the one about the prodigal father...
March 7, 2016, 8:00 AM

Sermon from March 6, 2016

Text: Luke 15: 1-3, 11b-32

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen!

How many of y’all have heard a story countless times from a friend or a family member that you know the story and the way the person tells it so well that you could pretty much retell the same tale with the same inflections and passion? How many have heard a story so many times that you just kind of ‘zone out’ when that person starts telling it?

I do that with my dad sometimes. We talk every so often and he’ll sometimes forget about what he told me the last time we talked and I sometimes use this opportunity to think about something else or – usually – I’ll play a game with him. Right before he gets to the ‘highlight’ of the story, I’ll finish it for him with 10x the amount of enthusiasm he puts in. After that he’ll usually get pretty silent and say, “So, I guess I told that one, huh?”

I think everyone has had similar experiences throughout life – hearing about that fish Joe caught 20 years ago for the millionth time (and how it usually gets bigger and bigger with each re-telling), about how Ms. Whitney once met that famous actor, or even hearing about ‘the Big Game’ from grandpa one more time. We hear those stories and we can kind of zone out a bit. We know where the story is going, we feel we’ve received everything from it that we could possibly imagine, so we just bide our time until the story is done and the conversation can move further along once again.

This morning, I think we come to one of those instances in our lives of faith. Here, we read a story from scripture that many of us know quite well – The story of this wayward son. In fact, I’d guess that if you asked anyone to recall one parable, more often than not, this would be the one they would remember. This is a story that we all know. The younger son goes out living the ‘high life,’ squanders it all and comes back and the father welcomes him. The song Amazing Grace comes into our minds as we remember our own trials and tribulations and how we might have wandered off at times and then came back to God.

I’m sure there are other images and feelings that pop into our minds as we hear the title of the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but, I think that too might just be a problem. Just like we know the well-worn and told stories of others we have a habit of ‘tuning’ out when we hear this story come along. Not because it isn’t important mind you, no I don’t think we ever think that. But, we tune out because we feel that we know this story so well that the temptation to ‘zone out’ for the next few minutes is strong and instead we’ll just hum Amazing Grace silently to ourselves.

It happens, and I think when we feel we get the ‘gist’ of something in the Bible, God will come a long and try to throw our world for a loop. I don’t know if you’ve been told this before, but I think this parable is titled wrong. I really don’t think it has all that much to do with the son – the younger or the older – at all. In fact, I’d call this story the Parable of the Prodigal Father.

First, how many here know the definition of prodigal. Any volunteers to give an answer? Anyone, Bueller? Prodigal itself means extravagantly wasteful. So wasteful that it borders on recklessness.

And let me tell you, the father in this parable is prodigal beyond belief. He is incredibly wasteful – in our eyes at least – with all this grace stuff.

First, as this parable begins the younger sons essentially says, “Hey dad – let’s play a hypothetical game.  Imagine you’re dead – what do I get?  Let’s take it a step further, I’d like to imagine you are dead right now. So I get what’s coming to me.” Now, I know that if one of my kids played that game of ‘what if’ with me I’d be tempted to answer with a lot of anger.  How DARE you have the conversation with me?

But, that isn’t what the father does. The story implies that not only did he not get angry, but he just hands the inheritance right on over. What? How prodigal of this father, how utterly, recklessly wasteful he is with what he’s ‘earned.’ Or even how prodigal the father is with his grace to give to this kid what he has the audacity to ask for. The father gives to the son after he effectively says, “Dad, I wish you were dead…”

Next we get to see the son live it up, and fall down. As they say, the bigger they are the harder they fall, right? The son hits rock bottom, ‘he comes to himself’ – whatever that means can be interpreted in so many ways – and he decides to return home. He realizes that he was better off there than what he is living in now – a Jew not only tending to pigs (which is already pretty bad for a Jewish person since they view pigs as unclean), but a Jew who longs to eat from the same trough as those pigs. As he returns home he comes prepared with a speech ready in hand in hopes to squeeze or manipulate his father into welcoming him back.

