Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32
The following sermon was preached by Jette Bendixen Rønkilde, Visiting Scholar from Denmark, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, March 14, 2013.
Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32
Words are shadows of action. Words can be cheap. Words can be denounced easily. Words can be empty and meaningless.
Actions are steadfast. Once completed there is no turning back. And so actions speak a language of their own.
The United States face huge cuts in the government budgets because the politicians couldn’t find words of agreement and so the action of saving money is the only language available.
A young man was making plans to leave home– I’m guessing he was sitting in a bar with some friends and over another round of beers came up with a brilliant plan – just as many brilliant plans have arisen on Friday nights in local bars.
The real difference was that this plan was not just something forgotten in the clouds of Saturday morning hangover. It was carried out. Words became action – and became a maze of consequenses.
The story of the prodigal son is well-known and preaching on it can be trivial – the points of the story are so clear.
So let me turn to one perhaps surprising thing that is less treated in sermons on this text. The fate of the older brother who perhaps in some right felt that he was being put aside.
It is very clear that Luke wants us to feel that he is wrong. That his questions about the father’s decisions are not okay to ask. But why?
It has to do with actions. He rejects coming to the feast, he rejects the common meal. And that is action that really must be corrected according to Luke. Because Luke doesn’t write an interesting story of Jesus, but writes a document of reform to a worshipping community. And here the worst you can do is not joining the meal. A meal that is also offered to those who did something wrong and came home asking for foregiveness. The meal is extended to include everyone, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, jews and gentiles – you name them.
And sin, in this story, is more than anything not to appreciate the universal aspect of the meal – that it is also served for those who have distanced themselves from general good standing.
When this story is read on fourth Sunday of Lent we hear it is part of Jesus travelling to Jerusalem, to the cross, tomb and resurrection.
And we hear that the ministry introduced by Jesus on that road, extending the meal of heaven to everyone is also an ongoing task for any Christian congregation. Lent is a reminder about the action that shows us who God is and what God thinks is important in human existence.
It is unique in Christianity, that we know God not from a glimpse into heaven but from God acting in the midst of our lives. And acting to reshape our thinking in that live we face here and now.
But lent also reminds us that we fail in that task, again and again. That it takes divine power to fully embrace the human existence in a way that puts forward what God is all about: love.
So where do we go from here? We follow the footsteps of the younger brother to the fellowship of the meal. We gather around word and table, confession and absolution, reading and singning, gathering and sending. And here ask that he, who runs to meet every prodigal son and daughter will send his Holy Spirit to show us the path of love that our lives are to follow.
For the one, who signs us with a cross in baptism, is the one who sends us into a world in need. And so good intentions, well disposed words, can in fact see themselves transformed into actions that in a way bear the marks of a divine presence – with an image so clear here in this particular room: in the running water of the font that flows out into the whole of creation.