INTRODUCTION OF THEME
The idea of Lent is to explore aspects of life, aspects of ourselves that both help and hinder our ability to be faithful. Perhaps I should say that a different way. Being human means that we have certain feelings and ideas… take love for example… we all feel it in one way or another, we can love people or we can love chocolate. But because we love we also hate – and that can be anything from our neighbour to Brussel sprouts.
But how is that feeling – love – helping our faith? And how is our love of things making it difficult to live the way Jesus taught.
That is the idea behind Lent – take something familiar and examine it more deeply with the hope of understanding it better. The more we understand it, the more we can make sure it is not interfering with the way God would have us live.
By doing this, we are seeking to become even more faithful.
By doing this, we are seeking to become even more faithful.
So today, the idea I want us to focus on is forgiveness. And its opposite, which for lack of a better way of expressing it, I am going to call holding a grudge.
Now I think we can all agree on why holding a grudge could be a bad thing… it takes up emotional space, it forces us to remain angry or at least to have negative feelings, and if you stop and think about it… or if it gets too bad, it could even give you an ulcer.
Most importantly though – it keeps two people apart.
And I would argue this is the furthest thing from what God wants. To keep people apart.
The point of life is in fact relationships, right. Getting a job, building a house, buying a car, these are all just things that make life more or less liveable. What life is really about is who we love and how we love. It is about the love we share with God, with family and friends…. The relationships.
Forgiveness and Relationships… hmmm… That is not an easy topic is it?
Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable:
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “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.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 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.’”
2 Corinthians 5:16–21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
ENGAGING THE THEME
We have probably all heard the story of the prodigal son at one time or another I our travels. One of two sons comes of age and instead of staying on the family farm decides to take his share and set out on his own. He spends the money way too fast, probably on a new sports car and some electronics, and then realizes he cannot repay his debts… after living on the streets for a while he realizes that the farmhands back home had it way better than this and decides to go back, hat in hand, to ask his dad for a job.
This is how we have heard the story. This is what we often focus on. The son. Youth. Bad decisions… and second chances.
You know, it was hundreds of years after it was written that someone decided to put subtitles and called it the prodigal son. In truth, this story is not about the kids at all – it is about the father. It is a story about love and forgiveness.
So let’s look at it from the other side… This is the story of a father who works hard, who has built something up for his family and his sons, and whose son just does not care. In fact, the son thinks he knows better and essentially says, I would be happier if you were dead – so give me my inheritance now and I will have nothing to do with you.
And the father does. He loves the son so much he is willing to let him go and make his own mistakes. He hopes for the best but fears the worst. And while the son is gone, he continues to live a good life which he shares with his other son.
But then the son comes back – having failed, having lost everything, brought as low as he could be. And instead of saying, I told you so. Instead of coldly turning his back. The father welcomes the son back like the long lost love he is.
We are called to follow Jesus… there is a hymn about that I think…
And Paul wrote to the church in Corinth and said essentially the same thing – that Jesus showed us a new and different way to be – and that way, as the Psalm suggests, is a way of grace and love.
It is not natural. We naturally hold grudges. We naturally feel hurt. We naturally want revenge. But to walk a mile in Jesus’ footsteps we need to let that all go. We need to be like the father who just loves – and lets the son make his own mistakes – and still loves him no matter what goes wrong.
If we can manage to pull that off… we are getting closer to what Jesus was trying to teach us.
CONCLUSION OF THEME
Jesus told parables so that the people who listened to him could relate. He used ideas that everyone would get – like the difficult relationships between father and sons.
Faith, he wanted to let people know – was not something out there, different, only on Sundays… Faith was about how we live our lives. And I guess that it what I have been about during Lent – trying to bring it back close to home and helping us to understand that our faith is not mystical and different – it is about the basics – about the seemingly simple things – and choosing to do them the way Jesus would.
And like I said earlier, faith really comes down to relationships. To paraphrase Jesus explaining this to someone else… it is all about Love; love of yourself, love of God and love of Neighbor. And really, the main thing we have to do to make relationships work is forgive.
There is never going to be a moment when someone does not disappoint or hurt you – there is never going to be a time when we do everything out of love. We are always making mistakes. So to be like Jesus we have to be able to say – I love you anyway.
As we will see as the story unfolds; Jesus takes this as far as possible, actually praying for God’s forgiveness of his executioners. And sure, that is where we hope to get in life, but for now… we need to make forgiveness more a part of our day to day… don’t expect people not to make mistakes, don’t expect perfection, and allow people to love you back… when we do that we are living faithfully.