Sermon at Christ Church Raleigh March 31, 2019

Porter Taylor   

Christ church Raleigh

3/31/19—-Lent 4

Let’s start with a poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Today we hear the archetypal story of what happens

            When you are stuck in the place where you are right.

            And thank God we hear the story of what happens

            When doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plow


No doubt we have all heard the story of Prodigal son before.

            But I wonder if we have connected it to where we are in this country today.

This story gives us three ways of living—three ways of connecting---three ways of seeing the world.


Let’s begin with the elder Son—Mr. Always Right.

            He has always colored in the lines

But he is angry that no one has appreciated his achievements.

            No one threw a party for him to celebrate his merit badges.

And therefore, in a paradoxical way, although he stayed in the house, he is not at home


            Remember what he says to his father?

I have been working like a slave for you and you have never given me a young goat

so that I might celebrate with my friends--

The elder son has a limited sense of the divine economy.

He believes that there’s a limited supply of the essential stuff we need

            And if you are not careful—the wrong people will get what is yours.

Therefore---it’s impossible to party---

            Which is to open your hands and receive from the goodness of the Lord

And it’s impossible to give freely because you are always scared there’s not enough.

Worse because of that to be free to live your life.

It’s impossible to move away from a life always thinking about your past wounds

            To give thanks for the moment and truste in the constant love of the father


I am focusing on the elder brother because of where we are as a country

            And because of who we are called to be followers of Jesus

Remember what the elder son says?

“But when this son of yours came back who has devoured your property with prostitutes you killed the fatted calf for him

From the place where we are right 

we say It’s “this son of yours” not “this brother of mine”

And from the place were we are right, we focus one moment in someone’s life

For the older brother it’s the dissolute living

            But he ignores the eating the pods that the pigs were eating

            And living in a place where “no one gave him anything”

The older brother has taken a snapshot of his brother’s life to define his brother.

The older brother has projected all of his hurts and resentment onto his brother

            And as a result---he is the one who is stuck.


Now here’s where I move from preaching to meddling.

I think about the elder brother and I think about our country

            As a nation we are in danger of defining ourselves by who we are not

            We are more polarized than we have been since the Civil War.

A Reuters poll stated that 1 in 6 Americans stopped talking to a family member

            Or close friend because of the 2016 election--- 1 in 6.

Our country is addicted to thinking one’s political position defines them

                        As if any of stop growing

                        As if any of us don’t have countless attributes to who we are

                        As if any of us are not made in the image of God.

What did Jesus say about what we are to do?

---love God and love your neighbor

            And that love is always dynamic because we live in time.

The younger brother has done some sinful acts

            Is there anyone in here who hasn’t?

But he lives in time, just like the older brother and you and me

            Just like the people who voted for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton.

We become less that we are when we get stuck---

When we define ourselves or others by one moment.

I am reminded of a young Japanese soldier in World War 2 named Hiroo Onoda

In 1945 in Japan he found a note that said-- “The War ended August 15---Come home.”

            But he refused to believe it---he thought it was a hoax

In the months and years that followed he found other flyers and even newspapers

Saying the same thing but he refused to believe it because the war had become his life

Finally, in 1974 a college student named Norio Suzuki tracked Hiroo Onoda down

            Suzuki tried to tell him  that peace really had come

But Onoda said he would not surrender unless ordered to do so by his commander

So two weeks later the student returned with his commander, now an old man.

            The Major read aloud the orders to surrender

Then Onoda unloaded his rifle and took off his pack and wept like a baby.

He had spent 29 of his 52 years hiding in the jungle fighting a war that wasn’t a war—

He had killed 30 people after the armistice

            This is the older son—and this could be us as a country if we do not remember who we are and why we are here.


Which brings us briefly (I promise) to the younger son

All of us go to the distant country---but that’s not the point

The point is whether we “to come to ourselves”

            We remember who we are—and where we belong

I once was lost and now am found---once was blind and now I see.

            We are all sinners in need of redemption

            And it’s helpful to remember that our Successes have little to teach us.

                        It’s why we wear crosses around our necks.

We believe in life on the other side of the cross---

            Most of my growth has come from admitting my weaknesses

                        so that I can discover the strong love of the Lord.      

We learn the two prayers God always hears are “Help me Help me Help me”

            And “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”


And finally the gracious father

            Remember what he says to the older son?

            “We had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life.”

            We all have a past---we have all erred and strayed like lost sheep

            We have all have political views that others in this room disagree with strongly

But none of those define us---

Today’s epistle says “From now on we regard no one from a human point of view

If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation”

My brothers and sisters---Let us remember that at points in our lives

            We have wandered to a distant country and lost our way

            And we have also been stuck in the place where we were right and no flowers will every grow there in the spring.


But our calling---as followers of the crucified and Risen Lord

            Is to welcome everyone home---and accept their welcome for us to come home

This is our moment as the Church in a divided world.

            Let us move from the place where we are right to doubt our own correctness

            And let us discover again our deep love of the Lord—and his love for us.

            Let us throw aware our scorecards of who is right and who is wrong

                        And simply go the party the God is always throwing for all God’s children.


If we do the poem’s whisper that will be heard where the ruined House once stood

We be for all God’s children saying this: