With suicide in the U.S. headlines once again in recent days, I cannot help but hear messages of hope and extravagant love in the texts this week. There is comfort and there is challenge in these passages. What are we willing to risk in order to share hope and healing to those most vulnerable among us? The suicide rate continues to climb through all age groups, including children. As church, we have a message that may help save lives if we can find a way to share it.
Starting with the Joshua text, there is much promise and hope here. Right out on the plains of Jericho, for all the world to see, God liberated the Israelites from the shame of Egypt. They were slaves no longer. They were a wandering people no longer. They were in a new land, a re-gathered, re-membered people who could live on the land and no longer had need of the manna that had sustained them. On that Passover so long ago, God demonstrated, yet again, the great, unwavering love God has for God’s people. No matter where they had been, how lost they had become, or how far they had wandered from God’s ways, God reclaimed them with gladness and joy.
The psalmist speaks of God’s great love for the vulnerable ones as well. When we try to hide our sin, our shame, our pain, our foolishness from God, we turn away from the possibility of forgiveness, grace, and healing. When we come to God with our whole selves including our brokenness, our depression, our inadequacy, our overwhelming pain, only then can God’s love become that which protects us from the crush of the rushing, mighty waters. There is no place we can go where God is not already there waiting for us, wanting to save us from all that threatens to be our undoing.
In typical Pauline fashion, the 2 Corinthians passage tells us that in Christ we are new creation and we are to be intimately involved in the ministry of reconciliation. This is good news for all of us, especially the vulnerable among us. Those who are suicidal may not be able to see anything of value in their lives because depression lies. However, we who are Christian are tasked with seeing Christ in all around us. We are the ones who need to reach out and embody the love Christ in such a way that can save lives. We are the ones called upon to be agents of reconciliation, agents of Love. How can we share the love of God with those most vulnerable in our midst?
Now we come to the well-known “Prodigal Son” parable. This passage also demonstrates God’s unfailing love, even for the one who has misused their gifts. The old interpretation of this parable is certainly sufficient for reminding us that God is with us, holding out love to us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. God will always welcome us when we turn toward God’s holy ways. This is good and helpful news to those of us who have wandered into worse places than pigpens. However, there is another way to look at this passage.
I suggest that we rename this passage “Prodigal God.” It isn’t that God wanders off and squanders God’s inheritance the way the younger son did. It’s more the way God responds to us, like the father in the parable, though even more so. God is a prodigal God. God lavishes us with love. God could even be said to be reckless in the application of this love, given freely to any and all no matter what. Wastefully extravagant, God’s love pours down on us, always. What better news for those who suffer the acute pain of suicidality? In spite of the pain and suffering they experience, in spite of all that contributes to the desire to end the pain, they are not outside of the love of this prodigal God. How are we going to be liberating agents of God’s prodigal love, especially to those most vulnerable?
Caution: If you are going to preach about suicide prevention, please be careful to focus on the hope for those who are living rather than making any promises or statements about those who have died by suicide. Also, please include in any written materials hotline numbers – local or national – that people who are suicidal may call.
Perhaps the Spirit is leading you to other places with these texts. Please join the conversation that we may share the journey.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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