Essential and sinless. Who is listening to the story today? Who needs to hear this story? How do we hear this story?
Essential and sinless. This is how the Pharisees saw themselves. This is how the oldest brother saw himself. Maybe… at the beginning of the story… the younger brother—who was so focused on himself—he too may have had an image of himself as being essential and sinless.
And… I have a story to share with you…
I have a plaque. More correctly, my husband Steve has a plaque. A plaque that… likely… we have all embraced at one time as individual. The individual at the center of a story. A task. A project. In which we felt essential. And sinless.
You may, or may not know, that Steve was a tax collector. In fact, he managed the delinquent tax collections for the State of Wisconsin. Years ago, during statewide budget discussions, the governor at the time declared that no state employee could travel out of state—unless it was essential.
At that same time, the Rev. Jack Hicks was the interim pastor at the church Steve and I were attending. One Sunday the parable of the Prodigal Son was the focus scripture: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to hear (Jesus)…”
Jack began the sermon by asking, “who here is a sinner?” and—of course—all the culturally conditioned Jesus followers in the congregation dutifully raised their hands. For, we are all sinners, right (OK… so that is a theological question for another day…)? Jack then said, “I was going to ask all those who are sinners to stand, but I didn’t want Steve Gorton sitting alone.”
Hmmmm… Sinners… and tax collectors.
Two exclusive groups.
… and tax collectors.
My wonderfully loving parents ran with this story, and created a plaque. I think, in part, every time I see it I felt like the older brother in today’s parable.
“Steve G. – Essential and Sinless.”
Whether we are the older sibling, or the younger brother, sister, the father… or the mother… or the spouse… or the hard working employee (for we are all the hard working employee, right?); or the person who has hit rock bottom… or the one who has been tossed aside… forgotten… or whatever our relation is with another… and with the Holy… as I read through the parable of the Prodigal Son, all I could think was “this is what we need—soooo desperately need.”
This is what our community needs. What our country needs. What our world needs. A need to radically re-embrace grace.
And as I read these verses this week, I was equally convinced that this is also what beats so very deeply in the heart of the Holy. A yearning. A stirring. A watching of the horizon for a turning around. A seizing of an intensely sought after resurrection. God’s Holy Anticipation that what has been dead will come back to life (Luke 15:32a). An unwavering, Great Hope that Grace will be… can be… re-membered. Pulled back together. Embraced.
Holy Anticipation. Grace re-membered.
And what if…the question lifted by this parable is “What if?”
What if the question is: What if God’s Grace were embraced here, on earth?
What if God’s great hope, God’s extravagant love, God’s radical welcome was… is… could be… can be… here… now?
In the retelling of this familiar story,
We read the verses once again and listen differently? Listened as people who have lived this story? For, I think that for many of us, at different times, have experienced this narrative. We have encountered these people in our lives, deeply, relationally, in all of its complicated, twists and turns. These people, in many ways, are us.
Amanda Brobst-Renaud writes that, “The parable invites us to sit with the younger son in the messes of his own making, with the elder son in the bitterness and fear of being overlooked, and with the father as he leaves the comfort of his home to bring in all that is lost and all that feels forsaken… Part of the reason this story is so compelling and so beloved is because we are never only one of the characters. Who among us has not squandered the love we have been given? Who among us has not felt the bitter sting of insecurity and fear at being left out? Who among us has not chased after love, hoping it will be returned?”
And what if…
We have messed up. Really, really messed up? Relationally messed up? As a wider community, really, really, messed up?
What can we do, should we do, in the mess to run after, grab and hold onto, God’s Re-Membered Grace?
I look around. I watch the news. I meet with community and faith leaders. I watch my grandchildren play. I gather with people in their homes and assisted living facilities and think, “Yep. We have messed up. Really, really messed up.”
Last week I offered the opportunity in worship for you to share your Lenten prayer words. Those words printed on the stones that we’ve had available since the beginning of Lent to guide us in pausing. Praying. Seeing. Hearing. Responding—during these days Jesus leads us once again into the story of walking towards Jerusalem. Of taking that risk to embrace the Holy “What Ifs” around us. That revealing Love in all of its various parts… re-membered… pulled back into God’s radical grace.
I invite you once again to remember your prayer word. Some if the words shared last week were: Transition, vision, passion, aspire, inspire, dare…
And now ask yourself, “What if…”
How might your prayer word reveal a path for re-membering God’s grace?
At each service, several people in the congregation shared their prayer word, and the re-membering of God’s grace that they had witnessed over the past few weeks.
Pastor Kris noted that: “For me there is an embedded tension between my word for 2019, “root,” and the word that “found” me for Lent, “transition.” There I find a both/and of being rooted in God’s ever-present I Am, and the transition into God’s Holy Anticipation of something new… God’s love… and grace… and peace… and joy… to break into the human condition.”
What if… grace can be re-membered, pulled together? For this is what our world needs. A “What If?” reimagining. A Holy Yearning. A Spirit-filled watching of the horizon for a turning around. A seizing of that sought-after resurrection. God’s Holy Anticipation that what has been dead will come back to life (Luke 15:32a). God’s unwavering, Great Hope that Grace can be… will be… re-membered. Pulled back together. Embraced.
May we be filled with Holy Anticipation.
Reflection on Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32 offered March 31, 2018
 Buttrick, David G. Speaking Parables: A Homiletic Guide. Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012. 199.
 Brobst-Renaud, Amanda. “Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 by Amanda Brobst-Renaud.” Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 Commentary by Amanda Brobst-Renaud – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL). Accessed March 29, 2019. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3992.