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Sermon for Sunday 27 March 2022

First Reading: Isaiah 12:1-6

1You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. 2“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. 5“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. 6Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

Psalm 32

1Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! 2Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! 3While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. 4For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. 6I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. 7Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. 8You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. 9“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye. 10Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.” 11Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. 12Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

1The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear {Jesus}. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable:

11… “There was a man who had two sons. 12And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Be Reconciled

There once were two brothers who lived on adjoining farms.  They farmed side-by-side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as necessary.  In their nearly forty years of working together, they had never had a quarrel.  However, one day a bitter dispute developed.  Like many disagreements, it began with a small misunderstanding and eventually mushroomed into a major conflict, and finally exploded into a war of words, followed by separation and silence.  Early one morning there was a knock at the back door of the elder brother’s house.  

The older brother opened the door and found a man standing outside.  He was stooped and was holding a carpenter’s toolbox.  “I’m looking for a few days work,” said the itinerant carpenter.  “Perhaps you have some small jobs that I can do.”  “Well, I believe I do,” said the older brother.  “Look across the creek at that other farm.  That’s my neighbor, in fact it’s my brother’s property.  A month ago, there was a meadow between our farms, but then he ran a bulldozer through the river levee and now there is a creek between us.  I suspect he did that to spite me, but I’ll do him one better.  

You see that big pile of lumber, that came from the trees he pushed down.  I milled them last week.  With that lumber, I want you to build a fence, an eight-foot-high fence, between us, so that I’ll never have to look at his place again.  Can you handle such a job?”  The man replied, “I think I understand the situation.  Please show me your tool shed and I believe I can do a job that you’ll be please with.”  The older brother had to run some errands and was headed to town for the day, so he got the carpenter all set up and then left.  

The carpenter worked diligently all day, measuring, cutting, and pounding nails.  At sunset the older brother returned just as the carpenter was finishing.  The older brother was stunned; instead of a fence as he requested, there was a bridge across the creek.  It was a beautiful piece of workmanship, even included handrails.  To the older brother’s surprise, he saw his younger brother crossing the bridge with his arms outstretched.  

“You’re quite a craftsman and brother to do this after all that was said between us.”  Walking onto the bridge, the two brothers met in the middle and warmly embraced and share words of regret.  As they turned, they saw the carpenter packing up his tools.  “Wait,” they said, “please don’t leave.  We have other projects for you to do.”  “No thanks,” said the carpenter.  I must be moving along.  I have other bridges that need to be built.”  The moral of the story is obvious.  

Sin damaged the relationship between the brothers, but reconciliation, in the form of the bridge builder, restored the trust and confidence that was shattered.  This story serves as an excellent entrée to the season of Lent.  Lent, as you know, is a forty-day period of reflection, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, and we continue our journey by hearing St. Paul clearly describe to the Christian community at Corinth, our need to be reconciled, within ourselves, with others, and most importantly with God.

St. Paul certainly knew about reconciliation from his own experience.  In Acts chapter 9, we read how Saul was transformed during a one-on-one meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Saul the Pharisee went from one who, “with great fervor and zeal” sought to wipe out the new Christian church, into the evangelist who would bring Christ’s message of love and peace to both Jews and Gentiles throughout the Eastern Mediterranean world.  As Paul himself wrote, he considered himself “last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.  For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9) yet he was called by God to dramatically change course in life and follow Jesus.  He believed that if God could forgive him for all the ways that he had sought to destroy the church, then most assuredly God could forgive anyone.

Paul understood that the greatness of God’s reconciliation, like the itinerant carpenter, could see the need for forgiveness between the two brothers.  Thus, he writes, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20b).  Paul understood that the challenge for the Corinthians, and all the fledgling Christian communities he founded, was great.  Living as Christians in the pagan Roman world was a difficult task and many times individuals would fall into the trap of the societal norms. Thus, reconciling oneself to God is an essential element of being a true disciple.

