How To Bless God Even When You Feel Like You’re Stuck In a Pigsty
As we build our life of faith, we ask to be conformed to the Mind of Christ, so that we might be ever more able to live faithfully as the Body of Christ.
And part of that process is taking on some of the characteristics of God—as lofty and intimidating as that might sound at first!
We usually think of asking God to bless us. But in the Way of Love, God is asking us to bless the world.
And all of our spiritual practices make us ready to say yes to that calling.
Many of us might feel pretty inadequate to take on something as big as blessing the world.
In that, we have something in common with our brother the Prodigal Son.
In our story from Luke today, one of the most well-known and beloved in the gospels, we hear of a young man who made certain choices.
To some, those choices might seem rash, selfish, and short-sighted.
To others, they may simply seem like the folly of youth.
The Prodigal Son actually sounds eerily like a denizen of 21st century America, a natural product of a highly individualistic, self-centered, and hedonistic society.
But the Prodigal Son discovers what we all discover at some point: squandering all our resources on “dissolute living,” as the gospel puts it, is a hollow and futile quest for fulfillment.
Each of us is tempted to a different form of “dissolute living,” which is really a way of ignoring the responsibilities of love and relationship.
Being part of a family, a spiritual community, a relationship network, places demands on us.
Sometimes we chafe against those demands. And so we do some “dissolute living.”
We shave a few hours off our agreed upon custody weekend because we just want to finish this one video game before picking up the kids.
We argue internally that flirtatious text messages with a colleague are harmless and worlds away from actual infidelity.
We choose to take a vacation day when a particularly dreaded conversation at work is coming up, or make an excuse for another year about not pledging our time, talent, or treasure to our spiritual community.
It always feels good in the moment. We get to stave off the harder part of being in loving relationship with others, the part that actually requires sacrifice and living up to embarrassingly old-fashioned values like “duty.”
But as the Prodigal Son discovered, “dissolute living” bottoms out with us hungry and alone in a pig sty.
Our dissolute living won’t result in that happening literally, but the day we wake up and find ourselves starving of love and connection, alone and isolated and afraid, we will understand his despair.
And we’ve all been there. We’re all tempted to make choices that take us farther from love and faithful relationship, and all of us say yes sometimes.
We make mistakes, and sometimes we actively sin.
How could God have chosen us to bless the world?
As participants in the Way of Love, we’re committed to blessing others.
But when we’re in the depths of a prodigal season—alone, afraid, mired deep in our own faults and shortcomings—we don’t feel like a blessing to anyone.
What should we do?
One of the great gifts of Lent is the time and space to acknowledge that freely, and rather than being consumed by shame, confess the truth and ask God to help us make better choices.
In theological language, that’s called “repentance and amendment of life.”
And the story of the Prodigal Son lays out the path of forgiveness and restoration of relationship.
The young man has a moment of clarity in his despair that Luke describes for us: “But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’”
Repentance, confession, absolution, amendment of life. This is the path to forgiveness that is always available to us both in formal terms in the church with the Sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent, and in informal terms every day with God and one another.
When we have “squandered our property,” as the gospel says, been way too free and loose with the trust and love and connection others have given us, there is a way back.
We do not have to stay alone in the pig sty, trapped by hunger and shame.
The great Good News is God’s reaction to our asking for forgiveness.
“But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.”
God doesn’t just meet us halfway, God rushes out to smother us with kisses of love and welcome any time we reach out for redemption.
It’s a message we need to hear over and over, no matter how long we’ve been on the spiritual path.
The old wounds of rejection and fear need to be tended by love, so that year after patient year, we might finally come to believe the gospel, the Good News that seems too good to be true.
And that Good News is that God is always welcoming us with open arms.
There is nothing we can do that could ever separate us from God forever.
All we have to do is come back, say yes to the invitation to return and be forgiven.
So we’ve gone from broke and desperate on a pig farm to back in our Father’s house. That’s progress.
But still all the blessing is coming to us. Weren’t we supposed to be a blessing to others? Isn’t that the point of “Bless” on the Way of Love?
The truth is that all of our ability to bless others comes out of our continual awareness of God’s blessing of us.
The good that we sometimes credit to ourselves is actually the radiant love of God shining through us.
When we receive the emotional reward of knowing we have done something good to help someone else, our own egos will always be eager to take the credit.
But that is a short path to the cramped and resentful existence of the older brother in Luke’s story.
He couldn’t see the truth of his father’s statement: “All that is mine is yours.”
The older brother thought he had earned virtue and wealth and acclaim all on his own.
But what did he really earn by thinking it was all to his own credit by his own hard work?
He was as isolated and lonely and starved of love as his little brother. But he couldn’t see the truth of that.
He had no moment of clarity in a pigsty, because his outer circumstances remained socially acceptable and even materially comfortable.
Both brothers are alone and afraid, selfish and trapped in a mess of their own making.
But the older brother can’t see his self-constructed cage.
And that can happen to us too.
It is so easy to congratulate ourselves for everything we do for this family, everything we do for this company, everything we do for this church that we never get the credit for! This place would fall apart without us!
When we catch ourselves thinking like this, we know we’re standing in the shoes of the older brother.
It’s a much nicer and ego-satisfying pigsty, but it’s still a pigsty.
We need to go home as much as our wayward little brother does.
It’s better hidden, but our heart is as proud and sore as the more public prodigal.
And here is the remarkable truth about this mess of our own making: the moment, the very instant we admit the truth—I have really gone off track here—that moment is when we become a blessing.
The very first step we take back toward home, the very first acknowledgement that something is wrong and we need help to fix it, causes God’s heart to light up with joy.
“But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran,” the gospel says.
As we set out on the road to repentance, the Father hurtles out of the house toward us, sprinting forward to welcome us home.
In the very midst of the hurt and disaster and damage we have done, naming it honestly and saying we’d like to make things better turns our very lives into a blessing to God.
That is Good News.
When we’ve made great big ugly mistakes, or when the little sins and slights have added up over time into a distancing of our hearts from God and from one another, the very moment we admit it and ask for help to change, we become a blessing.
It doesn’t take some great saint or piously holy person to bless the world.
In fact, if the scriptures are anything to go by, God rather prefers screw ups and misfits.
God struggles to work with people who already think they’re perfect.
For all his invitation, the father cannot get the older son to come in to the party, and eventually the party goes on without him.
But people who can say, “I really have no idea how to live out my faith most of the time and honestly there are a lot of days I’m pretty terrible at being a Christian,” –those are the people that God can use to change the world.
Those are the people God uses to bless the world, because those are the people who can say to others, “Look, I’ve spent some serious time in the pigsty, and there’s a way out. There is a home calling our name, and a loving parent longing to put welcoming arms around us.”
There is a blessing the world needs that can only come to life in one way.
And that one way is the utterly unique and beautiful way that your spirit and God’s spirit interlock and shine.
Don’t be afraid of naming and confessing sins and faults and mistakes in this season of Lent.
That’s the first step on the path home to God and love and restored relationship and redeemed life.
There’s a party at the end of that road. Don’t miss it. Say yes to God’s unrelenting blessing of you.
And then go be an overflowing blessing to the world.
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