Extravagant Joy Fourth Sunday of Lent Bethesda United Church of Christ March 27, 2022

“Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; for God’s steadfast love endures forever. Who can utter the mighty doings of the Lord, or declare all God’s praise? Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. Remember me, O Lord, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them; that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory in your heritage.” (Psalm 106:1-5)

Pray with me: “Lord this past week has been hard for some of us, disappointing for others, and we are tired so very tired. I cannot plead the frailty of our nature; I cannot plead the force of the temptations we encounter; I cannot plead the persuasions of others who led us astray; I can only come to be in your presence, O God, and the presence of your people to hear some good news, to feel part of a beloved community. We come to celebrate and rejoice that we are in your presence and always with you. Speak Lord for your people are listening. This is our prayer in the name of your son, Jesus the Christ and we all say Amen.”

This past week I was a little all over the place. I was anxious and fidgety and, at first, I could not be still and hear the voice of God. I read the scriptures and was then engaged with the joy of the prodigal son’s father. Then I started watching some of the SCOTUS proceedings. Then I heard and watched some of the irrational hostile, and childish behavior, I thought, of the trucker’s convoy drivers. I was joyous, I was baffled, I was hurt, I was confused, I was angry, and I felt like I wanted to release some of that anger somehow, someway. Finally, God got my attention and instead of concentrating on anger and heartbreak I concentrated on the joy of the lost being found.

The parable starts with the temptation of riches and good times, power, and fame. Not being stuck and bored in a nothing place, not having to work and have others tell you what to do. Where Jesus resisted the temptations, the young son gave in to the temptation of great wealth. His greed overcame his common sense. Where Jesus remembered who he is and whose he is and remembers the covenant between him and his parent and God’s people, the young son wanted to forget his parent and family and God and be free. In the midst of Jesus’ journey during Lent he could feel the presence of the Creator and he wrapped himself in God’s love and received God’s words of wisdom. He took advantage of the time God had given to have another chance at helping humankind realize redemption and the sweet feeling of hospitality. This young man in all of his wisdom knew he did not need another chance, did not need time to ponder what was next. He had it all at his fingertips and he could not wait for his life to start.

I feel sorry for this young man. He thought he knew best. His father was too old to have wants and desires. To old to want the finer things of life. Too old to even know what the finer things of life are. The young son had to get away before he ended up like his older brother and father. So, he asked for and received his inheritance early and departed to begin his life! My message this morning could have been about the young son but that is for another time.

I could have delivered a message about the older son because even at his age there was still some immaturity and not a lot of compassion. I can, however, understand his anger and his rage. You see he had been there the entire time doing as he was asked and not receiving any atta boys or pats on the back and never once a party. That too is a story for another time.

This message is about the father. The father, in his infinite love and trust for his son, waits patiently until the son is ready to return. The father in his wisdom knows that his young son will return home. He does not know what the reason for the return will be or when it will happen, he just knows that it will happen. He had done all he knew how to raise his son in a loving home. I believe he tried to give him all the tools he would need to live a good and righteous and compassionate life. The father knew that his son, in time, would come to his senses. He had an expectation of a coming extravagant joy. He envisioned the great celebration that would occur because the son would have gone through a dark night of the soul. He knew that the road his son had chosen to travel would eventually bring him loss and humiliation. The people who knew him when he had money would no longer have time for him when his money is gone and the nice places to stay no longer are available to him and the fine clothes have now turned to rags. But the father knew there would always be a place in his heart and in his home for his son. I am sure that every night before he went to bed his prayer was that God would keep his son safe and alive and growing in knowledge and humility. That he would think of his family, his country, and want to return home where there was always a place for him. A place where he belonged. I believed that the father shed many a tear over his son because there was a place where he belonged and a place that wanted him and that was proud to call him son, brother, citizen. He had an expectation of a coming extravagant joy.

I wonder if Johnny and Ellery Brown had an expectation of a coming extravagant joy as they watched their daughter during the confirmation hearings last week. I wonder if her husband or her children could envision an expectation of an extravagant joy last week for the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson. Unlike the younger son in our Lukan passage, she had not asked for her inheritance ahead of time. She had not opted for a life of frivolity, partying, or excess. She too, had to go through a dark night of the soul. I believe her parents had raised her in a loving home and had given her the tools necessary for a good life, a Godly life, a life of compassion. A life where you gave back to your community and honored the country you called home. A life where you learned how to smile in the face of pain, where you kept calm and remained civil in the face of ridicule, racism, and evil. A place where you give your best and your best just ain’t good enough. A place where others have decided where you should be and when you step over that line, they deem you to be unfit and told you are not wanted. I believe that just like the father in the parable, they too had an expectation of a coming extravagant joy. Because at the end of that nastiness there would be joy. Because even though as Langston Hughes said, “America never was America to me, and yet I swear this oath—- America will be! They believed that that day was coming, that that day had come, had not their daughter, a Black woman, been nominated to the highest court in the nation? But in the meantime, what they saw took them back way back to a day when such a nomination was unthinkable. Where they heard the question asked, they had heard long ago, do you want your children and your grandchildren being told what to do by someone like her? Through it all they saw their daughter, a Black woman, stand tall and regal. A woman of substance. And they have an expectation of joy, and it will come when she is healed and whole, when her smile is once again genuine, and she is alive. So, they will wait until the extravagant, joyous grace of God, the same grace as in our parable today, can be seen and felt in their child and they will celebrate that which was lost has been found.

I too have an expectation of coming joy when all of God’s children can live together without mean spiritedness, without a desire to have a knee on the neck of one not like you, without a desire to eradicate all those who do not think as you do. I have an expectation of coming joy when we realize it is better to empower than to tear down. I have an expectation of coming joy and wait patiently for all of God’s people to realize it is far better to love as Jesus loved than to have all the riches of the world. I have an expectation of joy because I have a hope of things changing and becoming better and so I actively wait as the father did for that day to come for his son and I can as the father did, proclaim the extravagant, joyous grace of God. And my grandchildren and all of our children and grandchildren can experience the America that was meant to be.

The father was waiting for his son to realize that his present life was not one of joyful living and so he was patient in his waiting. The father waits until. . . Therein is our hope, as well as the hope of the whole world. In the end, no matter how we have lived, or what we have believed, the mistakes we have made, or the triumphs we have had, in the end our hope is in the persistent, resourceful, patient, ever seeking love of Christ.

The scripture says, “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his slaves, quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! And they began to celebrate.”

Jesus embodies the ever seeking, never ending love of God. In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus illustrates the patient, persistent love of the father who waits until the son returns on the basis of our experience of this persistent love, we have hope that all may be brought home to be forever in the arms of God.

A songwriter penned these words: “I need you; you need me. We’re all a part of God’s body. Stand with me, agree with me. We’re all a part of God’s body. It is God’s will, that every need be supplied. You are important to me; I need you to survive. I pray for you; you pray for me. I love you; I need you to survive. I won’t harm you with words from my mouth. I love you; I need you to survive.”

Bethesda United Church of Christ, how are we waiting to celebrate the coming extravagant joy? How are we sharing the sacrificial, persistent, resourceful, infinite love of God with others? Remember, I need you, you need me, I need you to survive. You need me to survive. Amen.

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