Way of Love - Bless - Sermon Notes

Updated: Mar 1, 2019


How To Bless God Even When You Feel Like You’re Stuck In a Pigsty


By Whitney Rice


This sermon is part of a seven-week preaching series on the Way of Love during Lent, Year C and focuses on the gospel lesson for Lent 3. This week’s practice is BLESS


Our practice of blessing comes at a key point in our journey through the Way

of Love. As we build our Rule of Life, we ask to be conformed to the Mind of

Christ, so that we might be ever more able to live faithfully as the Body of Christ.

And part of that process is taking on some of the characteristics of God—as lofty

and intimidating as that might sound at first! We usually think of asking God to

bless us. But in the Way of Love, God is asking us to bless the world. And all of

our spiritual practices make us ready to say yes to that calling.


Many of us might feel pretty inadequate to take on something as big as

blessing the world. In that, we have something in common with our brother the

Prodigal Son. In our story from Luke today, one of the most well-known and

beloved in the gospels, we hear of a young man who made certain choices. To

some, those choices might seem rash, selfish, and short-sighted. To others, they

may simply seem like the folly of youth. The Prodigal Son actually sounds eerily

like a denizen of 21st century America, a natural product of a highly individualistic,

self-centered, and hedonistic society.


But the Prodigal Son discovers what we all discover at some point:

squandering all our resources on “dissolute living,” as the gospel puts it, is a

hollow and futile quest for fulfillment. Each of us is tempted to a different form of

“dissolute living,” which is really a way of ignoring the responsibilities of love and

relationship. Being part of a family, a spiritual community, a relationship network,

places demands on us. Sometimes we chafe against those demands. And so we do

some “dissolute living.” We shave a few hours off our agreed upon custody

weekend because we just want to finish this one video game before picking up the

kids. We argue internally that flirtatious text messages with a colleague are

harmless and worlds away from actual infidelity. We choose to take vacation days

when a particularly dreaded conversation at work is coming up, or make an excuse

for another year about not pledging our time, talent, or treasure to our spiritual

community.


It always feels good in the moment. We get to stave off the harder part of

being in loving relationship with others, the part that actually requires sacrifice and

living up to embarrassingly old-fashioned values like “duty.” But as the Prodigal

Son discovered, “dissolute living” bottoms out with us hungry and alone in a pig

sty. Our dissolute living won’t result in that happening literally, but the day we

wake up and find ourselves starving of love and connection, alone and isolated and

afraid, we will understand his despair.


And we’ve all been there. We’re all tempted to make choices that take us

farther from love and faithful relationship, and all of us say yes sometimes. We

make mistakes, and sometimes we actively sin. How could God have chosen us to bless the world? As participants in the Way of Love, we’re committed to blessing

others. But when we’re in the depths of a prodigal season—alone, afraid, mired

deep in our own faults and shortcomings—we don’t feel like a blessing to anyone.

What should we do?


One of the great gifts of Lent is the time and space to acknowledge that

freely, and rather than being consumed by shame, confess the truth and ask God to

help us make better choices. In theological language, that’s called “repentance and

amendment of life.” And the story of the Prodigal Son lays out the path of

forgiveness and restoration of relationship. The young man has a moment of

clarity in his despair that Luke describes for us: “But when he came to himself he

said, ‘How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but

here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him,

"Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be

called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”


Repentance, confession, absolution, amendment of life. This is the path to

forgiveness that is always available to us both in formal terms in the church with

the Sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent, and in informal terms every day

with God and one another. When we have “squandered our property,” as the

gospel says, been way too free and loose with the trust and love and connection

others have given us, there is a way back. We do not have to stay alone in the pig

sty, trapped by hunger and shame.


The great Good News is God’s reaction to our asking for forgiveness. “But

while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he

ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father,

I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called

your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best

one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the

fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and

is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.”


