“The Road to Jerusalem: Reconciliation” March 31, 2019
“The Road to Jerusalem: Reconciliation”
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Last year, I was strongly encouraged to be a volunteer in the Smart Reader program in our local school system. “O, you’ll love it!” I was told. “It’s a great program designed to promote the joy of reading to kids who are learning how to read.” Great idea, I thought; it makes perfect sense. And so, every Wednesday morning I get to sit down and read to kindergarten kids and it is phenomenal. Now, these kids come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life, which can be challenging at times. But do you know the one thing we all have in common? The one thing that makes it all worthwhile? The love of a good story, that’s what.
It was Jonathan Gottschall that said, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night telling itself stories.” And Alan Kay, the vice president of Walt Disney shares, “Why was Solomon recognized as the wisest man in the world?
Because he knew more stories than anyone else. Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”
“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, and challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture in our minds. Consequently, stories often pack more punch than sermons. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories ‘parables.’ So says the great storyteller, Janet Litherland.
And so on this, the 4th Sunday of Lent and on our journey down the road to Jerusalem, we find ourselves examining once again the Parable of the Prodigal Son. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be able to read to our kids or grandkids, I’m sure you understand the favorite book dilemma. You know what I mean: there might be a 100 books to choose from, but inevitably the little person that you are reading to will, sooner or later, find one that is their favorite and will insist that you read that one and that one only ….over, and over, and over again, forever and ever. After a while, you will have it memorized but don’t dare try to skip a page here and there to speed things up because they’ll catch you every time. You have read this 100 times – you’re ready to move on. But to them the story is just getting started. And that is the beauty of this parable that Jesus tells his disciples on the road to Jerusalem: it never gets old. For as long as I live, I will never have to worry about having something new and different to say about the parable of the Prodigal. It’s been written about, preached about, sung about, painted about, and argued about since 15 minutes after Jesus first told the story. It is rich, it is deep, and it speaks in some way to everyone who hears it. Someone asked Charles Dickens once what was the best short story in the English language, and his reply was – The Prodigal Son. I didn’t realize that English was around at the time of Luke, but there you go.
It’s been said that each of us is called to move through all three of the characters in this parable – the wayward son, the older brother, and the father. The wayward son is easy: we can all think back on wasted time, wasted opportunities, and selfish behaviors. That’s part of growing up for most of us. And likewise, we can identify with the older brother who played by the rules but couldn’t help but feel passed over and not appreciated. That one is a little tougher. But if you ask me to identify with the father in the story – unselfish, forgiving, loving unconditionally – that’s when I start to get uncomfortable. That’s what I shoot for, that’s what I pray for, but let’s face it: I’ve got a ways to go. We all have a ways to go. So maybe just this once, let’s not dwell on who is what in this wonderful story. Just this once let’s not beat ourselves up that we aren’t righteous and perfect. Just this once let’s just simply enjoy it again because well…we’re not done with it yet. Just this once let’s take comfort in the fact that no matter how far we might stray, God is waiting with open arms for us to return, to be reconciled, to be a resurrection people, to be an Easter people.
Jean Houston writes, “If you keep telling the same sad small story, you will keep living the same sad small life.” In this time that we prepare to celebrate the risen Christ, let us be mindful, let us be prayerful, let us be hopeful, but above all let us be joyful that our God has sent to us a Savior to invite us into his story. It is a story of renewal, it is a story of salvation, and it is a story of a new life in Christ and this time it’s for real. It’s for real because this time all the fear and the doubt and the burden of sin and the ickyness of this world don’t matter so much. They’re gone. They have been washed away, as the old hymns remind us, by the blood of Jesus.
To be reconciled to God is not to get caught up on our debts; that’s been taken care of. To be reconciled to God is not an asking of forgiveness; we are forgiven. No, to be reconciled to our God is to finally accept and truly believe this crazy impossible notion that God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever should believe in him might never perish but have eternal life. To be reconciled with God is to live in that story – the story that has no end. Thanks be to God.
Amen & Shalom