|Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||May 29, 2016||Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C||Luke 7:1-10|
|Trinity Sunday, Pentecost 1, Year C||May 22, 2016||Trinity Sunday, Year C||John 16:12-15, Psalm 8|
|Day of Pentecost! Year C||May 15, 2016||The Day of Pentecost, Year C||Acts 2:1-21, John 14:8-17, 25-27|
|Easter 5, Year C||April 24, 2016||Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C||Acts 11:1-18, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35, Psalm 148|
|Easter 4, Year C||April 17, 2016||Easter 4, Year C||Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30|
|Easter 3, Year C||April 10, 2016||Easter 3, Year C||John 21:1-19|
|Easter 2, Year C||April 3, 2016||Easter 2, Year C||John 20:19-31|
|Easter, Year C||March 27, 2016||Easter, Year C||Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 24: 1-12|
|Good Friday||March 25, 2016||Good Friday, Year C||John 18:1-19:42|
|Maundy Thursday||March 24, 2016||Maundy Thursday, Year C||Psalm 116:1, 10-17, John 13:1-17, 31b-35|
|Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 13, 2016||The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Isaiah 43:16-21, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8, Psalm 126|
|➤Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||March 6, 2016||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C||Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Psalm 32|
|Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 28, 2016||Third Sunday in Lent, Year C||Luke 13:1-9|
|Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||February 21, 2016||The Second Sunday in Lent, Year C||Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1|
|Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||February 7, 2016||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C||Luke 9:28-43a|
Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C
Sermon Date:March 6, 2016
Scripture: Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Psalm 32
Liturgy Calendar: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C
"Return of the Prodigal Son" – Rembrandt (1668)
In today’s Old Testament reading from Joshua, the Israelites have at last made it to the Promised Land. We find them gathered around the table spread before them on the plains of Jericho sharing their first Passover in the land that God had promised them when God led their parents out of slavery in Egypt forty years earlier. They have come home.
The psalmist wanders away from God, and when he confesses to God, God delivers the psalmist from himself and his sins, and the psalmist once more finds himself at home in God, the psalmist’s hiding place where the psalmist is safe and saved from further trouble. The psalmist has come home.
And the young man who takes his inheritance and squanders it in a distant country, and who finally comes to himself at last, decides to travel back home, and while he is still far off, his father sees him coming and runs to him and welcomes him back home again. This foolish son has come home at last.
As the father welcomes his young son home, so God welcomes us back home too, when we come to ourselves and decide to return home to God.
Paul tells the Corinthians that they too have come home through the saving action of Jesus dying on the cross—the death of Jesus gives the Corinthians a new way of seeing and being in the world; a new world in which everything old has passed away, a world in which all has been made right with God, through God’s own divine work in Jesus, his only son, sent by God into this world to live and die as one of us and to stretch out his arms on the cross in a saving embrace in order to reconcile us to God.
Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians, and us, that because God has reconciled the world to himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us, so now that we have come home, so to speak, we have a job to do.
God has entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. So we are to be ambassadors for Christ, since now God makes God’s appeal to the world through us—and our message to the world is reconciliation.
We all know that in spite of the fact that the old world has passed away and that everything has been made new, we live in the time of now and not yet. We catch glimpses of this new world, and yet we still live in a time that is captive to the old order, which runs on discord, brokenness, and downright hatred for our fellow human beings. Sometimes it’s hard for us to even imagine God’s new world when the old order is so here and now, and we find ourselves being shaped and driven by the way things are rather than by the way God has laid them out to be.
As The Book of Common Prayer puts it in the Rite of Reconciliation, like the prodigal son, “we have wandered far in a land that is waste.”
Nowhere is this wandering more evident than it is right now in the state of politics in this country. In my lifetime, I cannot recall an uglier political process than the one we are enduring right now, and this is only primary season.
My guess is that most people in this congregation would agree that our political system is no longer working as it should be. Over the past decade, political gridlock has become the norm. The result of this gridlock has left the American people, including Christians, feeling politically helpless, confused, cynical, angry, wearied, or downright apathetic about politics.
So here’s my question.
How are we to be ambassadors for Christ and messengers of reconciliation in the political realm?
I’ve turned for help in answering this question to John Danforth, a former Republican United States Senator from Missouri. Danforth is also an Episcopal priest, and for years he has been, and I quote him here– “trying to work out how my faith should affect my approach to politics” (pg 6).
Danforth has written a book, The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics, published just last year, in which he hopes that his struggle with how faith and politics should intersect and connect in his own life will “help others think about the relationship between their faith and how they go about their lives as citizens and their engagement in politics” (page 6).
