In a small town where life has been the same for 100 years, a war is about to break out between the tranquility of tradition and the fear of change. A power struggle ensues between acts of compassion and hospitality and a fierce adherence to protocol. The shock of something new, the excitement of letting go of what have become meaningless “rules for life”, the dangers of denying people joy and the consequences of intolerance are aroused by a chocolatier’s delectable sweets in the movie CHOCOLAT. At the heart of the story in CHOCOLAT is a gypsy-like woman named Vianne born with special powers. Vianne arrives as a mysterious outsider to the French village of Lansquenet where she opens a chocolate shop offering candy and beverages that can cure lost hopes and awaken long deprived emotions.
Vianne's effect, and the impact of her chocolate, is immediate and extraordinary: the elderly find themselves recalling young love, troubled couples regain their spark, sniping neighbors become happy friends, and one woman, initially portrayed as a disheveled, incoherent thief who is ignored by the towns people leaves her abusive husband and finds her voice and a sense of purpose in life. But Vianne's chocolate arouses something else: an escalating battle between compassion and moral indignation.
Some in the town began to let go of their limited view of themselves and other people. Others in the town become further entrenched in the tradition, led by the righteous Comte de Reynaud, who declares Vianne public enemy number one. Just as Vianne is about to give up and leave town an unexpected romance with a handsome stranger forces her to choose between leaving her hostile surroundings or making a true difference to the townsfolk of Lansquenet. Vianne’s chocolate is a metaphor for God’s extravagant, reckless grace. Indulging in pleasures like her chocolate becomes a metaphor for grace, compassion, and joy - the gifts of life. As the townspeople awaken to her chocolate they awaken to themselves and begin see one another with greater love, kindness, and acceptance - no one is perfect.
Our children in the Prayer Room are spending the season of Lent considering the environmental and economic impact of chocolate growth, production and consumption. In a curriculum called, No Chocolate Know Chocolate, the children are forming a parallel understanding between growing chocolate in the rainforest and growing as Christians in church. It’s a fun curriculum, challenging us to see chocolate in Lent in a new, expansive, insightful way.
Much like the townspeople in the movie Chocolat and their complaints against Vianne, our Gospel reading from Luke this morning begins with a complaint made by the Pharisees regarding Jesus’ behavior. Jesus responds with a parable about God’s extravagant, almost reckless love for God’s people.
As the story unfolds, it is clear that the parable conveys the idea of a loving God, portrayed by the father’s abundant unconditional love for his children. Each character in the story reveals something about human nature and the God who created us and loves us. The father’s relief that the son is home despite his reckless behavior wasting away his inheritance. The father hope that the older brother will be part of the celebration, despite his jealousy and wounded pride. Both these sons, so very human, and yet deeply loved. And the people behind the scenes, the wives and mothers and daughters, and the servants who pull off a lavish, extravagant, feast on short notice. God’s grace is present in each of these, a sign for us of how and when God may manifest in our lives too, overturning expectations with surprise and hope.
Grace lies at the heart of this parable. Grace is the word that describes how God’s love is experienced in our lives. This parable asks us to consider the extravagant, reckless, even wasteful grace of God’s love in our lives.
We’ve done some “extravagant acts of love” in this parish. Take for example The Liberia School Project, the Pew project remodeling the space for handicap accessibility, the generous way we share the building, the new exterior plaza, community garden and in general the very public access of this property. How we share these is extravagant, risky, sometimes wasteful, and comes at a price - we need staff and resources to support them.
These reveal much about who we are, a community-centered church, with lights on and doors open, about a presence and a grace, and a generosity that is, in many ways, unexpected in the world today. These reveal much about who we are and how we allowing the blessings of God’s grace in our lives, in this place, to pour out with abundance, into the world around us. Is there more we can do? No doubt? Will we do more, as we are able? Certainly. So long as we remain open to the spirit as she runs into our lives and so long as we are willing to be part of the God’s prodigal family.