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March 9, 2016, 8:47 AM

Reconciliation


2 Corinthians 5:16-21, CEB
16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!
18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to God’s self through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to God’s self through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. God has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.
20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!”21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
 
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, CEB
All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus told them this parable:
 “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.
14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19  I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26  He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27  The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28  Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29  He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30  But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31  Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”
 
“Reconciliation”
Language is a tricky thing, as we have been exploring these Sundays in Lent. The first and second weeks of Lent we explored the loaded words of “Wilderness” and “Covenant” to the Israelites, and therefore, to us. Last week we spent time with “Repent,” and often used word in our scriptures and in our church dialogues. All of them capitalized, to signify their importance in scripture and the life of God’s people. Words are tricky. They change over time, take on new meanings, are used in new ways. Just a few short weeks ago, our wonderful children and youth performed for us the musical rendition of the Prodigal Son, set in the 1920s, “Welcome Back, Billie Best.” Within the songs and conversations of the characters, we were introduced to the slang terms popular in the 20s, but foreign to our ears. “Bananas” was used to refer to someone being crazy. “Applesauce” meant it was nonsense. And “Jake” meant that everything was ‘cool.’ In our exploration of “Repent,” we experienced this shift as we discovered originally, Repent meant to shift our lives completely to be in line with God, not just a simple ‘I’m sorry’ for wrongdoing.
 
So what about today’s word-Reconciliation? What does it mean for us today? (give congregation a few moments to toss out words) Yes. Reconciliation has come to mean that for us in 21st century America. And Reconciliation is certainly a capital “R” word for us here at First UMC. As a reconciling congregation in the United Methodist Church, when we speak of Reconciliation, it is with a capital “R.” In the second letter we have from Paul to the Corinthian church, this word ‘Reconciliation’ is used to translate a beautiful Greek term, katallasso. Paul is using this term to set up a contrast to the popular notion that a restored relationship is achieved through a settling of accounts between the two parties. It is a concept that would have resonated strongly with the highly commercial city and people of Corinth. But Paul uses this term—katallasso—to speak of a new thing God is doing in Christ, a new creation, in which restored relationship is achieved with both parties holding all things in common. We no longer see things from a flesh, human point of view, no “mine” and “yours.” God’s dream is a people and a creation that lives in katallasso—Reconciliation—where everything is mutual.
 
How wonderful it is that the lectionary scholars, in developing the three year series of scripture readings, partnered this beautiful call to Reconciliation from Paul with Jesus’ powerful story of katallasso embodied, in the character of the Prodigal Father. Prodigal means lavish or extravagant behavior and we usually coin the term to refer to the younger son’s extravagant spending and lifestyle after he leaves home. But the father in this story is ever more lavish and extravagant in his behavior.
 
The story begins with the son demanding something hurtful and disrespectful of his father. “Give me everything I will receive when you are dead. I want it now.” The younger son is operating completely for that mindset of “yours” and “mine.” “Give me what is going to be mine.” And his father does. His father gives to his son out of his ton bion—out of his ‘bio,’ from biology—he gives to his son out of his very life.  Our response to such a demand might have been very different. “Excuse me?! I don’t think so!” But this prodigal father knows that he certainly could make his son stay, physically. He could deny the son the resources he needs to leave, but this will never lead to Katalasso living, to Reconciled life. It would result in an even more broken relationship, anger, and hostility. The only way forward toward Reconciliation is to let his son go, and to wait and watch and yearn for a return that might produce a heart, soul, and mind ready for katallasso—Reconciliation.
 
This certain man also has two sons, and the older son doesn’t get katallasso either. The older son also sees the world in terms of “yours” and mine.” In the final scene, as the son and father stand outside the celebration, the son complains that his father never even gave him as much as a small goat so he could celebrate with friends. The father’s response is katallasso—Reconciliation—embodied, “My child, you have always been with me, and all that I have is yours.” It has always been so, a mutuality, all things held in common. The older son didn’t need to ask, just celebrate. The life of Reconciled living has always been right there, ready for the living.
 
The father goes to prodigal lengths to create opportunity for katallasso—Reconciliation. When he sees his younger son far off, he drops everything, runs to him, throws himself upon him, kisses him, wraps him in robes and sandals and rings. “Let’s celebrate!” he cries, “for this son was lost but is now found!” A new chance for new living is here. The possibility for Reconciliation has opened up again. Let’s rejoice! When the father learns that the older son is angry and refusing to join the party, the father leaves the celebration and goes to him, continually begging him to embrace Reconcilation. The door to katallasso, to Reconciliation is wide open and ready to welcome.
 
Will it be different this time with the younger son? Will the older son release his anger and enter the celebration? The story doesn’t say. Those questions aren’t for the characters in the story, they are for the listeners to the story. They are for us. The door to katallasso living, to reconciled life, to living the common-wealth here and now, is open to us. “If anyone is in Christ, New Creation!” The choice is before us—to walk into God’s ongoing celebration of real restoration and Reconciliation or to turn away and operate from a “mine” and “yours” mentality. The door is wide open. What will we choose?
Thanks be to God. Amen.

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