Lent 2C – February 24, 2013, (February 28, 2010)

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 – Abram believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Righteousness by faith.

Psalm 27– The Lord is my light and my salvation. He will hide me in his tent and set me upon a high rock.
Philippians 3:17 – 4:1 – I press on toward the goal: the heavenly call of God in Christ. Enemies of the cross: their god is the belly. Their end is destruction.

Luke 13:31-35 – Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I have longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her young under her wings.

Lent at-a-glance

  • February 13 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.

· February 17 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

· February 24 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.

· March 3 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.

· March 10 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.

  • March 17 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
  • March 24 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.

The Prodigal God – A Lenten Series Suggestion

During Lent my posts will be focused on the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15, which comes up on March 10, Lent 4C. For a post on the lectionary texts, click the link to my 2010 post above. A number of our congregations are using Timothy Keller’s excellent book, The Prodigal God, as a guide. Click here for the book. Click here for the Study Guide.

Prodigal God

Feb 17 – Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus

Feb 24 – Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons

Mar 3 – Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin

Mar 10 – Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness

Mar 17 – Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother

Mar 24 – Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope, The Feast of the Father

Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons

In the second chapter of his book, The Prodigal God, Keller takes a closer look at the meat and potatoes of the story. He points out this is the story of two lost sons, not just one. Act I is the Lost Younger Brother. Act II is the Lost Elder Brother.

Act I

The younger son, Keller points out, had every right to expect an inheritance, but not until the father dies. So the request is an insult. I’d rather you were dead to me, and I just had the money coming to me. "Give me what is mine," he says.

The younger son has a right to 1/3 of the estate, assuming there are only two sons. The elder son would normally run the family business and thus receive a double portion of the inheritance to do so. This would not happen until the father died. Since to lose your land was to lose your identity, the younger son is asking the father to tear himself apart.

The request is astonishing, but even more astonishing is the father’s response. He agrees. He should disown the son right then and there, but he does not. One can wonder how he did it. How does one liquidate ones real estate, cattle, crops? Wealth is tied up in real estate.

The details are left for us to imagine. The deal is struck, and off the son goes to a distant land, where he squanders the inheritance. When I ask people why the son ran out of money, they often say because he wasted the money on prostitutes. But this is the older brother’s take, later. A careful reading of the text shows that there was a famine in the land. Very often famine has been the cause of poverty and hunger. We are too quick to assign moral blame.

The son is dead to the family, or so the father will say later. He was dead and now is alive. He was lost and now has been found. He has blown 1/3 of the family fortune. He cannot return without shame. So he decides to ask for an entry level job to work off the inheritance. He works up his elevator speech while still in the pig pen.

prodigal son

When he arrives home, however, we are surprised with the unexpected once again. The father runs to his son and embraces him. Patriarchs don’t run. Women and children run, not the father. The hug, like eating with someone, is a public sign of acceptance. The father should disown the son, but he cannot, because his love is so great. This dead, lost son is now alive and found. We have a God who loves us desperately, a God who seeks the lost. The curtain falls on Act I.

Most sermons end there. We bask in the unconditional love and grace of God. Not a bad place to be. Let us build three booths…

Problem is, Jesus continues. This is not just the story of the good and the bad, but the good, the bad and the ugly. Act II is about to show us the ugly.

Act II

The older son is out working in the field, because he is responsible. He never left. In fact, he has had to increase his work load to make up for his younger brother’s absence. As he trudges in at sunset, he begins to smell the barbecue. Then he hears the music and merrymaking coming from the pole barn. A party? What’s the occasion?

When he discovers that the father has killed the most expensive cow, the fatted calf for the brother who made off with 1/3 of the estate, and left everyone behind to do his selfish thing, it is unbearable. He cannot even step foot into the party. The father comes out to convince him to come in.

"I have stayed here with you faithfully all these years, never missing a day, never wasting a dime, and you have never even killed a goat for me and my friends, but when this son of yours comes home, after wasting your life savings on prostitutes, you throw him a party?" Notice he does not say, "my brother," but "this son of yours."

Clearly there is no justice in the father’s attitude. That’s the concern. If the father is gracious and loving, is he then unjust? What about righteousness? Fairness?

At this point the Pharisees listening to the story cannot help but catch the inference. They are the older brother.

The brother’s comments and questioning of the father’s decision border on insubordination. The father does not respond to the insult. His comment is simply that he will not disown the younger son, and sincerely hopes that the older son will come to the party.

As Keller says, "The listeners are on the edge of their seats. Will the family finally be reunited in unity and love? Will the brothers be reconciled? Will the elder bother be softened by this remarkable offer and be reconciled to the father?" But wait, the older brother needs reconciliation now too?

And just like that the story abruptly ends. It’s like a movie that leaves you hanging, with no resolution in the end. It’s a good story. Life rarely ends up all neatly resolved and tied together. Keller points out the story is left hanging because the audience is the Pharisees who are standing right there listening. He is redefining sin as we know it, something we’ll discuss next week.

For now, some questions that might bring a spark to your small group or your sermon: Have you seen both religious and irreligious lifestyles lead to spiritual emptiness? Might self righteousness be as great a threat to your spiritual life as wandering? Why do you think the Pharisees opposed Jesus’ teaching? Does your church attract parent pleasing older brothers or rebellious wandering younger brothers?

Yours in Christ,

Michael Rinehart, Bishop