2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Peace be with you!
As a general rule, we do not like being around people who are different from us. Being around individuals who are physically unclean, dangerous, drug addicts, outcasts, beggars, the disabled, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, and [whoever “it” is] makes us uncomfortable. When “they” invade our space, we feel uneasy, uncomfortable, cornered, in danger, threatened. There is no way “they” are welcomed in the Kingdom of God, right?
Jesus is God’s Son, sent into the world to express God’s love, which is far different than love in the world. Before we can define God’s love, we must observe Jesus’ actions in the world. The Pharisees and the scribes wonder why Jesus welcomes and eats with sinners (Luke 15:2). They are alarmed. These people are unclean, dangerous, sinners, outcasts, beggars, disabled, murders, thefts, prostitutes, and [whoever “it” is] that makes us uncomfortable. The Pharisees and the scribes do not understand how Jesus can incriminate himself by hanging out with them.
True to his nature, Jesus answers the Pharisees and the scribes with a parable – well, three parables. The first two we do not read in church this Sunday. These parables follow a simple pattern: something is lost, it is looked for, it is found, and there is rejoicing. A shepherd with one hundred sheep loses one, goes out looking for it, finds it, and rejoices (Luke 15:4-7). A woman with 10 coins loses one, searches her household for it, finds it, and rejoices (Luke 15:8-10). Jesus will find the lost and will rejoice in finding each one.
The third parable is a bit messy because it deals with the family system. A father has two sons, and the younger son asks for his half of the inheritance (Luke 15:12). The younger son goes off into the world squandering his inheritance (Luke 15:13-14) and ends up as a beggar eating with the pigs (Luke 15:15-16). This son hits rock bottom and realizes he would be better off as a hired hand on his father’s land (Luke 15:17). The son is starving and working for a pig farmer, but his father’s hired hands always had what they needed. The younger son builds up the courage to go home and ask for forgiveness, so he can work as a hired hand (Luke 15:18b-19).
When the father sees his younger son, he is filled with compassion and runs to greet him (Luke 15:20). The son begs his father to forgive him (Luke 15:21). However, the father calls out to the hired hands to bring the best robe and ring and to kill a fatted calf so they can celebrate his younger son’s return (Luke 15:22-23). The father rejoices because his son who was lost has returned (Luke 15:24). What parent does not rejoice when their child comes home?
The older brother is not happy with all of the celebrating going on for his younger brother’s return! He refuses to join in on the celebrating (Luke 15:28). The older son is hurt that his father has never staged such a large celebration for him but pulls out all the stops for his runaway brother (Luke 15:29-30). We can all relate to the older son, because we have all felt short-changed at one time or another. You work hard at your job only to get passed over for a promotion. You work hard on a paper only to get a C when someone else writes it in an hour and gets an A. You save your money and pay your way through college, yet you cannot find a job.
Life does not seem fair. The father explains, “Son, you are always with me, and everything that belongs to me is yours. It was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.” The father appreciates his older son and all that he does. Everything the father has will one day belong to his older son. But the son who was lost and thought dead has been found alive. The father celebrates being reunited with his younger son.
God rejoices every time a person turns to him and begs to be in a relationship with him. Through unconditional love that is indefinable in the world, God opens his heart to those who come into the light after living in darkness.
God does not judge you based on your past mistakes for we are all sinners by nature. The individuals who are unclean, dangerous, sinners, outcasts, beggars, disabled, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, and [whoever “it” is] that makes us uncomfortable are invited into the Kingdom of God once they repent and accept God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. That, my brothers and sisters, makes God’s love so special: we are all welcome in the Kingdom of God.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for welcoming those who are unclean, dangerous, sinners, outcasts, beggars, disabled, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, and [whoever “it” is] that makes us uncomfortable into the Kingdom of God. Help us to welcome those different than us and share the good news with them so that they will come to know your love, grace, and forgiveness. Remind us that we are all outcasts who were welcomed into the church. Shine your light upon us as we go out into the world to share the good news. Thank you for giving us the precious gift of unconditional love. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. Who makes you uncomfortable? Challenge: Invite them to church.
2. Describe how you imagine the Kingdom of God.