I am preaching at Ridges/Roxbury UMC and the United Methodist Church of Springdale (both in the Stamford, CT) area this coming Sunday. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Joshua 5: 9 – 12, 2 Corinthians 5: 16 – 21, and Luke 15: 1 – 3, 11 – 32. The service at the Ridges/Roxbury church is at 9 and the service at the Springdale church is at 10:30. You are welcome to attend.
I have written and spoken before about growing up as an Air Force brat and of moving from place to place each year. For some, this was traumatic because you were never in a place long enough to make many friends and the ones that you did make were like you, well aware that their father would be transferred to another Air Force base in a year or so and the process would have to start all over again.
But it was an experience that I wouldn’t have traded for all the tea in china. It gave me a view of the world and the people of this world that not too many people have or get. We spend most of our lives in one place and we see the world from that particular point of view. There is nothing wrong with that, provided you are willing to look or think in other ways. Part of the reason that we have problems in this world, I believe, comes from our unwillingness to see the world as others see it or to envision other views. We are unwilling to leave the comfort of our home and see what is “out there.’
This week isn’t about seeing the world from a different view; it is about our view of this place that we call home. While I will always say that I gained from moving around this country each year while growing up, I have to admit that for many years I didn’t have a place that I could call home. if you were to ask me where I am from, I would reply that I am from Memphis, Tennessee, because that is where I graduated from high school and where my mother lives. But I could and have said that I have roots in Missouri and North Carolina but neither qualifies as home.
But the place that one calls home is more than just a building; it is the place where one feels secure and safe. The significance of the Old Testament reading for today is that Exodus is now over and the people of Israel are now home. What they eat each day will no longer be the manna from heaven but the food that they grow and prepare. For the Israelites, life took on a different meaning that day some three thousand years ago. No longer would they wander in the desert, each day hoping to find security and peace. Now, their activities would focus on building their new home and putting down roots as a people and a nation.
This generation of Israelites knew very little about the time before the Exodus and little of the time before their ancestors had left this same land and journeyed to Egypt. It was all in the stories that were told and the annual celebrations and feasts that were celebrated. But there were no roots for the people. To build in the Promised Land, to harvest crops and raise animals and their families was a new and different life. It was not to begin over but to begin.
For the prodigal one, it is a little different. He does have roots; he does have a life in place but it is a life that perhaps has little promise and no opportunity. As the second son, he was not going to get the land that his father owns; he was not going to get the prestige that comes with the land and the possessions. If he was to make an impact on the world, he will have to leave his home and go out on his own.
I won’t say that this youngest son was wrong in asking for his inheritance when he did. It was his right, but like all rights, it came with the responsibilities. And as we know for so many hearing and telling this story so many times, the youngest son abrogated his responsibilities. He wasted what he had been given and found himself far from home without a future.
I cannot help but think of how the relevance of that moment, when the youngest son found himself far from home, penniless, and without status in life, applies to each one of us. Oh, I know that each one of us can say that our lives are better than that but the way things have been these past months, can we truly say that we aren’t one step away from being in the same place as the youngest son?
The truth is that many of us are only one step away though it isn’t because we have been like the prodigal son. To some extent, we have been like the older brother. We have been careful; we have played by the rules.
But there are many who haven’t and now they expect to recover from their prodigal ways by having someone pay for their mistakes. But, by the same token, I see far too many people who have the attitude of the older son. They see the riches of this planet as theirs to keep and do whatever they so desire with it. They seem to have the law on their side and they use the law, though in ways that it was not meant to be used.
When we hear about the way banks and financial institutions played with the financial market for their own gain, we wonder how they were able get away with it. For the most part, what they did was perfectly legal. And in a time and in a society where ethics take a back seat when it comes to how we do things, the morality of playing with other people’s money and risking their lives and future doesn’t enter into the equation.
The debt of this country has come just as much from the arrogance of some as it has from the slovenly habits of others. We see many who protest the government spending while at the same time putting their hands out for government funds. It was interesting to see how many people were protesting against government healthcare but yet who were received such funds. We see the icecaps melting, not just in the Arctic Ocean but around the world but we hear so many people say that we, the people, are not messing with the climate of this planet. We keep hearing people say that we have plenty of oil left on this planet if we would just drill for it.
The numbers don’t add up. We hear that the recession is over but the number of people unemployed doesn’t seem to go down. The lines at the food closets seem to be getting bigger; the number of people without healthcare keeps increasing. And we hear the older son complaining to the father that the youngest son shouldn’t be welcomed home; that it was his fault that he wasted his money and inheritance, he doesn’t deserve anything or any help.
Yes, there are some, too many perhaps, who are like the youngest son. When we examine the nature of the problems of today, we see a pattern of wanting the future now, of spending what we have now or don’t have a right to spend and leaving little for the future.
Too many people focus on the prodigal son, the one who grabbed what he could and left home and now is left with nothing. But there are a number of people out there who didn’t have anything to begin with, who work for a minimum wage and barely get by, hoping that they won’t get sick because they don’t have health insurance. There are too many people like that today. And there really isn’t a reason that it should be that way.
There are too many people in this world who are like the oldest son, unwilling to share in their inheritance. I will not argue that each individual has a right to an inheritance but it bothers me when you see individuals who have more money and more things that anyone person can ever enjoy and then hear these people say that they have a right to more. How much is enough? When does accumulating wealth just for the sake of having more become nothing more than simple greed?
The older brother doesn’t want to share; the older brother thinks that to spend any money on his stupid and foolish younger brother is wasteful and frivolous. He gave up his life; let him live with the consequences.
It bothers me that there are people out there who still maintain the same attitude that seemed to exist two thousand years ago, that poverty and sickness are the signs of a sinful life and those who are poor and homeless and sick deserve what they get.
That, in my opinion, was the attitude of the older brother and it is the attitude of too many people today. And any attempt to change the world, to bring equality to this world is met with the strongest resistance but no solution. It is as though there is to be no change in the dealings of the world. The rich will get what they consider theirs and the poor will get nothing and that is the way it will be.
And this is a conflict that will not be easily resolved by someone setting a great big banquet with the fatted calf killed or someone else buying the finest clothes.
But hear the words of Paul again, of how the old way of living is gone and there is a new way to live in Christ. Hear Paul’s words of how we should not judge a person by what is on the outside and what can be so deceiving but rather let us look inside them.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians written two thousand years ago still ring true, perhaps even more so today. There is a vision of Christ in this world today that runs counter to the words and actions of the Gospel; perhaps it is time that we cast aside that vision and the words of those who proclaim a world in which Christ is the servant and whose job is to give to those who have and want more.
It is time, whether we are the younger brother or the older brother, to come home, to come back to God. We have been wandering in a wilderness of our making for far too long and now we must come home. Like the prodigal son who wasted his life, we must seek forgiveness from Our Father. And like the older son whose life was locked in the prison of selfish desires, we can gain our freedom by seeking the same forgiveness. Just as the power of grace will welcome home the prodigal son, so too will it see the older brother free.
We are almost finished with this Lenten journey. We have been wandering in the wilderness for far too long. It is time to come home, to the welcoming arms of Our Father.