Monday morning in the Preacher's Study
First thoughts about next Sunday's sermon (Lent 4C)
When presented with Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15, Lent 4) it is very tempting for the preacher to immediately plunge into the riches of this familiar story and to surface with a sermon early in the week. However, since it IS only Monday, perhaps the time is available for a short consideration of the big picture when it comes to preaching. What is the reason for preaching; what is its purpose? What is God trying to do through our words?
Richard Lischer caught my attention with this statement. He writes, “For busy pastors the reasons for preaching are hazy at best. It is as if we have been preoccupied so long with capturing our culture’s attention, that once we have it we have forgotten what to say.” (Richard Lischer, The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005. p. 132)
Here, through parable and letter we are reminded of “what we have to say”. In the letter, we find what Lischer calls, “the thesis statement of the New Testament” in 2 Corinthians 5:19,
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
When we speak of what God has done, it is reconciliation. When we speak of what God is doing, it is reconciliation. When we attend to the promises that God has made for the future, it is the promise of reconciliation. We will need to use other words to explain and evoke the truth of this, but underneath it all, is the dynamic of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself. If someone asks me this week, “what is it that you Christians have to say?” I would pick one word, and it would be about this kind of reconciliation.
It is God's definitive gesture to the world.
God is the one who is continually turning towards us, reaching out, welcoming us home like the mother and father run out towards the wayward child with open embrace. These parents who do not allow for a grovelling speech, who do not insist on making the child wait on the threshold, who do not want slaves, but sons and daughters.
Reconciliation. We are entrusted with the message of it and we have the opportunity to participate in it. There is nothing easy about it. In some circumstances it seems an offense. We do not want to make reconciliation, and the steps of forgiveness necessary, to appear any less difficult than they are. Reconciliation is not easily won. It requires God’s leading participation.
What is it? There are at least three forms of it.
At the heart of the cosmos is the One who after bringing the whole creation into being also, out of love for that creation, began the work of drawing-back-in an expanding, wayward creature. So even at the cosmic level, everything is in need of being reconciled to God. Following Chris Hadfield’s the view from a space station helps us get a glimpse of both the cosmic and the earthly. Thinking of galaxies and universes, we begin to fathom the scope of God’s ministry of reconciliation. Yet, down there on earth, too, a second kind of reconciliation is needed. People need to be reconciled to other people. You don't have to look past your own life, your own church, your town, your local news. And finally, the ministry of reconciliation also includes reconciliation with ourselves. There is enough work in this for the rest of our lives. It is demand and it is promise. Every second of it is immersed in the primary mission of God, so it is a thing worth doing, worth saying, worth celebrating.
Todd Townshend is Dean-Designate of the Faculty of Theology, Huron University College, London, Ontario. He serves as editor of OPEN, the journal of APLM.