If you lived here, you’d be home now! Easter 5a

John 14:1-14

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

What is it in our human nature that persistently wants to turn grace into law, inclusion to exclusion, plenitude into penury?  We are the great reductionists!

The Gospel this week speaks of consolation for the disciples who are troubled that Jesus, is speaking about leaving them.  They are not sure their hearts can bear it and that why he quiets their troubled spirits by speaking of a Father’s house where there is abundant accommodation. In contrast to the birth of Jesus, the Father’s inn will never be too full.  This is also far more than a guesthouse we are speaking of. The Father’s house is home.  It is the place the Prodigal son eventually headed for when he came to himself.  It is the place you and I long to return to when we are homeless and heartsore.

What is more, Jesus the shepherd, the gate from last week’s gospel, is going to make sure that everything is ready “back home” where the Father is, and when he has turned back the covers, and put the chocolate on the pillow, checked and refreshed the flowers on the nightstand and aired the room, he will come and take us to be there.

You also know where I am going”.  Is it possible that Jesus was implying,… “Because you are already there.  When we began this adventure I told you that the Divine Doman (Kingdom of the heavens) is at hand, close and even within you.  I am not speaking about travel I am talking about transformation. This is not about destinations it is about discovering you are already at home with God.” John Kabat Zinn titles his book, “Wherever you go. there you are

Incredulous, over-thinking Thomas, can’t get beyond the concrete and so asks for a map.  “Just give me the co-ordinates to that I can plug them into the old GPS and let the device take me there.”  Jesus says to Thomas, “ I am the GPS, the map, the truth and the life.  Nothing else is going to get you there if you don’t get me.  (If you don’t understand me)”   Surely if the resurrection appearances teach anything they demonstrate that in the Divine domain, geographic locations are irrelevant? Locked doors are of no consequence, Jesus appears and disappears at will.  He is in Jerusalem, Emmaus, Galilee; seemingly all at once.

Philip begins to understand that there is nowhere to go but still wants a sign. “Show us the Father and we will be satisfied”  Once again, may I speculate some unrecorded sub-text?  “No Philip you won’t be satisfied.  If you are still looking for God in signs and wonders and can’t see the Divine in this moment of resurrection encounter, then nothing will reveal God to you and nothing will satisfy you.  The divine domain, is here Phillip, in me. Can you not see the non-dual unity and union of everything in me. Philip there is no division in me.  I am one with “I am”, and so you can be.  Just look at what has happened the works of restoration and latterly of resurrection!”

This has to be one of the most beautiful non-dual, inclusive passages of teaching by Jesus.  All the divisions are healed in Jesus.  There is unity and accommodation for all.  There is no need to go anywhere, for Jesus has come to us.  There is no need to search any further for it right here.  Just lay down., you are home already.

How tragic then, that this passage has become the war-cry of exclusivist and triumphalist Christian dogma that uses the very words of the all including Jesus as a sword of separatist isolation from others.

As Jesus has pointed out in this passage if we don’t see the unity in all this, we really don’t get it.  “How can you say, show us the Father?

Perhaps the best rejoinder to those who use the words of Jesus in this passage to be judgemental and exclusive, comes from that master of the one-liner and the succinct, snappy answer, Richard Rohr.

When Richard has spoken inclusively, and people throw at him, “But Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life…NO ONE…” Richard replies in his lovely gentle manner, “When Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life’, it means that you are NOT” A sobering reminder if you get it, that none of this is our business.  This is mystery of the highest order and our best response is awe and wonder, rather than bigotry and belligerence.

I wonder if this place has room service?

The land of the settling sons

Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  So he told them this parable: …”There was a man who had two sons.   The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.   A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.   When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.   So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.   He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.   But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!   I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;   I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘   So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.   Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’   But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.   And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;   for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.   “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.   He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.   He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’   Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.   But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.   But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’   Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.   But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'”

In a letter to his friend Philip Melanchthon, on August 1, 1521, Martin Luther wrote, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly… Pray boldly – for you too are a mighty sinner.” The reason for such a strange instruction from a man who had spent much of his life as a monk obsessed with making reparation for his own sins, is testimony to the insight Luther had into the Sola Gratia-by grace alone nature of our relationship with God as God’s children. Melanchthon, Luther’s colleague, and the theological brains of the early Lutheran movement, suffered from that deadly virus that kills a vibrant spirituality called Scrupulosity. Luther was addressing this obsession in the timid and fearful Melanchthon when he penned this trademark quote.

Later John Henry Newton would pen “Amazing Grace” as his response to the same insight that Luther had.

In our own time Philip Yancey has written a modern classic titled, “What’s so amazing about grace?” Yet, Luther, Newton and Yancey are simply pointing to a reality that every Christ follower in every generation has come to discover, namely, we are created to be at home with God our essential parent.

