FIVE STEPS BACK HOME

What was it about the prodigal son that took him back home when everything had gone wrong?

He took five steps to get back to the family atmosphere of his father’s house.

First, he recognised the senselessness of his sinful condition. This can be hard. We fool ourselves that our sin is really quite harmless or maybe even just a bit of fun. Yet eventually the realisation comes upon us that what we are doing is not making us fuller people but simply stunting our development. We are brought short and forced to face the truth that the grass is in fact greener where we used to be.

Repentance is the second step.

The awakening brought about by the hopelessness of our situation leads us to accept that we’ve been going in the wrong direction long enough and it’s time to turn around and go back.

It forces us to admit that we alone are responsible for the mess we are in; sin is our choice and nobody forces us. And what the prodigal son really wanted was not just some food but the restoration of his relationship with his father.

Repentance must always be accompanied by honesty. There’s no point in making excuses for what we have done. The son could have blamed the home situation, his father or his brother, the farmer who gave him a job with the pigs, etc. But the less we are found making excuses the more likely we are to be serious about changing our way of life.

When he repented the son displayed humility.

He simply acknowledged that he had sinned, was sorry and did not deserve to be called a son any more. He knew he had disgraced his family and friends, accepted it and was determined to do something about it. He set no conditions to his confession.

Then he made his resolution to go back home.

He didn’t ask for time to consider things, procrastinate and put things off. He did something about it, left his sorry situation and determined to start things afresh.

Five steps.

But the only ones that would take him back to the feast. And us?

IS THERE A CHRISTIAN IN THE HOUSE?


You may be in the church building, but are you in Christ? Your name is on the parish records, but is it in the book of life? You may be in the Church, but is Christ in you? Being in a classroom does not make you a teacher. Being in a surgery doesn’t make you a doctor. And beingin a church building doesn’t make you a disciple!

Jesus preaches in such a way that we either get on board or abandon ship. Either we will follow Christ or forsake him. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He is making his way to the cross. He is on his way to betrayal, flogging, mocking, scourging, and beating. His own people have rejected him. He is on his way to Jerusalem to die for the very people who will murder him. They have called him Beelzebub. They have accused him of breaking the law. They have numbered him with the publicans and sinners. Jesus knows his disciples will suffer the same fate and only a true disciple can endure such persecution.

Before you decide to buy that new home cinema system you have to sit down and work out whether you have enough money to pay for it, whether in cash or instalments. And it’s the same thing when it comes to being a disciple of Christ. There is a cost involved.

Jesus never tried to get big crowds. In fact, he said things that would put off the faint-hearted. To follow him, he said, you must love your family but never let them get in the way of your responding fully to God’s call.

Those who appreciate the wisdom of God’s plan are prepared to give up wealth, reputation, security and even their own lives if it is demanded. This does not come cheap.

It’s easy to say that we would do all this for God, but how well are we faring in the ordinary things of life, the little demands that are put upon us? This is a good guide to how much we are being true to our calling as disciples.

Being a Christian means accepting all but giving Christ top priority. There can be no part-time Christians.

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE?

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE?

Maybe it’s because most of us get our first impressions of Jesus while we are still young that we tend to think of him as a gentle person. After all, the meek and mild image seems to fit in well with what we want to say to small children.

But when we grow up it’s a different matter. Do we still think of Jesus as the quiet, gentle mannered preacher who never spoke a word in anger? If we do, then we’re in for a shock in today’s gospel.

The Jesus whom we glimpse today is full of passion and single-minded about his mission. He’s the activist from heaven, the zealous, fiery, frustrated messenger of change. Do you think I’ve come to bring peace? No, he says. If you listen to me then the trouble will really start. My message brings not peace but division.

To believe in Jesus is to accept a whole set of values that threatens many people, a life so radical that it looks down on what others deem success, an all-consuming dedication to fight for the downtrodden which makes more enemies than friends. Even your own family will be divided, says Jesus. That’s because the message you bring and the life you live will prove too much for them.

The temptation of human frailty is constantly to downgrade the demands of the gospel. Our tendency is to pass off Christianity as if it were as domesticated as bingo, as socially acceptable as a round of golf and as unthreatening as a rubber cutlass.

Over the next five or six weeks St Luke will present us with some of the social implications of following Jesus, showing us that the values which society considers normal are often far from Christianity. We will see Jesus calling us to give our lives for others with no thought of reward. And we will be called upon to be so outspoken that it will stick in people’s throats.

Not very comforting? Perhaps not, but that’s what Jesus promises us in today’s uncompromising gospel.

SCRUNGE

If you were having a competition for ugly-sounding words then “scrunge” would be a strong contender. What does it mean? I don’t know, but you can tell from its sound that it won’t be anything pleasant. (Actually it doesn’t exist!)

Some words are off-putting. “Stewardship” sounds so stuffy and institutional. It’s the sort of word we give a wide berth to because it sounds rather boring and overly religious. Yet today’s gospel has Christ reminding us that we are all called to exercise stewardship over what God has given us.

It’s easy to talk about global stewardship, about saving the planet for our children and grandchildren. It’s easy because it doesn’t necessarily bite home in our lives. But stewardship is much closer to home than global warming and carbon footprints. It’s about how we use the ordinary things in our life.

How do we use our time? What are our priorities? Is my time mine or am I aware that I am given it to do good with? Am I generous with my time? They say that if you want something doing urgently then ask a busy person. Maybe that’s because people who pack lots into their time are aware of how much needs to be done, whereas the couch potato can never quite “get round to it”. If my time is valuable then do I use most of it on valuable things?

