Confession Is Good For The Soul
BY REV. CHRISTIAN BARON -March 6, 2016- Lent 4, Year C: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.
“For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I spent 26 hours this weekend in Three Rivers with College Students and folks in their 20s and 30s. Eight of us went on a Lenten Retreat and stayed in a guest house owned by one of the Deacons of our Diocese. It was a wonderful time of deep conversation, juvenile laughter and sacred silence.
Some of our conversations revolved around deep theological questions such as sin, human nature, suffering, and the joys and pains of community.
We talked about the future and the past.
Jobs, College, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
We also talked about life and death, justice and our own personal meat eating ethic.
We spent time eating home cooked meals, playing games and sitting in the hot tub.
We went to St Gregory’s, the Episcopal Monastery in Three Rivers, and prayed with the monks.
We spent Saturday morning in silence as we meditated and read and prayed with mandalas and walked the trails on the property. On the trails we encountered deer and all of creation and a personal God.
I’ll remember all of these things fondly as I think back on the relationships that have been formed in our post high school group through our partnership with Hope College and Hope Church.
But what I will remember most from this retreat is that for the first time in my life, I was a penitent in the Rite of reconciliation.
I confessed my sins to a priest and heard the words of absolution in a new and fresh way. Others also made their first confession though I’m certain they noticed that mine took the longest.
You should know, that as one of the priests of this parish, I have sinned. I have done some bad things in my life and even recently. I’m not talking scandalous here… you need not worry… I’m not going to jail or being defrocked… But my sin has affected others. And it has affected how I see the world and how I treat others. It affects how I am connected to the creator of the Universe. And though my sin won’t make the news and won’t land me in the bishop’s office… in my connections to everything around me, I guess it is pretty scandalous.
And you have your own scandals… your own sin… your own broken and bruised relationships.
Some of us think more about our sin than is helpful and some of us spend less time thinking about our sin than is helpful. Either way, I don’t think that either approach is intentional… but this expresses the need to live an examined life. We have blind spots. We have sinned. We have hurt people we love…
Sins in which you have been the perpetrator, sins in which you have been the victim and everything in between… Sin is a big deal… And, I’ll say, I think that each of you… each of us… is doing the best we can… each of us is working with a different deck of cards and trying to make the best hand. Trying to live fully into our humanness… For those of us in this building, we are trying to become more like Jesus Christ and to live into our baptismal covenant… To work against selfishness and to offer the love of God to all those around us. Part of that is living an examined life.
In the parable today, we get to see some good examples of the consequences of sin.
We see the strained relationships.
The lack of dignity and respect for family.
We see the exploitation by those with money and power against those who have very little.
We see the bitterness of a son who feels trapped and unappreciated… The bitterness of the daily grind of trying to live a disciplined life.
Talk about scandalous, this parable is filled with heartache and scandal. In fact the parable is written to shock and to offend… the account of the sins of the prodigal is Luke’s account of The Wolf of Wall Street. In fact, the way that the younger brother is described is almost exactly like Leonardo Dicaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street. The parties… the squandering… the sexual immorality… the backstabbing… the short term and false relationships.
There is so much here in this story. So much that we can gloss over because this story is so well known. But if you saw that movie… I think the writer of the gospel… this parable of Jesus… was going for the same emotions we felt watching the film. The character is repulsive.. The reader is meant to be made ill… to ask, “what kind of person would do these things?”
The fact is, the youngest son did not care for anybody but himself. His request for his inheritance is to wish for his Father’s death. He cares not for the family nor for the estate. He abandons his culture for immediate gratification…
Whether you identify more with the younger son or the older son, it is important to realize how obscene and egregious the younger son’s actions are.
Though his father wasn’t actually dead, it must have brought him to a place right next to death. This action would have been humiliating… embarrassing… and the opposite of justice.
It was… sinful.
It cut off relationship with the father and the father’s other son. With the rest of the family estate. The younger son became dead to the older son… to the servants… to the family estate… he became dead to all… except for the Father.
For me… today… this is the brilliance and beauty of this parable.
The Father chooses to die for the benefit of his son. He chooses to submit because of his wisdom. He knows his son is in trouble. He knows that his son is on a path to death and destruction. He knows that death is coming for this young man. He knows that pain is inevitable… for all parties involved…
But he hopes for reconciliation… He hopes for life. He hopes for a new creation. He hopes for for resurrection. He hopes.
But the Father knows he needs to create an environment where resurrection can happen. He knows that his son is on a path that will not lead to life. He knows that this path can only lead to death… and that he cannot stop it.
He knows he can only create space for resurrection… and so so he puts his pride aside. He endures the humiliation of giving up half of his estate and watches his son walk away.
And what if he hadn’t? What if the father had refused to give up the inheritance? What if he instead made it known that “no son of his would be shaming the family name. Shaming the family, stealing any chance of legacy and spitting in the face of the man who sacrificed so much for his well being.”
What if instead of waiting for his son to return with his arms wide open… instead of hoping that someday he would return… what if he had crossed those arms and refused to submit to his son’s request?
It certainly was a gamble, but instead of gambling on cut-off, he gambled on love.
He placed all of his chips, almost literally, on love.
And he lost everything… and… still hit the jackpot. He lost half of the what the family had worked so hard for… potentially generations of hard work and discipline…
At some point, the son was sitting in pig feces… eating pig food, closer to death than he ever thought possible… and he remembered the Father’s goodness.
He remembered the Father’s love.
And… The love, this goodness… drew him back.
The Father’s love drew him back.
Not because he wanted another portion of the inheritance, but because he finally was able to internally confess his sin and the pain he must have caused the family and specifically his Father.
He turns around… he turns around and starts walking back to goodness.
And the Good Father was watching for him… was waiting for him… was hoping for him.
But without the spiritual death of the youngest son… and the sacrificial death of the good father… the reconciliation would not have been possible. The son seems to have needed to go through this… to go through this painful and messy death… so that he could experience resurrection.
And so we come back to our sin.
Your sin and mine…
Our sins that have separated us from one another and from those that have been placed in our lives and therefore from our God.
These sins… these actions and systems that have divided us, need to be addressed.
They need to be addressed if we want to be restored in a healthy way to those around us.
The good news is that we say the general confession each week before Eucharist.
But the other news is, we all have relationships that have suffered and that are broken or bruised because of our actions.
And, the truth is, we cannot be reconciled unless we confess those sins and to clear the air. That is the point of Lent… We want to put ourselves and the Church in a place that is poised for resurrection. We want to create an environment that cultivates resurrection. Without that work… possibilities are limited. Resurrection is stunted. Reconciliation is unlikely. Make space in these next 3 weeks of Lent. Do the hard work composting your scraps so that God can turn our waste into good soil… Cultivate an environment that hopes for resurrection. Have an open posture… with arms wide open… so that when resurrection comes calling, you are ready…
“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away.”