(NOTE: Due to technical problems, we were unable to record this sermon)
Lent 4-Year C–March 31, 2019
Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“There was a man who had two sons.” Through the centuries we’ve disregarded this opening line by naming the parable after only one son, the Prodigal Son. As if the older brother and the father only play supporting roles.
There was a man who had two sons.
The younger son demands his inheritance, leaves his Father, goes to the far country and spends his wealth in Vegas on booze, broads, and betting—and loses at every turn. He’s now feeding pigs, an unclean animal in Judaism.
The elder son stays with his Father and has an abundance of money, clothes, comfort, and friends, and claims he has never disobeyed a command of his Father.
Two very different journeys—on the outside—but I want to suggest that on the inside they are on the same journey. They are living in different ways, but they are both living inside the same story, a story that neither one sees nor believes.
BOTH ARE UNABLE TO SEE THE TRUTH OF THEIR LIVES.
NEITHER ONE UNDERSTANDS THEIR TRUE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE FATHER, WHICH IS SUMMED UP BY THE FATHER WHEN HE TELLS THE OLDER SON: “SON, YOU ARE ALWAYS WITH ME, AND ALL THAT IS MINE IS YOURS.” Joel Goldsmith quotes this line often in his writings
Both boys have the presence, wealth, and affection of the Father throughout their lives, from beginning to end. But neither believes it, neither lives as if it is true.
The younger son doesn’t believe and sees his relationship with his father as transactional: he has served his time on the farm and now his Father owes him his inheritance, so he can finally get out from under the domination of his Father and older brother.
Likewise, the elder son doesn’t believe it, so he is resentful. He says he has worked like a slave and hasn’t even merited a goat to share with his friends.
Both sons are living in a dream, an illusory world created by their thinking. In their minds they are separate from the Father, his ever-present affection and abundance.
Both share the illusion of separation and scarcity and that illusion determines how they live: the younger son reacts and runs away from his image of the Father; the older son stays home but resents and resists his image of the Father.
They are both in a prison of their own making, for as long as they think this is the way things are, this will be the way things are. This is how they will experience their lives.
This is our world—a world which is generated in the mind by the belief that separation and scarcity are real, facts as solid as a granite countertop.
The Father is not always with us, but far away, and all that he has is not ours, so we must fight for everything we want.
Therefore, some people strike out to prove they don’t need the Father or their brother, and follow every whim of their own self-creation.
Others stay inside the conventional nightmare, known as the American dream, stockpiling as much money, comfort, and sometimes religion, or guns, or both, to protect themselves in this dog eat dog world, “red in tooth and claw”, a world of separation and scarcity.
Yet Jesus, in all his stories and healings, is showing us that this world is the product of a false belief, a fiction of the human mind, a prison of our own making. For Jesus says, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32
But then the younger son through his suffering begins a process of awakening, comes to himself, and has an original thought: “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father….”
He still thinks he is separated from his Father by his sin and shame, so he rehearses a confession, but long before he can make his confession, his Father is running towards him with arms out in welcome and celebration. This happens before the confession is uttered. It is important for the son to say it, but it is not necessary for the Father to hear it, because this son of his was dead, and is alive, was lost and is found”.
The Father reveals his own true nature and the son’s true nature by giving him the robe, ring, and shoes of the always-beloved son. This is who you and I really are.
“You are always with me and everything I have is yours.”
The elder son has learned to cope and somewhat succeed in this illusory world. He has comfort and friends, which cover up the gnawing sense of separation and scarcity. He knows his Father doesn’t really love him and thinks he’s had to work like a slave to earn the little he has.
And when he sees his father lavish sonship onto that son of yours, he cries out, “Ah Ha! I knew it! He’s always loved that failure more than me!”
But just as the Father runs out to the younger son, so now he goes out to the elder son and says, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
Both sons were living in a false story, and yet the Father continues to offer them a way into the true story of “presence and abundance”: “You have always been with me and all that I have is yours!”
Jesus leaves the writing of the end of the story up to us.
Will the younger son live in the Father’s house or move into the slave quarters? Will the older son live in the Father’s house or stay in the prison of resentment and rejection, scarcity and separation?
When I was in my 20s I identified with the wild younger son. Then, as I settled into the conventional life of raising kids and paying taxes, I found the older son a better fit.
But there is a third choice—the choice to believe Jesus’s description of the Father.
Today, Paul invites us into the same reality, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ….”
Every day, including this one, Jesus invites us to realize that the prison of our thoughts is made of paper and glue, and whether we’re in a pigsty in the far country or in the cold comfort of home the prison door is always open…and we are free to step out into the realization that the God is always with us and everything God has is ours.