sermon for Lent 4, 2016 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 I have been reading Nadia Boltz-Weber’s Pastrix this weekend. It is a wonderful book about her theological and spiritual journey from fundamentalist, to drugs and alcohol, being covered in tattoos, to coming clean, meeting a Lutheran Seminary student, being immersed in grace, getting married, going to Seminary herself and starting a church that caters to the lost sheep: those who have been told to leave their church because of their sexual orientation, lifestyle and many other categories of those who may be unwelcome. At one point she recalls a conversation with her mother who struggled with her choices in life, her downward spiral, and yet still reached out to her in love. Nadia recalls how her mother would ask her to come home more often so that she could see her, which in Nadia’s mind meant, since we won't be spending eternity together, we should spend more time here on earth together! A few weeks ago as we gathered for pericope to discuss this text, I mentioned that I needed something good and different because I feel like I’ve shoot most of my good bullets on this text. It is both fun and dangerous preaching on one of the most well-known parables of Jesus. It is fun because it a familiar story for many of us. This is often regarded as one of the two most well-known parables along with the Good Samaritan. Its scary because well, we think we know this story! But how well do we know it? As commentators have been pointing out for years, this parable is perhaps misnamed. The rest of this chapter of Luke’s gospel features parables about the lost. The lost coin, the lost sheep, and the prodigal son? We should begin our experience with the 15th chapter of Luke by highlighting the first two verses: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So what is the problem with Jesus? He welcomes sinners? He eats with them? During this tax season, is it the IRS agents that are the problem? Or perhaps, the real problem is those who gather and point at Jesus and those who gather with him and grumble about all that is happening. Honestly, I pray that it’s not the sinners we need to worry about – for that is each one of us, but perhaps it’s the grumblers and complainers. Back to the name...this parable should perhaps be called the “lost sons”. Like the lost coin and the lost sheep, the point in this parable is about the lost being found…and the prodigal son is not the only one who is lost. Sure he was the one who walked up to his old man one day and said to him: old man, your practically dead to me, give me what is mine and I’ll be on my way. As the younger son, his inheritance was probably not as great as the eldest sons, yet it amounted to something. He took this money, went off to a foreign land, spent it, and finally came to his senses later as he sat hungry feeding the pigs their slop. This story and our interpretation of it usually focuses on this son who returns home, is met by his running father, and before he can get out his confession or perhaps con his father one more time, he is welcomed home in love. The father threw out all propriety, all care for what others may think by running to greet his son who was dead, but now is alive, who was lost, but now is found. Now comes the party…the eating and drinking with sinners, with those who would be found at Jesus’ table. And yet one is missing. In the midst of the preparations, someone forgot to send an announcement to the elder son who declares he was out in the fields working. As he came home, he called to a servant to ask what all the partying was about. When told the good news, he fumes. Perhaps he knows this younger brother too well. Perhaps he is angry at not being told in a timelier fashion. Perhaps he was just mad and needed to spout off. Now he is the lost son, the one who refuses to come in, to enjoy the party, or be seated at the same table as his younger brother. He is the one who has been there all along, who took care of everything, who did as he was told, but now finds himself on the outside looking in. Once again, the father goes out, instead of sending a messenger. He goes out to his eldest son, declares that all he has is his, and invites him to celebrate with him in the celebration of his brother’s resurrection. This is perhaps too much for this brother to bear. In the midst of his self-pity, in the midst of his narcissism, in the midst of his inability to celebrate that what was lost is now found…or returned home at a convenient time, he is angry, hurt and unwilling to see the good news in this story. Thus this is the parable of lost sons. The father works hard to retrieve both of them. We are never quite sure if he was successful; however, in the other two parables there is a celebration, so why not? But it makes us wonder who is lost in this day and age? Who is in need of someone breaking all the rules of propriety and running out to bring us or others we know and love into or back into the fold? In her book, Nadia Boltz-Weber talks about the church she founded: house of all saints and sinners. In this place, the LGBT community has found a home. In fact, she often tells the story of when “normal” people fist started showing up and their church, they had to have a meeting to decide what to do. Did they truly want these normal looking, acting and living Christians in their church? They finally decided that if they were truly open and welcoming to all the “weird” people, they needed to be open and welcoming to the “normal” people as well. This community of faith has found a mission of making ambassadors for Christ out of those who needed a woman to come along and sweep up the street corners to find them; who needed a shepherd to come along and be brave enough to leave the 99 to go and find the one lost sheep; who needed a father whose joy and love threw caution and propriety into the wind in order to greet and welcome two lost sons. As Jesus journeys to the cross, the journey takes him to some interesting places and engages him in some wonderful conversations. This 15th chapter of Luke is one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible, in my humble opinion, as it encourages us to be open to sinner and tax collectors and be those who are willing to celebrate the beautiful gifts of God’s love and grace, not just for the normal people, but for the weird ones as well. In the midst of this journey Christ challenges our presuppositions about how the world works, about who is welcome, and about how we should celebrate the true gift of grace. Grace is beautiful, free, and it always comes down to us. We, in our human sinfulness, want to place boundaries, limitations, and expectations on whom it is for. God, in this chapter of Luke, simply says no way! The Son of God, in his journey to the cross, challenges us to be open to the amazing ways God’s love and grace shatter boundaries, open doors, and welcomes even those who do not want to be welcomed. God’s love and grace are so powerful, that an extravagant party is throw because a penny is found. God ‘s love and grace are so amazing that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep in the wilderness, risking the fact that all may soon be lost, to find the one sheep that wandered. God’s love and grace are so freeing that a father will run out to meet one lost son, and then turn around go to meet the other as he seeks to bring them both into the realm of his love. This is God’s love for us from the cross. This is God’s love for us from the empty tomb. As we die and rise each day, as we journey to the cross with the cranky, beautiful and often struggling faith we all possess, may we journey together, seeking out the lost and forsaken, as we find ourselves in the midst of a party where even sinners, and even the tax collectors are to be found enjoying the bread and wine of heaven. It certainly beats the alternative: sitting on the outside with the Pharisees and scribes, grumbling and complaining about God’s openness, about God’s love for all people and about God’s grace that knows no boundaries. For we are ambassadors for this God, and it’s a beautiful mission we share.