Paul also understood the need for urgency, and to put Paul’s words into more contemporary language, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing now,” thus he exhorted the Corinthians to seek reconciliation with God and as he reminds them a few verses later in chapter 6, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, and behold, now is the day of salvation” (6:2).  Paul also realized and instructed the Corinthians that reconciliation and the general life of discipleship would lead to and even require a certain amount of suffering.  Again, Paul knew from personal experience that afflictions, hardships, imprisonments, sleepless nights, even being treated as an imposter would be the future for those courageous enough to follow Jesus.  But he equally knew that if we hold out, if we continue to walk the road with Christ, in the end we will reign with him (2 Tim. 2:12).  And the challenge that Paul brings to the Corinthians is the same for us today.  

Although Paul had a long-standing and highly significant relationship with the Corinthians, it was not always harmonious.  His message, in today’s epistle lesson, serves as a personal challenge, as well as a general teaching on the necessity of reconciliation.  First, he calls the community to be new creations in Christ.  He calls people to forget the past and move forward.  Through Jesus, a new day has dawned; so now is the time for reconciliation to take place.  

Jesus isn’t concerned with the past transgressions of the people; rather He wishes the community to seek a new beginning with Him and with each other.  Paul rejected the factions that had arisen in the community and preached unity.  Similarly, Jesus wants the people to find personal unity by removing obstacles that cause interior division.  Jesus has given us the message of reconciliation in order to assist us in this quest for personal wholeness.  Once each individual, and the community as a whole, has found reconciliation with Christ, then we must go forward as ambassadors of the Lord.  The Christians in Corinth are asked to bring Jesus’ message of peace, love, and forgiveness to others.  Once the gift of reconciliation has been received, it must be shared with others.

            Paul’s exhortation to be reconciled with Christ is a message we need to hear and heed today.  Too often we go about our busy lives with a certain sense that all is well; there is no perceived need to look inside and ask the hard questions with respect to our relationship with God.  But the truth is, we’ve all sinned and fallen short, therefore, all are in need of the reconciliation that Christ freely offers to each of us.  What we need to understand today is that reconciliation has four parts.

First, reconciliation is an active process which must start within ourselves.  This first element may seem passive, but it’s absolutely essential to the process.  We start by believing that God never gives up on us.  Last week’s gospel lesson (Luke13:6-9) about the barren fig tree demonstrates God’s ever-present love.  The tree, representing you and I, hasn’t been fruitful.  The owner wants it cut down, but the vinedresser says to give it another chance.  Some may feel that their relationship with God is strained, and they cannot approach God; they may feel paralyzed and unsure which way to turn or where to go.  But we must always remember that our ability to come to God is ever-present.

Recall Jesus’ reassuring words: “Come to me, all that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-29).  Jesus is present and stands ready to welcome us, but we must respond and open our hearts.

As we hear in the book of Revelation: “Listen! I am standing at the door; knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (3:20).  Jesus never breaks in where He isn’t wanted or invited; we must open the door of our hearts to His invitation of reconciliation.  The process of reconciliation starts with examining ourselves, and then move to the next two aspects, being reconciled with others and then ultimately with God.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, (Luke 15:11-32), best illustrates these first two steps in the journey of reconciliation.  The aptly named prodigal son in the story comes to the realization that he needs to forgive himself.  He has squandered his father’s money; he has lived irresponsibly.  But before he could begin the physical journey back to his father, he needed to find a change of heart within himself.  He needed to come to a place of true contrition, no excuses, no passing the buck, and he had to admit his sins openly before he would be ready to apologize and accept the forgiveness of others.  Reconciliation with others is the second aspect.  

The older son in the parable is representative of one who cannot forgive others.  He’s angry with his brother for his reckless and foolish actions.  He’s even more incensed with his father who has not only forgiven the younger boy’s transgressions, but is lavishly celebrating his return with food and dance.  Thus, we learn the need to forgive others in the character of the older son.

