A Decision to Make

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent; Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Decades ago Angie and I, well I, became intrigued with the BBC deceive story, Morse. We were, I was, disappointed when it ended in 2000, after thirteen years. I was excited to recently discover a prequel series Endeavour which is the beginning of Inspector Morse’s story.

Endeavor is a brand new Deceive Constable with the Oxford City Police CID. He is different than all other officers. He is an Oxford graduate. He sees the world differently, thinks differently, which helps him find clues and solutions that elude others. He loves classical music, he sings in an Oxford Choir. That and his struggles with basic police work complicates his relationship with other officers ~ and his Chief Superintendent. Only his boss Detective Inspector Fred Thursday believes in his potential.

In the second episode Fugue the Oxford police are seeking a serial killer Tom Gull, who is now masquerading as a police physiatrist, Dr. Daniel Cronyn. Gull has been seeking revenge on all the people involved in his conviction for murder. He was found guilty, but mentally ill. Having been declared cured and released he began his revenge killing spree. The last victim is intended to be Endeavor’s boss Inspector Thursday. Thursday faces down Gull on a rooftop while Endeavour makes his way around the roof behind him. After Thursday and Endeavour subdue Gull and he is taken away by assisting officers, Endeavour asks Thursday

How do you do it? Leave it at the front door?

Thursday replies:

Cause I have to. A case like this will tear the heart right out of a man. Find something worth defending.

 Endeavor mumbles:

I thought I had… found something.

Thursday answers:

Music? I suppose music is as good as anything. Go home, put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you (IMDB).

We all know the parables about loss and celebration Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes. We know about the younger son’s bad decisions, the father’s over the top welcoming home and the older son’s anger at it all. We may not remember that it is the last of three parables, following the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus shares when the Pharisees and the scribes after their grumbling and saying,

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Their grumbling recalls the Israelites “murmuring” against Moses in the desert (Exod. 16:7-12) (Culpepper). Though scripture warned against intimate fellowship with sinners (Keener and Walton), because what one eats and whom one eats with are key issues in socioreligious boundaries (Harrelson), their grumbling reveals their anger and judgment (Epperly).

You know the younger son resents his older brother (Lewis). He disrespects both his father and tradition, by asking for his share of the family inheritance early. He rejects Rabbinic judgments that protect the rights of parents (Culpepper) by selling it before his parents are dead, depriving them of food and shelter (Keener and Walton), think of the commandment to honor your father and mother (Ex 20:12). There is no doubt he is an outrageous, undesirable jerk (Hoezee).

The older son bears the burden of goodness (Epperly). Nonetheless, he is as judgmental as the Pharisees and the scribes (Hoezee). He resents his younger brother’s welcome home celebration. He rejects his relationship with his younger brother (Lewis) in answering his father this son of yours (Keener and Walton; Culpepper). He disrespects father in his reply to his father’s explanation for the celebration of his brother’s return by answering Listen and not a respectful “Father” or “Sir” (Keener and Walton; Culpepper).

The father stands opposed to the judgmental stance of the Pharisees and scribes (vs 2). He is always loving, always ready to welcome both his sons home. He also ignores tradition, it was regarded as unbecoming, a loss of dignity for a grown man to run (Culpepper) yet full of joy he runs to greet his lost son. His love is more important than tradition. This loving father crosses the threshold of his home twice. He crosses the threshold to run and welcome the younger son home. He crosses the threshold, a second time, to invite the elder son to the celebration  (Brobst-Renaud). In the father’s action, we catch glimpse of God/Jesus/Spirit who reaches into hell to rescue the lost, and who no one can defeat not even hell or death (Epperly).

It is significant that the parable is open-ended, the elder son has a decision to make. Will he join the celebration (Harrelson)? It is a stark reminder, that like both sons, we have decisions to make.

Speaking of decisions; Robert Muller’s report of his investigation has been given to Attorney General William Barr, as the Special Council law requires. For the last two years, pundits on all sides have been predicting what the report would say about this or that or another concern. All sides have excoriated the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. No-one side is listening to anyone else.

Now that the report has been given to William Barr, he has his lawful responsibilities to fulfill. In many ways it is the same song, 2nd verse, same as the first; and all sides continue to excoriate all the others in loudest most extreme ways possible. Few are bothering to wait and see what Attorney General Barr will include in his report on the report, or release to Congress and/or the public. No one is listening to anyone else.

I find this disappointing, mostly because what I have not heard or read is anyone pointing out that no matter one’s stance on the conclusions and/or recommendations of the report(s), it is the results of a justice system that is working. Yes, there were early morning raids, but they were conducted following defined legal processes with court-approved warrants. And no one has been dragged out of their homes in the dark of night to disappear forever, and no one has been locked away in a luxury hotel until they sign away wealth and power. Like the younger brother, we are rejecting traditional respect for our own self-interest. Like the older brother, we are dismissing any relationship with others who views differ from ours. Unlike the father, no one shows any respect, never mind love, for the other, or for all.

So, I wonder why so few people see or speak about what is going right? My fear is that they, that all of us – okay – most of us, are acting out the role of either the younger or the older son. All in all, the whole Muller Report story, from cause, through investigation, to the giving and receiving of the report and the continuing quote making for political advantage is enough to tear the heart right out of a nation. And so, ~ I wonder how we avoid tearing the heart right out of our nation and then Fred Thursday’s wisdom returns to mind

Find something worth defending. … put your best record on… loud as it’ll play… and with every note, you remember… that is something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.

What is worth defending will vary, and perhaps widely from person to person. Something that the darkness can’t take from you ~ well that brings us back to Jesus’ parable. In a world replete, full, of screaming voices, disregarding traditions, that have made us strong, rejecting relationships, with anyone who is somewhat different than we are we have our father, who stands in the vineyard where there is no past or future (Whitley), eagerly waiting to run welcome us home, because, by sheer grace (Culpepper), there is nothing, there is no darkness, that can take that love, in which everything has become new (2 Cor 5:21), away from you, or anybody else.

As is this parable, our political saga is open-ended; you, each and every one of us, has a decision to make about recognizing and accepting expansive fatherly love.


References

Bouzard, Walter. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 6 9 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Brobst-Renaud, Amanda. Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 31 3 2019. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. 31 3 2019. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-4c-2>.

IMDB. “Endeavor.” n.d. IMDB.com. 31 3 2019. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2716798/characters/nm1140345?ref_=tt_cl_t1)>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. A Resentful Story. 31 3 2019. <workingpreacher.org>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Whitley, Katerina Katsarka. “A Ministry of Reconciliation, Lent 4 (C).” 31 3 2019. Sermons that Work. <episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/ministry-reconciliation-lent-4-c-march-31-2019>.