I told this story in confirmation last week. So if you were there, you can tune out for a minute. I’ll let you know when to come back in.
Before he passed away, Anthony Bourdain was an author and a television host. He was the host of A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations and The Layover and Parts Unknown. He would describe them as shows where he traveled around the world, ate a bunch of stuff, and did whatever he wanted. But, really, they were shows where he introduced Americans to other cultures in the best possible way: by saying, “Here. Try this. I’ll tell you what it is after you eat it.”
Before he was an author and a television host, he was a chef. And, like too many people in the culinary world, he had some… addictions.
He had been through a string of not-so-great jobs. He was spent, desperate, and unhappy. He had a negligible-to-bad reputation. He was a Person to be Neither Hired Nor Trusted. And he was unemployed.
And an old boss called him with a job offer: “Come work for me. Cook lunch.”
So Bourdain went to meet his old boss. And Bourdain asked his old boss for fifty dollars (adjusted for inflation) to tide him over until payday. And his old boss, now his new boss, took out a wad of cash and peeled off around four hundred and fifty dollars (again, adjusted for inflation). And… well… I’ll let Tony take it from here. Lightly edited, of course. This is a chef we’re talking about.
And if you tuned out, this is a good time to tune back in.
Looking at me, and hearing the edited-for-television version of what I’d been up to in recent years, he must have had every reason to believe I’d disappear with the money, spend it on crack, and never show up for my first shift. And if he’d given me the fifty instead of the four hundred and fifty, that might well have happened. But… his trust was rewarded. I was so shaken by his baseless trust in me… that I determined I’d sooner gnaw my own fingers off, gouge my eyes out with a shellfish fork, and run naked down Seventh Avenue than ever betray that trust again.
And the chef was, maybe, getting a little glimpse of something there. He was being forced to confront… getting more than he deserved, getting more than he thought he deserved, getting more than he could even imagine he deserved. He was, in a way, facing grace. A bumbling human version of grace, of course, but grace all the same.
In our reading today, Jesus is eating with sinners.
That’s not quite right. Jesus is eating with some people. And there are Pharisees and scribes—respectable sorts—grumbling. And they’re whispering, “Look at that Jesus fellow. He welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
And Jesus overhears them. And he starts telling stories about losing things… and finding things… and rejoicing…
There once was a man who had two sons…
The younger son came to him and said, “Give me what is mine. For I am going to go and make my fortune in the world.” So the man gave him what belonged to him. And he watched his son pack his things. And one day, he woke up, and his son was gone.
His older son was still there, of course. And his older son was great. And he loved his older son. He worked hard and he did everything that the man told him to do. Everything that belonged to the man belonged to his son. But… he missed his younger son. And, sometimes, after his older son went to bed or before he got up, the man would go to the edge of his fields… and look out into the world… and hope.
And one morning, on the edge of vision, he saw a figure. And as the figure approached… he saw it was… his son. Thinner, certainly. Unkempt. Wearing tatters and rags. Covered with mud and grime. But… his son. And he ran to him. And as his son fell to his knees, the man fell, too, and wrapped his arms around his son.
And his son told him what happened, “I sinned against heaven and before you. I took what was mine and tried to live on my own and I wasted it all. And then there was a famine and no one would help. I was spent and desperate and unhappy. I was living in the muck. And I know that I am not worthy to be called your son. I am a Person to be Neither Hired Nor Trusted. But… if you could just treat me as one of your hired hands. Please.”
But the man… the man called his servants and ordered a party. He shouted, “My son was dead and is alive again! He was lost and has been found!” And they celebrated! The son had come asking for so little—for fifty dollars to tide him over—and his father gave him the keys to the kingdom!
The altar is dressed in purple. It is a season of confession and repentance. It is a season when we are reminded again and again that we are lost in the wilderness; that we took what was ours and wasted it; that we are surrounded by scarcity.
And I know that can be hard to believe. I have a large automobile… and a small automobile. I live in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. And my life has been privileged; I have no idea how I got here. Except… I do know how I got here.
I know that I worked hard to get here; and I know that I benefited from the sinful systems of a broken world. I know that the things that I enjoy are great blessings; and I know that one day, they will crumble to dust… just as surely as one day, I will crumble to dust.
I know that I have some… addictions. To consumerism and comfort. To privilege and power. And I know that the thing about addictions is that they feel good when you’re high and they feel bad when you’re low and that the most that they can offer are castles built in the muck.
And I know that the thing about addictions is that you can’t just step out of them.
So far this season, we have talked about mercy and we have talked about repentance. So far this season, we have talked about how hard it can be to face the things that we have done and said and thought… and left undone and unsaid and unthought. It can be so hard to face those things that we hide them away, and forget that they’re there, and just go on living in the muck.
And I think that we do that—I think that I do that—because we are afraid. We are afraid of judgment. We are afraid of the grumbles of the Pharisees and scribes; respectable sorts. We are afraid of their whispers: “Look at those people eating at that Jesus fellow’s table. Look at those people feating on bread and wine. Look at those sinners.”
And we are afraid of God’s judgment. We afraid that if we stand before God… and lay all of our junk down before them… they will give us exactly what we think we deserve… they will give us exactly what we are afraid we deserve.
But the truth—the hard, difficult, arduous, burdensome, onerous, painful, troublesome, truth—is that we do not need to be afraid. The grumbles of the respectable ones do not matter; and God is not waiting there to judge us. God is waiting at the edge of a field, staring out at the horizon, waiting for us to come running.
And when we show up and ask for just enough, God will embrace us… and celebrate us… and give us everything. We will face grace. Not a bumbling human version; but divine and holy grace. Every time.
There’s the other side of that, though. You see, here’s the thing:
You are forgiven. You’re burdens have been lifted off of you and carried away. Your debts have been paid. You were a lost little lamb and you have brought into the fold. You were a lost coin and you have been found. You have been welcomed into the body of Christ and into this little consulate of the kingdom of God.
You were dressed in finery. The feast was prepared and laid out. The band was struck up.
You have been given the gift of grace. You have been shown that you are loved and worthy of love. You have been welcomed, extravagantly, into a kingdom of abundance.
And now… well… the thing is…
When Bourdain was offered that money, he was shaken to his core. And when the younger son was given that welcome, he was shaken to his core. And you! You were brought to life in Christ! That should shake you to your core.
Because you have been shown the truth of the world: burdens are lifted and debts are paid; forgiveness is abundant and grace is all around; there is enough and more than enough and even more than more than enough!
That is the power and responsibility of grace: that having been welcomed into the kingdom of God we can live like we’re in the kingdom of God. And, honestly, why would we live any other way?