Sermon Grace for the Prodigal sons Lent 4c Luke 15:1-32 & 2 Cor 5:16-21

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1 Heavenly Father, in the word that I am about to share, may it be of your will and speak of your ways for your people I pray in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Charles Dickens, the great English author, has called it the greatest story ever told. Some say it is the finest short story in literature. Another poet, Robert Bridges, has judged it as a flawless piece of art. 1 I am speaking of the Parable that Jesus told that we know as The Prodigal Son As a story in the bible it is the best known of all and in fact it has become a piece of the wider culture people with no Christian faith or experience at all are familiar with this wonderful story Why is it so important why does it transcends cultures and time Why does it still speak to us 2000 years later, from a time and place so different from where Jesus spoke this great parable? The first thing that I want to say is that it carries with it a simple message that is universal, regardless of the culture it speaks of the human condition so clearly A secondly is speaks powerfully and profoundly of God Although I plan to share with you, primarily some thoughts on this parable, I want to highlight another important detail of all of our readings today There is a thread that runs through each of them It is, in fact a thread that is at the heart of Gospel message of all scripture It is the thread that is vital to each and every person, that is a disciple, a follower of Christ That thread is the ministry of reconciliation We hear The Lord said to Joshua, Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt. And from our Psalm I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, (Psalm 32:5b) (Joshua 5:9a) and You forgave the guilt of my sin And the most clearly from 2 nd Corinthians 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation through Christ, has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. And entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 (2 Corinthians 5:17,19,20) So we are ambassadors for Christ I said two weeks ago that the Gospel has been defined as God s good news for our bad situations And that Proclaiming the Gospel means to articulate the Gospel in such an inclusive way that all that have ears to hear will find good news for their bad situations whatever it may be. This is the ministry of reconciliation and we are Christ s ambassadors We are the hands and feet of God we are body of Christ we are the Church We have the ministry of reconciliation as our task, partnered with God So as we return in our review on the Parable of the Prodigal Son keep in mind your ministry and where God might be calling you Many biblical scholars feel that in this one short story the entire Gospel message is expressed Let s dig into it, in the short time that we have and see why it is so important First off, it is a parable, a story made up by Jesus, to teach us a bigger message The parable itself is not the point but a means or technique to reveal a great truth For those that believe the Bible to be the fully inspired text by God, written of course by human hands, with differing personalities shaping the presentation, yet all the while inspired by God for God s people through-out the ages as I do, 1

2 There may be a challenge to you if you hold to a full literal interpretation You see Jesus tells us that this is a made up story this never happened literally but Jesus spoke this story to teach a message Scripture comes to us as history, narrative, instruction, poetry, prophecy not all is prophecy, not all is instruction, not all poetry, not all is narrative and certainly not all is history This Parable never historically occurred but Jesus told it a tool to teach us the truth behind it which is vitally important So what was the context in which Jesus tells this story Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. (Luke 15:1-3)..So he told them this parable So Pharisees and scribes were complaining about Jesus and His choice of friends The reason for Jesus telling this parable is to respond to their complaints Don t lose sight of this important fact Also when we think of the Pharisees we often have painted a wrong picture of them Because of their zealous behaviour, scripture records them as often the target of much attention These people, the Pharisees, were loyal in worship and they were people of prayer. They honored the Scripture and studied it. They didn't make cheap compromises with the culture. They were people of strong faith. Nevertheless our parable is directed as a response to their complaints Actually Jesus response begins with two other parables there is the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin each of which are for another day However, they are part of the context lost sheep, lost coin, lost son Each involves recovery or reclamation followed by celebration. The first two (15:4-10) declare that finding a lost thing legitimately results in rejoicing. When the Pharisees don t seem to draw the connection between Jesus eating and associating with the sinners and with the two parables of celebrating what was lost and then is found Jesus continues on with the Parable we call the prodigal son There are three main characters Father and his two sons The youngest son is not happy with life as it is The youngest son sees the grass greener on the other side and want to go there In an act that can culturally be seen as wishing his father dead, he asks for his inheritance now The father showing no signs of the offence his son has done, gives the son his inheritance - and a few days later the youngest is gone Life is a party for a while as we are told that he traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living But then a four-fold series of events hits the son * He spent everything * Famine hits the lands * He is reduced to working for a Gentile feeding the pigs (something that no self- respecting Hebrew would do) being amidst unclean animals * And all his party friends left him as no one gave him anything (Luke 15:13) But when he came to himself he said, How many of my father s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like (Luke 15:17-19) one of your hired hands.

3 The son, in the deepest valley imaginable, sees a light out see a possibility for a better life, if only, as a slave of his Father Here is one of the main reasons that so many people connect with this story here is the reason this parable is called the prodigal son and not something like the father & two sons The broader interpretation is this: we as human beings, we take the inheritance that God has given to us. We take the money, the brains, the personality, the health, the resources; We take the inheritance that God has given to us. We say, God, I don t want to have anything to do with you anymore I am going to go and live my life as if you never existed. And so we take our God-given inheritance and we go and live as if God didn t exist or remotely exists. 2 That s why this story connects with some many of us Many of us have known what it is like to be lost from God, or lost from our sense of home Many of us have been given talents and abilities and then lost sight of who is the source of all good gifts and we know we haven t used them always for the right reasons We know what it is like to live for self and selfish desires We know how empty that cycle is (we can only distract ourselves for so long ) Then, we also know what it is like to finally come to our senses and to turn away from those ways and turn towards God return to our sense of home Many of us have felt that guilt and know the strength and relief when we turn and make the journey home to God. If the story were to end there, that would be enough that would tell a wonderful story of one that lost their way and started the return journey home For many that journey homeward to reconciliation is a momentous journey, a process it is life defining it is a journey towards restoration it is, at its core, our human role in the drama that we know as the good news the gospel But, of course the story does not end there, as we all know, the gospel is not merely a story of coming home, beaten by the world, and coming home a victim of the world to be a slave for the rest of our life The image that we get next, is maybe my favourite image in the whole bible We Get the Father: waiting and watching and when he sees his lost child, sees that familiar gait from far off, a way of walking that could only be his child he comes running Now a dignified man of that culture, with land and many working for him would never run but Jesus tells us that the Father is waiting and watching and when we are even still far off, but, on the journey home the Father comes running The child is greeted by the Father, not with hands on hips waiting for some accounting of all his miss deeds, (Luke 15:20c) but he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him The son s attempt to declare his sins against heaven and his father, that he is not worthy to be called a son is quickly overpowered by the love of the father as he says both to the son in the parable to the slow to understand Pharisees and to each one of us Quickly, bring out a robe the best one and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive (Luke 15:22-24) again; he was lost and is found! And they began to celebrate. 2

4 For each one of us that in some way has been lost, has miss-used the gifts and abilities that God has given us For each one of us, that has returned home to God The father is declaring us restored! Reconciled! That we are worthy to be called a child of God That it is time to celebrate! (long pause) I would like to share with you part of an essay that I found in a sermon from The Rev. Dr. Thomas Long that I believe illustrates this part of the parable beautifully, and with deep emotion [it is an] essay in which a woman was reminiscing about her father. She said that when she was young, she was very close to her father. The time she experienced this closeness the most was when they would have big family gatherings with all the aunts and uncles and cousins. At some point, someone would pull out the old record player and put on polka records, and the family would dance. Eventually, someone would put on the "Beer Barrel Polka;" and when the music of the "Beer Barrel Polka" played, her father would come up to her, tap her on the shoulder and say, "I believe this is our dance," and they would dance. One time, though, when she was a teenager and in one of those teenaged moods and the "Beer Barrel Polka" began to play and when her father tapped her on the shoulder and said, "I believe this is our dance," She snapped at him, "Don't touch me! Leave me alone!" And her father turned away and never asked her to dance again. "Our relationship was difficult all through my teen years," she wrote. "When I would come home late from a date, my father would be sitting there in his chair, half asleep, wearing an old bathrobe, and I would snarl at him, "What do you think you're doing?" He would look at me with sad eyes and say, "I was just waiting on you." "When I went away to college," the woman wrote, "I was so glad to get out of his house and away from him and for years I never communicated with him, but as I grew older, I began to miss him One day I decided to go to the next family gathering, and when I was there, somebody put on the Beer Barrel Polka." I drew a deep breath, walked over to my father, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I believe this is our dance." He turned toward me and said, "I've been waiting on you. 3 (long pause) Brothers and sisters in Christ, Believe this whatever you have done whatever separates you from coming fully to the Lord God the Father is waiting for you God is watching longingly out for you God is ready to run out to you to bring you home The parable is only half over There is still more lesson to be shared and some would say that we now we are getting to the immediate target of the parable Remember I said that our parable is directed as a response to the complaints of the Pharisees and scribes Many see the elder brother as meant to represent the Pharisees and the scribes Here Jesus is bringing the lessons on God s heart for the lost to a close - and in doing so he is trying to open their eyes to how they might be acting and how God is calling them to act You see the Pharisees were the keepers of the law they were pious, they knew their scripture and they did was the law told them to do 3

5 They remained faithful while the younger went off and got lost Notice how Jesus has the older brother not entering the house. He does not address his father as "Father" and speaks to him about "this son of yours" instead of "my brother." His refusal to celebrate stems from his deep resentment. 4 His deep resentment is clearly the mark of someone that doesn t understand what the father is doing one that cannot let go of grudges It is not all that hard to understand, really Once you have been part of some system, some system where there is a code of conduct and where you have tried hard to be faithful to it It is easy to understand resentment against someone that has totally flaunted that system This story of the older brother can represent the unattractive goodness of so many selfrighteous Christians who are blind to their own faults 5 We need to always be on our guard not to become the Pharisees that missed the point of their faithfulness We need this parable as a reminder that God is reconciling all the younger and the elder Also important the father didn t declare the elder son s faithfulness as wrong And in fact, declared that his very faithfulness was rewarded, he says (Luke 15:31b) Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. We are reminded in the parable that God wants the faithful to see Him alongside us and to celebrate when those that were lost have come home Some of us are like the younger brother, people who have wasted part of our lives, People who wanted no part of God and no part of God s ways we have acted as if Our Heavenly Father was dead And some of us are like the older brother, people who have worked hard and who smolder with resentment because things are hard and responsibilities are heavy, and life is not fair. But the fact is, both can be on the outside, Both the younger son and the older sons are found on the outside, and it is God who invites us both into the place of joy. 6 And in that place of joy, God wants to celebrate with us both 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for (2 Corinthians 5:17-20a) Christ Let us pray - We give thanks, O God, that you are waiting for us in your house, waiting with the feast and the dance and the song and the great joy. Let us put away our shame and put aside our resentment and put on the festive garments of those who are glad when they are told, "Let us go into the house of the Lord." In Jesus' name. Amen

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