St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-31-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 03-31-2019

The re-New-ed Testament

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

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I’m sure most, if not all, of you are familiar with the game “whisper down the aisle”; (some use down the lane or down the alley) it’s the one where the first person in a line is given a message, they whisper it to the next person and they to the next person and so on until it reaches the last person in the line who audibly recites what they heard. Inevitably, if there are more than 5 or 6 in the line, the message doesn’t come out at the end as it was given in the beginning.

As memory serves me, the last time I played the game was as a young adult in a leadership workshop where it was used to stress the importance of writing messages down with a secondary emphasis on how rumors get twisted through their passing.

In that event, the original message was something like “the squirrel carried a nut up the tree” which came out the other end as “Carl is a nut and a tree”. Being there made it even funnier as the workshop leader’s name was Carl. Thankfully Carl had a good sense of humor.

 

I may have mentioned before that I don’t doubt the inerrancy of the Bible; but I do doubt the inerrancy of our understanding of its truths, especially when our understanding has been so heavily influenced by traditions passed down the aisle of time through a hundred generations. We have been told what to see and that’s all we see.

To me, it is most noticeable when people will quote scripture to defend their stance on whatever issue is the topic of the day. This all comes to mind as I have recently heard the argument that God only loves the righteous and despises the wicked reinforced by the reciting of the last two verses of today’s Psalm, number 32. “Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (The emphasis I expressed is the emphasis I heard in the conversation).

It was clear to me that using this particular pair of verses for this particular argument was not coming from her own understanding but from someone else who had taught her to use it in that way (who themselves had probably been taught by someone before them). Clear, I say, because she not only recited it from memory but she didn’t remember the part earlier in the Psalm where the writer includes him or herself as a sinner…

“For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

Nor did she remember the opening line of the Psalm “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” this revealing a writing about God’s grace in forgiveness, not about God’s separation of the worthy and unworthy.

 

This kind of traditional, whispered down the aisle, influence comes into play in our Gospel reading for today as well. You may have noticed, by the listing in your bulletin, that what you heard was the introduction (vss. 1-3) and then the parable commonly titled the “Prodigal Son” (vss. 11b-32).

First, what was left out are two other parables about what was lost being found; the one lost sheep from a herd of 100, and the 1 lost coin from a savings of ten. Perhaps those first two can stand alone, but the third, of today’s reading, relies on them to come to its fullest level of understanding. In the first two Jesus uses a thoughtless sheep and a mindless coin as his props. The sheep gets lost by its own wandering and, perhaps, the inattentiveness of the shepherd. But the coin cannot be to blame for being lost, that responsibility lies solely on the owner. Nevertheless, when each is found there is a call for excessive celebration!

I can just imagine the confused look on the faces of the neighbors of the shepherd and the woman when they called out “Come, rejoice with me for I have found what was lost!” ‘Ah…that’s nice, Tom; that’s good Mary, but… um… I think dinners ready…. gotta go’

Of course that is an earthly response; but in heaven there will be great rejoicing over one sinner who repents!

Second, through passed-down tradition we call the third parable that of “The Prodigal Son”. But there is a father and there are two sons in the story; and all three have an important part of the message Jesus is trying to give. Personally I believe it should be “The parable of the manwith two sons”.

Having used the first two stories to build this one on, Jesus steps things up quite a bit; from a thoughtless sheep wandering off and a mindless coin disappearing in the house we now hear of a thinking, planning son; a human who, with full awareness and ill intent, disowns his family and demands his inheritance so he can go off in search of sinful pleasure. Still, just like the other stories, when he returns in his shame and disgrace, there is a call for excessive celebration from the father who, you may have noticed, didn’t go looking for him; this time it is the same thinking, reasoning mind that brings him back. Celebration is called for nonetheless!

But now the other son comes into the scene, the one we have omitted from the title, (and often from our recollection of the story) and now the one who is disgruntled. He feels slighted, he’s been a good son, hard working, and obedient but now his renegade brother is getting all the attention; more than he ever got and he’s angry about it.

The father tries to explain his position but we don’t hear the final outcome. Does the elder son have a change of heart, turn around, and join in the joyful celebration or does he remain angry and resentful? Jesus doesn’t tell us, he leaves that part of the story open forcing us to think about the possibilities which, in turn, makes us think about how we would react if we were the elder son which, in turn, calls us to think about how we would react if we were any of the other characters in the story or, in the same way, which character reflects us in our lives.

And so we must ask ourselves; are we like the younger son who seeks pleasure now without mindfulness of the future? And if we are, could we, after realizing our mistake, humble ourselves as he did in returning to the place he should never have left?

Are we like the owner of the pigs who hired the young man; taking advantage of another’s suffering in hard times by giving him a less-than-sustenance wage?

Could we be like the father who, after being outright rejected and deeply hurt by another, could still welcome the offender back into our lives with rejoicing and extravagant celebration?

Or are we like the elder son who would be hurt, feel slighted, and hold a grudge so strongly that we would even deprive ourselves of the joy that life offers within our day-to-day existence.

 

When we allow ourselves to look deeper into the writings of the Bible, setting aside what has been passed on to us through the generations, and opening ourselves to seeing the light shining into our own lives we can experience the renewal that Christ offers us through his words and deeds.

Amen

 

Joshua 5:9-12
5:9 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.
5:10 While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.
5:11 On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain.
5:12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Psalm 32
32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
32:2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
32:3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
32:4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
32:5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
32:6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
32:7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
32:8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
32:9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
32:10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
32:11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
5:16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.
5:17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
5:21 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
15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
15:3 So he told them this parable:
15:11b “There was a man who had two sons.
15:12 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.
15:13 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.
15:14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15:15 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.
15:16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
15:17 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!
15:18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
15:19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘
15:20 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.
15:21 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.’
15:22 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.
15:23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
15:24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
15:25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
15:26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
15:27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’
15:28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
15:29 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.
15:30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’
15:31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
15:32 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.’”