In the book, Danforth offers four principles that he believes that “faithful people can agree on, regardless of their party affiliation or where they are on the liberal/conservative spectrum.” These principles could help faithful people “make an important contribution to public discourse, and go a long way toward mending broken politics.” These principles can become gifts that we people of faith can offer to our country as a means of bringing new life to the wasteland that our political system has become.
Here are the four principles.
The first principle is that “we should insist that politics remain in its proper place. Politics is not the realm of absolute truth and it is not the battleground of good and evil. Faithful people worship God. They do not worship political parties or ideologies…our opponents are not our enemies.”
Second, “we should be advocates for the common good. The framers of our Constitution were realistic in their understanding that politics consists of groups advancing their own interests, and they created a system of checks and balances to offset competing interests against one another. However, our first four presidents believed that the success of America would depend on citizens who did more than look after themselves, but that they would advance the common good through virtue—that understanding of virtue has been lost, but because the essence of religion is that the self is not the center of the universe, and because the model of Christianity is sacrificial love, religion can restore the lost principle of virtue that says that there is a higher good than the self.”
Third, “we should advocate political compromise, and make the case that the spirit of compromise is consistent with our faith…workable politics is the art of compromise, and the result of inflexible positions is gridlock. Faithful people, who do not think of politics in terms of absolutes, can be a counterpressure to those who pull politicians toward the ideological poles.”
And fourth, we should be “a unifying force, working to bind America together….the words ‘religion’ and ‘ligament’ come from the same root meaning ‘to bind together’…..Paul said that in Christ, God reconciled the world to himself, and entrusted to us the message of reconciliation.” A fundamental premise of Danforth’s book is that “overcoming estrangement is the responsibility of faithful people and that God has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation. Because this is so, we should seek ways to make our ministry a practical reality.”
Danforth, from his perspective as a former Senator, has many ideas about making the ministry of reconciliation a practical reality, and these ideas make his book a fascinating and inspiring read. This would be an excellent book for us to discuss in depth in this parish, perhaps in Christian Education on Sundays, or in the book group format.
But for our purposes, today, I want to return to this idea of returning home again—because returning home is the first thing we can do to equip ourselves to participate both religiously and politically as citizens not only of this country, but also as citizens of the world.
Returning home, then, means to return to God. Sometimes we say Canticle G from Enriching our Worship in Morning Prayer—it’s taken from Ezekiel and it goes like this.
I will take you from among all nations;*
And gather you from all lands to bring you home.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you;*
and purify you from false gods and uncleanness.
A new heart I will give you*
and a new spirit put within you.
I will take the stone heart from your chest*
and give you a heart of flesh.
I will help you walk in my laws*
and cherish my commandments and do them.
You shall be my people,*
and I will be your God.
Recall Danforth’s first principle, that as faithful people, God is our ultimate concern, that “God is transcendent and politics is not. So getting home to God and seeing that new world that God has spread before us, gives us new hearts and new spirits and allows us to have the strength and courage to go out and participate in healing ways in the world around us, including politics.
Participating in politics does not mean drawing lines in the sand on issues on either the right or the left of the political spectrum, but as Danforth puts it, “our fundamental allegiance is to our structure of government, not to any particular ideology or policy…whatever our positions and whatever our party, all of us pledge allegiance to the republic, to our system of government—to the process of decision making.
Paul makes this point to the Corinthians—when you chose to become Christians, you chose God’s job description for you—that is decision making as messengers of reconciliation, as ambassadors for Christ. Your process of decision making out in the world is shaped by reconciliation.
And the father makes this point about the process of decision making to his older, disgruntled son who feels that he has been treated unfairly—that what binds us together as a family is not one side or the other, who is right and who is wrong, looking out only for ourselves. I can hear the older father saying to his faithful and angry oldest son—“My son, forgiveness, compassion, love, and reconciliation toward one another hold this family together.”
Forgiveness, compassion, love and reconciliation toward one another are the very things that bind us together as this congregation—and these are the things that equip us to go out into the world as messengers of reconciliation.
May we have the courage, then, to come to ourselves as Americans, to lay down our anger, our despair, our acrimony, our disgust, and our apathy toward politics so that we can participate as people of faith to carry the message of reconciliation out into these great United States in this season of discontent and despair. America and our political system, conceived with such hope and promise centuries ago, and which we regard with such pessimism now, waits for the healing that we, the people of faith can bring to it, if only we will.
Danforth, John. The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics. New York: Random House, 2015.