Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
6 March. 2016, Lent 4 Year C: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
What a radical welcome we see the dad offer in our Gospel as he runs to greet his once wayward son.
hat radical welcome we see as he hugs this starving,
surely smelly son.
Notice how this dad reaches out in love to each of his sons. Notice how the elder son reacts. What is this “pouty” son thinking? One commentary offers this insight: “Of course, let the penitent come home, but to bread & water, not grain-fed veal; to sackcloth not a new robe; to ashes not jewelry; to kneeling not dancing. Forgiveness appears to critics very much like condoning.”1
What difference do we feel between condoning & enfolding?
How deeply do we feel God's forgiveness enfold us in God's love?
What do God's forgiveness & love taste like when we gather at God's holy table & share the bread & wine of Holy Communion?
My fellow sinners, God's love deeply enfolds you & me. We know God's love is stronger & deeper than our worst sins. One preacher shares this insight about the Father's enfolding love in our Gospel:
“In...a ballet version of this story the son crawls up to his father, then...climbs up onto him, & his father,
who is wearing a voluptuous robe,
embraces his son until he is completely
enfolded in the robe.”2
Completely enfolded in God's unfailing love, we can move forward. What difference we see between being stuck as the elder son is & moving forward as the younger son does. We see the difference between going around in circles & moving forward.
We hear of moving forward in Paul's letter to the Corinthians & in our lesson from Joshua at Gilgal, an important military, political & religious center near Jericho.3 Gilgal means circle of stones,4 a circle of 12 stones for the 12 tribes of Israel moving forward from nomadic life to life as settled people, as the Jewish Study Bible notes.5 Joshua & the people celebrate Passover to celebrate their new life as settled people rather than people journeying through the wilderness.
Even as settled people, like Joshua & his people, like Paul & the Corinthians, we remain on our spiritual journey, growing in God's love. Enfolded in God's deep love, we have all we need to share God's love, to offer God's radical welcome to the smelliest of sinners.
In Christ Jesus each is the new creation that Paul speaks of when he says plainly we are ambassadors for Christ with God's reconciling work to carry on. Through us – through you – God unfolds radical love. God enfolds us & our Brother or Sister in radical love.
We see God's radical love, we see God running to meet smelly us as Jesus' hangs on that cross & dies for us so that we can rejoice & live fully in God's love. Jesus shows us how to live in radically new ways, how to welcome our prodigal brothers & sisters in the human family, how to work in fellowship & see the Light of Christ in the fire burning up your yard, the fire neighbors accidentally set, as one of you shared your story with me yesterday:
You see the Light of Christ as neighbors of another race jump your chain-link fence to put out the fire, worrying about your beautiful lawn, apologizing profusely as they rake, shovel & water together with you to get the fire controlled. God's radical love shines from you as you say:
“It was kind of cool to come together with them.
Wish the rest of the world could stop fretting
& just work together.”
You sound like Pope Francis quoted in CNN's report of cold blooded murders in Yemen Friday in a facility for the elderly that was run by Catholic nuns, who were murdered in the attack as were the residents:
"The Pope 'prays that this pointless slaughter
will awaken consciences, lead to a change of heart & inspire all parties to lay down their arms &
take up the path of dialogue.' " 6
God's prodigal children of all races & beliefs stray into the pig-sty life. God still seeks prodigals to come into God's enfolding Love that Jesus shows us dying on the cross, saying: “Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.”
We know that what we are doing here week by week helps us to celebrate God's love & to confess our sins. No matter how many times you rehearse your speech to God [like the prodigal son], God is going to reach out to you FIRST.
Sometimes God does this through one of us.
In this holy place we share life-giving spiritual food so that we can go out those red doors strengthened to offer God's radical welcome that says: “You are welcome to come in & be yourself, & we will be changed by you.” 7
Notice what the prodigal son shows us: “Just one action changes everything...” 8
One action can change everything for the good.
You & I are change agents. As individuals reconciled to God & as the Body of Christ, God gives us work to do to share this Good News:
God loves you.
All are welcome.
As we offer God's radical, loving welcome, we serve as a center of God's love. At this holy table, God strengthens us to be God's welcoming arms that enfold God's prodigal children – our brothers & sisters in the human family.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: Jams. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Helmer, Ben E. “Ambassador for Christ, Lent 4 (C) – 2016”. Accessed: 2 March 2016. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/02/15/ambassador-for-christ-lent-4-c-2016/
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Kinman, Mike. “March 5”. Meeting Jesus on the Margins: Meditations on Matthew 25. Cincinnati: Forward Movement. 2015.
Tenney, Merrill. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1965.
http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/05/middleeast/yemen-violence-nuns-elderly-killed/index.html Accessed: 5 March 2016.
1 Harper’s Bible Commentary. P. 1034.
3 Harper’s Bible Dictionary.P. 348.
5 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 472.
6 http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/05/middleeast/yemen-violence-nuns-elderly-killed/index.html Accessed: 5 March 2016.
7 Kinman, Mike. “March 5”. Meeting Jesus on the Margins: Meditations on Matthew 25. P. 60.
8 Helmer, Ben E. “Ambassador for Christ, Lent 4 (C) – 2016”. Accessed: 2 March 2016. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2016/02/15/ambassador-for-christ-lent-4-c-2016/