God doesn’t just meet us halfway, God rushes out to smother us with kisses

of love and welcome any time we reach out for redemption. It’s a message we

need to hear over and over, no matter how long we’ve been on the spiritual path.

The old wounds of rejection and fear need to be tended by love, so that year after

patient year, we might finally come to believe the gospel, the Good News that

seems too good to be true. And that Good News is that God is always welcoming

us with open arms. There is nothing we can do that could ever separate us from

God forever. All we have to do is come back, say yes to the invitation to return

and be forgiven.


So we’ve gone from broke and desperate on a pig farm to back in our

Father’s house. That’s progress. But still all the blessing is coming to us. Weren’t

we supposed to be a blessing to others? Isn’t that the point of “Bless” on the Way

of Love?


The truth is that all of our ability to bless others comes out of our continual

awareness of God’s blessing of us. The good that we sometimes credit to ourselves

is actually the radiant love of God shining through us. When we receive the

emotional reward of knowing we have done something good to help someone else,

our own egos will always be eager to take the credit. But that is a short path to the

cramped and resentful existence of the older brother in Luke’s story. He couldn’t

see the truth of his father’s statement: “All that is mine is yours.” The older

brother thought he had earned virtue and wealth and acclaim all on his own.


But what did he really earn by thinking it was all to his own credit by his

own hard work? He was as isolated and lonely and starved of love as his little

brother. But he couldn’t see the truth of that. He had no moment of clarity in a

pigsty, because his outer circumstances remained socially acceptable and even

materially comfortable. Both brothers are alone and afraid, selfish and trapped in a

mess of their own making. But the older brother can’t see his self-constructed

cage.


And that can happen to us too. It is so easy to congratulate ourselves for

everything we do for this family, everything we do for this company, everything

we do for this church that we never get the credit for! This place would fall apart

without us! When we catch ourselves thinking like this, we know we’re standing

in the shoes of the older brother. It’s a much nicer and ego-satisfying pigsty, but it’s still a pigsty. We need to go home as much as our wayward little brother does.

It’s better hidden, but our heart is as proud and sore as the more public prodigal.


And here is the remarkable truth about this mess of our own making: the

moment, the very instant we admit the truth—I have really gone off track here—

that moment is when we become a blessing. The very first step we take back

toward home, the very first acknowledgement that something is wrong and we

need help to fix it, causes God’s heart to light up with joy. “But while he was still

far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran,” the gospel

says. As we set out on the road to repentance, the Father hurtles out of the house

toward us, sprinting forward to welcome us home. In the very midst of the hurt

and disaster and damage we have done, naming it honestly and saying we’d like to

make things better turns our very lives into a blessing to God.


That is Good News. When we’ve made great big ugly mistakes, or when the

little sins and slights have added up over time into a distancing of our hearts from

God and from one another, the very moment we admit it and ask for help to

change, we become a blessing. It doesn’t take some great saint or piously holy

person to bless the world. In fact, if the scriptures are anything to go by, God

rather prefers screw ups and misfits. God struggles to work with people who

already think they’re perfect. For all his invitation, the father cannot get the older

son to come in to the party, and eventually the party goes on without him.


But people who can say, “I really have no idea how to live out my faith most

of the time and honestly there are a lot of days I’m pretty terrible at being a

Christian,” --those are the people that God can use to change the world. Those are

the people God uses to bless the world, because those are the people who can say

to others, “Look, I’ve spent some serious time in the pigsty, and there’s a way out.

There is a home calling our name, and a loving parent longing to put welcoming

arms around us.”


There is a blessing the world needs that can only come to life in one way.

And that one way is the utterly unique and beautiful way that your spirit and God’s

spirit interlock and shine. Don’t be afraid of naming and confessing sins and faults

and mistakes in this season of Lent. That’s the first step on the path home to God

and love and restored relationship and redeemed life. There’s a party at the end of

that road. Don’t miss it. Say yes to God’s unrelenting blessing of you. And then

go be an overflowing blessing to the world.

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