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Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent (Year C)

"Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

In the brief little book we’re reading in our Lenten Book Club, Being Disciples written by Rowan Williams, he walks us through six chapters, six elements of what it means to be a disciple - a follower of Jesus. In each chapter Williams opens up a theme, some essential aspect of a life lived in Jesus, and is so far he is doing a wonderful job of opening our hearts and minds to thinking deeply about our own relationships with Christ.


In his chapter on forgiveness, which we read this past week, he hones in on the Lord’s Prayer and specifically on that part of the Lord’s Prayer in which we pray that God will 'give us this day our daily bread.'


It’s quite likely that the majority of us – myself included – have prayed the Lord’s Prayer from the time of our childhood and since then, that line about daily bread has always, for me, been a request to God that my daily needs be met. In other words, “Give me this day what I need” or worse, “…what I feel I am owed.”


This is not, Williams argues, how we ought to be thinking about this prayer that is so deeply ingrained in our hearts. He cites St. Jerome, an early Saint and scholar of the church who in one of his works said that in the original Aramaic language in which Jesus prayed this prayer it might possibly (since we cannot know for sure) be more accurate to say, “Give us today tomorrow’s bread.” Which makes it a very different prayer.


In this view we come to see the Lord’s Prayer not as a prayer for God to simply give us the things for which we are needful at this moment - today - but rather a prayer that God will give us a foretaste of His Kingdom that is to come. Don’t give us today’s bread, but give us a taste of the heavenly banquet, that feast we will all one day share together.


But receiving tomorrow’s bread today, so to speak, also means that we – His disciples – should live the values of that future kingdom here and now. It is not just about us receiving what we need, it is about a transformation of our entire life.


This is why the next line in the Lord’s Prayer is all about forgiveness. God’s Kingdom is a kingdom of forgiveness, a kingdom of plenty, a kingdom of abundant love. If we wish to receive a foretaste of what is to come and we are to live that kingdom now, then we should strive to be forgiving and seeking to be forgiven.


All the readings today point us to remember how liberating and life-giving forgiveness is when we are released from the bondage that is guilt, and shame, and hurt. Paul says in his Epistle that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation; being a disciple and giving our lives to Jesus means that we are a new creation, no longer the same, with a whole world of possibilities opened before us – that it is now possible to be forgiven, to love, and to know ourselves to be loved by God, to know ourselves as Paul says elsewhere, “even as I am known (by God)”.


“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,” Paul writes, “…So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making this appeal through us.” We are representatives for Christ; we are forgiven and we bring others to the good news of Gods forgiveness by forgiving others, by reconciling ourselves to those whom we’ve hurt just as God has reconciled us to Himself through his Son, forgiving our sins and welcoming us back into the fold.


And the illustration of this which is given to us today is that beautiful parable of Jesus’ given in the Gospel, Luke chapter 15, that of the Prodigal Son. Twice before this parable in the chapter Jesus tells two other brief stories about what was lost being found and the joy that came with it, and now he offers this.


This is a story, not unlike our own lives, that is full of mistakes, poor choices, pain, and hurt. The young son demands of the father that his property be divided so that he can receive his inheritance early. In other words, “Dad, you’re not dying quick enough, give me what I am owed.” The son receives and goes, the Gospel says, to a distant country. In Greek the words for distant country are choran makran, the distant or the empty place.


The younger son’s greed, the greed that separates him from relationship with his Father brings him into this featureless place of nothingness, broad, distant, and empty. And there he squanders his inheritance on who-knows-what, making himself destitute. There the only relationship he can find is one in which he sells his labour to feed pigs, there he nearly starves and there is no one to help him.


The barrenness of the land to which he goes represents the barenness of his soul.


And this distant place, the chora makra, is a place we all know. It’s that place of exile we feel we live when we carry a burden we cannot let go of; when we bear guilt for which we have not sought forgiveness. It is a place where we feel alone, abandoned, unloved and unloving. A place of bleak hopelessness we experience when we are cut off from love.


He returns to his father surely expecting the kind of response that we would if we told our parents to hurry up and die, the kind of response we think befits an ungrateful, money-squandering, n’erdowell son – abandonment.


But that is not what he receives. Instead the father is filled with compassion before they even reach one another, even the sight of the son in the distance fills the father with joy, he calls a feast and rejoices that what was once lost is now found.


I think so often in our lives we might feel hopeless about our circumstances. Hopeless that a particular broken relationship will ever be repaired, hopeless that we will ever find peace or be forgiven, hopeless that we, like the son, must live in that distant place, alone and apart from love and forgiveness.


The parable reminds us that that distant land, the empty place, is a place where we choose to live. It isn’t a place God sends us to be punished, in fact God longs for our relationship to Him to be restored, so much so that he sent his son Jesus to make that possible.


It is a place to which we relegate ourselves when we refuse to be loved by God.


God, like the Father in the parable, stands waiting looking off in the direction from which we left him waiting to see us return. That love never takes its eyes off the horizon though we stray far from it.


The transformation that we all need, the transformation that comes through knowing and loving Jesus, comes when we realize that nothing out there will ever heal our brokenness. For that, we must return to the Father who will never scorn or rebuke us, but has been waiting for us and will meet us with rejoicing and love.


The token of this, Rowan Williams says, is that banquet table that is laden with grace every single week, prepared for our return – the altar – where we come to receive forgiveness, find reconciliation and be transformed.


Amen.

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