But, let’s get back to that prodigal father shall we. He sees his boy far off into the distance. Now, during this time and dare I say during our time too, the ‘dignified’ thing to do would be to wait for the boy to get here. I mean, we don’t even know how long it has been SINCE this man’s son left. Obviously the ‘right’ thing to do would be to wait at the home and prepare our ears for whatever sob story would come out of this son’s mouth that wished his dad to be dead.

But, remember, this is the story about the prodigal father. He isn’t worried or concerned with doing what is ‘right’ or dignified. Instead he bolts and runs to his son. Dignified men don’t run. This is an upstanding businessman. He’s got money, obviously. He isn’t supposed to ‘run’ to anything.  People come to him; he isn’t supposed to go to them. And his running isn’t out of anger at all. If it was, we couldn’t blame him for it. No, he runs out of love. There is his boy! He runs, leaps, and bounds and grapples him into a warm embrace. I’m sure there were tears, exhaustive laughter, kisses of welcome.  The outpouring of love towards this lost son is palpable. This, for me is one of the most tangible examples of God’s love. 

The son begins his rehearsed speech, but the father seems to not care and even interrupts whatever he is going to say, not to chastise him but instead to get the attention of his hired hands to start preparing a celebration. And how utterly prodigal this celebration will be. The fattened and choicest calf is to be prepared, the father calls for his son to be showered with food, rings, robes, and shoes.

This, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. The kid wished you were dead. He literally left you high and dry.  He had NO RELATIONSHIP with you! He wasted your good intentions! Why? Why? Why?

Those, of course are the words and thoughts of the son who stayed by his father’s side. Those are the thoughts of those who identify with the older son and I’d hazard a guess that as we read this story there are more of us who identify with the elder son than the younger son.

But, the prodigal-ness of the father isn’t done. There is one more he comes to with this reckless grace and love. He finally comes to his older son. The one outside the party and invites him in. But, the son rebuffs and asks why are you doing this? I never got this from you did I?

Everything that I have is yours. You’ve been with me this entire time. Enjoying the riches that I give your brother. But, we’re celebrating because he’s returned. No matter what he did, where he went, or why he came back – we celebrate because he came home. I’m celebrating because my boy, your brother, is home. Come in and join us.

You know, the father could have used this as an opportunity to chastise his older son. You can’t even call him brother! You say you listen to me always, but you told me ‘no’ when I invited you in. 

But, the father doesn’t. The father hears the laments of the older son, listens to him, goes to where he is, and listens. But, he then invites him back to be in relationship not only with the father – but also back into relationship with his own brother. The love of the father is so ‘prodigal’ that it can and does mend relationships that were once very frayed. The father’s love – the reckless love and grace he showers upon both sons - the one who has been with him the entire time and the one who left and now returns - is abundant, merciful, accepting, and forgiving. This love that smooths away the harshness of life, this love that is given freely to all those around – no matter what.

During Lent, I think this is a much needed way of hearing this parable. All through Lent, we focus on what ‘we’ need to do. What ‘I’ need to give up. How ‘they’ need to repent and turn back. But, in this story – the focus is on the action of the father. The focus is on God’s love in our lives. That no matter what, God runs to us out of an undignified, reckless, wasteful, prodigal love.

We go through Lent and at times we think again and again – I need to turn back; I need to repent so that God will love me. In fact, that is what we hear from many of our brothers and sisters in other traditions of the church around us. But, like I mentioned last week, I don’t think that is how God works. We don’t repent because God will love us, we repent because God already does love us. All that prodigal love and grace.

The father, our Father, isn’t worried about WHY you’ve turned back. God isn’t worried about the ‘words’ you’re going to say to try to turn the heart of God back upon you. God isn’t worried about that. All God cares about, as shown through this wonderful parable, is that you’ve turned back. Because the son turned and came home – God showers that one with so much love, so much celebration. As we look upon that scene we see it as extravagant and reckless, yet God says, “I don’t care. This is how I love.  This is how I love even you. Come and join me and your brother.”

God’s grace is open to all and free to all. God invites each of us in, God pleads for us to come and share with him and the entire family. Your family, my family, our family. The prodigal feast has been prepared.  No matter how we understand, or even misunderstand God’s prodigal grace and love, we are welcomed guests, regardless. We are invited to come to the table. Will you come in and celebrate too? Amen.


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