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Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent - March 31 2019

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year C
March 31 2019
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Last week “We got Odell!” But you’ll need to ask someone who was here last week what that was about.

I also talked about the rejoicing of the young man’s father, because I forgot we were reading that this week.

And I talked about how all heave rejoices when the lost are moved to return.

All the celebrations!  All the parties!

I have been wondering ever since, “How does a preacher top that?”  I’ll let you in on a secret – I can’t.  But God can!

God can because God is all about love and joy and rejoicing.

God is not like the older brother in this parable.

This older brother is not happy that his younger sibling has returned.  He thinks him irresponsible – which he has certainly been – and manipulative, playing on their father’s fondness to gain money before he’s entitled – and he did that, too.

Older Brother doesn’t believe Younger Brother has really seen the light.  He thinks “Yo-Bro” is back to get more money, to abuse their father’s trust again.

Remember, Older Brother was there to pick up the pieces, to see their father’s grief and sorry and worry and disappointment when YoBro cut out on the family.

Remember, Older Brother did everything and prided himself on being the stable one, the dutiful son, the righteous adult.  He carried the load both sons should have carried; he followed the rules; he met his society’s expectations of good sons.

He probably hadn’t cut loose since he was five years old and started following the flocks and bringing up water from the well, and teaching his flighty YoBro how to do these things in his turn.

My guess is, YoBro wasn’t that interested.  Chances are he shirked his chores, and Older Brother wound up doing them instead, feeling all hurt and righteous at the same time.  And the kid got away with it – he was Isaac, the trickster, to Older Brother’s Esau, and he got away with everything; and everybody just thought he was cute or charming or funny.  YoBro was forever dreaming of great adventures all while leading a charmed and spoiled life.

So it should be no surprise that Older Brother was jealous and envious of YoBro and angry beside – and was probably relieved, in a way, when YoBro proved he was as thoughtless and captious as Older Brother always knew he was, and took their dad for all he could, and rode off into the sunset.  With luck, he would never come back to bother them again.

Life settled down into a nice, regular, predictable pattern.  Older Brother was always there, always working, always around for Dad to lean on and count on.  Every day, Older Brother strove to prove he was worthy of Dad’s trust, and he did it well.  Never one foot wrong.  Though, there might have been less laughter around the cookfire of an evening, and his father probably looked pensive as night fell, watching the road YoBro had taken the day he left home, pining for that child who had so blithely walked away.

And then, one evening, when Dad was looking down that road, and was about to turn back to the house, there, at the edge of sight, he saw someone coming – thin, grayed, weary, scraggy, maybe limping:  “Could that be … now, how could it be? But wait, might it be …, Oh, I think it might be, but oh so worn, oh he looks like my boy, but so worn … but … but dare I hope?  I think it might be, I think it is, Oh!  It is!  It is!”

“Run, my feet!  Hurry, my legs!  Extend, O arms!  Here, here, take my cloak, can you walk, shall I carry you?  No?  Then lean on me, come, come, Oh, you are home, at last, at last!  Josiah!” he calls to a slave, “Josiah! Quick! Run! Kill the fatted calf!  Build up the fire!  Make a meal – no, make a feast!  For my lost one is hope!  Open the wine!  Here, drink, drink up, my love, my own, my dear, dear son, o welcome home, welcome home!”

Tears streaming down his face, laughter bubbling in his belly, in his throat, on his lips, rejoicing, and praising God!

And over across the valley, Older Brother is headed home with the flock, and he hears … what, music?  Shouting?  Laughter?  The fire is burning so high:  what has happened?  Is it an attack?  A raiding party?

He picks up the pace, he breaks into a lumbering run, and as he draws closer, his father sees him and runs to greet him, to draw him in, saying, “Only look, your brother, who was lost, has come back to us at last!”

And his heart turns over, it cracks open, and all the bitter thoughts of a lifetime come pouring forth, he cannot stop them; he does not want to stop them: this selfish, thoughtless, headless scion of satan had stolen everything he valued, broken every rule, robbed his father of happiness, and forced his brother into endless labor.

He should not have come home.

Or, if he did, he should have been cast out.

What he did to his family, his family should do to him.

He didn’t understand.  Older Brother doesn’t understand.

The urge to punish wrongdoing, the desire for revenge, the hatred rooted in anger and pain – these lay deep in him; as they do in us.  We think we should be rewarded for doing the right things.  And those who do wrong, or foolishly, should be punished.

Jesus didn’t finish this story. That’s up to us.  We are challenged to finish it every time we are in this situation:

  • of having done wrong, or
  • of forgiving, or
  • of not being willing to forgive.

The struggle is internal to each of us:  Who are we?  Who do we see ourselves to be?  Who do we want to be?  Who is God calling us to be?  And how do we get there?

I think, I think, mind you, it turns on being willing to admit our wrong and seek to make it right, and on being willing to be forgiven, and on being willing to forgive the wrongs others have done to us.

And, in the end, to choose love instead of anger and bitterness.

How do you think this story ends?