Saturday, March 5, 2016

No More Boxes! Reflections on Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32 (RCL Lent 4C, 6 March 2016)

RCL Lent 4C
6 March 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

         About a year ago Paula and I realized that we needed to move from our townhome in Surrey with its three floors into a smaller home, preferably on one level.  We were successful in our search and found our present home in North Delta.  But the decision to move and our success in finding a new home only opened the door to a more challenging task:  down-sizing and packing!

         Luckily our good friend, Theo, recommended that we meet with a specialist in down-sizing and moving.  We learned, for example, that plastic storage containers are good, but clear ones are better.  With a clear plastic storage container you can quickly identify what is in the box.  Unfortunately I learned this lesson too late and I am still working through numerous storage containers whose contents are a mystery --- even after I open them!

         Boxes and storage containers are very useful in our lives.  They help us organize things and store them securely.  They help us clear the clutter from our homes so that we can navigate in the darkness of the night without stumbling or stubbing our toes.

         But boxes are not useful in our personal relationships.  You and I know that all of us are tempted from time to time to put people into boxes.  On Saturday I read an article that described the potential presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as pitting the president of the school’s academic honour society with the classroom clown.  As soon as I read this description, an immediate picture popped into my mind of my own school years.  As a member of a group of academically-talented students I was sent to a school that had a fair number of bullies and, I am sure, future gang members.  I learned that a witty quip is rarely a poor defense to a well-aimed punch.

         In today’s gospel story, a story that most of us could recite from memory, we hear a story about a family struggling to get out of the boxes in which they find themselves.

  • There is the younger brother, perhaps the spoiled child whom Mum and Dad always loved best.  He makes a bold request and then acts irresponsibly.  He is a failure, a wastrel, a scoundrel, a Jew forced to take care of pigs --- he can barely fall further.
  • And there is the father, aware of his sons’ characters, who takes a chance with his younger son, hoping that it will all goes well.  He is likely to be plagued by the doubts that every parent shares:  Did I do the right thing?  Should I have been stricter?
  • And then there is the older brother, the character in the story to whom I relate most closely.  He’s always done what he is expected to do, but he feels that he has not been rewarded for this.  No banquets to celebrate his successes, no merry-making when the crops come in on time and bountiful.  Just day after day obedience and competence.

         Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you know and love in these characters.  There is some comfort in settling into one or more of the boxes.  Believe it or not, some people are comfortable in the box of failure and unhappiness and some folks are happy to keep such people contained there.  Believe it or not, some people are comfortable in the box of seething resentment at being ignored or taken for granted and some folks are happy to keep such people encased there.

         But the gospel today is about breaking out of the boxes into we have been put by others or into which we have sealed ourselves.  The younger son jumps out of the box of irresponsibility and failure to take a risk on his father’s love and the possibility of restoration.  The father leaps out of the box of hurt and disappointment to take a risk on the genuineness of his son’s repentance and the possibility that adversity has planted a seed of maturity.

         Jesus leaves us wondering about the older brother.  Will he leave the box of sulking superiority and offended pride to take a risk on both his father’s love and his brother’s repentance?  Today’s parable breaks the fourth wall of drama:  the evangelist Luke turns from recounting the parable and looks at each one of us to pose the unspoken question.  Will we let others out of the boxes into which we have placed them?  Will we leave our own boxes to enter into the banquet of the kingdom of God? 

         As I go through the boxes at our home, I have been frequently surprised to discover a forgotten piece of my life and the lives of my family and friends:  a photograph, a letter, a gift.  Each discovery renews my hope that my life and their lives are more than the boxes into which we have placed one another.  Even God chose to leave the box of divinity to share our humanity.  Can we do anything other than that which God has done for us?

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