Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 31, 2019
Choir Anthem, 23rd Psalm, Bobby McFerrin
Coming to his senses…he got up and returned to his father.
–Luke 15:17a, 20a
Fully cultivate the Factors of Awakening,
Give up grasping,
And have destroyed the toxins,
And completely liberated in this life.
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:
“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.’”
Raids on the Unspeakable, pp. 46-49 Thomas Merton
It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missiles and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will be obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake.
We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.” The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be “sane” in the limited sense that he is not impeded by his disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly manner, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly “adjusted.” God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.
And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons to apprehend their pain as one’s own? …
I am beginning to realize that “sanity” is no longer a value or an end in itself. The “sanity” of modern man is about as useful to him as the huge bulk and muscles of the dinosaur. If he were a little less sane, a little more doubtful, a little more aware of his absurdities and contradictions, perhaps there might be a possibility of his survival. But if he is sane, too sane…perhaps we must say that in a society like ours the worst insanity is to be totally without anxiety, totally “sane.”
Our fulfillment is not in our isolated human grandeur,
but in our intimacy with the larger earth community,
for this is also the larger dimension of our being.
Our human destiny is integral with the destiny of the earth.
When Dominic Crossan comes this weekend, you can ask him how he voted when it came to the parable of the prodigal son, as it is popularly known. More accurately, it is the parable of the man with two sons, or the parable of the forgiving father, but we usually think of the one bad son who leaves home, wastes his father’s money, returns, and is restored to sonship.
You can ask Dominic Crossan if this parable, only found in Luke, goes back to Jesus. The weighted average of the Jesus Seminar on this parable was pink. 50% of the scholars voted red, meaning, “Yes, that’s Jesus.” Others voted black, “No way is that Jesus.” More red than black votes yielded a pink average, thus including it in the database of parables attributed to the historical Jesus. So you can ask Dominic Crossan about that. How did you vote and why?
As it sits, it is the third of a three-parable response to the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees who are grumbling that Jesus is eating with toll collectors and sinners. And they are really bad people. They are corrupt. They are people you want to ban from the internet. Jesus first tells a parable of the lost sheep, then the lost coin, then this parable. The first two parables end with the punch line, “there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
This line is not used in the third parable. The irony is that the sheep repents and the coin repents, which is not something neither sheep or coins can do, but the human beings, the younger and older sons, do they repent? There are two human beings, two sons in this story. According to the story, the younger son, sitting with the pigs, has a realization:
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.
Is that repentance or is it calculation? If any of you can remember your teenage years, you may recall in your own life after doing something wrong preparing to meet the father or the mother with a rehearsed speech. Something that sounds conciliatory and sincere with the appropriate body language, head down: “I am so sorry. I won’t ever do it again,” and yet even as this is spoken still with one eye carefully watching the expressions on your parents’ faces, “Are they buying it?”
I won’t judge. No idea whether the younger son in the parable really has a change of heart, a repentance, a sincere come to Jesus moment. It doesn’t matter. Because before the younger son even gets to deliver his Academy-nominated performance, his father sees him from a distance, runs to him, filled with compassion, and embraces and kisses him. The son blurts out one line of his speech, but it is not even heard. The robe, ring, and sandals are on the way, and the fatted calf will meet its own heavenly reward for the honor of the son who straggles home.
No speech was necessary at all. He just showed up. Look what the cat dragged in. Father is a softie.
I have preached on this parable many times and I have discovered that it is a parable with staying power. It takes you places. Sibling rivalry. Issues with Father. Self-acceptance. Grief over children. Disappointment. Envy. Righteous anger. Forgiveness. It has it all.
As I was putting this together, I thought of Joe Kurtright. Joe was a Presbyterian minister, who I think should also be listed as pastor emeritus, even though he wasn’t installed as a pastor here, but nonetheless, was a pastor to many. He wanted this parable read and reflected upon at his memorial service. It meant much to him in his own spiritual journey.
