Lost and Found - Reflections 3-27-19

Texts for Sunday March 31, 2019
4th Sunday in Lent 

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Cor 5:16-21
Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

These four texts look at grace from different directions.

The brief text from Joshua describes the moment that the Israelites moved from being 40-year wanderers in the wilderness to settlers in the Promised Land. Theologian Alan Storey describes the wilderness as a place of transition between oppression and promise. The wilderness had been a time to learn how to be effective partners with God in repairing the broken universe. Pastor Dan Erlander describes the wilderness learning as the 3-point “Manna rules”: 

  • Don’t take more than we need. 
  • What we have belongs to God. 
  • Everybody gets enough. 

  • This move out of the wilderness is marked by a change in diet from manna to “produce from the land”.  Manna was God’s grace. Will they recognize the fruits of the land as God’s grace as well?

    The psalm tells us that denying sin is a heavy burden. Confession brings freedom and healing. Forgiveness and mercy bring joy. God's steadfast love is grace.

    In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of grace that “everything has become new” through our reconciliation with God through Christ. 

    And finally, there is the Gospel. This story has been called the Lost Son, the Prodigal (wasteful) Son, the Loving Father. It is the third parable of a series that focus on something lost being found. At least a fourth of the commentaries I read in preparation for this said that because this parable is so well-known, it is hard to be open to the possibility that it can say something new. You hear the opening line and your mind wanders because you already know the punch line. But parables are supposed to be surprising.

    Well, to quote myself about parables from last week: I really do try not to rush to a meaning. I try hard not to assign parts. I try to just sit with it for a while. But always, I look for grace.

    But in this case, it is so tempting to assign parts. God acts like a loving father, right? And some people go off the deep end in reckless and dissolute living like the younger son, right? And then some people, like me, have never lived dissolutely or recklessly, so a very responsible and dutiful group of people are represented by the older brother who never gets a party, right?

    Grace? How about the running-welcome and the fatted-calf party? One who took the money and ran and squandered it a decadent, shameful (and dissolute) way certainly did not deserve that response so it must be grace.  And, to his credit, dad did go out to find the older son and invited him to the party. And assured him that he, too, was loved.

    Still trying hard to step away from the tried and true version, I think that the readers can find their selves in each of the characters. 

    Dissolute younger son? Well, I certainly take grace for granted and I squander the newness it offers each day. 

    Dad? I certainly have given in when forcefully challenged to do something I really probably shouldn’t like give my son the whole inheritance at one time. Does the party mean that there are no consequences for that son actions? It is easier to just forget it and move on. 

    Sticking with dad, have I managed to overlook relationships and fail to let the other know how important they are to me? 

    And we already know from the first analysis that I immediately ask “what about me?” when anyone gets anything that I think I’ve earned (like a goat party!). 

    I suppose that spending time in examining why I in act any of these ways, most notably perhaps, the resentment, is important and helpful in spiritual growth. And Martin Luther assures us that is grace.

    I’m still sitting with the story…

    Finally, adding in the other two parables before this, joy bubbles to the surface. Finding the lost is worth a party. The lamb wandered away because, well, sheep aren’t all that bright. The coin took no action whatsoever to get lost; it probably didn’t even know it was lost. And both sons, and maybe at times, the dad, were lost through very human thoughts and actions. But in every single story, finding the lost equals joy.

    My husband and I got a plaque for a wedding present with a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. 
    Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.  

    Being found - grace!
    Joy in finding - God!

    How about you? 

    Can you set aside the familiar and hear a new word in this parable?

    How to Find Us

    Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

    Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

    123 E Market Street
    Iowa City, IA 52245