C Lent 4
II Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
The passage from II Corinthians has an interesting word that I never noticed before. The word, in itself, is innocuous. But in the sentence, it completely changes the meaning from what you would think at first glance. The word is “there”. Listen carefully to II Corinthians 5:17: “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” I always used to think that it was the believer who became a new creation in Christ. But no. It doesn’t say, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.” It reads, If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. In other words, if someone is walking the way of Christ—is in Christ—then everything in itself is new. There is a new creation. What does this mean?
First, let’s look at the context of this passage. Paul is talking about reconciliation with God and with one another. The opposite of reconciliation is sin—that which separates us from God and from one another. To be reconciled involves a few steps. The first is to identify within yourself that which separates you from love, from God, from others. This is perhaps the hardest step. Once you identity this particular sin, the next step is to admit it—confess it to God, and to others if needed. The third step is to repent, which means to make a 180° turn. It is to intentionally break a harmful habit, to change your mindset, to find a healthier way to deal with challenges. All of these steps are aided by the grace and forgiveness of Christ. We don’t do this hard work on our own.
This passage is suggesting that if just one person is reconciled with God, there will be a ripple effect that will bring healing and hope to others—the changes will effect a new creation, which I like to think includes all of creation—the earth and all of its creatures. That’s a pretty powerful statement, but reconciliation is a pretty powerful event. When we reconcile with someone else, the relief, the healing, the forgiveness is contagious. This powerful energy ripples outwards to touch people we may never have met. And when we are reconciled with God and one another, the earth will have a chance.
An example of the power of reconciliation is given in the parable of the prodigal son. I invite us to put on the skin of each of the sons in this story. Feel what it is like to be both the wayward son and the dutiful son. You may relate more to one than the other. In all likelihood, you will probably find a bit of both within you. Hear the call of God to truth, healing and reconciliation.
The first skin you are putting on is that of the younger son. You are David. You have grown weary of your older brother’s constant harping. He is always pushing you to do more, do better, pull up your socks. And Dad, of course, agrees. After all, Josiah works hard, and keeps the family farm going. It’s difficult not being able to live up to your perfect brother. You long for some space to breathe, to find your own life, to live your own dreams. Unlike your brother, you believe that life is meant to be lived, not suffered. Enjoy God’s creation—don’t slave over it! There is so much that Josiah needs to learn. If he could lighten up, things would be so much easier for everyone.
If only you could get away from this suffocating life, you could find yourself. You begin to think. You know that, eventually, there will be some money coming your way—why not ask for an advance because now is when you need it. Now you have a chance, while you’re young and healthy, to explore the world. Of course, it’s not looked upon too favourably to ask for your share of the inheritance while Dad is still living, but you’re sure that he will understand.
And so, with hat in hand, you respectfully and humbly ask Dad for an advance. He’s surprised, of course, but he’s so compassionate and he understands that you need to get out. Soon, you’re on your way—far, far away where you won’t bother them and they won’t bother you. Oh my—what a life there is out there! You laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed before. You try your hand at all sorts of things. Life is good.
But then you realize that some of those things are addictive and you begin to lose yourself—not find yourself. You need more and more until you have nothing left. You’re no longer young and healthy. Even your body has aged prematurely. You’re in trouble and don’t know where to turn. In your sober moments, you know you need to do something different.
You finally find work that no one else will touch—low pay, grunge work, covered in filth. You become desperate—desperately hungry, desperately lonely—desperately homesick. Even the hired hand back on the farm is treated better than you are. Would Dad have you back? You would only ask to be a hired hand. That’s all you deserve.
Now let’s shake off the skin of David so that we can put on the skin of Josiah. You are the eldest, the responsible one. You look after your little brother and take seriously your role as a mentor. You show him how to work the farm and teach him what you have learned the hard way. You want to save him the pain of learning from mistakes. You might be a bit bossy and a little hard on him, but in the end, he’ll be grateful that you saved him all the time and embarrassment of learning the hard way. But he doesn’t seem to have the same drive you have. He’d rather be sitting in the field, chewing on a stalk of wheat and dreaming about far away lands. What a waste of time—as if he’ll ever be there!
You do have a soft spot for him. If anyone else makes fun of him, you defend him. You’ve heard those rumours that he is a good for nothing. You’re determined to prove them wrong. Your kid brother just needs a little encouragement to buck up. He’ll be ok.
And then, one day, he’s gone. He just disappeared without a word. You ask Dad about him and see from his face that he knows. Eventually, he admits that David asked him for an advance on his inheritance and you’re incredulous! What nerve he had and what shame he will bring to the family if anyone finds out. You turn away from Dad in anger, not wanting to believe that Dad caved in to David’s selfish request. As you walk away, you glance back at Dad and see a face full of pain and deep sadness.
As the years pass, the memory of David fades along with your anger. You’ve thrown yourself into your work harder than ever, as if to prove that Dad still has one good, faithful son. You’re determined to make him proud and help heal the pain of losing David.
You’re working in the field one day, when you hear music and laughing in the direction of the homestead. You ask one of the hired hands, who has just come back from the house, what’s going on. He takes a deep breath, looks down and mumbles something about David returning and your Dad throwing a feast for him. You feel your blood beginning to boil as you slowly walk toward the house. Dad sees you and comes out to placate you. “I have worked myself to the bone my whole life and you have never even had my friends over for dinner, let alone throw an extravagant feast for me. And then my wayward brother comes back and you reward him for his years of wasteful carousing with a feast.” Dad tries to deescalate, assuring you that all he has is yours. Dad is simply welcoming home with forgiveness and celebration his son whom he thought was dead.
Dad invites you to let the past go and join in the celebration. You realize that you have never fully worked through your anger and your bitterness. It didn’t take much to spark into a fury. You tell Dad that you need some time and he nods, understanding once again with compassion, that his two sons each have their own demons to fight—sins that separate them from God and from each other. Dad walks back to the house with footsteps a little heavier, praying once again for changed hearts and reconciliation. “It is possible,” he says to himself, “For with God all things are possible.”