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Fourth Sunday in Lent: Build a Longer Table

Have you ever thought the younger son is a model of a faithful follower of Jesus?  I think we focus so much on what blunders the younger son made -- in a shame/honor culture there was not much he could have done worse than ask his father for his inheritance WHILE DAD was still alive and well.  And then he blew it!  

All of the resources he had been given are gone and he is left with only his life…nothing else.  Most of us have probably heard this story over the years and thought, “Phew, glad I’m not like that one…I haven’t done that!’ and so we haven’t identified with that character as often.  

But I think this son is a model of the faithful response of a believer towards God: he has a good enough understanding of who the father is so that despite his guilt, his shame and his fear he prepares his repentance speech and turns around and heads toward the Father, the very one he knows he disappointed!  

He is prepared to be dropped a whole lot of rungs on the ladder -- from second son to servant because, I think, he is realistic about the damage he has caused, but his blunders are not greater than his confidence in his father!  He has just enough faith to go home!  

How about us?  We might not have blown a fortune by dissolute living but what have we done that keeps us from returning home to God?  

What story from your past or what belief do you hold on to that tells you that you are NOT good enough to be over the top embraced and celebrated by God?  

What keeps or has kept you from turning around and heading back toward the one who created you and loves you more than anyone?  

Have you held on to fears that what has been done to you or what you have done limits your right to access that extravagant love and grace that this Father of ours exuberantly and lavishly covers us with?  

The Father doesn’t identify us with the worst thing that has ever happened to us or the worst thing we’ve ever done -- just like the Father in the parable, our Father is in the sprinters position, ready to run as fast as possible to get to us when we simply turn towards home.  

We don’t even have to arrive at the edge of the family compound first either!  We can be way far away from the kingdom way of living but that doesn’t stop God from coming, RUNNING, to us!  

Overjoyed and ecstatic, God celebrates not just this son but all of us!  God proclaims a feast is to be celebrated in this son’s honor, your honor, my honor!  God’s extravagant love and grace are what is key to the father’s response, not the child’s behavior!  

AND YET, the son had to turn back and realize that no matter what, he was still worthy of love and grace—even if he thought that love and grace would be just enough to keep him from starvation, not being fully restored to his position in the family!  That is what I am seeing as an amazing detail in this parable today -- he failed extravagantly BUT he returned home anyway!

In our Corinthians text, Paul reminds people that they are NEW Creations!  Because of Jesus Christ, everything OLD has passed away and EVERYTHING has become new.  

It’s not due to their own efforts at being better, getting smarter or richer, or doing whatever they can to have their best lives. It’s not due to their power or ability to pull themselves through!  

NO, it’s because God has reconciled us to Godself!  God makes us new creations, not counting our trespasses against us AND did you catch this part, trusting the message of reconciliation to us, making us ambassadors for Christ.  

So people who are in Christ, we are to regard everyone NOT from the human point of view but see them through the eyes of the Father, the one whose extravagant love and grace cannot be contained or restrained!  

For everyone has fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  We have all done things, said things, regretted things that cause harm to others as well as ourselves.  So let us not get hung up on what THEY or WE did or do, but have been given the ministry of reconciliation, let us invite EVERY SINGLE PERSON to walk towards that banquet table that is being set with a feast to celebrate that each one of us, no matter what, is worthy of love and grace and celebration!  

How do you do that you might wonder?  Well, let’s stick with that table imagery for a minute.  Invite people to the Table!!  And not just this table (the altar) but any table!  

In one of my clergy groups this week, a pastor shared a commercial that came out before the pandemic but I had never seen before and let me tell you I LOVED IT!!  Go to YouTube and search for #EatTogether commercial – it is worth watching!  

But for now, let me tell you about it.  A young woman is walking into her apartment building and every single person she encounters is on their phone, with or without earbuds in, including the doorman, everyone in the elevator and even her roommate in her own apartment!  NO ONE is talking or even acknowledging each other.  So she gets her roommate and they put a table in the hallway, set it for 6 people and have a salad and what looks like a noodle dish ready….for others.  

A couple get off the elevator with their daughter who may be around six and she just takes off towards the table, about pulling her mom’s arm off trying to get there.  And they sit down, pull out the rotisserie chicken they must have just picked up and add it to the meal.  

Pretty soon a guy opens his apartment door to see what is going on and he comes out with a table and food and joins in…. eventually the table is very long and full of all the different people who live on that floor, laughing, talking, sharing themselves and their food with each other!   

Except that 6-year-old girl realized the old man in the corner apartment isn’t there so she crawls under the table and RUNS to his door.  He must have quite the reputation as an old curmudgeon because you can see the collective holding of breath as she knocks on his door and invites him too!  

And even he joins the feasting, bringing a bottle of wine to share as well!  Now this is all choreographed to music and the lyrics are “What the world needs now is love sweet love.  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.  What the world needs now is love sweet love, for everyone!” and a longer table!

That was the title of our opening hymn today—build a longer table.  Feasting together stranger turns to friend.  And in the closing verse we sang ‘Christ is the doorway to the reign of God, so tables welcome those who roam, none can be excluded!’  Amen!  What the world needs is LOVE and longer tables welcoming all!  

That I think is a beautiful picture of the ministry of reconciliation that we are called to.  Look at everyone, maybe even yourself in the mirror, but look with the eyes of the Father, invite all to sit down, dine and be in relationship with one another!  

And don’t be surprised if you find some are like the younger son who blew it and feel so much shame and unworthiness  you can tell them about Our Father!  The one who RUNS as fast as possible towards us, proclaims a feast and celebration simply because we are: loved, forgiven and cherished just as we are!  

And we encourage one and all to simply turn towards God, who calls us home, and even though we have sinned he has mercy and pardon enough for all (that’s our next song)!   We, all of us, are enough… for God, for the work entrusted to us, for each other and for ourselves.  We are new creations in Christ because of the extravagant love and grace of the Father!  

Amen?  Amen!