2 Corinthians 5:16-21 & Luke 15:1-2, 11b-32
Let’s pray: Father as I speak, may you speak and may Jesus be glorified.
Those who know anything about long barrel firearms will know there are a couple of major differences between a rifle and a shotgun. Now that’s an unconventional way to begin a sermon.
However, a rifle fires a single well aimed projectile while a shotgun fires a group of pellets that are fired in a general direction.
To make the target more exact – a rifle will often have a scope – to provide better accuracy. In the centre of the scope are what are called crosshairs that give maximum accuracy on the target.
Let’s think not about guns, which are often used for destructive purposes, but love which is used for building up/creating purposes.
If I say you are in God’s crosshairs – you are targeted in the centre of his love.
A parable such as the story of the Lost Son (or the Prodigal Son) is not only there for instruction but is directed to an audience far beyond the original audience. It is indeed spoken and then written to you and I today.
This is one of three parables written down one after the other in Luke’s gospel.
The lead person in the first is the shepherd, in the second, it is the mother/old woman and here it is the father.
These three parables are all about what was originally lost (maybe in the Garden of Eden) has been found. They are about redemption and they are about searching and restoring the person or things to the group or the community.
There is no condemnation from the father, woman or shepherd, only focus, effort – being in the crosshairs of their desire to see that restoration and then celebrate when the victory is won. It is an inclusive love that strives to find the lost and the last and does not count righteousness or unrighteousness in its motives.
But if the story of the Prodigal Son is an instructive love story to me and you, sitting in the seats today which of the characters are we meant to represent.
Are we the seemingly faithful, non-reckless, hardworking elder son? We might feel for him but like Jesus said to the rich young man who kept all the commandments – you still lack something (see Luke 18:18ff).
He lacks a sense of generosity and agape love – which means he is not righteous but self-righteous.
Are we, the unnamed people who are in the faraway land – the citizens of that faraway place – living in sin, a long way from the father?
More commonly we might consider ourselves as the younger child (not really entitled to half the inheritance anyway – under traditional Jewish society – but given it freely anyway) and yet we still go astray and squander the rich inheritance of love. We can easily point to ourselves as being reckless and foolish with our inheritance when we turn away from the father.
Maybe we’re not even worthy to be called the younger son.
Karl Barth, the famous Swiss theologian of the 20th century, postulated that the younger son is indeed Jesus, who leaves Heaven, to live with the pigs on earth (you and I) before returning to the glory and love of his father in Heaven. In this understanding of the parable – death and life are still centre as is shame and honour – but these are both shared by God the Father and God the Son.
Maybe, for our time, we need to see this as not so much a parable about individuals in God’s love but institutions in God’s love.
Consider for a moment that the older son represents the old Jewish church and faith. The younger son is the emerging, yet stumbling Christian Church.
Think of its relevance today. The scandals that rip the church apart – because of sexual and physical abuse by people in power, or in positions of trust, positions of honour, positions of sacred God-ordained office.
Then remember the church has bred hatred – overtly or intuitively towards people of other Christian denominations or more recently of other faiths – particularly Islam. Think of how we have often failed to speak up for our Muslim brothers and sisters or stood against the purveyors of hate in right wing political parties or opportunists in left wing ones, or the press and social media out for a quick buck or a quick grab sensationalist headline.
It all helps those who look through crosshairs of a far more sinister kind.
But the recklessness, foolishness, culpability and unrighteousness of our actions – individually and as the church – does not make us forever lost – but found in eternal love when we turn back towards Him and the cross that He bore for us.
That’s the reckless, foolish, inclusive, generous, agape love the Father offers our church today.
As the saying goes ‘ Whether we are individuals or the Church – we are not perfect, just forgiven.