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Lent 4C- March 10, 2013 (March 14, 2010)Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm 32 – I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – We once saw Christ from a human standpoint, but no longer. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. God reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. So we are ambassadors for Christ. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – Lost Sheep/Lost Sons

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.

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 4 – Prodigal God Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness

Hey everybody this Sunday is March 10, Lent 4C. The gospel text appointed for this Sunday is the story of the prodigal son in chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel. If you’re not doing the series on the prodigal son with us, this is your one Sunday to lay out the story. The good news is I have quite a bit of material for you. Look back at my posts for the last couple of weeks, and this week as well. If you’re doing the series with us this week we are on chapter 4 of Timothy Keller’s book, The Prodigal God: “Redefining Lostness.”

Luke chapter 15 has three stories about lost things. There’s a story of the lost sheep, then the story of the lost coin and finally the story of two lost sons. These stories define sin as lost-ness.

Last week we discussed the elder brother’s anger. He believed that because he had lived a good life, he deserved a good life. And when he sees his unworthy, errant younger brother getting better than he deserves, anger rises within him. Keller calls this “elder brother lost-ness.” The older brother has a sense of superiority, moral superiority, that has fostered judgementalism and an inability to forgive.

The elder brother has obeyed the father in a fear-based compliance. His resentment slips out when he says, “all these years I have slaved away for you.” The question is one of motivation. Is the elder brother serving out of joy, or out of obligation? And obedience based on the law is still obedience, but it can push us away from God. When we do good for others no matter what the motivation, it is still good, however if we do so out of angry obligation, something ugly can begin to grow in our hearts. For this reason the apostle Paul says, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. If I have faith to move mountains… If I make the ultimate sacrifice of my body but have not love…” Love matters. Motive matters. God cares about what is in the heart. Here is the irony: It is possible to obey the law and hate both God and neighbor. The elder brother keeps the law, but resents both father and brother. I believe this is Jesus’ ultimate concern.

“You never threw me a party… You never killed even a goat for me.”

Why is it so important to drill down into this? I believe this is the way much of the world view Christians. Dana Carvey’s Church Lady is a caricature no doubt, but the reason it’s funny is it because it hits a nerve. It lifts up an irritating and annoying reality.

welcome dad Too many people have abandoned any kind of religious faith because of the self-righteousness they have encountered in the elder brothers of the world. Many of our churches are populated with older brothers. We attract older brothers. Jesus’ ministry however attracted younger brother types. It offended the elder brothers types. People have left the church because they find it reminiscent of a guilt ridden hypocrisy. They have found too many churches that have abandoned the Gospel for a legalistic message of moral purity, one that usually even the leaders themselves cannot sustain in their own personal lives.

This presents an enormous opportunity for churches that proclaim the Gospel. I can’t tell you how many people over the years told me that they were attracted to the Lutheran Church because it was the first time they had heard grace. It was the first time that they had heard religion other than a laundry list of dos and don’ts. There’s a tremendous need for churches that proclaim the Gospel that God loves us not because of our more rectitude, but simply because God loves us, no matter what. This kind of unconditional love stands a much better chance of transformation then tomes of laws enforced with a stick of shame. We can proclaim a lifestyle that calls us to operate out of love for God and neighbor, which is the heart and soul of the law anyway. The apostle Paul says, love is the fulfillment of the law.

Keller concludes the chapter with the observation that Jesus intentionally left someone out of the story, so that we might find him, and in so doing find our own way home. There is someone playing a role in the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin that does not appear in this story, leaving the reader to wonder. Intrigued? Read Chapter 5 of Keller’s book. More on that next week.

– After the Israelites cross the Jordan, the disgrace of Egypt is over, the manna stops and the people eat the bounty of the land.

Yours in Christ,Michael Rinehart, Bishop