Yesterday was a glorious day. It’s all relative, of course, but following this past winter with its Beethoven-style final snowfalls--one more of which may still come tonight--compared to that, it was. The sun was beautiful; there were a few drops of rain, so no seedling would wither; the children dug holes in the yard and examined the worms, grubs and centipedes they found within. Every once in a while, an eddy of a breeze would pick up last fall’s leaves and swirl them about like a soft-serve ice cream; everything was delectable.
Today’s story from Luke is about the Prodigal Son, and this is how his life begins: he lives a wealthy life, rich with food, family, and well-being. Servants serve him. He adores it all, and is its master. His life is glorious; it is beautiful; it is delectable.
Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
“Give me a share of the property that will belong to me,” this translation says. Or, traditionally, “Give me my share of the inheritance.” That is to say, “give me now what I might have later.” “Give me today the proceeds of tomorrow.” We might recoil at those words, but they are human nature. That’s why we own credit cards. That’s why we have such a frighteningly large national debt. The Prodigal Son is famous because he spends away his future on luxuries and comforts--and as we hear about it, we shake our inner heads and whisper “shame, shame, shame.” But we do the same, same, same.
Yesterday was a glorious day… but we drove our cars, heated our homes, shipped our goods, imported our foods. We flew our planes, built our homes, delivered our packages, fracked our gas, burned our coal, and drilled for more. Yesterday, and every day before that, we lived a life of luxury that stole from our own future. We lived a life of extravagance that we cannot afford. Someday, those glorious days may not exist in the same way for any of us; we are squandering our property in dissolute living. And we don’t know how to exit the lifestyle; we don’t know how to remove ourselves from the cycle.
...The younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
This is Lent: a time of confession. Our confession today is that we can already see the famine beginning. Fulani Herdsmen and Dogon farmers are clashing over scarce water resources. The clashing is causing massacres: whole villages, whole tribes, killed. Insects are disappearing in massive numbers, representing a whole slice of the food chain: your windshield this summer will not be spattered with the remains of exoskeletal life the way it once was. Scientists are calling it the “Insect Armageddon” -- monarch buttterflies are 90% gone. 87% of rusty-patched bumble bees are gone. 82% of all midsummer insects in Germany, by mass, are gone. We just don’t have more statistics, but all the ones we have are bad--really bad.
Droughts and cyclones in Mozambique; wildfires in California; a heat wave in Australia that’s literally boiling native bats alive in their treetops while they sleep.
...He squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
He hit his rock bottom. We might not think we are there yet, but we’re on our way--so, let’s talk about it. What are the issues that prevent us here from doing more about caring for God’s world? What is it that holds you back? Think about this for a moment.
There are bound to be some tough categories that arise. There are things we can’t do, personally, physically, financially. A lot of possible ideas fall into those categories of what won’t work. All the can’ts are understood. But God challenges us in the life of faith to do the things we can do, even if we don’t want to.
Then, there are the comforts and conveniences. Packaging, disposables, nice toasty winter homes, refrigerated living in summertime heat, the many savory flavors of meat and cheese, nice cars, comfortable commutes, and easy living. These are choices each person will make for themselves--hopefully, leading toward better and better choices.
But there is a final category that I want to really focus on today, and that is the things we *could* do, that we *would* do, except that we think they might be seen as strange.
Faith has a history of getting us humans to do crazy things for the right reason. Yesterday there was a conversation about things God asks humans to do that sound ridiculous: Moses had to go stutter in front of Pharaoh. Without God, there is no way he would have done that. Jeremiah had to hide his loincloth under a rock, and then get it out again after it had gotten moldy, and wear it about. No one does this of their own accord. Everyone good is mocked: all God’s people, all the prophets, the Psalmists, the writer of Lamentations, Job, John and Jesus. The early Christians were ridiculed too. They suffered it for Jesus’ sake. For us, it should be, by this time, a long and proud tradition.
What I want to assert to you today is that we have been trained by generations upon generations of faithful forebears in God to do what is uncommon and strange and not well understood by those outside.
If you have thought that you could carry your own tupperware into a restaurant in case of leftovers, but think it might look funny, get over it. If you have thought you could use cloth handkerchiefs instead of disposable kleenex, but think people might think it weird, do it anyway. Mend your socks like they used to, or the knees of your jeans, instead of throwing them away! Keep driving the old dented car, and if the dent is somewhere where it doesn’t do anyone any harm, who needs a new part made of fiberglass and shipped across the oceans! Forego the imported water bottle, even though everyone else is reaching for one, and take instead one of the glasses next to the bottles and fill it under the tap, just because you can… and it’s right, and that matters. If you think people will look at you strangely for it, just remember. They mocked Jesus all the way to the cross, but he still did what was right, no matter what.
If you have thought that you could be vegetarian, or vegan, except that it’s a bit uncomfortable to proclaim a label like that--you already have a label like that! You are a Christian. What could add to the scandal of belief?
If you have thought that you could bike to work, but are afraid to show up sweaty and with a helmet head--you are a Christian, so do it anyway! If you have been afraid of what people would think if they saw you walking the sidewalks around the big box stores, when everyone else with a car is driving--you are a Christian--do it anyway! If you’ve thought of putting in a composting toilet, or of taking a couple fewer showers a month, or of keeping something old around instead of using something shiny and new--you bear the name of Ambassador to a Christ who died in mockery. Living differently should define us in just this kind of way. Wear your difference with pride, for our calling in faith is not to blend in with culture, but to stand apart from it.
That’s my message for today, and our common confession: we have pretended that we are beholden to what society thinks, when we should think the opposite: in the fact of faith, we are beholden only to what God thinks. Perhaps it is up to us, a people who have been trained up by our tradition, to start being fools for Christ. Let’s proudly take the crazy steps that are needed so badly today.