Lent 4

Diocesan Convention was this weekend, and since I’m here speaking with you, I guess I survived another one. Outside of the drudgery of long business sessions and the interminable cycles of written reports being needlessly recited from the podium, Convention can be a lot of fun. It’s often at Convention that you see people you wouldn’t otherwise see; it’s a time of reunion and fun. It can also be a time when you are reminded, by way of business resolution or personal behavior, of the petty grudges people hold against one another. I wish I was totally immune to these things, but wherever there is a large group of colleagues, people hurt each others feelings, speak against each other. They try to win the relationship rather than just be in relationship.

“And it hurts. When I was in seminary, I never imagined such things, certainly not within the context of the church. Yet it happens. Rifts and gaps open up between people for all kinds of reasons. Those who once complimented now critique, those who once thought well of you could scarcely be less charitable now.

“Paul knew what that felt like. He had had a good experience in the city of Corinth. The church he planted was filled with people dear to his heart, and though the Corinthians were a feisty group loaded with potential problems, Paul loved them and, even after leaving Corinth, prayed for them every day. So how it must have hurt to learn that in Corinth his reputation has been shattered. After Paul’s departure some nay-sayers came to town and called Paul into question. T hey impugned Paul’s credentials, claiming he had no right to call himself an apostle. They alleged that Paul was a money-grubber and a charlatan whose motives were impure and whose so-called “gospel” was just so much hogwash and heresy.

“So in this second letter to the Corinthians Paul, with grit teeth sometimes and through tears at other times, has to defend himself. At the conclusion of this fifth chapter, Paul’s desire to clear his name combines with his effort to repeat the true gospel, resulting in a sublime passage of great power. The centerpiece is reconciliation. By grace alone and because of Jesus, God has reconciled us to himself.

“The result of this cosmic reconciliation is that we now look at everything differently. We look at everything and everyone through the lens of reconciliation. We are ambassadors of reconciliation as we call others to believe in Jesus and so find themselves in a good relationship with God. But it’s not just about the vertical dimension between God and us. Being caught up in God’s salvation changes everything on this human, horizontal plane, too.”1

That point was driven home this weekend in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, with which most of us are all too familiar. I remember going with my mother to Christian book stores; one was called Jesus Book and Gift, which even in my youth I thought was a little too on the nose. Another one was owned by a guy named Denny, and he called his store Denny’s From Heaven, a little better. In both stores, though, was an identical painting of a young man in rags walking up a path toward an old man with his arms flung open. It was bad art: badly composed, terribly executed, and worst for me, sappy, and it turned me off to the entire idea of the Prodigal Son.

But then again, who can’t relate to someone, or maybe even everyone, in that parable? The reprobate brother, the oblivious and ungrateful brother, the loving and merciful father? Who hasn’t put themselves first above all others? Failed their family and friends? Failed to see that they have everything they could want or need already? And dare I ask, Who here hasn’t been loving and merciful when such a failure turns back seeking forgiveness?

If you’ve done the latter, than you’ve acted as God always acts, and as St. Paul urges us to always act. What we hear today is both Paul and Jesus saying that not only is reconciliation possible, but that the whole work of the Christian is reconciliation, reconciliation with God and one another, no matter what we have done or left undone. So on this hot-pink weekend, with whom do you need to be reconciled?

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