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Louie Crew
377 S. Harrison Street, 12D
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Louie & Ernest Clay-Crew
Married February 2, 1974


12/21/1974
 
8/17/2006



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Lent IV-C March 18, 2007




H O M I L Y††† G R I T S††† -††† LENT 4, YEAR C

March 18, 2007

Joshua (4:19-24); 5:9-12 The passover on the plains of Jericho
Psalm 34 Benedicam Dominum
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 The ministry of reconciliation
Luke 15:11-32 The parable of the waiting father

If the Readers Digest were to ask me to do a job on the Bible for
them, to reduce its whole story to a few paragraphs and save their
lazy readers a lot of trouble, and a slothful clergy a lot of
exegesis; if they said, we want you to boil the whole biggie down
> from its library size, with so many books from so many centuries, to
just the quintessence of them all; we want you to take the mythology,
the legal codes, the poetry, the prophetic oracles, the hymns and
proverbs, the visions and wonderful stories of Jesus, and trim them
all down to a size that will fit into our tract rack, would I have to
spend the rest of my retirement at this task? Would I have to hole up
with my desk top and puzzle this out to the edge of doom? I could do
all that--and prolong the assignment if I were being paid by the
hour, for such a task.

But why re-invent the wheel? As the poet laureate told the congress
of the U.S. one day, "the greater honor should go to the one who saw
ahead and invented the brake." The distillation of the Bible's
message, the whole of the gospel in miniature, is already here for us
today. Luke presents it in this tale of the two siblings, the tale of
the waiting father, the tale of the loving parent. It's come to be
named after the prodigal son, but that's only because most of us
rather readily see ourselves in him, or her, as Roberta Nobleman
retells this story. She's the woman who went around the country
representing in chancel plays and parish hall platforms the 14the
century mystic Julian of Norwich. Roberta† thinks that maybe Saint
Luke was actually a woman, because if you stop to think of it all
through Luke's gospel, women are central to the stories: their
special relationship with Jesus is spotlighted. Roberta retells even
this story, of the Loving Father and the Prodgial Son, so that it
becomes the story of the Waiting Mother, and the Derelict Daughter,
and the Jealous Older Sister. It comes out the same way: Forgiveness
and Reconciliation are the message in the regendered version, too.
But most of us know more about patience in mothers. Most of us have
seen a "bag lady", a woman wandering far from her own Mother and her
own siblings.

If we had to cook down Luke's version, or Roberta Nobleman's version,
even further, into a healthy herb tea of a sentence or two,we could
do no better than to go to St. Paul's one-liner when he wrote to the
Corinthian church, "In Christ God was reconciling the world to
godself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting
to us the message of reconciliation."

Every time I read this story or hear it read, I find in it some
things I never heard before. As I was having my little cold asparagus
and Ritz crackers for supper I couldn't help but notice that the
Loving Father was offering Fatted Calf instead. As I watched the
venomous snappers on the McLaughlin Report, Luke was telling me about
music and dancing, and the Loving Father's offer of a beautiful robe
and a brilliant ring to the child who had gone astray, to the
Spendthrift child. But, like Father, like Son. For the Father is even
more spendthrift than the son--Prodigal, after all, does not mean
'nasty' or 'sinful'; it means,†† "one who spends or gives lavishly,
one who is foolishly extravagant, unrestrained in using up one's
means." Where indeed did this lad learn to live so lavishly, but at
home with such a father? The prodigality of the father in this story
quite exceeds the pinchpenny spree of the "Where's mine?" child. I am
sure that the older child in the family would have been quite content
for the Father to have treceived his wayward brat of a Junior at home
on somewhat different terms--the ones named, for instance, by the
brat himself: "as one of the hired servants." No parties, no rock and
roll on the stereo, so loud you could hear it out in the cabbage
patch, no new kicks for his feet, no new threads. What's that?
Jewelry? Gem-stones? No, the older boy would have been happy to
receive the wayward brother back on short rations, on Ash Wednesday
menu. But Loving Parent wants to act as if it's Easter already.
"Never did have good sense", the older one no doubt mutters, on his
way out to the alley to sulk. "Old man's as bad as Junior," he
thinks. " This son of yours," he spits at Father, not "this brother
of mine."

The older child embroiders the story of his sibling, to make it
worse. All that Luke tells us is that the young fella went off with
his inheritance and squandered it, far from home. It isn't entirely
his fault even that he comes a cropper, Luke tells us. He isn't one
to "blame the victim," any more than Shakespeare does in his
tragedies. There's shame enough in what happens to the boy without
adding guilt at wholesale prices to make it worse. "A great famine
arose in that country, and he began to be in want." Like a storm at
sea, or a Tempest, or a Plague, without any analysis of the causes of
famine, Luke tells us that this boy, living on inherited wealth, a
spoiled brat, is reduced from his bourgeois parasite status by a
famine, a market crisis that brings the crunch. He begins, says one
version, "to feel the pinch." Those who have stored up food for such
a time can now begin, as they always do, to charge exhorbitantly for
it. The lad's a long way from home, now in Gentile territory, and
futures in pork bellies are a source of quick income for the Wall
street swindlers. He can find work, all right, if you call it work.
He's got a minimum wage job sloppin' hogs for Armour and company.††
Gentiles all. A plate of chitterlings is going to start to look good
to this hungry Jewish boy pretty soon now. The Authorized Version
says "he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the
swine did eat." Fain, indeed. The hog slops--what we call in
Nicaragua "machigŁe"--mango pits and potato peels and spoiled
beans--start to look good to him.

