Sermon Lent 4C
Luke 15:1-3, 11b to 32
Our scripture for the day reflects the themes of grace, and gratitude, of freedom and relief. It is a celebration of the blessings of the awareness of God’s presence in our lives and living accordingly … some would call it an “attitude of gratitude” which is reflected in the Christ reflection in ourselves.
Today’s parable from the Gospel of Luke is certainly a story of gratitude, redemption and the celebration of one who was dead and then reborn, through the consequences of life experience.
I cannot help but compare the parable of the Prodigal Son to lessons learned from “Les Miserables” But more on that later.
And, for a long time, whenever I read this parable, I found myself in the shoes of one of the two of the characters … the older child and the parent.
I, too, was the older child and was absolutely certain that my baby brother was always coddled and got away with murder. When he’d tease me, which appeared to be his favorite pastime, and when I could catch him to give him a good swat, I was the one who heard the words, “You’re older, you should know better.” So, I kind of knew what the older sibling felt.
I also have been a parent for two birth children and five “acquired” children. I know how it feels, as do most of you, when your child goes off in his/her own direction and you know perfectly well it is not what they should be doing. Sometimes it’s difficult to cut those apron strings … but sometimes it’s only through the consequences of actions that some ever learn.
But today, I would like to focus on the statement that began this Gospel lesson. “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So, here’s the scene … not only were the Pharisees and the scribes staying close to Jesus … judging and questioning him as he had become a threat … they noticed that what they referred to as the “people of the land” were also hanging around and that he was actually paying attention to them!
You see, the “people of the land” might just as well be called the “scum of the earth” … sinners by their actions and their disobedience to Jewish law. After all, the Pharisees and Scribes were the Law to the Jews. To their way of thinking you could be condemned, but not redeemed.
And so it was … the beginning of “Les Miserables”, when Jean Valjean, hero, had been released from imprisonment in the quarries for 19 years for stealing bread for himself, his mother and his sister. He had been released, but had stolen corn from a boy, and hence hunted once again. He found his way to the rectory of a bishop, who kindly took him in, fed him and gave him a bed for the night. However, unaccustomed to kindness, Valjean rose early in the morning, stole the silver and knocked out the Bishop who had confronted him. The next morning the gendarme brought Valjean back. Valjean had told them that the Bishop had given him the silver. The bishop concurred, admonishing Valjean for not taking the silver candlesticks as well. Then in a conversation between the Bishop and Valjean, he asked why did the Bishop do that. The Bishop’s response was “I have ransomed you from evil and now give you to God.”
From that point on, Jean Valjean was reborn and was alive again. He became the mayor of a small town, was most generous and lived into his new life in a most exemplary way.
On his tail, however, was the rigid Inspector Javert, whose life would not be complete until he saw Valjean back in the quarry. Through the story they encountered one another on various occasions, and each time it would appear that Valjean had the upper hand, but would forgive Javert. This was a perplexing situation for the inspector. Even more perplexing to him was the fact that how Valjean represented himself was of no mind, that he was still a convict.
Ultimately, Valjean spares Javert’s life, only to have Javert capture him.
Javert, the Pharisee, the one who never broke the law, could not grasp the concept of forgiveness and redemption. He asked Valjean why he did not kill him when he had a chance. Valjean replied, “your life was not mine to take.”Ultimately he spared Valjean’s life, but took his own.
Javert, much like the older brother of the prodigal and a Pharisee, simply could not make room in either his heart or his mind that unconditional love is also boundless. That when one sees the error of one’s way and repents, that is cause to celebrate and only good can come of it.
A few years back I received a telephone call from a released felon. Danny Cyrus was released from prison 21 years ago and for the past 21 years has not even had so much as a traffic ticket. Yet, like Valjean, his past is still present with him. Finding work is difficult. He’s about to give up hope, yet he still has a vision. It is his dream to begin a company called “New Life Maintenance” and take released felons, train them, hire them offer their services to the community. All he runs into are brick walls. I share his story with you today with the thought in mind that times haven’t changed much in the past 2,000 years or even in the past 200 years.
Jean Valjean encountered Jesus in that bishop. The late Pastor Steve McNeely, of Peakland Baptist Church in Lynchburg said in one of his radio broadcast that when one meets Jesus face to face three things happen:
One experiences a generosity, both in spirit and in action
One understands justice
And one steps up to a higher calling.
I wondered if I had met Jesus in Danny Cyrus’ call to me is an invitation for us to step up to a higher calling.
And I wonder how many of us, because of our Lenten disciplines will meet Jesus face to face for that once in a lifetime, life changing experience to step up to a higher calling.
Oh Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to understand.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit. Amen.