Since the older brother cannot forgive, the process of reconciliation is stunted.  We can think of non-forgiveness as a weak link in a chain, which, when placed under pressure, will snap, and destroy the usefulness of the whole.  What’s important for us to remember, is that if either of the first two aspects of reconciliation are not found, the final aspect, reconciliation with God, cannot be achieved.  This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” 

In the very important verse that follows this passage, Jesus gives us the stern warning, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).  God wants to show us His mercy; this is why Jesus tells us the story of the Prodigal Son.  The third aspect of reconciliation is seen in the father who represents God.  The youngest son was barely in sight and the father runs to greet him.  

Reconciliation was achieved as soon as the rebellious son realized that he needed to be forgiven, by himself and by others.  Similarly, Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross are an invitation and welcome for all who have strayed off the path that leads to life.  All that’s necessary to achieve reconciliation with God and others is for us to willingly admit our failures and to ask.  The final step in the process of reconciliation might not seem so obvious.  God has pursued us, and we’ve found reconciliation within ourselves, with others, and with God.  But one thing more is required; we need to look to the future.  

The positive message of the prophets is to look to the future.  Through Isaiah, God tells the people, “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (43:18-19).  The past actions of the Hebrew people had to be put behind them; they needed to begin anew.

Reconciliation is only complete when we put the sins of our past behind us and start again.  If we dwell on the past, then it will be very difficult to make a new beginning.  Anytime we carry around our excess baggage; it weighs us down.  But as Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.”  And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:10b-11).  Jesus’ words here point to the future.

The former is forgiven.  To move forward, we need to drop the baggage of the past, and strive to do better.  Remember, true repentance involves a change of attitude and direction.  God, through the psalmist, reminds us, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).  Too many times people live in the past; they’ve never learned to forgive themselves.  To move forward, we must put the past in the past.  We must set aside our fears, our need to hold a grudge, and our desire for retribution.  Reconciliation is achieved when the relationship is restored.  When we forgive ourselves and others, God stands ready to forgive and restore us. 

If any of us should have any further need of the reality of God’s abiding love for us, picture this image: It’s a hot and beautiful summer day and a little girl stands on the edge of large swimming pool.  She looks out at the water but she’s afraid, she doesn’t know how to swim.  But then, she looks into the eyes of her loving father with his arms outstretched.  Dad says, “Go ahead, jump in, there’s nothing to fear.  I’ll hold you up, I’ll keep you safe.”  In a similar way, Jesus has His arms outstretched and He says to all of us, “Go ahead, trust in Me, be reconciled with others and with Me.  I’ll hold you up; I will bring you to eternal life.”

In this Lenten season and beyond, we must continue our journey of faith by returning to the Lord, to be reconciled.  No, the process isn’t easy.  We must begin the reconciliation process by freely admitting our failures and forgiving ourselves.  We must begin by admitting our selfishness and sinfulness and not allow them to drag us down, hold us back, or impede us from the road that reconciliation requires.  Next, we must learn to be reconciled with others.  

We have hurt others; others have hurt us.  We all know deep down that holding a grudge against another is inconsistent with our Christian call.  Moreover, it brings us no positive result.  Jesus puts it very plainly when He tells us that before we offer our gift at the altar we must be reconciled with our brother (Matthew 5:24).  The inability to forgive others is like a ball and chain around the leg of a prisoner; it impedes our ability to move forward.  We must cut the chain, seek forgiveness, and then move forward.  

Lastly, and most importantly, we must find reconciliation with God.  We all like sheep have gone astray.  We cannot run away or think that in some way that God isn’t aware of the things we’ve done or failed to do.  God doesn’t demand perfection, but He does require us to recognize our need to reconcile with others and with God by asking for forgiveness knowing that God is full of mercy.  Nothing we’ve done, or failed to do, can keep us from the loving and forgiving embrace of the Lord.

So let us then continue our Lenten journey by hearing once again the message of St. Paul and be reconciled to others and to the Lord.  Let’s drop the baggage of the past and move forward.  There’s no reason to wait, it is worth doing, so we need to do it now.  Jesus is eagerly waiting with His arms outstretched for us to accept His loving embrace and forgiveness.


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