Monday, March 22, 2010

Prodigal God (5): Party Time!

[This week, the message text is in notation, rather than complete text.]
03/21/2010 Bethany
Luke 15:11-32, message
John 12:1-8, children

The PARTY as
sign and instrument of RECONCILIATION
celebration of the SAVIOR
embodiment of the NEW COMMUNITY

Kenneth E. Bailey ("The Pursuing Father", Christianity Today, Oct 26 1998, pp 34-40) offers the perspective of a New Testament scholar who lived and taught in the Middle East for almost 50 years.

"qetsatsah" ceremony, exercised by the entire community
for those who lose the family inheritance to Gentiles
fill an urn with burnt corn & burnt nuts
break it in front of the offender and shout:
"JP is cut off from his people"

younger brother, intending to earn his way back
not fully appreciating the damage done
with no confidence that he can avoid being shunned
"I have sinned against heaven and against you"
words of manipulation by the Pharoah to Moses (Bailey)
father, planning ahead, "seeks" him, finding him at the edge of town
runs to him (what a mother would do, Bailey)
welcomes publically
no way the community can shun him when the father accepts him (Bailey)

the PARTY is the sign and instrument of RECONCILIATION
exactly what Jesus is doing w/ tax collectors and sinners
father in story has become the Jesus figure, the savior figure
in absence of the "true elder brother" the parable longs for
older brother throws a fit ... like son vs father shouting match at a big family wedding, in public view of the entire community (Bailey)
fit over definition of the feast (Bailey)
father: this son was lost and is FOUND – celebration of FINDING
older son: fattened calf for HIM – celebration of the SINNER
I deserved it, never got it
same logic as the younger son, who wanted to pay back:
earn what you get

We might say, it’s better to be a younger brother, better a rule breaker, because we think the party is thrown for him. It’s not – the party is thrown by the father in celebration of what the father has accomplished in reconciling his son. It’s not a banquet for the "comeback player of the year". "It is not our remorse [or the younger brother’s remorse] that forces God to set the banquet table . . . We cannot throw our own party" (Thomas Long, "Living by the Word: Surprise Party", Christian Century, Mar 14 2001, p 10).
this feast is not a celebration of sinners, or of our righteousness
"not worthy to gather up the crumbs under this thy table" (old communion liturgy)
this feast – the PARTY – is a celebration of the SAVIOR
The father: "My son was dead and is now alive ... we had to celebrate!"
JESUS was dead and is now alive – we have to celebrate the Savior!
Barbara Brown Tayler, "Living by the Word: Table Manners", Christian Century, Mar 11 1998, p 257: So if I were putting together a sinners’ table . . . , it might include an abortion doctor, a child molester, an arms dealer, a garbage collector, a young man with AIDS, a Laotian chicken plucker, a teenage crack addict, and an unmarried woman on welfare with five children by three different fathers. Did I miss anyone? Don’t forget to put Jesus at the head of the table, asking the young man to hand him a roll, please, and offering the doctor a second cup of coffee before she goes back to work.
If that offends you even a little, then you are almost ready for what happens next. Because what happens next is that the local ministerial association comes into the restaurant and sits down at a large table across from the sinners. The religious authorities all have good teeth and there is no dirt under their fingernails. When their food comes, they hold hands to pray. They are all perfectly nice people, but they can hardly eat their hamburger steaks for staring at the strange crowd in the far booth.
The chicken plucker is still wearing her white hair net, and the garbage collector smells like spoiled meat. The addict cannot seem to find his mouth with his spoon. But none of those is the heartbreaker. The heartbreaker is Jesus, sitting there as if everything were just fine.

This setting, imagined by Barbara Brown Taylor, pulls us out of the specific dynamics of the parable and connects us with the context: Jesus is welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners. The religious folks are offended: How can he be holy and keep company with sin?
The one exception to this holiness versus contamination perspective on the world would be someone who was so holy that they could not be contaminated by anyone (Citation, recently read). But who could that be? And if someone was truly that holy, why would they want to hang with sinners?

We know that supremely holy person was Jesus indeed, and that he did choose to eat with sinners and tax collectors. On the cross, he cries out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He was rejected so that we could be accepted. He was forsaken so that we could be welcomed. He was abandoned so that we could be rescued.

So, this PARTY is the embodiment of a NEW COMMUNITY, a community of everyone who says "yes" to God’s invitation, a community that is not defined by our need to divide and define, in or out, black or white, rich or poor, foreign or American, sinner or "good Christian". It is a community that anticipates and experiences the reality that God will be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15.28).
"Prodigal" God? Isn’t it the son? But "prodigal" means
recklessly extravagant
giving profusely
And the most reckless one in the story, the most extravagant in generosity, is the father. So too, Jesus has given himself away, emptied himself, become nothing, forsaken, abandoned, rejected.
This feast celebrates our Savior. This feast is the sign and instrument of Reconciliation. This feast is the embodiment of New Community.

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