A gourmand like myself, I always notice what's on the menu. I thought
my little asparagus and Ritz cracker supper looked pretty good when I
read about the menu in the Prodigal Son diner. But the menu is what
was the turning point for the hungry lad in Hog Heaven. Mud and carob
pods might be a paradise for porkers, but they were purgatgory for
the prodigal.

"How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to
spare," is his first imagination. Notice, not "how terribly I have
offended my parents by running away and being silly ass with my
inheritance," and not "Look at me, nasty inside and out." Not, "Well,
I'm a homeless person, and I need help."

His first thought is his next meal. And from a long way off, he reads
the menu:
B R E A D. Home-made bread, he can smell it alrady, its glamor
wafting to him over the stench of the hog house: "C o m e h o m e! C
o m e h o m e!" And it is hunger that drives him home; his motives
are not the highest. He bgins to scheme, to rehearse the scam, and he
practices his rap, the one he will have ready for pops and the old
lady: This does not look so much like repentance; it does look like
regret. Well, it's a start. George Herbert wrote: "Let him be rich
and weary, that at least, if goodness lead him not, yet weariness may
toss him to my breast."

But the waiting, loving parent, our Home, our Bread, our Feast, is
glad to take our feeble start and turn it into a faithful finish.
While we are still a long way off, while we have not yet come even
round the corner, while we are even now still far from home, the God
of the Gospel comes running down the road to meet us, for the Father
saw us there on life's expressway, trying to hitch a ride the last
long lap, and runs out in compassion to embrace and kiss us. And we
cannot even finish our prayers of sorrow, of which we are so fond,
and write them so well, and memorize them--do we think they will make
us worthy where our behavior has not done so? We are not given time
in the liturgy of our homecoming to recite how wicked we have been,
and the Father says, "You need some new clothes. Will these fit?
You'd look better with this ring!" (A sign of status then, as amongst
amethyst-prone prelates now) "and shoes--the finest, from Italy!"
"Reclothe us in our rightful mind," we sing, and the chorus goes all
out over our homecoming, "All God's Chillun' Got Robes."

And now another menu is slipped in under our noses. The Best we've
Got, says our God, at our homecoming. Let us eat and make merry, for
my child was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found. Now the
elder son, the older daughter, the pillars of the church -- the ones
who are always there -- who never allow themselves to have any
fun--the ones who have all the badges and sell all their cookies this
year as they did last year-- they hear all this fuss over the Wayward
One come home, and they get what we called on the west side of
Chicago "A Attitude." Not "AN attitude," but 'A' ATTITUDE. What's all
this racket coming from the house? Rhythm and blues is bad enough,
but this sounds like Rock and Roll! A little frivolous Mozart I could
handle, but his is the Hallelujah chorus! What's going on here?

So Luke's story isn't just the gospel in miniature. It's also
something of the Church under the microscope.

Those who have always felt themselves close to God, and never had
even a fantasy or a moist dream of the Far Country, or of riotous
living, or of spending all their money--they are full of resentment.
They do have imaginations, if not dreams, and they imagine that the
wayward one has done what they might have done: "This son of yours,"
they sputter, "has devoured your living with. . . whores!"

Who said anything about whores? As WE heard the story, a famine
happened in the land, and the lad was reduced to working for a
living. Nothin' about harlots so far. But nice folks have rich
imaginations, and churchfolks will blame the down and out and usually
come up with something sexual into the bargain. Social disintegration
is happening all around us, and we blame the drug addict on the
corner, not the drug pusher policy of the government or its phony war
on farmers in Colombia. God's goodness extends even to forgiving the
church for its hypocrisy, its prigishness and its reluctance to
reconcile. 'CHILD' YOU ARE ALWAYS WITH ME. You are always my Church,
my People, and all that is mine is yours, and you are always with me.
But it's appropriate for us to party and be glad, whenever we see
anyone come back home to the table.

God's out-going welcome to the wanderer,
God's kindly invitation to the stay-at-home,
God's arms outstretched to the lost one,
God's promise to the church, "All that is mine is yours" --

All of the gospel is here. Luke has done it for us in this parable of
Jesus. The Bible in One Place, the sum of Reveltion in one Lesson.
Heaven in a handbasket. Repentance and Homecoming, Obedience and
Reconciliation. This parable is an invitation to the Church to
celebrate the homecoming of sinners. It is always fittting for us† to
make merry and be glad for all of us--brothers and sisters, were
dead, and are alive again. All of us were lost, and in Jesus Christ,
all of us are found.

Amen.

GRANT GALLUP
grant73@turbonett.com.ni
Aptdo RP-10, Managua, Nicaragua



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