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Prodigals All!

3/24/2019 Fourth Sunday in Lent The text is Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The teenaged son slammed the door. He was fed up. He’d had enough and couldn’t take it any longer. He’d had enough of his parents. He’d had enough of their rules. He’d had enough of their curfews. He’d had enough of their smothering his life away. He’d had enough of how they had a different set of standards for his older brother. It just wasn’t fair! He couldn’t take it anymore.

From behind closed doors he raged. He knew that in a few months He’d finally be free. Graduation! In a few more months he’d be off to college – ah, freedom! He couldn’t wait to leave the house and he knew he would never look back. He told them all, “I’ll never, ever be back here again.” He told them so often, his parents began counting the days to themselves.

The older brother, too, was fed up. He could have gone off to college, but he chose to stay and work the family business. It was a good life. All his needs were taken care of. He had no desires to g anywhere else. He couldn’t wait for the brat to leave. There would be peace in the house. No more ranting; no more arguing. He’d have a room to himself very soon.

And with this the stage is set for one of the best known of all Jesus’ parables. When we hear these words, “there was a father who had two sons”, we know what is coming. We can almost recite the story by memory, for we’ve heard it all before. So, it is difficult for us to see something new in the parable of the Prodigal Son. But a religious ed teacher, upon reading this story to his class, got a new insight in to this old text. When he was finished telling the story, he asked the class, “Now who was really sad that the prodigal son had come home?” After a few minutes of silence, one little boy raised his hand and confidently stated, “The fatted calf.” Now that’s a different take on a familiar story! And one that I’ve never considered, even though I’ve never considered, even though I’ve tried to look at it from the angle of each of the characters in the story. For the parable of The Prodigal Son is as much about the elder son and about the prodigal’s father as it is about the prodigal himself.

The story of the prodigal’s father reminds me of a Father’s Day booklet I once saw in a Hallmark store. The theme was “A Father’s Love”, and on one of the first pages, it said, “A father’s love makes us feel safe and secure…”. There’s no doubt that all loving fathers hope their children feel so secure that their young lives are not burdened by anxiety over their safety. Of course, mothers want the same thing for their children. Yet, there is something about manhood that tends to make fathers feel personally responsible for the security and protection of their children. For when someone hurts one of the children, a mother’s first instinct is to comfort the child and a father’s first instinct is to confront the perpetrator. That’s why, when fathers are reminded of things that can happen to make it difficult to protect their children, it can be devastating.

The greatest fear of parents is that their children will suffer, that they will become lost to them, and that they will meet an untimely death. That’s because all parents want the best for their children – and that means a long, happy, healthy, and secure life, free from the troubles of this world.

So, we can imagine the pain of the prodigal’s father when his brash younger son demands his share of the inheritance so that he can free himself of the constrictions of his parents’ house. By making such a demand he is saying, in essence, “You are as good as dead to me! Give me my share now!” This a ridiculous demand. I can just imagine the father’s response with words that are totally inappropriate to share in this place.

For whatever reason, the father gives in to his son’s demand. He divides the property and junior runs off to a foreign country where he wasted his fortune on wine, women, and other forms of dissolute living. Out of funds and hungry, junior ends up taking a job slopping hogs (which was anything but kosher). Finally, he comes to his senses. And with no feeling of being sorry and no thought of reconciliation, he returns home, practicing the speech he will deliver to his dad when he arrives.

The story then shifts to dear old “dead” dad, who has already wasted his legacy by dividing the family fortune between the sons. He has relinquished all his wealth and authority. His life is now sitting on the porch, gazing at the horizon, and wondering what in the world happened to junior. His pain is palpable. But when the day comes, and junior arrives home the pain is turned to joy. The generosity and compassion of the father is amazing. It’s even more amazing when you realize that the robe, ring, calf, and party are not his to give, for he is no longer lord of the manor. He is a dead man walking since he has already divided his wealth between his sons.

So, when the elder brother hears of his brother’s return and of what his dad has done, he is hurt, jealous, confused, and angry. He has no time for relationships or reconciliation, and no place in his heart for compassion and forgiveness. He feels sorry for himself, but more than that, he feels that the father has rejected him! Even though the father loves the older son just as much as he does the younger son, a sense of unfairness wells up in him. So, in spite of the fact that the father wants both of his sons (as God wants all of His children) to come and be part of the celebration, the elder son stands outside, looking in, while junior is inside enjoying the party.

So where are you in today’s story? Are you standing inside celebrating, or are you standing outside with your arms folded, refusing to come in? Who are you – the youngest son, who wanders off and squanders his inheritance; or the father, who knows only unconditional love and the joy of acceptance and forgiveness; or the oldest son, who harbors resentment and anger? Jesus will not tell us how this story will end. The father passionately invites the older son inside, “pleads with him” to join in the welcome. But curiously, we are never told what the older son decides to do.

So, we are left to write the ending. For in the end the choice is really ours to make as our gracious, heavenly Father invites us to join the party as his beloved son and daughter. Our loving God is gracious and forgiving, welcoming to the party those whom he chooses whether we agree with is choices or not. So, will we RSVP to a party thrown by a God who seems so unfair? Or will we stubbornly remain outside? In a world where God does not play by our rules, this parable forces us to make a choice. Who is the real “prodigal” here? Who is the real “waster”? From the beginning Jesus says that this is a story about two brothers. Which one is the authentic prodigal? Which one has yet to come home to his Father’s extravagant love? For you see, the bad news is – we are all prodigals, wasting our inheritance as God’s children, each is our own way. The good news is that in Christ, we have been forgiven and loved by a God who is waiting anxiously for our return. So put on funny hats, kill the fatted calf, and let the party begin. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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