Joe was a teacher in “A Course in Miracles.” Joe saw in this parable radical forgiveness and acceptance. The Father, while seeing the son still a far off, fills with compassion, and runs to him with an embrace and a kiss and a robe and sandals and ring. That is the foolishness of God for us, while we are yet unworthy and calculating. Unworthy and calculating, yes, that is a given. Squandering our inheritance in dissolute living, yes, (look how we have looted Earth in the past few decades. I was 9 years old in 1970. Since 1970, half the animal population exists on planet Earth. We have half as many animals as we did in 1970. We think of it another way. The human population has doubled in that time. The animal population has decreased. Are we not like the younger son?) Sinners, yes, the elder brother knows our sins, the superego, judging always.
Yet, the Father, runs to us. One step needed taking.
“When he came to himself…”
“When he came to his senses…”
He started for home.
The coin was found. The sheep was found. The son was found. Repentance doesn’t matter in that divine calculation. Celebration in heaven comes not from a sinner finding God but by being found by God. God finds in you what you could not find in yourself. God sees in you what you have been blind to seeing.
Joe asked for this passage from A Course in Miracles to be read at his memorial service. I did that. I will read it here, too.
How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. They came from the Holy Spirit within you, and we know what God creates is eternal. You can indeed depart in peace because I have loved you as I loved myself. You go with my blessing and for my blessing. Hold it and share it, that I may always be ours. I place the peace of God in your heart and in your hands, to hold and share. The heart is pure to hold it, and the hands are strong to give it. We cannot lose. My judgment is as strong as the wisdom of God, in Whose Heart and Hands we have our being. His quiet children are His blessed Sons. The Thoughts of God are with you. P. 83
Who are you? You are royalty. You are the blessed of God in God’s image. While we might think we know it, we hardly believe it. There are so many things we need to improve first. “Oh, only if you really knew me, you wouldn’t say that!” That is not the message we hear from those who want something different from us or out of us, because they want to sell us something or fix us or change us or use us.
An embrace. A kiss. A ring. A robe. Sandals. A fatted calf.
This grown child has come home. Celebrate.
You cannot calculate that.
It is the feeling of release when you finally realize that you are enough. You are enough exactly as you are. It doesn’t matter what others think of you or what you think of yourself. All that will be remembered of you in the Divine memory is your beauty, your blessing. As A Course in Miracles says,
“I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance.”
And the party begins. The music is loud. Still out in the fields is the older son. He is right, you know. He is hurt by this brother who has thrown it all away and now is received back fully! Many know that story, too. We have worked. We have stayed. We have been responsible. We have kept it together despite the sister or brother who has wasted it, who always demands extra attention with the drama, who makes promises and promises and never keeps them, who mom and dad really love more than me. They throw a party for them, but not for me.
This parable has lasting power because it touches all the hurts.
There is no right or wrong in this. There is no instruction of how to be a father, or a son, or a mother, or a sister, or a brother. There is no arbitration of who is good and who is bad. It is a human/divine parable of life.
The Father goes out to the older son, hears his complaint, and keeps the door open.
We spend our lives trying to earn what is already been given. We try to rationalize our existence. Look at my resume. See! I am worth something.
It isn’t the resume. It is what we are already. Royalty.
“All that I have is yours,” says the Father. It always has been.
Just like the brother of yours.
Both are royalty.
It is a very difficult message in the midst of sibling rivalry and envy. Is it possible for us to accept the divine royalty of our siblings when we cannot accept it for ourselves? How can we give what we have not received? We don’t receive it by earning it, by deserving it, by saving it, or by winning it in a contest.
We are royalty.
It is a gift.
We are loved beyond any capacity to justify it.
That is complete vulnerability.
That is when we are broken open.
That is when all of our defenses and all of our survival tactics come down in one tearful acceptance that we are accepted.
We are loved.
We are home.
We have come to our senses.