March 31, 2019

4 Lent

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

The Rev. James M.L. Grace


If you are not as close to God as you once were, or as you would like to be, make no mistake – you are the one who has moved, not God.  God has always been there.  We are the ones who have been away.  Every time.   It is not difficult to find God, it really isn’t.  It’s not hard to find God, because God isn’t lost.  God is all around us, always. 

I’m not sure how many of you believe that, I’m not sure how many of you think all that business I just said about God is nothing but a fantasy.  I don’t know.  But I believe it.  I believe it because I have been lost – spiritually lost so many times in my life because I wander away from God.  I do it every day

I get lost every day, and at night before I go to bed, I try most nights to say this prayer that helps me find my way back to God.  The prayer goes like this:  “I lay my head to rest and in doing so lay at your feet the faces I have seen, the voices I have heard, the words I have spoken, the hands I have shaken, the service I have given, the joys I have shared, the sorrows revealed.  I lay them at your feet and in doing so lay my head to rest.  Amen.”  [That prayer is included in your service bulletin if you want to take a picture of it or bring home to use]. Praying that prayer is an action I take to find my way back to God daily.  Maybe it will be helpful for you.  I hope so. 

I want to talk about the parable of the prodigal son, and I do so somewhat reluctantly because I talked about the Gospel reading last week, and I am doing it again today.  But this is too important of a story to not consider today.  I think the parable is not named correctly.  I think it should be called the parable of the prodigalsons, not son, because in my opinion, both sons are wasteful, though in different ways. 

Let me explain.  The first son goes to his dad and says “dad, I’ve been doing some thinking and I have some ideas.  I want to go to Las Vegas.  See, I’ve heard about this card game out there called poker where you can win a lot of money and so I want my inheritance so I can go there and become rich.”  Notice what the father does not say: “oh no that sounds like a bad idea, you have everything you need at home, you are cared for here, you have everything you need here.”  The father says, “here is your inheritance.”  He must not be a helicopter parent.  It must have hurt the father so much.  He probably knew that if he kept his son close by and safe, his son would never create his own identity.  He would live out his life in his father’s shadow and hate him for it.  He knew that for his son, if there was no suffering, there would be no growth, no wisdom.  What a risk the father took.

We know the rest of the story.  He goes to Las Vegas, stays at some fancy hotels, sees some shows, plays poker, and loses everything.  He hits bottom and it hurts.  No longer the big spender with an entourage arriving at Caesar’s Palace, he’s now homeless, sitting on the sidewalk outside the casino wall, begging for money.  What a waste.  He returns home, embarrassed, ashamed, broken.  His father welcomes him home with open arms and throws a party.  The prodigal son returns. 

And his older brother is so angry.  The older brother is angry at how his father welcomes his younger, wasteful, irresponsible brother home.  He’s angry because while he stayed home, and was reliable, hardworking, and trustworthy, his brother snorted his inheritance up his nose and wasted it on prostitutes, alcohol, and games of chance.  And when the older brother sees his younger irresponsible brother come home, he is filled with rageful anger and resentment toward him. The older brother goes to his dad, and says “Dad, I ran the family business for you, I opened and closed every day, I managed the accounts, I handled purchases, I even cleaned the bathrooms, and you’ve never threw a party for me, not once.” 

Do hear the resentment in the older brother’s voice?    He thinks his resentment toward his irresponsible younger brother is justified.  It’s not.  The older brother is just as prodigal, just as wasteful as the younger brother.  He didn’t go out and waste his inheritance on prostitutes like his younger brother did, but he was wasteful with his resentment.  The way resentment works, is that when you harbor a resentment toward another person, you begin think that you are a victim, that you have been wronged. 

And sometimes it might feel good to be the victim.  We get to say, “poor me,” “nobody understands how hard it is for me.”  A victim gets to blame their problems on other people, rather than assume responsibility for them.  The older brother is just as lost in resentment as his younger brother was lost in drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  But I would say that the older brother is worse off than the younger, because at least the younger brother knows that Las Vegas was a mistake – he knew he blew it.  It appears the older brother has no idea how lost he is in resentment and anger, and that hurt him in life until he learns.   

And what does the father say to the older brother’s complaint?  He says “I love you, Son.  You are always with me, and everything that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours made some bad decisions.  He almost died, but now here he is.  He was lost to all of us, but by God’s grace, he found his way back to us.”

Lent is a season where we intentionally find our way back to God.  The prayer in your service bulletin is helpful to me.  I suppose it’s helpful because it allows me to give up whatever resentment I bring with me to bed, when I am lost like the older brother in the parable.  When I lay my head on the pillow, I say those words, and as I say them, the resentment begins to lift, and I close my eyes, and find my way back home.  AMEN.