this father to have advanced his demanding son’s measure of the family wealth, he had to celebrate – no mind the cost! – the penniless return of this same son.
God a parent desires only that both his children embrace the miracle of their reunion.
Thus in my lifetime a story once available to religious and parents as a cautionary tale of immaturity, is revealed as a fabulous image of a recklessly generous God whose love overlooks our every rejection of the gifts and love she lavishes on us.
Coupled as it is here with the excerpt from Corinthians, this Gospel makes today a glorious Sunday of restored hope and mission:
Come to yourselves! Remember who you are, and how richly you are loved, and Be Joyful! Now that’s Laetare!
This Lenten season is a waking up time. We winter- weary people are challenged to “come to ourselves” and to turn toward our only home and the forgiving embrace that awaits us.
We are reminded that our God wants us to follow our dreams and be free, even if in seeking our freedom we make foolish mistakes.
For children of this God, It would be a deeper mistake to labor resentfully under an onerous sense of duty, yoked to labor and practices from under which we find no joy, know no hope, and experience neither gratitude nor grace.
God calls us to be different than the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ acquaintance whose mean-spiritedness posed as loyalty and righteousness.
We are baptized into this expansive God who knows no partiality; who desires only that we reconcile with our sisters and brothers.
This generous God who claims us went to astonishing lengths to reconcile with us;
And did so in the life and death of Jesus her child;
It is this lavish God whose Spirit living is us who makes us ambassadors of reconciliationThis is our call- first enfleshed in our families and those who love us:
As we “Come to ourselves” we remember to whom we belong, and also who we have hurt, through what we have done and what we have failed to do.
We scan the edges of our social circles and our wider community for those who have been hurt or lost: They are legion, they are children, and they are ours! They need tutors, mentors, and hope for a future.
They are old and they need someone to listen to their stories.
We keep our eyes peeled for any who may have wasted their talents, resources, health and options through unwise choices, and we must pull them back into the embrace of the community. This is the new creation: a world without boundaries, a love without limits.
Many of today’s prodigals need access to treatment for alcohol or other drug abuse, but instead receive lengthy prison sentences without options for recovery or education. Families unravel; children are orphaned, and lives are wasted when we choose punishment over reconciliation.
God’s profligate love shows no preference, so as ambassadors of God’s reconciliation we must figure out how to follow Jesus’ witness and uphold the dignity of each of God’s children. In Christ no runaway or addict, no person caught up in prostitution or theft, is alien or unclean, not in God’s own home!
This Thursday we have a chance to join a fellowship of churches around Wisconsin in a day of reflection, organizing, prayer, and dialogue with state legislators. It is a day to strategize on protecting access to health care and the environment as a faith response and a moral imperative. A day dedicated to reconciling our impulse to lock up problems with our call to support the weak and heal the wounded. Please join our MOSES/WISDOM Thursday if you can.
God initiates all works of reconciliation. We are called over and over again to come to our senses! Repent! Turn back to our lavish, loving creator. Years ago, it was common to signify this turning back with confession, later called the sacrament of reconciliation.
While consolation and spiritual direction benefitted many people through that practice, the primary sacrament of reconciliation has always been the Eucharist we celebrate.
We face one another around this table, gathered in our yearning and our fears, our loves, failures, and hopes: our Lent.
Be reminded at this table that God, the Father/Mother of mercy, through the death and resurrection of the Son has reconciled the world to Godself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the church may God grant us pardon and peace.
O Holy Spirit, be with all called to lead and serve communities of faith. Lead all Christians and the believers of other world religions in truth and love, to bring about a world of justice and peace. Let us pray.
Father of Reconciliation: We pray for those who are imprisoned, and for their families. May they be kept safe and find meaning activity and hope until they are free and united with their loved ones. Let us pray.
Exuberant Mother God, we pray for grateful hearts. Grant that we may live in contagious joy, and witness credibly to your inexhaustible and unconditional love. Let us pray.