Which Brother Are You?

Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday in Lent
A discussion last week led me to wonder what happened to the drive or the emphasis that lead us through the 60’s. It was during that time that we worked to remove inequality in various forms from our society. It was also a time when we sought to move beyond the boundaries of this world with our exploration of space and the oceans. It was also during this time that we became aware of what being a steward of this earth really meant.

Yet, as the decades progressed, the forces of inequality have again surfaced as if they never really left. We now longer seek excellence in the things that we do; rather, we accept mediocrity as the best that is possible and no longer push the boundaries of the envelope. Given a choice between taking care of this small blue planet that we call home and using up the resources without thought, we consume all that we have and seek more. Some how, we have allowed the promise of the 60’s and the early 70’s to disappear into a sea of self-interest, self-indulgence and self-promotion.

Unfortunately this transformation of society, from one where we cared about others to one of self-centeredness, has transformed the church. It dominates and shapes the character of religion today. No longer do we ask how we can serve Jesus but rather we demand that Jesus serve us. The public image of Christianity today is one where people are told that Jesus will make them happier, more self-satisfied, better adjusted, and more prosperous. Religion is presented as a way of uncovering our human potential, our potential for personal, social, and business success. No longer are we brought into Jesus’ life but rather we bring Jesus into our lives. (1)

As we read the story of the prodigal son, the Gospel reading for today (2), we suddenly realize that we have turned into the older brother. As a society, as a culture, we have become more concerned with our own personal needs and the accumulation of our personal wealth. We no longer care about our lost brothers or sisters. We assume that anyone whose life is like that of the younger son must be so consumed with sin that there is no hope for them. So we give them none.

But in doing this, we forget what the mission of the Christian church is. The historical mission of the church has always been the sign of new life given in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Its primary task has been to witness to the purpose of Christ in the world. But the church has failed in this task, in part because it no longer focuses on the presence of the Holy Spirit and in part because it tries to be a part of the community instead of being a new community.

There are some today who try to make the present community a community of Christ. They do so in ways that are reminiscent of the religious community of Jesus’ time. But to seek such a community is to stifle the creativity found in Christ. To seek such a community is to make life static and meaningless and all that will do is remove the future. And if you make life static and you remove creativity from life, then you remove the future. And if you remove the future, then you create a community that offers little hope or promise to those on the margin of society. (3)

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that our world in Christ is a new world, one not viewed from our viewpoint but rather from the viewpoint of Christ. (4) As long as we view Christ from our viewpoint of the world, then we can never see the opportunity and the possibilities that are found for all in Christ. When we encounter Christ, we find the true human existence that we lack.

The theme of the forty days of Lent will always be a call for repentance. It is a call to change the direction and nature of one’s life, to stop living a life found in this world and begin living a life found in Christ. When the Israelites celebrated the first Passover in the Promised Land (5), the manna from heaven that had nourished them through the days and months of the Exodus stopped. This was not a sign that God’s protection and support had ended and they were responsible for their own lives. Rather, it was a sign that they were in a new world, a world promised to them years before in the original covenant.

As we see the end of Lent, we prepare for the re-establishment of the covenant, the promise between each one of us and God. We have been in the wilderness, lost and without hope. We have forgotten that we are God’s children and we have begun to see all that is around us as ours and ours alone. We have become the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son.

Yet, our Heavenly Father has not forgotten us or where we are. If we stop, pause, and think as did the younger brother, we know that it is not too late to make the change that will brings us back to God. So, the question today must be “Which brother are you?”
(1) Adapted from Jim Wallis’ A Call to Conversion
(2) Luke 15: 1 – 3, 11b – 32
(3) Adapted from Colin Williams’ Faith in a Secular Age
(4) 2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 21
(5) Joshua 5: 9 – 12

3 thoughts on “Which Brother Are You?

  1. Pingback: Notes on the 4th Sunday in Lent « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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