Seeing Old Stories with New Eyes 7/8
Rev. Jonathan Arnpriester, Chandler United Methodist Church, September 3rd, 2017
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
I want to tell you that I have it all together but then I would also have to tell you that I’m lying to you. I had a sermon for this morning. It was done on Thursday as is my usual practice is in the drawer; it’s soaking; it’s ready to go; but right now it’s in that blue folder over on the chair by where I was sitting because I woke this morning at 3:30 AM and the word of the Lord came to me. That ever happened to you? I’m hesitant to tell you that because often times when people say the word of the Lord came to them they want you to elevate them. I actually want to dig a pit and let you stand around the edge and looked down. If you don’t like it you can just kick the dirt in but please don’t. In fact I feel a little awkward standing. Can we have this removed?
The sermon for today is on this text and it’s a nice long sermon not for a communion Sunday. It’s a sermon for when we want to look at the whole picture. It is a sermon for Sunday when we want to really engage deeply in the fullness of this awesome text, this gospel within the gospel.
So what was on my mind at 3:30 this morning was a particular point of the text and I thought we might talk about that today; reflect on that; think about that. Before we get to that though — I want to tell you — it is getting harder to be a Christian these days. When I was a kid, it seemed like everybody pretty much got along and the church was the church and we all went to church and we all got along together and everybody knew their role and people did nice things for nice people and it seemed to make a difference, at least that was the word that came back. The problems keep getting bigger. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older and I can see farther than I could when I was a kid. We have Hurricane Harvey and what are we going to do to help with rebuilding Houston? One of the things that I wanted to share with you — you probably saw this, it was on Facebook — but just in case you have got good sense and don’t look at Facebook:
Watching hurricane Harvey destruction and rescues, I’m struck by one thought: Cajuns have flooded in with boats to help Texans. White men are loading black men and women into their boats. Black men are jumping out of their boats to help Hispanic families gather coolers of personal belongings that are floating away. Asian women and white women are working together in help stations. This is the real America. These are everyday people who have gotten up off their butts and moved to do something. Hate groups and media running from town to town creating a false sense of oppression and hate don’t represent this country. They’re not trying to better our country. People loading their boats and spending their own money to travel hundreds of miles to risk their own lives, pulling people they’ve never met and would never meet from homes they will never be able to afford are the true picture of who we are. Why is it that we witness this kind of support among strangers over and over in disaster situations and still allow such a small group with a loud voice to keep the divide alive that actually does not exist among the majority?
That was well said.
What are we going to do about Hurricane Harvey? Perhaps the first thing were going to do is let it speak to us about what kind of people we are. It is going to draw out of us things that we had forgotten were in us like sacrificial compassion.
What I’m going to talk about in our text this morning is that moment in the younger son’s life. He is in the far country; he told his father what he wanted and to his surprise, his Dad said fine: half the property, half of the resources; they are yours. Steve’s right, you better be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. I don’t know if you understand what an offense it is when you’re younger son asks for half the property that includes half of the family land. He sells it and goes.
But we are not talking about that; we are talking about that moment in the far country where the structures we have put in place for our own benefit. He told his Dad what he wanted to have happen. We don’t know if he bid farewell to his brother. We don’t even know if he has a mother. All of those are shut out of his view and he’s now on the far country. He had everything he wanted; he got it. We catch up to him and he’s feeding pigs; working for a foreigner in a nation and a country and that’s far from home. It is at that moment when he is sitting there and we have chosen to define it as a moment of repentance when he comes to himself, repentance. The Greek word is metanoeó. But that was not the word in the text, so that’s not what happens; that’s not the story. He was not repentance in that moment in the far country because the word is nous. Nous is a great Greek word if you’re with Aristotle and you’re looking for your eyes to be opened and a new way to become visible to you. Aristotle taught about the unseen third way. You got your position; I’ve got my position; the unseen third way is what we are seeking. That’s what Congress looks like when it actually works.
That’s not what happens in this text; it is not that high. The boy’s eyes don’t go BING. The boy’s eyes open just a little bit and in this situation the word nous in Greek has to do with seeking to make your own situation better. There is no higher thinking there. It is simply looking around going, how do I get out of this? The text reads: he came to himself. We know what happens because we paid attention in Scripture to other time when the main character of the story has only one conversation partner and that is himself. In Luke chapter 12 God calls just such a person a fool. When your only conversation partner is yourself; be careful about thinking your eyes are open. The ability of the mind to reflect on one’s own situation; the capacity to want to improve one’s own situation; to come into a new awareness — that is what nous means. But in this case it is not seeking a better way for anyone but himself. He definitely did not consult with his father or his brother. His eyes are open just enough for him to see that he is in the wrong place.
We know both of these things because as he begins to walk home he begins fabricating a lie. It is the same lie — word for word — that Pharaoh speaks to Moses back in the 10th chapter of Exodus when he wants the plagues off his back. It’s the same lie that Jimmy Swaggart told on national TV from his preaching center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1988 when he wanted the auditors out of his books and he thought if he confessed to sex crimes that would make that happen. I have sinned before the Lord and before you. But it’s a lie and we probably don’t want to follow this boy or you don’t really want to follow anyone whose response to misery is lying; though it’s tempting.
There is a lot of lying going on in the folks most offended by the ways of Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees and their little profit scheme. It is not little; it was quite profitable to keep single women dependent on them for functioning in that culture. Jesus says; beware of the scribes; beware of the Pharisees. They deplete the resources of widows; they devour the houses, beware. Jesus said: beware of the lies. The cultural religion in that day had spent a whole lot of time cherry-picking Scripture and stringing it together to raise up home folk on the backs of immigrant workers. When Jesus challenged those lies in Luke 4 they tried to run him off a cliff. The high priests, the Sanhedrin, and the lies they had concocted to defend their understanding of their profit margin, wrapping it in patriotism and nationalism. That’s why we call it a kangaroo court when they arrested Jesus and brought him before Pilate. It was lies. Be careful about following people who lie. The structures that they have put in place for their own benefit are challenged by the simple decency of Jesus. So we don’t want to follow this younger son in our text today but we certainly do want to learn from him. We want to watch him because his eyes are beginning to open just a little, just enough to know I’m going to head for home. I think it would be better near my father.
That’s the text for today. I think the question that is before us is: in what way do your eyes need to be opened? Where are you being misled? Where do you believe a structure that you’ve built that is going to come down? What structures have you put in place for your own benefit; didn’t bother to consult with others; to sort out or strategize or work with people who have skin in the game with you; that has brought unexpected outcomes? In what way do we need our eyes to be open? There is one other character in the story and you know who it is; we read about it; it is the older brother. We need to guard against what he did too. Well I’m right so how dare you, I’m right. I stayed; I’m loyal; I’m faithful to the ways with which we are familiar. I don’t need to work with anyone either because I’m right. What’s most surprising as we get to the end of the story is that the invitation for both brothers is to come into the house and be together.
You might be lost; that might be you and you got to have your eyes opened. You might never have left but you to have to have your eyes opened to see that there are others in the house and they might be right too. Jesus is redefining what it means to repent. It used to mean — until he redefined it in this text – it used to mean, I’m so sorry, I feel so bad. Do I feel bad enough to get your sorrow on me? OK, I’ll cry more, have I convince you yet? Jesus is redefining it as that personal realization that we are lost and we need to be found. We like sheep have gone astray. We like sheep go astray. Well that’s it. Where is it that you need your eyes open? How is it that you are lost and need to be found? I’m going to leave it there and we are going to have communion and we all get to come to the table of the Lord and see what Jesus will do in us.