1st Scripture Reading: Joshua 5:9-12 & Psalm 32
Pride. The theme on this fourth Sunday in Lent is spiritual pride. The people of Israel, in this Old Testament reading from the book of Joshua, had been journeying thru the wilderness for forty years under the leadership of Moses. But Moses had died without seeing the Promised Land – the land they believed God had promised to them.
During that time, they had been humbled to the point of being completely dependent on God: first for their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, then for the manna which was their daily food, and for the very direction in which they were to travel.
So now God had raised up a new leader – the prophet Joshua, who would lead them over the Jordan River into the land which was to be their new home.
During their time of trial, all the original Jews who had fled Egypt and the shame of slavery, had died out. A whole new generation of free Israelites had been born and many were grown up. None had been circumcised as was the religious custom demanded of the Jews according to their covenant with God.
In preparation for the next step in their spiritual journey, Joshua reminded them of their promise to God, so that all males must now be circumcised before they could go any further. They had just crossed over the Jordan into Canaan and were preparing to invade it.
Pride. What Joshua has been reminding the people is about their dependence on God to once again have a home land. In this case pride looks like forgetting who we are and whose we are – forgetting that without God our Creator we are not likely to succeed.
Joshua, with God’s help, had stopped the waters of the Jordan so the Israelites with the Ark of the Covenant could pass over. They camped on the other side in a place they called Gilgal. There they performed the prescribed rite of circumcision, and there they celebrated the Passover meal in remembrance of their release from Egyptian slavery. On that day they ate the fruit of the land of Canaan for the first time, and on that day they ceased to be provided with manna from God. On that day they became once again a free people, a forgiven and redeemed people, once again firmly within the covenant they had made with God. On that day the people of God became adults, responsible once more for their own survival, no longer babes at the breast of the mother.
Hymn #460 VU “All Who Hunger”
2nd Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 & Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Scripture: Luke 15: 1-3,11b-32 (the Prodigal Son & his Brother)
“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.”
Often we focus on the first part of this parable – the return of the lost son. And that’s a really important part of God’s message for us this morning.
But there’s another part to this story, isn’t there? I call it the shadow side. It’s about the rest of us – the children of God who toe the line, who do the right thing always – to the best of our understanding and ability. We are the deacons of the church, the elders, the faithful. We are the preachers and the Chairman of the Board and the music director. We are the missionaries and the evangelists. We teach Bible Study, we serve in soup kitchens. We do our duty to our parents, to our communities, to our spouses and our children.
We are in grave spiritual danger. Did you know that? We are in danger of spiritual pride. Pride. We asked God to take away from us “pride” this morning as we extinquished another of our Lenten candles.
Let’s look a little more closely at the second part of the parable this morning. Let’s “unpack” it, as they say.
So what do we know about the brother of the prodigal son. We know that he is the elder. Now traditionally in that culture, the oldest son got the largest share of the inheritance of the family – he got two parts to the one part that would be allotted to younger sons. He would be expected to take on a greater share of the responsibility for the care of his aging parents as well, and a greater share of the work required to maintain the family’s assets.
We know that he would not have been happy that his father gave in to the younger son’s demand to have his inheritance before his father died. This was a shameful thing – a thing that was disrespectful of the father – a thing that all the community would have murmured about as a shameful thing.
Shame. The younger son brought shame on the family – including this older son. Have you ever felt shame? It’s a sickening feeling. You can feel the hot blood of it rush to your face and you can’t stop it. You want to go hide somewhere because you know people are saying that you are a bad person – that you are unworthy in some way. In many cultures shame is used to guarantee compliance with community values and standards. Shame is still widely used to constrain the freedom and equality of women in many cultures world-wide. Shame was used in this culture to ensure that the elders in the family would be provided for in their old age.
So do you think their might have been some bitterness on the part of this older son regarding the shame the younger son had brought on the whole family?
But he carried on. He continued to work in his father’s fields. Perhaps he carried this bitterness and shame with him all this time. Perhaps it festered in him as such things do. Perhaps he hoped the younger son would die and so the shame might die with him. We don’t know. What we are told is that when he returned from doing his duty as a “good” son, and heard all the celebrating going on, and found out that it was because this profligate son had returned to the family – he was angry. He was VERY angry.
One senses that the relationship between the father and his eldest son was not a very happy one. The father commands, and the son obeys. Not much love lost there. It’s a bit confusing isn’t it? This father who so loves his wayward son doesn’t love his “good” son? I wonder if the eldest son was ever able to let go of his anger and his hatred of the younger son for bringing shame on the family. I wonder if he was even able to recognize that the father loved his younger son. I wonder if he ever let himself feel the love his father probably had for him. I wonder if shame and anger and bitter hatred had so poisoned him that he could not love his father, or have a normal relationship with anyone.
Lots to wonder about. The shadow side is what is unconscious in us – what we don’t acknowledge even to ourselves. And shame is a huge “shadow” issue. Most of us have internalized shame at some point in our lives. We let our parents down some time, we did something totally out of character for us, we crossed the line of our community value system – we disappointed a favourite teacher or mentor. When that happens, shame pours over us. We often can’t bear that shame, don’t have the tools to deal with it, and so we bury it – we bury it deep in the subconscious, where we forget that it is even there.
But it is there. It’s not actually gone anywhere, and it poisons the beauty of who we really are. It limits our ability to relate honestly and openly with others. It cripples our ability to love and to be loved, because we feel so unworthy – even tho we often don’t even know why. And we project those feelings of unworthiness onto people who exhibit the very behaviours or character flaws that unconsciously we feel that we have ourselves. So we hate and judge (as we feel judged) the person who lives a promiscuous life, or we can’t bear to be around the flamboyantly successful person, or the loud and over-bearing person, or the person who defiantly had her baby out of wedlock, or the couple who live together without getting married. Unless we can love all the different parts of ourselves without reservation, then we are unable to feel real compassion for all God’s children.
And for us, as Christians, part of taking inventory of our hidden flaws and “sins” is knowing that Jesus has shown us the way to wholeness. Jesus has taught us the meaning of unconditional love, and many of us know it on a personal level. Handing over to God our not so nice parts, repenting of our repressed issues and our mistakes in the distant past, allows us to participate with Christ in a new life, a life of abundant joy and limitless freedom. We are a new creature in Christ, everything old has been washed away, and we are reconciled to God, in a way that the eldest son was tragically unable to do with his father.
So now we are ambassadors for Christ, as Paul says in the reading from second Corinthians, taking that message of reconciliation to all the world – to all the world that God so loves. And when the lost is found, when the dead self has been revived and given new life in Christ, let us rejoice, people of God. Let us rejoice and be grateful for the infinite mercy and unconditional love of God, that knows no boundaries; that labels no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven, no shame that cannot be washed away, and no child who is not a child of God.
Hymn #126MV “Are you a shepherd”