Joshua 5:9-12 — After the Israelites cross the Jordan, the disgrace of Egypt is over, the manna stops and the people eat the bounty of the land.
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 – The Lost Sheep and the Lost Sons
Sing Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer. The third stanza alludes to Joshua: “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death and hell’s destruction, land me save on Canaan’s side. Songs and praises, songs and praises I will raise evermore…”
Sing Amazing Grace, which ties to the younger son: “I once was lost, but now am found…”
Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.
– Joel 2
March 6 – Ash Wednesday: Dust. Ashes. Mortality. Repentance. Fasting. Don’t show off your piety.
March 10 – Lent 1C: First fruits for the Levite and alien. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
March 17 – Lent 2C: Abram’s call. Faith reckoned as righteousness. Jesus laments for Jerusalem.
March 24 – Lent 3C: Repent, for there is only so much time left for the fig tree to bear fruit.
March 31 – Lent 4C: Lost sheep. Lost sons.
April 7 – Lent 5C: I am about to do a new thing… Mary anoints Jesus’ feet.
April 14 – Palm/Passion Sunday: Jesus entry into Jerusalem as an anti-triumph.
The Prodigal God
If you would like some reflections on the story of the Lost Sons (Prodigal Son), the entire season of Lent 2013 was devoted to this parable. We used Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God: recovering the heart of the Christian Faith, study guide, DVD:
Lent 1 – Chapter 1: The People Around Jesus
Lent 2 – Chapter 2: The Two Lost Sons
Lent 3 – Chapter 3: Redefining Sin
Lent 4 – Chapter 4: Redefining Lostness
Lent 5 – Chapter 5: The True Elder Brother
Palm Sunday – Chapters 6 and 7: Redefining Hope
Joshua 5:9-12 – Crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land
When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they were told to get twelve stones out of the Jordan, one for each of the twelve tribes, and place them in their camp, as a memory. Think Stonehenge, on a smaller scale. This kind of standing stone memorial was common all over the world, even dating back into the Neolithic era (10,000-2500 B.C.). Standing stones are used to commemorate important moments, divine appearances, and battles. They are the precursor of our gravestones.
The Israelite men in Egypt had been circumcised. The males born during the 40 years in the wilderness had not been circumcised. Most of the original slaves had died during the 40 years. So, once Moses died, Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan into the promised land, and made camp, Joshua ordered all the men (600,000?) to be circumcised. (See Joshua 5:1-8.) If all these assumptions are correct, this would have a been a huge, bloody, dangerous event.
Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago professor Ralph Klein invites us to imagine 600,000 foreskins piled up. This wouldn’t have been easy. It had to have been painful for older men, and without sterile conditions and antibiotics, infection was a real, life-threatening danger. The text says they remained in the camp until they healed. These men couldn’t have been happy campers. They called this camp Gilgal. It is at this point that our text for the day starts.
Gilgal (Hebrew: גִּלְגָּל) means circle. The plural, circles, is gilgalim. The camp was possibly named that way because of this circle of standing stones. In a play on words, YHWH says to Joshua, “I have rolled away (Heb. giluthi) the shame of Egypt.” I would not explore further circular plays on words implied here.
The shame that is rolled away is not just the shame of slavery, but also the shame of a foreign, can I say, pagan, society. An uncircumcised society. Circumcision came to be the mark by which the people of Israel distinguished themselves from the societies around them. It was the sign of their covenant with God.
For Christians this cannot help but evoke images of rolling away the stone, which rolls away the shame of sin and death.
While in Gilgal, they celebrated Passover, their Independence Day. They ate the crops of the land, and stopped eating manna and quail, which had been given them in the wilderness. Ralph Klein tells us that the Israelites kept a jar of Manna in their sanctuary, as a kind of relic, so that future generations would recognize that their ancestors had survived in the wilderness only because of Yahweh’s providential hand (16:32-34). Food is not to be taken for granted.
What relics or icons do we need so that we recognize God’s providence? We have moved from a society where 60% of the country was in agriculture, to one in which less than 6% is in agriculture. How do we stay connected to the earth and to our food sources, in urban and suburban areas?
15% of Texans live under the poverty level ($17,000/year for a family of two). Unemployment in 2018 was 3.8% in Texas. The majority of the poor are working, busting the myth that poverty is caused by laziness. There are hungry people, even in Texas, but there is no shortage of food. The problem is $8/hour jobs, with no benefits. Many of these “working poor,” work two and three jobs, worrying about how they will feed their children, or pay their medical expenses. Food pantries, run by so many of our churches are critical. If you don’t have one, what food bank might you support?
God has provided enough for the entire world. We don’t have a supply problem. We have a distribution problem. What relics or icons do we need to not take our own food for granted? How do we see food as both gift and trust? The preacher can use this as a jumping off point for addressing the stones to bread issue raised in the Lent 1 Temptation Story.
