August 28, 2016 / Pulling Back the Covers / Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 15:11-24
Friends – I wonder what came up for you as we asked the question at the beginning of the service – the question of: when was a time when you were busted? Was it something from a few years back? More recent? Something funny or maybe something hard? Or maybe something hard that has become funny over time? Or maybe something hard that ended up leading into great blessing on the other side of the messiness. We all have these moments when we mess up – and sometimes we totally get busted for it. To get us where we’re headed today, stay in touch with those ‘busted’ moments of your life. I know, as you hear me say this you must be so excited that I am scratching the surface of something like this. But here’s the thing: the reality is yes, we all get busted.
And for us to continue our summer conversation around the FLOW of God, exploring the rhythms of God that we can place in our lives to step into what God is doing in us and the world. Our conversation must include how we live through the mistakes and missteps we make. And so we place ourselves in this conversation, and ask ourselves what does the Jesus story have to say about getting busted? Which is ultimately a question about what the heck do we do with shame?
To get us into this hard and important conversation, we’re turning to one of the most well known ‘busted’ moments in the Bible. It’s a parable. Jesus used parables, these stories that would paint word pictures with deep meaning to teach about God and life. This parable today is a story that Jesus told about a young man who claims his inheritance early and then blows it all on what the Bible calls “wild living.” It is the story most often called The Prodigal Son – the son who leaves, but comes homes in the end, even though he’s busted, even in the face of deep shame.
Here at Salt House we talked about this text back in March during the season of Lent – and we hear it again for the picture it paints – notice what the Father is like. Because (spoiler alert) Jesus is making a radical point about how the Father in the story is like God. And pay attention to how this Father responds to his son – for (spoiler alert again) we are invited to place ourselves in the story as the prodigal son.
Luke 15:11-24 (from The Kingdom New Testament, N.T. Wright)
11Jesus went on: “Once there was a man who had two sons. 12The younger son said to the father, ‘Father, give me my share in the property.’ So he divided up his livelihood between them. 13Not many days later, the younger son turned his share into cash, and set off for a country far away, where he spent his share in having a riotous good time.
14“When he had spent it all, a severe famine came on that country, and he found himself destitute. 15So he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into the fields to feed his pigs. 16He longed to satisfy his hunger with the pods that the pigs were eating, and nobody gave him anything.
17“He came to his senses. ‘Just think!’ he said to himself. ‘There are all my father’s hired hands with plenty to eat—and here am I, starving to death! 18I shall get up and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, “Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer. Make me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20And he got up and went to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and his heart was stirred with love and pity. He ran to him, hugged him tight, and kissed him. 21‘Father,’ the son began, ‘I have sinned against heaven and before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son any longer.’ 22But the father said to his servants, ‘Hurry! Bring the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet! 23And bring the calf that we’ve fattened up, kill it, and let’s eat and have a party! 24This son of mine was dead, and is alive again! He was lost, and now he’s found!’ And they began to celebrate.
If you were here in March when we talked about this parable, you may remember that we renamed it – that it is not really a story about a prodigal son – but a story about the generosity and the lavish grace of a father, who, in a culture where noble people could never be hurried, let alone run anywhere, he hikes up his robes and hoofs it out as fast as he can – not to scold or reprimand his busted son, but to wrap him up in love and joy.
This is our God – captured in this moment Jesus speaks of, a moment that has been painted and sculpted throughout the centuries by artists who can’t get enough of it because of it’s shocking statement of grace and forgiveness – oh, that we would know that this lavish grace is the landscape we move around in every day. We swim in it all the time – this parable absolutely captures the FLOW of God as one where we mess up and the Running Father scoots his hinney out to meet us and welcome us home.
Now I could just mic drop, sit down – and leave it at that. God loves us, God’s lavish grace is deeper than anything we can imagine. But let’s be honest. The shame we carry sometimes doesn’t just go away when we hear this parable. It’s complicated. It’s hard. Shame nags at us. And so to continue to explore this dynamic FLOW we live in, we’re turning to a ten minute video – from a series called, Nooma, the Greek word for spirit or wind. A series written by Rob Bell, a pastor turned author and public speaker who has traveled with the likes of Oprah Winfrey. We watched another Nooma video at the beginning of June to kick off this series, called Rhythm. And now we turn to another – this one called Lump. Listen for what God has to say to us through this, and then after I’ll have a few thoughts and lead us into a time of response.
Video: Lump, Nooma
To live in the FLOW of God means to intentionally be people who don’t try to be shiny and perfect and pretend like we have it all together. We own our failures. We own our mistakes. We name that the life of Jesus is about being imperfect people, who will keep getting it wrong. And we name that today because too often the line that the Jesus-followers seem to walk is one where we are expected to walk through the doors of a church building and look and sound and be a certain way – and today we say – no way. That’s not us. We’re broken, work-in-progress people. Always.