How do I use my talents? God has never made anyone without talents. Are you even aware of what yours are or do you falsely stay in the background pretending not to have gifts and talents that can be put to the service of others? Do you hide your talents or do you make them useful by letting others benefit from them?

How do you use your treasure? And what is your treasure, the thing that really “turns you on”, the thing that you most value in life, that you would give anything to defend and would do anything to possess? Your treasure is what you love most of all in life. God has given everyone treasure in abundance but it’s to be used so that others can have a better quality of life.

Jesus reminds us today that we all have time, talents and treasure. And he tells us that one day we’ll have to account for what we’re doing with them because they’re only on loan. It’s called stewardship.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

FAITH IN FOCUS:

“Vanity of vanities!” is a famous quotation from the bible, but what does it mean? It’s the preacher’s way in the Book of Ecclesiastes of saying that life seems “meaningless” or “pointless”. What’s it all about? It’s certainly not fair and it seems to take all my time and energy and keep me to the grindstone.

A radio pundit the other day said that there should be more love shown in the work place, because love makes us more productive and that way we will earn more money. Is that the point of life, money? And what’s the point of stashing money away when your children and grandchildren will only fritter it away after you’ve gone? Is it worth the hard work and the restless nights worrying about it, asks our reading today?

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with our world; God made it and it’s good. But if we limit our sights only to the things of this world then we won’ see very far. We’ll get bogged down in its limitations; our lives will not reflect anything other than our career prospects, our bank balances, our reputations and our comfort. Our cultural horizons will hit the buffers at celebrity, gossip, fashion and trivia, while our significant relationships will be virtually found on Facebook and Twitter.

What makes us tick? What are our values and are any of them transcendent? Do they go beyond the make-up and greasepaint, beyond simply following the crowd in its dream of success?

The preacher in today’s scripture obviously feels that life can be meaningless unless we have a clear idea about the reason we are on this earth. Without such a spiritual compass we are at the whim of a pointless merry-go-round that seems to take more out of us than it gives.

So what’s the driving force in your life? What makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and confront the world and all its challenges?

What motivates you to keep on going and to make your mark? Given that life is short, what makes it worth living? When today’s psalmist came to answer these questions, he put it very simply:

Make us know the shortness of our lifethat we may gain wisdom of heart,O Lord, you have been our refugefrom one generation to the next.

For life to be meaningful we all need a goal.

What’s yours?

HEROIC FAILURES?

Someone once said that in a world where success is the benchmark, the Church is the only place where failure is not only tolerated but allowed.

Certainly this was true of Peter. Just a few weeks before today’s gospel he had denied three times that he knew Jesus. And now, in what seems like a mirror image of his betrayal, Jesus asks him three times if he loves him.

No doubt this probing made Peter feel uncomfortable but it ended with Jesus entrusting the future of his mission to the man who had let him down when it counted.

Consequently we often find it hard to forgive ourselves and this can lead to our taking a back-seat when it comes to using our talents and proclaiming the gospel. In a nutshell, we feel unworthy and retire into the background.

Today we see Jesus in a practical act of forgiveness. Because he forgave Peter, Peter himself was able to feel loved and valued and was able to forgive himself. Since no one can call themselves praiseworthy in God’s sight it is pointless to absent ourselves from God’s presence under the pretence of unworthiness.

God knows our inmost thoughts and desires. There is nothing we can hide. And yet God never gives up on us even when we are guilty of the most blatant betrayal. No matter how far we wander from God, God never abandons us but calls us back to the table of his love.

Today we see Jesus inviting the man who had denied him to come and have a breakfast of bread and grilled fish. We too have received the same invitation as Peter. For though we are sinners we are invited to the table of the Lord
and each time we eat and drink his body and blood our faults and failures are washed away and we are nourished by the very life of God.


SOMETHING TO SHOUT ABOUT

There’s a lot of shouting going on this week.

It starts with the cheering crowd as Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Thursday night sees accusations and insults being flung around as Jesus is seized by the Roman authorities; and there’s more to come on Friday as he is jeered through the streets carrying his cross.

Holy Week is partly about remembering those events. But only partly. Yes, we carry palms, wash people’s feet, venerate the cross and light fires. But these things are only outward signs of what the Church is calling us to do inwardly. Our Easter liturgy doesn’t simply remember the past. If we enter into its spirit then we make the effect of those past events present today in our lives.

As we wave our palms (what a shame if someone has already folded them in the shape of a cross for us!) we recognise Jesus as Messiah just as the crowd did on that day long ago. But we also recognise our own fickleness. We acknowledge that we are capable of strong assertions of faith one moment and complete disregard the next minute.

When we wash people’s feet we re-enact what Jesus did at the Last Supper. But we do it to profess our belief in our call to serve others. It is a symbol of the Christian’s call to be of service to all our brothers and sisters in their needs. If we sit and watch but have no intention of increasing our desire to serve, then we are not taking part in the liturgy. We are simply present in church.

Venerating the wood of the cross is an act of devotion that we make as sinners. Yet it is also an opportunity for us to recognise our total dependence on Jesus whose death is the reason that today we can have life to the full. By dying on Calvary Jesus has tamed death, has overcome the worst evil that may befall us and has offered us the chance of
eternal happiness. That’s what we remember as we approach the cross.

The Easter fire burns in the darkness (provided we haven’t started too early!) as a sign that our lives are not clogged by obscurity, that we can live life in the light. Christ rose from the dead to offer us a risen life that transcends mere human existence. Our renewal of baptismal promises ratifies our commitment to this new life. Yes, there’s a lot going on.

The challenge is to take part in it all inwardly and not let our conversation with God be drowned out by all the shouting.