Monday, 20 March 2017

Sermon 19 March Breaking Rules and Finding Hope

Luke Chapter 15

The Pharisees started grumbling…
Once again, they are witnessing Jesus behaving in a way they consider is undesirable – in a way that contravenes the Law. Not God’s law. But the law that has grown up around God’s instructions, received via Moses – and now, adjusted and amended and changed beyond all recognition into something much more than the original. From the grumbling comes the accusations: you can’t be a man of God if you welcome these undesirables into your company; you can’t be a man of the law if you disregard the rules; you can’t be a holy one if you don’t even recognise the basics of our belief…
So, Jesus being Jesus, lands them with another teaching example – another set of parables. He may break rules – man-made rules; but, God’s concern is with the gathering in of the lost things… little by little, one by one, each cast out person is told they are loved, and made to feel welcome in the kingdom. On the face of it, the parables seem to be about losing things; the fact is, they are about the exact opposite, they are about finding precious things that were lost, but are now restored. And, of course, the parables aren’t really, about sheep, coins and sons at all either!
These three parables aren't about losing things...they are about the determination of God. Determination for reconciliation, between us and God as illustrated in the first two parables; and reconciliation in God-centred community/family as illustrated in the third parable.
The first two parables do not seem logical – you have 99 of 100 sheep – yet, you’ll abandon the others to find the one – how does that make sense?
You have 9 of 10 silver coins – and then when you find it, you throw a big party to celebrate – spending money you don’t have!
How does that make sense?
That’s the crux of the story – God’s love and grace are lavish and generous and without limit. They don’t have to make sense; they don’t have to be logical – God’s love in its purest form is absurd! And that, that is a wondrous gift for each of us.
For it means God puts no limit on the opportunities for grace in our lives; God put no conditions; no restrictions – love and grace are freely available.
The third story is different; the father and the sons. The son is not lost accidentally; it is a deliberate act of defiance.
Yet, in spite of this betrayal; on the son’s return the father is waiting for him; more, looking out for him; more still, runs to greet and embrace him, enveloping him in his arms and celebrating his return.
The son has been foolish; and disrespectful; he has certainly broken all the rules; he knows this, and is ready to confess his mistakes, to seek forgiveness – but the father doesn’t listen to the prepared speech; the very fact that the son has taken the first step is enough. He is welcomed home.
Both sons however, need redemption. The second son, the one who was loyal and hardworking; the one who respected his father, and conformed to tradition, was outraged. His anger is directed at both his father and his brother. He feels that his father is favouring his brother over him; he cannot understand why someone so undeserving is being treated so royally.
This is the brother I can identify with!
Perhaps he is the one we can all identify with. For if we truly view the sons as humanity; and the Father as God; if we view working the farm as life; this means that all those people who are lazy and unthinking; all those who do terrible things, will be welcomed home if they return.
It is important to know that the father did not send out search parties; he did not set out to find the boy; but, as soon as he knew he was coming he ran forward to pull him home.
It is part of the human condition, that we seek forgiveness, work hard to share the gospel – live our lives as faithfully as we can. It is also part of the human condition to look at others and judge – we can’t help it.
Time and again in our current political climate I look at what is happening both here and around the world, and I am horrified, afraid, concerned and distressed at the way people are treated; at the way power is wielded; at the way people of power are behaving.
And yet, there is a small voice, whispering in my ear and reminding me: he too is a beloved child of God; she is known and cherished; he belongs in God’s family.
And I, like the older son, feel fury and indignation! How can this be?
And I hear again those words of the father in the parable
“We have to celebrate and be glad, for this brother of yours was dead and is now alive; he was lost and is now found”.
 God loves us
And God loves those we do not love; do not trust; do not value.
Everyone has the chance to reflect and turn; and when they do, the father will be waiting to welcome them home.
Because God does not follow man made rules; God’s rules do not exclude – they bestow hope to every child of God.
And that is worth celebrating!


Brodick Beach, Isle of Arran (JRen 2017)

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