“Same but Different”
March 10, 2013
Joshua 5:9-12 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
There are times in our lives when things change. There was a time when we were small, that we graduated from a crib to a youth bed or from a youth bed to a “grown-up” bed. There were times when our regular baby sitter wasn’t available and a new baby sitter had to step in, maybe we were used to being babysat by grandma, but sometimes even grandmas have other things to do. Some of these things can seem quite dramatic, even traumatic, but, in the end, they often are not a bid deal. In fact, sometimes these scary changes turn out to be better for us. As adults, the same thing happens. We worry about a new school, or a new job but the ‘new thing’ that we worried about often turns out to be a lot better than the one we left behind. It turns out that after the fear and the worrying, things are the same, but different, the same, but better. These are the sorts of things we discover in our lesson for today. We begin in Joshua 5:9-12, where we find the nation of Israel entering the Promised Land. For forty years, God had provided food for them. Each day they had discovered manna, food sent by God for them to eat, and suddenly, as they enter this new land, an inheritance promised by God himself, the free lunch stops… sort of.
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day. [Gilgal sounds like Hebrew for ‘roll’]
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. As they left the desert and entered the land of Canaan, the people of Israel no longer needed the daily provision of food that God had always provided. I am certain that there was some anxiety about this change. Many of the people had never had to provide for themselves. They had been born in the desert and God’s provision of manna was all that they knew. They had never harvested food for themselves before. For some, it may have been frightening. But, at the same time, there were those who remembered what it was like to pick grapes and harvest grain. Some of the oldest among them had been children when God had freed them from captivity in Egypt, and they remembered. Also among them were Joshua and Caleb who had been the only faithful men who had believed that God could overcome their enemies, and only these two adults had lived through the forty years of wandering in the desert. These two men remembered what it was like to harvest what the land produced. It wasn’t that God would no longer provide for the needs of his people, only that now, in this new, fertile, and abundant land, God would provide food for them in a different way. Even those who were afraid would soon find out that grapes and bread and all the blessings provided by the land, would be better food than manna. The same, but different, the same, but better. Jesus tells parable where a similar lesson is learned by the prodigal son, also known as the lost son, in Luke 15… (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32) 1
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable:
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” When the younger son asked for his inheritance, it was, in his culture, as if he had told his father that he wished he were dead. Although the father complied with his request, it was as if both the father and the family name were humiliated and dragged through the mud. After going away and squandering all that he had been given, the lost son realizes that he has thrown away something of value. He realizes that even 2
the servants in his father’s house live better than he does, and he decides to return home, apologize, and ask to be a servant, perhaps, even to repay his father for the money that he took and the honor that he had ruined. But that isn’t what he gets. As he returns home, before the son can even open his mouth to apologize or to ask for a job as a servant, the Father welcomes him home as an honored guest, welcomes him as his son, welcomes him as family, and regardless of the personal cost to the father and to the family name, restores the son to the family and welcomes him home with a very public celebration feast. The lost son discovers that things are the same as they always were, but different, the same, but better. Before, he knew that his father loved him, but perhaps that love was a necessity. His father loved him because he was his child. His father loved him because he had to. His father loved him because that love was a part of his inheritance. Now things are different. Now, despite having humiliated and disowned his father, he discovers that he is loved and welcomed anyway. Now, instead of knowing a love that he somehow deserved, he discovers a love that is completely undeserved. Now, instead of knowing a love that has to do with possessions and tradition, he discovers a love that is built completely on mercy, grace, and unmerited favor. The older brother is not too happy about this situation. He was the one who stayed. He was the one who was faithful. He was the one who honored his father and did his best to honor the family name. Clearly, he deserved his father’s love, he had lived for it, worked for it, suffered for it, he had, in his mind, earned it. The revelation that his father could love his brother despite the damage that he had done, personally and to the family, infuriates him but also staggers him, perhaps even more than it did the prodigal. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul tells us that this is exactly the sort of love that God has for us…
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Under the Law, everyone followed the rules so that God would love them. Even if that wasn’t what God had taught them, that is what many had thought. The Pharisees believed, “If we are obedient enough, God will guard us and protect us.” The emphasis that the Pharisees made on rules and obedience grew out of their belief that God had allowed Israel to be captured and enslaved by Babylon because of their disobedience (which is largely true) but they had expanded on that and had come to believe that if they could just be good enough, then God would love them more. Paul declares that this way of thinking was wrong from the start but has, in any case, been replaced. The old way of thinking is gone, and a new way of thinking has come. No more can we think of God’s love as something that we can earn, something we can work for, something that we deserve. Instead, we realize that God sent Jesus so that he could become sin for us, so that he could take all of our sin upon himself so that we could be listed among the righteous.
Suddenly, we discover that are like the lost son. We are the ones who have dragged our father’s name, our family name, through the mud. We are the ones who have dishonored all that he had worked for just so we could do whatever we wanted with our inheritance. We are the ones who have squandered our gifts and returned home empty handed only to discover that despite our best efforts to alienate him, our father loves us as much as ever. We are the ones who suddenly discover that the love we always had, was never something that we earned, or deserved, or that belonged to us because of tradition, or that we had inherited. Instead, we realize that God’s love for us is completely undeserved and entirely based on mercy, grace and unmerited favor. Whether we have been the loyal, faithful, hard-working older brothers, or the unfaithful, mutinous younger brother, we realize that God’s love for us is something different than we once thought. God’s love for us is the same, but different, the same, but much, much better than we ever thought or imagined.
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