Monday, March 19, 2007

David Dubay+ @St. Philip's, Charleston Lent 4, 2007

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As a part of my Lenten discipline I’ve been trying to memorize more scripture. I like to have an arsenal of scripture verses that I can unleash from memory when I or others have need. It’s amazing how much more clout you have as a minister if you can actually quote the Bible…
One such verse I’ve latched onto is from the Book of Exodus. I came across it by accident but it stuck with me.

1:8Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. KJV

The Pharaoh had no recollection of the governmental and social bond between Egypt and the people Israel. He had no regard for what Joseph had done for Egypt, he had no desire to remain in relationship with the Jews. He knew not Joseph.

It was to this forgetful Pharaoh that God sent Moses. If you remember the life of Moses….things do not go well for this Pharaoh….he winds up, plagued, grieving, wet and defeated. Because he knew not Joseph and the people of Israel were not so much his subjects but his property.

Now, moving forward to the year 2007 we find that as a body, much of the church of Jesus Christ, including her priests and pastors, have amnesia…many of us have forgotten the absolute importance and significance of today’s epistle. Many of us have forgotten that we actually need to be reconciled to God. That humanity, while adored by the creator has chosen its own path which relies on bootstrap individualism and not on providence. Because it just sounds silly.
And as a society we have also forgotten that God the Father, is seeking to reconcile us to Himself to bring us back into a life saving relationship by calling us to have faith in and believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

It is because we say and mean, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and our savior that we are, in fact, saved and reconciled to God. By that I mean, because God is faithful to his promise to us through Jesus, there is, in an instant no distance between us, the argument is over, the striving is o’er. The father, seeing us in a state of repentance, comes running to us to greet us…to give us his blessing and celebrate our rejoining the family after making the choice to leave…after becoming our own Gods so long ago.

But we forget that. As a church and as a society many of us have replaced the central message of the Gospel with this…

God loves us….He loves me just as I am… ….He doesn’t mind if I believe in him or not. As long as I am happy, God is happy, why should I waste time, asking for forgiveness when my sins are as beloved as I am because they are a part of who I am… a part of what God made when he made me….

Many of us today may hold that notion as the cornerstone of our faith lives because many of us have forgotten….or even worse…someone whose job it was to teach us forgot to mention …. the powerful words of Paul: If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, every thing has become new! For our sake God made Jesus sin…and Jesus had never sinned before…so that we might become…the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 NRSV

In Jesus we become the righteousness of God…we just don’t get a better reputation…We’re not just reformed, rehabilitated, or reeducated – we are recreated (new creations) living in vital union with Christ.[1] We, in Christ, become actual examples of God’s righteousness in this world……a hard concept…. But one we should all wrestle with.
So hard a concept that when Jesus made this point to the people he was teaching he simplified things… Surrounded by everyday people as well as the church leaders, and the lawyers, and the scribes….he tells a story.

A story that when heard in the proper cultural context is much more than a story about a wayward son….but the story of the life giving Grace of God offered to us…

Listen to the story again…with my notes included….

A young man decided that he was through with his family. He didn’t need them anymore after all he knew what was right for him… his truth was his truth and their truth was theirs… it was time to leave.

So risking a beating he asked his father for what he thought was his right to have, his inheritance. Amazingly, also risking great injury to his reputation, the father agreed and bade his son farewell.

The son went off and being a very young man with no real life skills he fed his appetites. All of them. Until the money was gone.

Eventually he was reduced to selling himself as an indentured servant to someone not of his faith. All the while living with and caring for pigs, the most unclean animal in the Jewish world. An animal so nasty, so reviled by his own people that he would not be able to sit in the presence of a fellow Jew let alone live in a house with his family all covered in… swill.

Then finally he brakes. Finally in the lowest time in his life he understands.
Life was good at home. Dad knew what was good for me. And even his servant ate better than pig food. So he pushed aside his bravado, he lowered his overpowering self-esteem, he put stock in the wisdom and grace of this father and he went back home.

Before he reached his home he practiced his speech:
"Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." He wanted to get it right. He was sincere; he needed his father to hear his sincerity.

He was expecting to have to grovel; after all he had brought shame to his family. He was ready to live with the servants…He was truly repentant…He was a changed man.

As he approached his home he saw his father running toward him…. His father had been looking out for him….maybe once or twice everyday… and he was running to his son….running and risking more shame and humiliation in the eyes of the community. But it didn’t matter. His son was back.

When they met in the road, the son humbled himself and asked to be taken back as a servant.

But grace abounded that day.

The Father had begun rejoicing even before they reached each other on the road. He had been grieving the death of a son. And that same son had been revived. Lifted above his ego and his self worship….brought back to his senses and brought back to life. And instead of punishing him or even letting him live as a servant the father does what the son could not have predicted. He makes him more than he was before he was lost.

He raises his status…the Father gives him his own ring and a fine cloak and calls for a celebration fit for a dignitary….that is not the reaction of a father whose regard for his offspring is based on worldly standards. It is grace on a universal scale.

The son who returns is made new. The son who understands his need for salvation is given more than what he can comprehend. In returning to the father the son is made whole and made new.

There is a thought that this story is simply to remind us that when we stray from “being good” we are welcome to come back on Sunday, confess and things will be fine…. And that’s not untrue...but this parable is about our entire lives…our eternity

Because we live in a fallen world we have all said good bye to our father in heaven and struck out on our own. Even if we were marked as Christ’s own forever when we were babies…we all think we know better than God. In our daily lives we all struggle to command our destinies…we all set out on the journey, our inheritance in hands. And while we don’t all end of up with the pigs….we can manage, in our youthful wisdom we leave God farther and farther behind Moving closer and closer to darkness and death……until He is but a speck on the horizon…always on the lookout for us…once or twice a day looking down the road…waiting for the reunion…

Or maybe we’re the older brother…wallowing in our disappointment that life hasn’t gone our way…not wanting to humble ourselves to our father because feel we deserve better treatment, after all we’ve been the good child, we never took our inheritance, we never lived the wrong way, we never shamed our father...and yet we get no party…no goat….but wallowing in this darkness we almost lose sight of the light…the new life that is ours…as well…and it’s been right in front of our eyes since we were born and began being the good sibling….
It’s the oldest message of the bible. That we need God to survive…and that when we turn and commit to him in humility….our faith in Jesus brings us more than just a place to worship. It means that we become eternally bound to the source of all life.
Which for me seems the better choice, the only choice. Better than what I can do for myself. Better than what the world is offering. Even better than having my wildest desires fulfilled.

Because I want the new life…I want the blessing...I want to come home and have my heavenly father running toward me….

In the next few minutes you will find that the rest of the worship service is a reiteration of what I have spoken about today. That means you are home… some of us have been back for a while….some of us have been away, on our own adventure.. not away from the building but away from surrender and new life….

as we come to the table, God is calling us to bend our knees, and to humble our hearts as well.

If you’ve been the good son, or the good daughter, your blessing awaits
If you’ve been away, far away, on your own… welcome home.

[1] Life Application Bible notes on Luke 5:9.10 pp1966,1967

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