Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32
"Thanks for coming by Pastor. It sure is good to hear what's going on at the church these days." The comment came from a member of the congregation who hadn't attended a service in years. It was a platitude that I was hearing a lot of lately.
As a mission development pastor involved in a congregational re-development project in Saskatoon, one of my responsibilities has been to connect with lapsed members and encourage them to renew their commitment to the church. Most of the folks have been very gracious about inviting me into their homes. The responses have been by and large polite, like the woman quoted above. But it was what this particular woman said next during this particular visit that caught me off guard.
'You know," she said, "I might even be interested in coming back for a visit. But frankly, I'm afraid of the catch."
Rev. Eric Krushel
King of Glory Lutheran Church,
209 Fairmont Dr.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7M 5B8
"The catch?" I questioned.
"Yeh, you know. There's always a catch to coming back to church after you've been away as long as I have. No one lets you in that easy. Maybe its those looks from people that are really thinking "And where has she been?" Maybe its something I'd be expected to do to prove myself. There's always a catch."
We finished up the visit pleasantly enough. But her comment made more of an impact on me than I'm sure I made on her. Just what are the catches that our churches create for people coming in or coming back?
This very familiar parable of the prodigal Son warms our hearts with its moving picture of God's grace. But do we hear the challenge it raises to a church struggling to live out its mission? We can tend to think that the challenge lies in the first half of this parable: that Jesus is challenging us to live lives of radical forgiveness and grace as the Father displayed towards the errant son. And we certainly wouldn't be wrong in this analysis.
But the real challenge of this parable lies in the second half. This is really a parable about the elder son. This son refuses to come into the celebration because he outraged at his father's behaviour. Maybe he could have tolerated his brother's homecoming if he could have been assured that his place of privilege was still secure. But what he simply cannot tolerate is his father's radical equality: his refusal to favour the elder son's obedience but to bless each of his sons equally out of the abundance of his grace. This father is as unimpressed with the elder son's faithfulness as he is unperturbed by the younger son's faithlessness. All he is concerned about is that his children are back under the same roof.
Do we share this sense of mission? Or are we long-serving, faithful members of the church too often like the elder son? Our congregational families have prodigals: lapsed members or strangers that have shown contempt for the church in earlier years. And we are all for welcoming them back. As long, that is, as they...understand their mistake in falling away, or respect those of us who have never left, or blend in and keep their ideas and criticisms to themselves, or do what's expected of them to work their way back into the community, etc. etc.
As Jesus continues his journey to the cross, he calls us to re-examine our understanding of mission. He calls us to die to our practice of creating "catches" for newcomers in order to preserve our positions of privilege. And he calls us to rise to a new life of hospitality. A life in which we too are only concerned about gathering all people back under the promises of this radically gracious and merciful God.
-- Rev. Eric Krushel
King of Glory Lutheran Church