Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sermon for March 10, 2013; Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

Rev. George Miller
Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
“Seasons of Love”
March 10, 2013

Once upon a time (according to a variation of a story given to me by Newt and Mary Dickie), there was a woman with four daughters.

She wanted her daughters to learn about grace and to not be so quick to judge others, so she sent them on a quest.

Each, it turn, was sent to look at a pear tree a great distance away. The first went in summer, the third in fall, the third in winter, and the fourth in spring.

When they had all returned, she gathered them together to share what they had seen.

The first, who journeyed in the season of summer, described the tree as laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful.

The second daughter disagreed; she had been there is fall when the tree was ripe and rich with fruit, so much so that the branches were drooping to the ground.

The third daughter could not understand how this was so. She was there in the winter and called the tree ugly and bent, twisted and of no worth.

The fourth daughter disagreed with them all. She had gone in the spring and said the pear tree was covered with green buds and full of promise and potential.

The mother, knowing her lesson had worked well, smiled at her daughters. She explained to them that they were all right, and they were all wrong, because they had each only seen a season of the tree’s existence.

She told them that one can not judge a tree by just one season. Nor can one judge a person by just one time in their life. That the essence of who they are, the joy, the love, and the pleasure that comes from that life, can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are accounted for.

And even then, it is not for us to judge, but for grace to abound…

Today, we, no matter who we are, no matter where we are on life’s journey, continue on the Lenten Path with Jesus.

And as we continue on the Lenten Path, it is best if we never forget, for a moment, that what Jesus said, did, taught, and the stories he told, all led him to the cross.

What we may think of as nice, or sweet, or spiritual or common sense, all led to Jesus’ death.

Even today, the very things Jesus said, did, taught and the stories he told are likely to cause controversy and debate.

Today’s story is no exception. The religious leaders are grumbling that Jesus welcomes and eat with sinners.

The scribes and Pharisees chose to see people, judge people and fellowship with people only according to the season of life they are in at that moment.

If they perceived you as being full of sweet smelling righteousness, bearing the appropriate fruit, you were worthy to dine with. But if you were spiritually and socially gnarled, bent or twisted, you were excluded from their table.

But not Jesus. No matter if someone was in the season of saint or the season of sinner, regardless is they were in the season of lost, or the season of found, Jesus ate with them.

Jesus ate with folk; all kinds of folk. He broke bread. He sat at the same table. He listened to their stories.

Some biblical scholars will even tell you that Jesus died because of who he ate with.

So when Jesus hears the grumbling over his eating habits, Jesus tells three stories. The first is about lost sheep. The second is about a lost coin. But the third story? Well, it’s the one people seem to remember most.

“There was a man who had two sons,” Jesus says to grumblers.

The story unfolds; a story so rich with simplistic detail that to retell it would be like trying to explain a joke.

So I encourage you to reread this story on your own; to seek and find the richness of what Jesus is trying to tell us.

Today, what I feel called to focus on is the concept of seasons. In reading this, I came to the conclusion that each son had their own share of seasons to go through.

The younger son went through a season of leaving home. Of high living and seemingly good times. Of squandering all he had and making choices that left him in a pig pen.

I wonder how many people here today know what those seasons are like? To be young and foolish; to be lonely and lost?

How many here today have ever spent a season or two, or three or four defined by bad choices, pangs of hunger for something more and a desire for things to go back to the way they once were?

How many know what it’s like to spend a season in a pen fit for pigs?

Would you want to be judged for that season alone? Would you want the story of your life to be summed up by one season of stink and famine, bad choices and unfortunate events?

Fortunately, for that younger son, that season came to an end as he makes the decision to return to his father, to admit his mistakes, to seek comfort where compassion exists.

In doing so, he enters into a season of new beginnings and grace, a season of welcome and joy.

His father, who sees him while still far away, runs up to him with kisses and kind words. Instead of punishing, he celebrates…

…Then there is the older son with his own season. Upon discovering his baby brother’s return, he responds with anger and judgement. He questions his father’s amazing grace and refuses to join in the celebration.

He would rather be alone than to feast and dance, to welcome and to embrace.

How many here today have ever spent a season or two, or three or four filled with anger at somebody, feeling choices that they made were not fair?

Feeling pangs of hunger over things you wish you had received; a need for someone to be seen as the bad guy so you could be seen as the good one?

How many know what it’s like to purposely exclude yourself from something fun just because you thought it was more important to make a point?

Would you want to be judged for that season alone? Would you want the story of your life to be summed up by that one time of anger and complaint, jealously and pettiness?

But notice the father and the season he shows his two sons. Though the younger son abandoned the family, though the older one abandons the party, the father abandons neither one.

When both sons stood on the outside, the father came to them. When both sons had words to say, the father listened.

In this story Jesus tells, we discover that when it comes to grace there does not have to be a loser for there to be a winner.

In this story Jesus tells, the embrace of one child does not mean rejection of the other.

What we see is an abundance of grace that goes beyond whatever season each son is in. What we see is how grace allows relationships to be restored…

Now, we are not told, but I’d be willing to bet that this story Jesus shared about the man with two sons did not make the grumblers stop grumbling. In fact, there’s a good chance it made them angrier.

Just as this story can make people angry even today.

There are those who will reread this story and be mad at the younger son for squandering his father’s inheritance.

There are those who will be mad at the older son for being judgmental.

There are those who will be mad at the father for not picking one over the other, or for not condemning one or both for their deeds.

There are those who may even be mad that the father had the audacity to show love to both.

It seems to be in our human nature to feel like there have to be losers in order for there to be winners. It seems to be in our human nature to want there to be those who are rewarded just so others can be condemned.

Some need to see one tree gnarled and twisted so they can say the other tree is beautiful and sweet.

But I believe that God sees us much differently. I believe that God sees us for more then just one season.

I believe God sees us in view of all our seasons. God sees and knows the soil in which we were planted. The nutrients we received. God knows the amount of sun and rain, wind and frost that were in our lives.

God sees those seasons where we received “enough” and the seasons in which we encountered draught; those seasons in which we were surrounded by darkness and the seasons we were basked in the light, and God judges us accordingly and loves us so.

I also believe God is aware of the seasons that stand before us. The possibilities, the choices, the people, the storms which we will weather. The successes we will have.

I believe that God does not judge us as others would. God is well aware of the seasons we are lost and the seasons in which we are found; our struggles, our pains; our talents and our joys.

I believe that God is with us in every season, through every season, and that in it all, God is like that father, waiting and watching, running and embracing, forgiving and restoring.

In conclusion, as human beings we will go through and we have all gone through our own series of seasons.

For many there is a season to squander and a time to regain.

A season to be angry and a time to forgive. A season to be alone and time to join the party.

A season to run away and a time to come home.

But in God, experienced through the life, ministry and meals of Jesus Christ, we discover that in every season, every journey, every fall from grace, every reunion, there is indeed a Season of Love, and with it another opportunity of joy.

For that we can all say amen and amen.

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