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Lent 4 March 6, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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LENT 4  Year C
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, March 6, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
 
On this Fourth Sunday in Lent,
the Sunday also called
“Rejoicing Sunday” or “Refreshment Sunday,”
we begin to feel a stirring,
a movement,
an anticipation . . . 
 
Today’s readings
are like signposts on the long Lenten road,
          pointing us toward Easter,
creating in us
          a longing and hunger
          for the celebrations to come
                   when we reach our destination.
                  
Joshua and the Israelites,
having wandered 40 years
          in the wilderness,
have crossed over the Jordan
          into the Promised Land,
and celebrate the Passover
          in the plains of Jericho.
 

Passover,
commemorating
their liberation from slavery in Egypt,
their passage through the Red Sea,
and God’s care of them
          in their wilderness journey.
 
40 years God had provided their food –
manna, that curious flaky substance
that fell from the skies each morning,
          just enough for that day’s nourishment.
 
Manna – it kept them going,
but how boring it must have been . . .
eating the very same stuff,
and only that very same stuff,
day after day after day
          for 40 years!
 
And now,
in the land of milk and honey
          God had promised to them,
a land of running rivers
          and verdant fields,
they keep the Passover,
and on the day after the Passover,
that very day,
for the first time,
they eat the produce of the land.
 
What a richness that must have seemed,
the taste of wheat-cakes, parched grain,
          olives, nuts, dates, figs – and milk, and honey!
 
What a riot of flavors
to tongues accustomed
to 40 years of the same bland fare.
 
 
Easter,
our celebration of the Christian Passover –
the passing over of Christ
from death to life,
and our passing over with him,
floods us with rich fare
for all the senses
after our 40 days in the Lenten wilderness:
 
the blossoming of the worship environment –
          the beauty and fragrance of flowers,
          Easter vestments and hangings;
water flooding the desert dry font;
the melodies, tonalities, tempo, words
          of resurrection music;
the breaking of our Lenten fast
          with an abundance of
                   our favorite foods.
 
 
As God did for the people of Israel,
so God is doing for us:
 
bringing us
into Easter’s promised land –
and we will feast on Resurrection.
 

God is rolling away from us
the disgrace of our Egypts –
our captivity, our slavery to sin –
those actions and inactions
          we have confronted in ourselves
                   during Lent.
 
 
Like Paul’s Church in Corinth,
we are,
through our baptism,
          a new creation –
          everything old is passing away –
                    see, everything is becoming new!
 
In the passing over of Jesus,
the creation has been remade,
the human race has been remade,
          to be as we ought to be.
 
 
And yet,
the old persists and intrudes
and threatens to reclaim us . . .
old hurts, old resentments, old feuds, old faults . . .
 
But if we are in Christ,
there is always a new creation,
an ongoing new creating,
a washing away of sin,
a rising from all our small and large dyings
          into renewed life in Christ.
 

In Christ,
God has reconciled us to God’s-self
          not counting our transgressions,
and has entrusted to us
          the ministry of reconciliation . . .
 
The old is passing away
as Easter, our Passover,
immerses us in
the Paschal Mystery:
Christ’s suffering, dying, rising . . .
 
making present and active in us
again
the new creation,
sending us into the world
re-made, re-newed,
ministers of the
          message of reconciliation.
 
Soon and very soon.
We are on the downhill side
of our Lenten journey,
and gathering speed toward Easter.
 
But there is still time
to seek and name
          what in us has become
                   stale, dried up, unresponsive to God . . .
 
still time to repent of
our failure
          to treasure and use
                   the gifts God has given us . . .
still time to admit to ourselves
          we’ve lost sight of the gospel
                   and squandered
                             our baptismal inheritance . . .
 
Still time
to return to ourselves
and re-turn toward home
          to our patiently waiting God.
 
“If anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!”
 
 
The parable of the
          father and his two sons
is usually called the Prodigal Son,
but it could just as well be called
          the Prodigal Father.
 
For “prodigal” not only means wasteful
          it can also mean extravagant –
 
The younger son was a wasteful prodigal:
demanding his inheritance
          before his father had even died,
blowing it all in some 1st century Las Vegas,
wasting not just his inheritance
          but himself,
          wasting him-self,
                   in dissolute living.
 
He fell as far as you can fall,
hit bottom tending pigs
          (unclean animals
                   according to his religion)
feeding himself
          on the swill he fed
                    to the swine.
 
 
I see, in my mind’s eye,
a hilly landscape
traversed by a winding road.
 
How far the younger son had wandered
along that road
          to a foreign country:
away from his family,
away from his society,
away from his religion,
away from his human dignity . . .
          . . . he had cut himself off completely.
 
 
At last,
the story tells us,
“he came to himself.”
 
He came to himself,
turned around,
and set out on the road home.
 

His father,
a prodigal of the extravagant kind,
had not given up on his son . . .
was waiting . . .
looking every day
toward the horizon
          with hope . . .
 
and, at last,
seeing that dejected speck
in the distance
moving slowly along the road
          toward home,
 
ran to meet him,
ran to embrace him,
ran to bring him home,
there to dress him in ceremonial robes
and throw a great feast . . .
 
rejoicing with his
friends and neighbors,  
because his son,
who had been lost,
          was now found.
 
Prodigal forgiveness.
 
What we might have thought
an un-repairable breach
          mended by the extravagant grace
                   of reconciling love.
 
An Easter story.
The elder son
stood stubbornly outside love’s embrace . . .
angry, jealous, resentful . . .
 
He had been faithful,
hard-working,
loyal,
 
everything his brother
had not been.
 
His father had never given him
a party . . .
 
But
“when this son of yours came back . . .”
          he complained . . .
                    not “my brother”
                   but “this son of yours” . . .
                             (hear the broken relationship):
 
          “you give a party for  
                    that ingrate – ”
 
The father understood
          the elder son’s distress –
surely we can understand it, too –
 
and just as the father reached out
          to draw in his younger son,
so he reached out
          to draw in his elder son . . .
 

who was on the very edge
of wasting him-self and
          all those years of faithfulness,
shutting himself off in a prison        
                   of self-righteousness.
 
“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,
          this brother of yours,
          (hear the invitation
                   to reconciliation . . .)
 
“This brother of yours
was dead and has come to life;
          he was lost and is found.”
 
The story ends there.
 
What did the elder son do?
 
I hope he got over himself
          and joined the celebration.
 
That he let loose
the knot of resentment
          in his stomach,
          went in to the feast rejoicing,
          and was himself prodigal,
                   prodigal like his father,
                   in welcoming his brother home.
 

The banquet for a repentant sinner
is a party for all,
for all have reason to rejoice
when the dead have been reborn
          and return to their place
                   in the family, in the community.
 
Our prodigal God
is even now preparing
an extravagant welcome for us
          as we travel the Lenten road,
no matter how far away we have gone,
          or think we have gone,
no matter how dried up we are
          or think we are.
 
And, no matter how self-righteous
          we may sometimes be.
 
The invitation is before us . . .
          get ready for the party.
 
There is still more Lent to be lived,
but God already sees us
          on the horizon,
and is running to welcome us,
          to embrace us, to bring us home,
home to the promise
of the great Easter feast
          of forgiveness and reconciliation,
          of new and risen life.
 
“Everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!”