If you are preaching on the Lost Sons (Prodigal Son), there are plenty of connections. The lost people of Israel are welcomed to the Promised Land by YHWH. The shame of their past is wiped away in circumcision. They feast on crops, leaving behind the manna of the wilderness. Likewise, the lost son returns home after journeying in his own wilderness. The shame of his past is forgiven in the embrace of his father. They feast on the fatted calf, leaving behind the pig slop of his former existence. God does the same for us.
We can also consider, in the crossing of the Jordan, the possibility of an allegory for death and resurrection. Just as the Israelites passed through the waters of the Jordan from slavery in Egypt and the wilderness into the Promised Land, so by the cross of Christ and through the waters of baptism, we will one day pass from the slavery and wilderness of this world into the promised land of eternal life.
Ralph Klein suggests the great hymn, Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer. The third stanza alludes to Joshua:
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death and hell’s destruction, land me save on Canaan’s side.
Songs and praises, songs and praises I will raise evermore.
I will raise evermore.
2 Corinthians 5
For thoughts on the epistle text, see https://bishopmike.com/2016/05/22/reconciliation-2-corinthians-511-21/
Luke 15: The Lost Son
Intro: How many of you are first born in your family? How many of you are the youngest? How many of you are middle children?
I love this story. It only appears in Luke’s gospel, and it only gets read once every three years. In his book The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller invites us to pay attention to the two groups gathered around Jesus. Luke 15:1 says:
Now there were tax collectors and sinners gathering around to hear him,
But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Two groups. One group gathered. The other grumbled. Gathering and grumbling. Perhaps you have these groups in your community as well. I find it fascinating that the folks that gather, that who are attracted to Jesus, are the tax collectors and sinners. It is the keepers of religiosity who are offended by Jesus’ message of grace, and his openness to the wider community of “sinners.”
There are these two groups of people relating to Jesus. Then Jesus tells a story about a man with two sons. Which is which? Could the younger brother represent the tax collectors and sinners? Could the older brother represent Pharisees and teachers of the law?
How do people respond to your ministry? Does your ministry attract sinners or Pharisees? Younger brothers or older brothers? Keller wonders aloud why people are riveted by Jesus, but not so much the church. Most churches attract older brother types. Few churches attract younger brothers. In some ways, many of our ministries are the opposite of Jesus. He attracted younger brothers.
The story: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Tell the story. The story says so much more than our explanation of it. Be sure not to stop with the father embracing the younger child. The story is incomplete at that point. This is not just a story of the good Father and the bad child. This is a story of the good, the bad and the ugly.
There is not one lost son. There are two.
This is not a sentimental story. It is a critique. This is not just a heart-warming story of family reunion and forgiveness, but it is also a gut-wrenching story of resentment and rejection.
Personally, I identify with the older brother. I am the oldest. How about you? Tell your story, of your family. Does your family put the “fun” in “dysfunctional?” What does it mean to be the oldest? The youngest? How did this play out in your family?
The Bible has many stories of dysfunctional families. It has many stories of enmity between brothers. Cain and Abel. Jacob and Esau. Jews and Arabs.
Luke 15 has three stories about lost stuff. There is a rhythm to the story of the lost coin.
- The coin is lost.
- The woman searches high and low for the coin.
- The coin is found.
- The woman rejoices and throws a party.
The same pattern takes place in the story of the lost sheep.
- The sheep is lost.
- The shepherd searches high and low for the sheep.
- The sheep is found.
- The shepherd rejoices and throws a party.
Now let’s consider the story of the lost son.
- The son is lost.
- The son is found.
- The father has a celebration.
But wait, a step is missing in the third story. The woman searches high and low for the coin. The shepherd leaves the 99 to search for the lost sheep. Who goes to look for the son? Who should have gone? In another story, Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
How we love to focus on the sin of the younger brother, and when we do, we miss the sin of the older brother – the point of the story. We focus on the splinter in the other’s eye and miss the log in ours. Jesus’ critique of the religious establishment is that they are so caught up in their religious mumbo-jumbo, they really don’t seem to give a rip about the lost. This is older brother stuff.
There are two lost sons in this story.
So here’s what it all comes down to for me. As with all of Jesus’ stories, there is good news and bad news, law and gospel for us. I think you’ve heard both, but just in case you haven’t heard the good news, here it is:
GOOD NEWS: No matter what you have done or where you have been, God loves you with an everlasting love. This love is not dependent on how good you are on any given day. Whether your sin is younger child wandering, or older child self-righteousness, God loves you. This lavish, extravagant, reckless, prodigal father desperately loves all children with abandon, the wayward younger child, and also the self-righteous older child. God loves both Cain and Abel. God invites both and all into the party.
In Holy Communion we eat and drink to this Jesus who reveals the heart of God to us. We eat and drink to his ministry. We eat the body of Christ that we might inexplicably become the Body of Christ. You are what you eat. We eat and drink that our ministries might become ours, where rich and poor, black and white, male and female, prisoner and free, conservative and liberal, younger and older, might all be welcomed in to that incredible party God is throwing without end.
Can you drink to that?
I’ll drink to that.