We live in an entertainment-driven world. On this Super Bowl Sunday, even Churches are getting in on the act. One Baptist congregation -- in Indianapolis, no less -- got its hand slapped by the NFL. It seems the franchise doesn't like public showings on screens larger than a certain size, and doesn't like the idea of the Church's plans to show a video highlighting the Christian testimonies of coaches Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council notes, "Rather than provide a safe, healthy environment for families to gather and watch the Super Bowl, the NFL is suggesting that they abandon the church for the nearest bar."
But this is the world we live in, the world of maximum entertainment and maximum pleasure. We wouldn't want to taint the fun with a message of faith, now would we? American founding father Samuel Adams once said, "When people are universally ignorant, and debauched in their manners, they will sink under their own weight without the aid of foreign invaders." This is a timely message given the increasing threat of terrorism and efforts throughout society to shut out the Christian faith from public life. If this nation was founded by a Christian majority and with a dominant sentiment that the Christian faith -- or at least Judeo-Christian values -- was necessary for our democracy to succeed, then we are in trouble indeed, for we are a nation that is ever-more publicly abandoning God; we are a nation of prodigals.
The gospel story of the Prodigal Son is a familiar one. The younger of two sons wanted his portion of his father's inheritance, and we read that he "left for a distant country and squandered his money on a life of debauchery." Put another way, he had all the entertainment money could buy: and he partied 'till the money ran out. So he then found work feeding pigs for a farmer. And he was hungry. Even the pig feed began to look good to him. Realizing his father's hired workers had a better life, he decided to return to his father and humble himself to him (and here we see the importance of decisive action, driven by desperation though it was). The father saw his son from far off. He ran to the boy (something not considered the dignified act of an elder gentleman in that place and time). He ran to the boy, took him in his arms, and kissed him. Then the father, without reprimanding him, gave the order for a ring to be put on his finger (the sign of an heir), sandals to be put on his feet (the sign of a free man rather than a slave), and the "best" robe in the house to be put on him. He killed the fatted calf, and had a feast in celebration of his son's return.
The story of the prodigal son is our own story. Entertainment becomes too important a diversion to us. The hymns from Vespers and Orthros for today comment, "I shall go back to my father, crying and saying to him: receive me as a hired servant, who kneels before your love for us...for when the prodigal son departed from sin and returned to his father's home, his loving father received him, embraced him and restored to him all the signs of glory."
In a couple of weeks we'll enter the Great Lent. Our desire to turn to God, even if halfhearted, like the prodigal son, is met with open arms. And in the tradition of the Church, where fasting becomes a highlighted element of Lenten discipline, we're reminded in today's Epistle reading that our bodies belong to God; that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. Our fasting is, most importantly, a fasting from sin.
We may be a nation of ever-more lost prodigals, but our own decision, for our own lives, in turning back toward the Loving Father, is where changing a nation can begin. In spite of the loud messages that draw our attention to be continually entertained, if not numbed, may we seek out the quiet message of the Lord, who waits lovingly for us to come to Him. May our Lent, this year, be one of turning to God's loving embrace of forgiveness. Amen.
John A. Nixon, MDiv, Ed.D. attends Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Scottsdale, AZ. Visit John Nixon's website.