Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 31 March 2019.
There is always something deeply tragic about reports of whales or dolphins that have beached themselves. They have somehow put themselves into an impossible situation, and one where they were never meant to be.
In a different way, there is something ungainly about a ship in dry dock, away from the water where every square inch is supported by the water, as opposed to being propped up by steel or wooden pillars.
The same applies to a car or van hoisted into a lift in a garage so that its underside can be inspected and worked on.
In all these cases there is a sense of being out of one’s true element and wholly reliant on another form of support.
So with this in mind there is something similar on our lessons today.
In Joshua, the children of Israel had finally arrived in the promised land and were able to eat of its produce as God had intended them to.
They had survived the journey through the wilderness, where they had been supplied with water, manna and quails, and in the extraordinary provision of God this had supported them as they journeyed and camped effectively in the middle of nowhere.
But now they were where they belonged and where God had intended them to be. Here they would eat of the blessings of the land and the first thing they did was to worship God as they celebrated the Passover.
Now they would relive their deliverance from Egypt, their survival in the wilderness and their safe arrival in the land. Now they would honour God as they tasted of His blessing, and as they re-consecrated their lives to Him.
Now they would have to teach their children the things of God and of the history of their nation and its deliverance by the wonders and mercies of God, who had sustained them for 40 years in the deserts.
Now they not only lived in the hope of a promise yet to be realized but of an experience never to be forgotten over the years and centuries and millennia to come.
For Paul the people who had been no kind of people at all, drawn from all nations and social groups of the Roman world, often despised and at the mercy of their neighbours, were now to be something else and something more.
Far from being nobodies who had nothing and belonged nowhere they not only belonged to God but their identity and destiny were wholly bound up in Him.
Now they were a new kind of people, reconciled by God to Himself through the horrendous sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
In Him the people were made new and they were invested in a new kind of hope and a new kind of future. Their past lives and sins had been set aside and their present life was given new colours, new harmonies and new dimensions which could never have come from the attitudes and customs of the past.
They had been made anew as they had accepted Jesus Christ into their lives, and they were all a new creation. The church was something new and each of its members were personally renewed, restored, rehabilitated and refreshed in ways that the dog-eat-dog world around them could never even imagine, let alone achieve.
Now they were no longer consumers or bearers of other things – they were active and committed members of the household of God. More than that they were lights set on a candlestick, or perhaps hoisted into a candelabra.
They had a message to offer and a new kind of reality and belonging to rejoice in. Life and eternity would never look the same.
With this in mind we have Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son or perhaps the Father who never denied His children.
Having squandered all that he had and was the son eventually took stock of himself. Even his father’s servants were provided for: food, clothes, shelter and gainful employment.
But most of all, he not only knew this to be true but trusted that he also could return home. He might have no property or prospects, and he would never be able to claim any rights.
And the Father had already committed Himself without reserve to the family farm – or what had remained of it. This would now be the inheritance of the elder brother, and nothing here was going to be lost or compromised.
But for all that the younger brother had done and the wasted time and resources now lost forever, the Father was still able to give him the love of restoration, he would still have a name and a place.
Yes, the young brother would have to set aside his own interests and yes, he would have to accept whatever portion was granted him in the future.
But this is the experience of the church, which was never intended to be more than the household of God. It was always intended to be a household of ambassadors and messengers, sent forth to proclaim new realities and prospects: messengers of the new and redeemed creation of which they were all part.