Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C
March 30, 2019
Lessons: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people continue to learn and experience what it means to be new creations caught up in the prodigal grace of divine love.
Key Scripture: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! – 2 Corinthians 5:17
The parable of the man who had two sons is both beloved and subject to poor interpretation. I’ve heard people describe its impact on them in heartfelt, emotionally-charged words—the wayward sinner and prodigal child returning home to God’s love. Parents often find encouragement in the story that an estranged child may one day return. It’s not too much of a stretch to put oneself in the role of the wayward younger son or the parent eager to reconcile and restore a child to wholeness in the family circle. I get this because I’ve viewed this parable through these lenses at various points in my life.
What about the older son? You know, the one who did what he was supposed to do, who followed the rules, and who clearly loathed his rascally younger brother. Shades of Esau and Jacob, my friends! Don’t birthrights and loyalties matter anymore? Doesn’t family duty and honor mean something? What tensions do we create between Jesus’ words for a first century Jewish audience and our own 21st century cultural and religious overlays? (Note: For more on this check out the work of Dr. Amy Jill Levine.)
Imagine Jesus’ critics hearing this story. They’re the keepers of the law, the guardians of religious propriety, the last self-appointed bastions standing between holiness and chaos. How dare the father welcome the scoundrel of a sibling back to the table and a place of honor and full participation! How dare Jesus dine with sinners and tax collectors and break religious rules without one iota of regret!
The story makes a point that’s every bit as timely today. The gospel is for everybody, perhaps especially for rejects, miscreants, outcasts, and oddballs. It’s for all people regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, color, economic status or any other label one might throw up. In God’s economy there’s room at the table for everyone. The whole point of Jesus is to save, reconcile, and restore right relationships between humankind and God. This mercy and grace is not just for the goody-two-shoes and “regularly righteous” folk. There is no sin scorecard or righteousness insider scoreboard where Jesus is concerned. Unless there is wide welcome, unless grace is offered with open arms, how can there be reconciliation and restoration, real change and radical discipleship?
Who would the players be in your context today? Who would not feel welcome in your worshiping community? Who would you, in the role of the “good” son, look down on and resent their audacious and wonderful full participation in community?
When I look at the world and see the fear that builds walls rather than tables, the fingers that point in judgment rather than point to God, and the anger that keeps us curved in on ourselves and our needs rather than believing that there is truly enough for all, I am grieved. And, I am dismayed when I realize that there are probably more times that I have acted like the older son than like the prodigal father who values restoration and a full table. I hear this parable and know that I need to die daily to sin and rise to new life in Christ. Only when I can let go of the anger, the entitlement, the bitterness, and the hate that we humans can so cleverly justify and even hide beneath our nice exteriors, can I truly be that new creation of which Paul speaks in this week’s epistle lesson (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only then can I, can all of us, be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. It is that prodigal grace that sets us all free; there is absolutely nothing we can do to save ourselves. So, yes, come to the table of grace and lay all of your burdens down. Pull up a chair and feast on mercy, for we were lost and now have all been found.
Consider setting a beautiful banquet table in your worship space, complete with fine linens and china, candles, and flowers. Give worshipers blank paper hearts when they enter the worship space, and during the sermon invite them to write the names of individuals or groups of people who have not been welcomed to the table and who are not part of the community. During the hymn of the day or communion, invite worshipers to place the hearts on the table as a way of signaling intent to welcome, invite, and share space at the table.
Looking for a good contemporary song to illustrate this point? Try Carrie Newcomer’s lovely song “Room at the Table.”
Use the parable of the Man with Two Sons to talk about resentment and mercy. Invite youth to choose a character in the parable and hear the story through that person’s eyes. How would it feel to be the younger son returning with a carefully rehearsed story/apology? How would it feel to be the father restoring the family to wholeness again? How would it feel to be the dutiful older brother resenting all the fuss over the returning miscreant? Who do we resent today? Who is not at our table? What comes first—grace and mercy or repentance?
This week’s focus verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17– So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Gather pictures of yourself as an infant, toddler, child, teenager, young adult, and present age. Show the children the baby picture and ask them if they can guess who this baby is. Then show them the toddler picture. Ask them to guess again. At some point spread all the photos in front of them so they can make the connection that these photos are all of you.
Tell them that thanks to Jesus you are a new creation every day. Just like a caterpillar doesn’t always stay a caterpillar, a baby grows into an adult. We are not the same as we were at birth or even yesterday. For example, our bodies are composed of some 37.2 trillion cells. These cells are constantly living out their life cycles, dying and being replaced. Some sources estimate that in the average adult 50 to 70 million cells die each day and are replaced with 50 to 70 million more, although it’s not easy to come up with an accurate answer because different body cells have different lengths of life.
Physically, we are becoming “new creations” every single day. As people of faith, baptized in Christ, we are also becoming new creations every day. In fact, all of creation moves in cycles of life and death and renewal. Truly, everything is becoming new, and everything old is passing away.
This is good news to share. God loves us so much that God sent Jesus to show us that we are loved, and the God will never give up on us.
Finish with a simple prayer and bless the children as new creations who are dearly and eternally loved.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
“Everything has become new,” Paul says in this week’s lesson from 2 Corinthians (5:17). That means that stewardship is a renewable and creative process that invites our constant engagement.
Stewardship at Home
Spring is here in the northern hemisphere! While not everyone is yet experiencing warm weather and hopeful blooms, the promise of new life and rebirth is in the air. This week consider how everything is being made new and how you are a new creation in Christ. Here are some ideas for action and reflection:
- Read aloud some of Mary Oliver’s lovely poetry. Consider adding her collection Devotions to your library. Here’s one poem about spring to access online: “Spring”
- Read Henry David Thoreau’s classic work On Walden Pond or Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
- Plant something in your yard/garden or in a pot on your apartment deck or patio. Tend it with the wonder and care of a child.
- Take walks in your neighborhood, a local park, a lake or sea shore, or hike in a nearby forest or on a mountain trail. Star gaze at night wrapped in a warm blanket. Breathe in deeply the fresh air and give thanks for God’s good creation.
2013 Reflection: http://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2013/03/a-gracious-plenty/
Photos: Jeannie Debs, Henryk Hektor Siemiradzki, and Katerha, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!