Fourth Sunday in Lent

I Have Removed Your Disgrace

Let us begin by looking at a very significant event in the life of Israel. Reading from Joshua:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.   (Joshua 5:9)

The children of Israel had just crossed over the river Jordan into the promised land. The place they walked onto was called Gidgal. Gilgal was more than the name of a place. The meaning of the word in Hebrew is circle. When the priests carried that Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan the river parted so that they walked on dry ground. Twelve of the stones which the priests stepped on in the middle of the river were gathered up and placed in a circle at the landing site. Here they celebrated what God had done for them and renewed their covenant with God.

There were other Gilgal’s for Israel. Reading from 1 Samuel:

Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.   (1 Samuel 11:14-15)

Gilgal was a place and time of celebration of God restoring Israel and providing for their future.

In today’s Gospel reading we have another Gilgal moment, so to speak.

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 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.”‘ So he set off and went to his father.   (Luke 15:11-19)

This son had disgraced himself, and he was no longer able to continue living without the help of his father. Fortunately, his father was more than eager to forgive him and restore him:

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.   (Luke 15:20-24)

The father removed the disgrace of his prodigal son just as God had removed the disgrace of Egypt from Israel. Not only that, but he celebrated a new beginning for his son. Gilgal is a celebration of both forgiveness and renewal.

The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.   (Psalm 32:1-6)

Gilgal is not jsut celebrating what God has done, but moving on to what God still wants to do. The Apostle Paul wrote:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!.   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Are we in need of a Gilgal today? Every thing becoming new does not stop for us. God is still working in us. Paul wrote:

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;[c] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[call of God in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:13-14)

Apparently, the oldest son in the parable was in need of a Gilgal moment. He complained to his father about celebrating the return of the youngest son when he had never been given a celebration for doing the right thing.

For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15:29-32)

The eldest son was keeping score on how he was doing compared to his brother. Love does not keep score.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.   (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)

We cannot grow when we are holding on to the past. We all have some disgrace and must be willing for God to remove it.

We cannot remove it ourselves. God has removed it for us through the blood of the Lamb. He is like the father in the parable. He wants to kill the fatted calf. He wants to celebrate our new birth in Christ Jesus. We simply need to repent of our sins and go home to God. He has removed our disgrace.

Are we dead or are we alive? If we are alive in Christ then we are growing in him. Each day can be a new celebration for us. As we continue our covenant in Christ he is  removing our old self and making all things new. Amen.

See Gatekeepers and Healing the Soul.

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Filed under Revised Common Lectionary

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