There are as many pointers to this truth in the words of Scripture as there are in the literature of faith which reference those scriptures, but none of these has the poignant earthiness of the parable in this coming Sunday’s gospel.

Coming to the parable nested as it is with two other lost and found parables, I feel tempted to do what Stephen Leacock’s fictional horseman did, “He flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.

I could go with all three parables and link them to the confession in our liturgy of Holy communion, We have sinned through ignorance (how sheep get lost) through weakness (how coins in a woman’s headdress get lost when the thread breaks) and through our own deliberate fault (how the son gets lost). I could then note how when loss is through ignorance and weakness, there is no end to the resources that must be thrown into searching for those lost ones. However, when the loss is deliberate, then there is no search. There is only a longing prayerful waiting for prodigality to run its course and for the lost to “come to themselves” and come home.

Whoa boy! I am going to rein in on that direction.

I could go with what the parable should be titled. Rather than the regular, Prodigal Son, perhaps it should be called the Prodigal Father? Or would Helmut Thielike’s title of The Waiting Father, still be the best choice. What about The Prodigal and the Prosaic? Or, The Settling Sons?

Whoa boy! I am going to rein in on that direction.

This Sunday I am drawn to a completely different angle as suggested by Prodigality, liberality and meanness in the parable of the prodigal son: by David A. Holgate It is a rather dry as dust, literary critical analysis of the parable but which, as all these scholarly works are wont to do, dropped a burr of inspiration under my saddle, so….Yeeehah! Giddyup!

Three paragraphs from Holgate opened up a line of insight for me.

The most important character is the father. He forms the standard by which all other behaviour is to be judged. His home is the central place. His workers and servants reveal his liberality, and his sons evoke his compassion. Luke emphasizes both of these virtues, so that each qualifies the other. The subjects of his speech make this clear: his gifts, his joy at his younger son’s recovery from ruin, and his concern at his concern at his elder son’s criticism of the celebration to mark his brother’s return.

The presentation of the sons as opposing stereotypes reveals Luke’s rejection of such behaviour. His rejection of prodigality is shown by his brief mention of prodigal behaviour and places greater stress on the younger son’s conversion and return. This emphasis is also evident in the way most of the action in the parable is related to his return and takes place on the day of his return. Luke’s rejection of meanness is seen in the way he places the father’s appeal to his elder son at the climax of the parable. In the appeal to the elder son, Luke appeals to his readers. Page67

Thus, I conclude that the parable teaches the virtue of compassionate liberality and rejects the opposing views of prodigality and meanness. It illustrates that liberality is a source of physical and moral health and harmony, for the individual and the community. Through the creative use of a simple plot, conventional characters and familiar moral language, Luke appeals to his readers to behave with liberality, particularly towards their Christian brothers and sisters. Page 68

What I enjoy about Holgate’s insight is that he holds to that ever true, Middle Way.

All too often. in our life and preaching as the church we have tended to side with one or the other of the sons. The Evangelicals have tended to say that we all have to be prodigal before we can experience the Luther-Newton-Yancy syndrome of AMAZING grace. And of course they are correct. But as one wag has said, “It would seem from some Evangelical preaching, that in the church, you have to have a lousy past to have a decent future!

On the other hand, almost every time a preach or teach on this parable someone will come to me afterwards and whisper, “You know I really can understand how the elder son felt!” They are correct too. Many Christ followers have been that from their mother’s knee. Do you really have to go off to some exotic prodigal place before you can come home?

What Holgate has captured in this middle way, is the central focus on the liberality of the father.

The Prodigal son who doesn’t deserve anything because he hasn’t earned it and in fact has wasted what communal resources were given to him, still gets all the regalia (robe and ring) and ritual (fatted calf feast) of a bona fide son.

Don’t you love the fact that he only get’s one sentence of his prepared penitential speech out before his father interrupts him? Or as Eugene Petersen translates in The Message, “The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast!”

The Prosaic son, who has lacked the imagination to even ask for a goat, is also affirmed as having access to everything at any time.

Yet when we look at the life of the average church household do we not see a constant conflict in our Church Councils, between the Prodigal and the Prosaic. (Guess who the Treasurer usually is?)

The polarities are endless in this encounter:

  • Youth versus Elderly
  • Mission versus Maintenance
  • Expansion versus contraction
  • Evangelism versus Pastoral Care

We can go on and on, but we are missing the point. The Liberal Prodigal Father seems to be saying, “Hey kids, there is enough for everyone!”

“The polarities only exist in your scarcity mentalities. You don’t have to compete, judge and resent.”

Open up to what is available and join the party!

And by the way, you can rein in that high horse too!