Life’s About Choices
Based on Joshua 5:9-12, 2Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:11-32
Lucinda and I have a dear friend who is a Human Resources professional. She has been doing this line of work for decades now, and she has some great stories about the interesting choices that some humans make. She boils down all her years of dealing with other humans and their foibles into five words, “Life is ALL about choices”!! If you think about it for just a little while, I think that you will see the truth, elegance and applicability of this pithy saying. Having been a manager of other humans for way too many years, I know categorically that my least favorite part of management is dealing with H.R. issues. This is because I have learned in all my years of personnel management that some humans are incapable of making the simple choice to show up to work and do their job without routinely causing some form of strife or drama.
I have an inkling that God sometimes feels the same way about me and the rest of humanity and the choices we make. God created us in God’s image and likeness; slightly lower than the angels the Psalmist writes. Yet, from the third chapter of Genesis on, we have shown that we just can’t make the choices that keep us out of trouble. We continue to choose to go against God’s commandments, even when Jesus distills all ten down to just two! When we break God’s commandments we sin against God and each other. The definition that I use for sin is that deliberate choice on our part to do something that interferes with our right relationship to God and/or each other. God continually offers us redemption from our sins and offers the opportunity, as the Apostle Paul says in today’s Epistle reading to, “…regard no one from a human point of view”…because, “…if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away;…” Today’s scriptures highlight some choices that we need to make to live abundantly and well, which the sacrifice of Jesus makes available to us all. Let us go to God now and seek forgiveness and the courage to make life-giving choices…
Joshua, the newly appointed leader of the Israelite people, has led them across the Jordan river and into the Promised Land, with God’s help. There the people, a new generation from the people who left Egypt, are circumcised and they observe the first Passover in their new land. Up until this Passover celebration, God had continued to feed them manna. Now that they were established in the land that God had promised both Abraham and Moses, they were able to live off the crops that the Canaanites had planted; and God discontinued feeding them. Joshua’s choice to follow God’s leading had resulted in prosperity for his people and the fulfillment of most of God’s promises. Joshua would go from here, with God’s help, to conquer Jericho and then all of the land that God had promised.
The Apostle Paul is making the case for the need for all Christians to participate in a ministry of reconciliation. Paul reasons that since the Christ died and was raised for all who believe in Him, that we too must have died to our worldly ways and been raised again as a new creation. A new creation that is in the world but not of it – a new creation that are emissaries for Christ, entrusted with the message of how God has reconciled the world to God’s-self. God through the sacrifice of the sinless Christ has forgiven the sins of humans for all time, and thus freed us for a righteous relationship with God. Our job as ambassadors is to choose to spread this phenomenal good news to the world.
The parable of the “Prodigal”; is there a better narrative about the impact of life choices and ability to be reconciling than this one? It is one of my two favorite Jesus stories in the Bible. Interestingly, both of my favorite parables involve forgiveness and reconciliation. I like to pronounce the title of the story as pro-dij-al instead of pro-dig-al, because it highlights what I hear in the story as the outrageous amount of disrespect shown to the father by both sons, and of the father’s enormous amount of forgiving and reconciling love given in return. This story would have been shocking to first century audiences in both of those aspects. Yet, the father’s love is what the good news according to Jesus calls us to emulate when we are faced with derision, disrespect and hate. I am getting ahead of myself, however.
The “Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Brother” is the third parable in a set of Jesus’ teachings to the Pharisees and scribes in response to their observation about the company that Jesus has been keeping (i.e., “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”). In each story something has been lost and after some searching is returned to its rightful place in the community. In each story there is joy and celebration when the sheep, coin and son are reunited with the family. The first two parables are open and shut…easy to understand. The third one, however, has many layers, presenting the Temple leadership and us with a returning son, a resentful brother and a compassionate and forgiving father.
The three characters in the parable have choices to make as the narrative unfolds. The younger son asks the father for his share (typically 1/3 of the total) while the father is still living. The father has a choice (many really) of how to respond to such an affront. The father magnanimously gave the son what he requests and that son chose to go to “a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living”. The younger son was still in that distant country when famine hit and he had no resources to live on. He chose to become a hired hand feeding pigs (the absolute lowest and most detestable job a Jew could imagine doing). He was still starving when one day “he came to himself”…in our words – he came to his senses. He realized that his father would treat him better as a servant than he was being treated in the distant country – so he chose to head home and back to life.
The father sees the son, “while he was still far off” and filled with compassion he runs to meet his child. The father chooses to restore the wayward son’s status in the family through robe, ring and sandals – and then the party begins. The elder and dutiful son returns from his work in the fields and hears music and dancing. When he inquires why the party is happening, he chooses to become angry and not go inside. The compassionate father comes out to this wayward son and pleads with him to put away his anger and resentment (his version of lostness) and come inside to celebrate what was lost and now found. He reminds the elder son that he has status that comes from his never having left and from making sound choices. The compassionate father understands that he has another son who has not yet returned home…will the elder son choose to come to his senses and start living again?
There are many kinds of “lostness” that we can encounter in our lives. Many, like me, can identify with the waywardness of the younger son. Times where we have wandered far from home and family both literally and figuratively and squandered the gifts that God has given us. Yet, when we “come to our senses” or repent, we find that God will not listen to our excuses, simply accepts us as we are, and returns us to our status as beloved children. If we are truthful in our deepest selves, however, many will see in themselves the lostness of the elder son as well. This lostness is the one of servitude versus servanthood – the idea of dutifully “slaving” away versus working with our whole hearts and giving freely of ourselves. In the servitude mode, we constantly compare ourselves to others and store up resentments to those who choose to live differently – or to not serve as we do.
Jesus points out to the Pharisee and scribe in us all, the lostness and need for redemption of both sons by a compassionate, forgiving and redeeming father. Jesus is pointing out that we can lose our way to loving God with all that we have and all that we are – and neighbor as self, through either abandoning rules or following them too closely. When we choose to give up compassionate living and consideration of others before ourselves, then we become as lost as both children in this parable. The good news according to God as lived and taught by Jesus, is that we need to identify our individual and corporate brokenness, come to our senses through the grace of God, and be forgiven and freed to take our rightful places as beloved children. My dear friend Heather is right…life truly is all about our choices. I entreat you to choose today to come to your senses from wherever you have wandered and return home to our God who will never stop searching for you and will celebrate your homecoming with joy. Amen and amen!