This question we asked at the beginning of worship – when was a time when you got busted? Well for me – a lot of ideas went through my head. Particularly from growing up – I think in some ways it’s easier to think about past times that I’ve had more time to work through, yes? A little safer. That, and I can chalk it all up to being a teenager! I grew up as a pretty good kid who followed the rules. And yet I also had this rebellious second-born streak in me. And so in junior high and high school I did a few things that were not aligned with the image I had of being a good kid. And when I did get busted – like for sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to walk around with friends – it was hard to know how to integrate what had happened into my sense of identity. I still wanted to be a good kid!
That work of integration, of defining who we are, that work never ends. And the pull is always always always like we’re still teenagers, to feel like what we do defines us – which is great when we’re kicking butt and feeling popular and well liked and successful. But it gets messy and painful when we mess up. Especially when in messing up we also hurt someone else. Know what I mean?
Do you see how the Jesus-story is so revolutionary? The Jesus story, over and over again shouts back at those failures and our shame and says: yeah, you messed up, but there is the Running Father (right?), our God who runs to meet us in our walk of shame. And who even says to the older brother – who if we kept reading the story he pipes up with anger at how he had always stayed and worked hard and been the good son and never had a party like his messed-up brother. How unfair! And the Running Father says, “Oh, my child, I have always been with you, and all that I have is yours.”
In so many ways, the Bible, the story of Jesus tries to beat this into us: that there is nothing we can ever do to make God love us less. Nothing we can ever do. Nothing. God will always run to us in our walk of shame. God will always be that tender parent who pulls back the covers to let the light in. Always. We are always with God – and all that God has is ours. Nothing cuts us off from that flow of grace, forgiveness, light, hope.
And so today, my friends, we name that we are Jesus people who own our failures, and the way we do that means letting God into our sweaty business, into the things that have caused us to run and hide – all the ways in which we, too, are that sweaty lump under the covers.
And we name that doing this goes against every instinct we have – it feels much easier to run upstairs and hide under the covers. To keep pretending that nothing is wrong. To keep from integrating what we’ve done into who we are. Which is why the church for centuries has been a place for confession. Confession. I grew up attending church which most Sundays included confession. Which on the one hand was an incredibly rich rhythm to have each week. But I also felt like I never knew what I was supposed to do in those times – how to do it “right.” Maybe you had your own experiences of confession in church, or not, but today we’re reclaiming confession. Because the church can be this beautiful, real place where we don’t hide – and that’s who we try to be here. And confession is the very practice of letting God pull back the covers. Confession is not a time to make a list of how we’ve been naughty or nice. Confession is a time to be fully honest about who we are. It is the pull back the covers moment, where we let God into our sweaty business. At it’s best it becomes not a moment of deeper shame for us, but it is a moment of freedom. Of letting the pretenses and facades melt away, of actually feeling the things we’ve been feeling instead of stuffing it all and trying to be and act the way we think we’re supposed to.
And yes, in confession we name that we messed up. We all try to hide it for different reasons, with different motivations – but we all do it out of fear and shame. And today, we name that we are people who believe in the power of Resurrection and new life at work in us and in the world. And it begins by letting God pull back the covers and take away the shame.
As the band comes back up, I invite you to stand with me, for a time of prayer and honesty, and yes, a time for freedom.
And I invite you to close your eyes. And to take a deep breath and pay attention to that flow of life, coming in, rolling out of your lungs. Roll back your shoulders, feel the floor under your feet. And at the same time imagine yourself tucked in under the covers. Hiding. Sweaty from the heat. Heavy with shame. Comforted by the darkness and anonymity and perceived safety of hiding. And in this place, we pray…
Creator God, our God of boundless grace and who is present with us now,
We pause now to bring to the surface those moments where we felt busted in such a way that we still find ourselves carrying the pain and shame of that experience. Whether those experiences are fresh, or whether we’ve carried them for some time. Whether a relatively small thing, or a big moment – we call to mind the experiences that we find ourselves carrying with us, replaying, resenting. We bring those times of shame, and failure to the surface now.
In naming these moments – which are moments that we don’t want to think about – we let you God, tenderly pull back the covers and expose the Light of your Love and acceptance on that experience, and ultimately on all of who we are. We envision ourselves in that curled up place, no longer hiding, but instead exposed to the warmth of the Light. Oh, we could pull those covers back over us. Or we can choose to stay in this vulnerable place and finally be enfolded in your arms. Held close, where we hear that there is nothing we can do to make you love us less. There is nothing we can do to make you love us less. Nothing. Nothing.
God, we ask that every time we wake up in the morning, may we have yet another experience of the covers being pulled back, of letting the Light shine into us, of letting our feet hit the floor at the start of the day knowing that we are your imperfect, fully-loved-as-we-are people, and that you are making beautiful things out of us. And from that place of grace may you stir us to be your people of grace and acceptance and authenticity – who make beautiful things with you.
We remain in this place of gratitude, of vulnerability, as we continue to sing, to listen, to pray…