3-6-16 Jesus Third Way: Grace

We’re at the halfway point in our Lenten journey and in our sermon series on Jesus’ Third Way – Jesus’ surprising teachings about the way we are be in the world, following God’s way. It’s good that we are here. It’s good that we have reached this halfway point – a point of grace. Because the path Jesus is on is getting narrower. As Jesus asks us to think outside the box and to welcome sinners, this third way may start to feel like walking on a path without a railing on the edge of a hill – or like going through the eye of a needle, as Jesus put it. We’re going to need some grace to keep going on this journey. How much can we find?

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

March 6, 2016

Jesus’ Third Way: Grace and a Light Heart

“You would never have let me get away with that!” If I said it once, I said it a thousand times growing up. “You would never have let me get away with staying up this late – or having an extra dessert or …”

Being the oldest son of 4, I had plenty of opportunity to think that my parents were being much nicer, much more generous, much more lenient to one or more of my brothers than they had been to me. “You would never have let me get away watching that movie!” [Any other older brothers or sisters in the room this morning? Sound familiar?]

In fact that way of thinking is so ingrained in me that, I still think that way today. I often think that my wife has a different standard for me than she has for herself, criticizing me for not having my phone turned on when she really wanted to reach me – when it feels like I can hardly ever get through to her on her phone – things like that.

Now that may be true – but I have felt at times that there is something stuck in my response. I always want to say, “You’re not being consistent. You are easier on yourself than you are on me.” Not til I started preparing this sermon did I hear the echo from my childhood obsession with my brothers getting something better than me or getting away with watching The Three Stooges on TV, which I never could have done when I was their age. Those sinful Three Stooges, ‘Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!”

 

I am the oldest son all the way – in every part of my being I identify with the oldest son in the story of the Lost Son. He resents the younger son claiming his share of the inheritance. He resents his younger brother leaving and making him do all the work. He resents his younger brother coming back, and he resents his father welcoming him back, throwing him a party he felt like he never had.

The older son sees only two ways for the world to be – either you love him or you love me. If you give him a party like this after he has treated you with insulting disrespect, after he has squandered all his inheritance on whores and whiskey, after he has lived with disgusting pigs and ate what they ate, if you give him a party like you’ve never given for me after all that, then there’s no room for me here.

I have been faithful. I have worked hard all these years. I have been a good boy. I always try to please you and show you how smart I am and make you love me – and what happens? You turn around and love him instead! You demean yourself running to him and throwing yourself into his arms. Have you ever done that for me? No! This son of yours is no good and you should disown him.

 

And the father comes out to him – just as he came out to the younger son – going the extra mile to tell his older son, “I have always loved you. Always. All that I have is yours. Be part of the celebration. This brother of yours was dead, but now he is alive!

(What the father graciously does not say, is “Yes, I loved your brother more than he deserved. And I also love you more than you deserve.”)

The father knows that there is a third way besides the either/or choice that is all his son can see. There is more love in the world than you know, enough love to give to all the siblings, enough love to give to both sides in a conflict, enough love to give to people of all different religions or backgrounds, enough love to give to people who work so hard to deserve it and to people who don’t work so hard, for whatever reason.

 

Jesus, you will remember, is telling this story to religious leaders and good, upstanding citizens, who are like the older brother. They have played by the rules. They always try to do what’s right. And yet, they see Jesus partying with sinners and tax collectors, with people they see as lazy cheats, with illegal immigrants, and people who cheat us out of our money. They have good reason to be angry. We in the church are the same way.

We try so hard. We are trying to be good. We serve food to people at Mary Jane Enrichment Center. We give money to the Methodist home and other good causes. We are loyal and faithful and obey the rules and teach out kids and take care of our houses and serve on committees.

It just doesn’t seem fair that people who speak other languages or practice other religions want a piece of the pie. It seems even worse that people who are mostly about partying get a piece of the pie.

Jesus, it seems liked a good party. He turned water into really good wine. He liked to eat and drink with all kinds of people. And in this story, he tells why – because there’s enough love to go around. There’s enough love even for people who look down their noses at other folks, There’s enough love even for you, even for me.

There’s enough love to go around. That’s why we share this meal each month – this Holy Communion meal where all are welcome, where all receive, where all are loved. It’s a simple promise, a simple gift from God – that there is enough to go around – enough food, enough resources, enough love. There is enough.

This is God’s good news.