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Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
During this season of Lent, we’ve been exploring faith. Today, we discover that God is both the source and sustainer of our faith, and the one to whom our faith is directed. Our faith begins and ends in God.
Jesus’ parable explores God’s gift of faith, inviting us to discover where we are in the spectrum of celebrating that gift. Many of us know this story as “the prodigal son,” but today, I want you to consider renaming it, “the radical Father.”
Two groups have come to Jesus. You might want to think of them as the good religious people and the sinners. The good religious people aren’t so happy that Jesus is welcoming the sinners, they’ve been taught you have to keep yourself pure and follow the law to be allowed into God’s presence. The sinners seem to have found a way to cheat the system. They’ve cut in line and received the welcome without the hard work. The religious people might feel like their faithfulness has been cheapened. It’s this grumbling that leads Jesus to tell this teaching story.
Both sons start with a relationship with their father. One son tries to break that relationship and leaves. While that might have broken the father’s heart, it didn’t break the father’s love towards that son. As in the children’s sermon, this father has been constantly on the lookout for his son.
When this son is welcomed back into relationship with a huge celebration, the other son is out working. He hears the music, but refuses to enter the celebration. Is it jealousy? Is he mad that the favor that should belong only to him is now being shared with someone he doesn’t think deserves it? Does he think his father is a fool for welcoming back the one who rejected him?
There would be such joy if both sons would enter the party, but the party won’t stop, it won’t wait for anyone. The father starts the party. He goes out to both sons. But he does not hold back his embrace until both sons are ready to embrace each other.
This father doesn’t play by the rules. He should have written his younger son out of his life just as his son had treated him. He should have rewarded the elder son who remained faithful. He shouldn’t have been keeping a watchful eye to the road, an open ear to any news of his younger son. No head of the household shows such public foolishness as hiking up his clothes and running out to someone who has wronged him- and certainly doesn’t entrust him with the best robe and ring. This Father acts oddly, against all convention. His actions are not bound by any rules, but are directed by love.
The Father’s going to reach out in his radical love and not hold back out of fear that his grace is offensive. That’s the punchline the parable is directing at the religious people.
Jesus has come to draw all people to God, lassoing them in grace-filled faith. No one makes their own faith or earns their place with God, it’s God who breaks all rules in order to run to us and bring us in to the party.
We dance the relationship of faith with God. It’s God who turns on the music, shows us the steps, and leads us around the floor. When we’d rather hang back, when we feel more like a wallflower than dancing with the stars, God comes over to us with an open hand. God creates our faith and that gifted faith is God drawing us near.
God works to come to us and draw us near again. Here at Cross we declare our mission is “Joyfully Doing God’s Work.” After three years, maybe it’s safe to admit I’ve never felt really connected to our mission statement. The verb has always seemed a bit off. Why would we be “doing” God’s work instead of joining it? Just seems rather presumptuous.
But, as I read Second Corinthians, I’ve been gaining a deeper understanding of what it means when we proclaim we are “Joyfully Doing God’s Work.” As disciples, we do what our teacher does. Our whole purpose in studying the Bible, growing in faith, is to know our God better so that we can replicate God’s work in our own lives. Disciples do the work of their master.
That doesn’t mean that the master isn’t doing her work, or that the master is somehow uninvolved in shaping the work of the disciple. On the contrary, the master continues her work as the perfect example to which the disciples attempts copy.
I think of people like Bev and her granddaughter Becca. I know that Bev has wonderful skills in sewing and card making, which she is passing on to Becca. That first step is letting Becca see what Bev has made, maybe even gifting her with a handsewn outfit. Then it’s letting Becca watch, then it’s leading her through the process, then guiding her hands through the sewing, then standing back and offering suggestions, then working side by side as they both create their crafts, with Bev always accessible for an answer to a question, guidance and encouragement. There will be habits that Becca picks up that will be unique to the way Bev does things. There will be signs in her work that it is after the style of her teacher.
In the same way, we are taught by and entrusted with the master’s work. We have received the gift of faith. We have been given the gift of reconciliation, the pull Jesus has put in our hearts to draw us back to God.
Hear again these verses from 2 Corinthians: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (5:18a)
Jesus makes relationship with God for us. He has reconciled us, brought us to God, even when we were far off. We are trusted with the work of living in to this reconciliation, the community that Christ has created. Paul writes, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making God’s appeal through us, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (5:20) Our work is God’s work- to push away all barriers and pull people towards God, the source of life and love. No one lives in a way that separates them from God. We’re called to live that grace towards the world.
God creates faith in us in order for our faith to pull us toward God. God is the one looking out for us, waiting and working for us to find our home in God’s open community. God keeps a place set at the table for each one of us, longing for the table to be filled with all of God’s beloved. We begin to taste that feast today, as we sit at the table Jesus has set for us. Jesus has provided the meal and made us a welcome seat out of his own faithfulness. Unlike some weddings today, we’re not invited to the party with the expectation that we’ll bring a gift of high enough value to pay back the cost of our meal. God feeds and welcomes us for free. Because there are open seats at the table, God has enlisted us to join in the holy work of expectant waiting and open welcoming, inviting more and more people to take their seat and experience the joy of attending the party God is hosting.
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