Lent 4C: Nearly unimaginable

Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

All of us have had the experience of thinking twice about what we’re going to say to someone we don’t know really — not well enough to know their politics.  If we say the wrong thing we could suddenly become “one of them,” or they could become “one of them” to us, and we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want the factionalism, the anger, the mistrust of the political scene today to ruin this moment, this friendship.

short stories by jesus

The parable in Luke is about two brothers who have grown to dislike and distrust one another. Amy-Jill Levine writes about this parable in Short Stories by Jesus,  She says that this parable is not about the Prodigal Son’s “repentance” or the father’s extravagant forgiveness. It is about two brothers who dislike and distrust one another.  (It’s a great book. She talks about this parable in Chapter 1: “Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son.”)

Most of us suspect that the father’s explanation (“all that is mine is yours”) is hopelessly naïve.  The Prodigal has returned to beg, not to repent, and we know that until the Prodigal is stopped, he will drain the father’s estate until there is nothing left for anyone.  As for the Elder brother, we can’t see what he has done wrong, so nobody is repenting. It’s a standoff.

Arguably, the parable asks us this question: Do we really need to be reconciled to someone whose values are diametrically opposed to our own, and whose actions and behavior threatens our well-being?  Do those of us who live in the hen house have to be reconciled to the fox?

One answer is, “no” —  we should not be reconciled.  Foxes and prodigals are dangerous and we should protect ourselves. But another answer is, maybe we should try.  Maybe human society is capable of more than “survival of the fittest.”  Maybe we are called to find a way to make peace with our enemies.

Jesus goes past “maybe” to say we absolutely should find a way to make peace with our enemies. Neither this parable nor his life story minimizes how difficult that might be. Like the brothers, our enemies may not be repentant. Like the brothers, our enemies may cling to values which are anathema to us. Like the brothers, we may have to see our carelessness or our privilege through others’ eyes.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians agrees: such standoff reconciliations are so difficult that we cannot do it in our present state. We will need to be a “new creation.”  Think Easter and new life. That’s big: nearly unimaginable. Forty days is not enough time for anyone get there; only enough time to gather the willingness to try.

Resurrection: does it matter? (Yes)


I heard a great Easter Sunday sermon this morning given by The Rev. Mark Jenkins. Hopefully, it will be posted here at some point, on the Sermons at St. James (Keene, NH) Facebook page.


Last week I finished reading Markus Vinzent’s “Christ’s Resurrection in Early Christianity” (Ashgate 2013) so I have been thinking alot about resurrection. According to Vinzent, early Christianity (to 140 CE) didn’t much care about Christ’s resurrection. Vinzent says that it only became an important part of the Jesus story around 140 CE,  after Marcion “re-discovered” the letters of Paul.  The Resurrection was very important to Paul: his claim to apostolic authority hinged on his having been commissioned by the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. No resurrection? For Paul, no commission and no authority vis a vis Peter et al.  Once Paul and the Resurrection are revitalized by Marcion around 140 CE, everyone (the early church fathers) start arguing about it. Pre-canonical “gospels” were written or revised to include resurrection accounts that attempt to “correct” Marcion’s version of the resurrection, and “epistles” are written (some of which become canonical) which modify or otherwise moderate Paul.

I have no academically worthy opinion on Vinzent’s thesis, but I found it plausible enough to wonder: If the resurrection did not matter for the earliest Christians, should it matter for us and if so, how?

First, I needed to be clear about what I thought resurrection was. For me, it is not the reanimation of Jesus’ several-days-dead body. It is not much about Jesus at all. It is about the disciples, (and later, about Paul) and the God-revealing and reanimating experiences that they had. And that hopefully we have from time to time.

Second, I have no idea what resurrection opinions are held by those persons, past and present, whose life and witness inspires me to continue to try to live a Christian life. I’ll bet they all have different opinions. I surmise that no single opinion or understanding seems any more or less likely to produce a faithful or inspiring Christian.

Third, I suspect that the idea of resurrection makes NO difference and the idea of resurrection does NOT matter. What matters is the testimony of those who know the experience first-hand, who have had an Emmaus moment — the feeling that God has been in their presence in a recognizable and transformative way.  That matters, and that makes a difference. That is worth spending the season of Lent preparing for. It is worth celebrating with trumpet and flowers on Easter Sunday morning, and it is wondrous thing to dwell in for the next 50 days.

Here is a link to a 2013 essay by The Rev. David R. Henson who writes much more eloquently than I.

Happy Easter.

Christ is risen, indeed.