Luke 15 – Prodigal Son Rev. Tyler Amundson March 10, 2013
St. Paul’s UMC, Helena, MT
The Prodigal Son – In the Key of F
Read by Liz Harter
When Steve Harper sent that to me, I knew I needed to use it. When Liz said, “Yes” to performing it, I knew I would never read the Prodigal the same way again. Liz was nervous about slipping in the wrong word from time to time, but I think she did an excellent job. Thank you, Liz, for sharing with us.
Lent continues. We continue to be called to Repent, Resolve, and Renew. These are the three words Marianne brought to us at the beginning of this season and they fit it very well. Lent is this season in which we take time to learn why we engage in our spiritual and religious walk. We spend time reminding ourselves the reasons we choose to be Christian.
As a part of Lent I have been asking myself the question, “Why do people participate in church?” This has been a question that I have been asking since I started serving here as your Associate Pastor of Young Adult Ministry and one which I am sure I will ask throughout my career. The answer that has presented is that we come here because we have had an experience of God. Now I don’t know if each of us has had one great experience of God, or little experiences. However, these experiences could be generally described as moments of connection to the Holy. We have perhaps experienced moments of peace, bliss, or strong connection, or number of other moments as we have connected with the Holy.
This experience of Holy has invited us to return continually to a community to grow deeper in our understanding of this experience. Some of us move closer to a community or farther away depending on its ability to help us at the different points in our lives. Wherever we are at in our faith journey, the calling of this faith community continues to be to seek ways to provide connection to the Holy, to seek understanding, and serve others in love.
It is clear from the commitment of people in this faith community that sustaining an environment where people can experience the Holy is incredibly important to us. We support weekends like Walk to Emmaus and Chrysalis. These spiritual weekends for women, men, and youth help people to experience the Holy here in our building. We commit to having children and youth ministries that are vibrant real ways to engage the Holy and life itself for kids and teenagers. We continue to work on how best to address the needs of adults and young adults in the spiritual walks. We provide classes that give resources to carry spirituality into our everyday lives. Right now I can guarantee one of us is probably thinking of a new way in which we can share the Holy with one another as a community.
Throughout its history, this community has been clear that the message of Holy is about God’s Love. The end of this beautiful Prodigal reading highlights what many of us see the Holy to be.
Our understanding of Holy involves:
2) Forever faithful friendship
3) Fadeless love, and
4) A facility for forgetting flaws”
The God we share a vision of has:
“Faithful fortitude and fearless forbearance to forgive both fugitive and first-born flourishes.”
We, as a community, share an experience of a God that sustains our Hope. We are a renewed people seeking to live out Christ’s call in the world. Inviting others to join us in our sacred task, “To love our neighbor, and ourselves.”
Now many times when we hear sermons on this story of the Prodigal Son we do not just hear about a loving God. Many times we hear a message that God loves all people, even the lost ones. Or we hear a strong message to people who have stayed true to the faith needing to be radically hospitable to the lost ones.
The text preached with the former messages makes it sounds like a modern day political argument about any form of social welfare. You are invited to feel guilty because you are not willing to welcome back the one who has been lost or dejected from society, even though you have paid your dues. The opposite side is that you should be guilty because God is always willing to welcome back those who have gone so far astray it makes no sense what they were doing. In modern terms feel guilty if you are not willing to give to those who are struggling, and feel guilty if you have needed to take any assistance to get where you are going.
This scripture tends to be ridden with guilt about how we should behave. Guilt isn’t bad; it is the emotion that motivates us to change. Guilt also is the emotion that can trap us, and gives us anxiety about what we should do next. Guilt is a deep emotion that we have caused harm in some way. It is understandable why it is paralyzing emotion, human beings are wired to care for each other, and harm is the opposite of this.
Emotion is a powerful thing and the focus of emotion should not to be to control it, but embrace it with God’s love and let God guide it.
Anxiety rises from the story of the Prodigal Son because it seems that we are either the younger son or older brother that has harmed the father. We have either absurdly said, “Dad I kind of wish you were dead, give me your inheritance, so I can squander it.” Or “Dad, how dare you love your lazy, reckless son more than I.” We fear we have hurt our connection with God by being one of these people, because it is easy to connect with these characters and we know almost innately that God is compared with the father in this story.
The two sons in this story are meant to be in tension with one another for a reason. The character of Jesus was placing these two characters out there to demonstrate that tension existed, that there was an anxiety already present in the ancient world. Most likely Christ was trying to describe a political tension of the day, an argument about those who felt they were being loyal to God and those who felt they must use up the resources of God quickly.
Christ was not doing it to rid the anxiety from the world, but to demonstrate how the Holy parent can help us to embrace anxiety.
If this story was told today this story could be about social issues, climate change, or even government budgets. The goal of the story was to identify the tension and say it is time to move forward; it is time to meet the family where we are and grow from here. A Hope that God’s love will help us to bridge the separation.
In Hebrew the word for Hope is Tikvah. It is translated into English as Holy Anxiety. Hope is Holy Anxiety. Now I don’t share this with you because Christ spoke Hebrew, but instead because this notion is seemingly the challenge of this text. If we find ourselves in strict tension with our sibling humans we might find best our answers in seeking the Holy. In seeking the holy we might find the love to overcome tension. This notion of Holy anxiety allows for the story to come to a conclusion. We can all come home. It overwhelming answers the questions if we are worthy to return, the younger son. It quenches the exhausting anger, which the people in the right feel toward those who have erred greatly.
There is anxiety in being either of these characters. The call of Tikvah is that we might bring our sense of the Holy to this conflict.
Our nation and our world are seemingly more caught up in conflict. Either we are more caught up in conflict, or because of increasing media we are just every more aware of it. However, even our current political climate in this country demonstrates increasing conflict. People do not seem to be able to hold a sense of hope. Our anxieties are definitely increasing, but not our sense of hope. It seems that issues continue to arise that push us apart and not together in a sense of cooperation.
Now I am not going to pretend to have answers for how to solve this, but I do think that Holy Anxiety has a role to play. The divisive issues of today need people with ability to bring conflicting parties together and invite them into genuine dialogue. The two sons were ideologues and the Father is clearly calling them away from that. Holy spaces are not just the spaces of prayer they are the spaces where you can feel people in cooperation.
We are called to create holy places and continue to do this in new ways as church, so that people know what they feel like. If people can feel them in small ways here then it can be dreamed that they will go out into the world and do it in every increasing ways. Why do people come to church? To encounter the Holy. Why should we continue to offer church? So the Holy can be taken to the anxieties of the world.
As we think about the three words of the season:
Repenting – is seeing the Anxiety
Resolving – is seeking the Holy
Renewing – is feeling Hope…Tikvah…Holy Anxiety
Two politicians sat side by side
One wore a donkey in stride
The other an elephant did adorn
Both of them had a permanent look of scorn
Staring in each others’ eyes
Neither could let the other surmise
The goal for which each lived and died.
Yet if they let their guile down
Each would find a simple clown
Hoping to find a simple way
To encourage life each day
Tikvah hope is you see
The only wish for you and me
The in each other we would seek the holy
After all we each only hope to live WHOLE-LY
We are called to feel Holy Anxiety as we share God’s love in Hope that the world will be a better place. May we create spaces to experience the Holy in each other and find ways to Hope together.