Today’s narrative combines two key passages from the lectionary readings. These Bible selections cover reconciliation with God (Luke 15:1-3,11b-32) and the newness of life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
The story of the prodigal in Luke reveals reassuring truth about four transforming, related “Rs”: repentance, redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Jesus framed all this within a parable, which is a story designed to illustrate principles. The four Rs are so closely related that any one of which can carry the meaning of reclaiming a healthy spiritual status.
As for the prodigal story, the setting is in a family, wherein the father had two sons, one older and loyal and the other younger and rebellious. The younger brother demanded and received a share of the father’s inheritance (legally, the young son had no right to this). The petulant young man fled with his inheritance and, after a time of ruinous living, the prodigal returned home poor and defeated. The father welcomed his estranged son and graciously provided a coming-home feast. Meanwhile, the loyal son was disgruntled and resented the lavish celebration for his estranged brother.
We, like the prodigal, are far from perfect. We can run away from God, from our family, from all that should be dear to us. We can even be given-up for dead. Hope is not lost! When we come to our senses, God is there to welcome us back even if others resent our journey home. It is comforting that we can return to God even when we act foolishly. The key is to acknowledge and confess the wrong we’ve done. Upon our repentance we claim God’s promise of redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. The cycle is complete, and we may then find ourselves helping others with the same process we experienced.
You may encounter obstacles on your journey home (i.e., to spiritual health) but don’t give-up. The first-born loyal son was blinded to his wayward brother’s repentance. Rather than rejoice with his father over a lost sibling, the older son nursed resentment. This reveals a self-righteous sin, one filled with pride and unforgiveness. How ironic that the first-born son became guilty of transgressions while his previously sinful brother was enjoying forgiveness. God can welcome any of us back home as long as we do our part. Prodigals still walk the earth. Perhaps we’ve been down that path or someone we love is running away. All of this can be overcome when we take action against distraction. Overcoming adversity, addictions, negativity or whatever consumes us isn’t easy. Still, we receive and share encouragement, putting-away hopelessness and denial.
Now to the 2 Corinthians passage. The years can make us feel as if we’re washed up and put out to dry. The routine day-in, day-out cycle of life can leave us tired and jaded. Time for spiritual renewal! Life can wear anyone down, and God knows we need uplifting. It is never too late! Focus and claim God’s renewal. Claiming God’s promises will make you feel fresh in your faith and given you a new lease on life. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Once you regenerate your spiritual energy, what comes next? One key thing is perceiving yourself as God’s ambassador, someone who diligently represents a realm, in this case the kingdom of heaven. As ambassadors, we help draw people close to God. As spiritually-awakened workers we’ve accepted a commission as God’s representatives. You are God’s gift to humanity, because God’s presence shines through you in a way different from anyone else. Your unique spiritual character joins with a multitude of the faithful as each person radiates God’s love and truth. There’s no reason to retreat in silence thinking that you’re washed-up and too late. You are empowered to proclaim God’s exhilarating presence. Someone even worse-off than you needs what only you can share. Rise and shine because you matter.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey