First I want to say Hi to Steve. Welcome!!
Now I am have finished my Commissioning Sermon. I am going to preach over the Prodigal Son. I thought that you guys might want to read and maybe even make suggestions. So here goes.
Have you ever wanted to ask God the question – what if I mess up, what if I’m not perfect? There is a popular song that asks – “what if I stumble what if I fall, what if I lose my step and make fools of us all, will the love continue when the walk becomes a crawl, what if I stumble and what if I fall?” (DC Talk) The story of the prodigal son helps us answer that question. Love of the creator for the created is shown throughout the entire Bible but it is here in this story we can so clearly see ourselves and the love of God.
In ancient times just as now, conventional wisdom says don’t give your children their inheritance until you die. But this father doesn’t follow convention and gives the son his inheritance. Nowhere does it say that the son was a bad, immoral or evil young man. He may have left his dad’s place with the very best of intentions. Planning on going to Alexandria or Rome (Dallas, New York, LA) or wherever and make his mark. No one usually plans on failing but as so often happens we make a mistake and it leads us down a path we never intended.
We fall in with the wrong crowd, make foolish investments of our time and money – whatever it is we just mess up. And I think that’s what happened with this boy. He didn’t plan ahead, didn’t budget his money, and definitely didn’t spend it wisely. And ended up feeding the pigs. Which in Jewish storytelling meant you had sunk as far as you could possibly go. And not only was he feeding the pigs, he had fallen so low he wanted to steal their food. Can we relate to falling that far?
Well, let’s consider. A few years ago, thousands of young, upstanding men got a slip of paper from the government telling them where to report for induction into the military. They had just been drafted to fight the war in Vietnam. Most didn’t want to go but went anyway. They left their dreams and families and went to war. But when some of them came home, they couldn’t pick back up those dreams and go back to those families because of the affect that the war had on their psyche. They came home to boo’s and hisses, being spit on in the airports and many came home after watching their friends die horrible deaths and many more came home addicted to drugs.
And some failed to integrate back into society; ending up on the street, begging for food, begging for money, sleeping in cardboard boxes. They had reached the very bottom, they could fall no lower. And this is the point of no return, this is when they can choose to stay at the bottom or not. Kind of like the philosophy of the 12-step programs, they had to decide to stay down or get up. And many of them chose to get up and when they stretched out their hands to their Father, he reached out and embraced them through the arms of a drug counselor who cared, a volunteer at a soup kitchen, an aid worker at a homeless shelter or a church. The Father welcomed them back into the loving arms of the family.
Like the prodigal son, they were restored to life. Refined by fire they were stronger than before because they had chosen to return of their own free will. Now what about the ones that never left – like the older brother? He was really upset with his father wasn’t he? This wasn’t fair. Where is the justice in this story, but this isn’t a story about justice but a story about grace. The grace of a God for a wayward people, Our God.
I think of the older brother as a church member who has grown up in the church but hasn’t ever really had it touch his spirit. Not bad or evil but begrudging. Why give something to the poor, they aren’t going to increase our membership, why send our money to help those foreigners we need it here more. Why kill the fatted calf for the ones who weren’t perfect and made a mistake? I think that if we are honest we can really all relate to the older brother. He is kind of like Martha and resents being the only one working. He misunderstood, and often so do we, that God’s love is limitless. God doesn’t run out of love, we aren’t in competition for a finite amount of grace and love. There is enough for all of us.
In a few years, it could be the younger brother standing there passing judgment on some body else that has made a mistake. You really hope not, you hope that he would have been so changed by his experience that he would always be like that moment when he first stepped into his father’s embrace. But those feelings seem to wear off pretty quick sometimes. We tend to forget our mistakes pretty easily sometimes don’t we? And like the Pharisees and scribes in the beginning of Luke 15 our common response is criticism and self-righteousness. The Pharisees and scribes – the wise, learned, and righteously religious of Jesus’ day would certainly have seen themselves in good company when they grumbled and said, “this fellow Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Now that is an accusation worth listening to – why would anyone in good standing want to hang around with “tax collectors and sinners?” These people were the biblical version of our own smelly, drug and alcohol addicted street people, and our corporate thieves who fatten themselves while their employees lose all hope of retirement. Not exactly the best company to cultivate and common wisdom strongly suggests that such company will draw us down to their level. Jesus, of all people, should have known that he would be far better off shunning those unacceptable people and spending his time with those who clearly sought higher things. But fortunately for us, God doesn’t think or reason the way that we do.
So let’s take all of this a step further and imagine that the Father in the story is God, the church is the older brother, or Pharisees or scribes and we are the younger son. Remember this verse out of John – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son”. A sacrifice was made, blood was spilled during this reconciliation between the father and the wayward child. The sacrifice of the fatted calf illustrates the blood that was shed that day on Calvary – for you and for me. Blood that was shed to reconcile us with God. Listen to what Paul said in today’s New Testament lesson.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Sometimes, we need to remember grace and forgiveness. Through the sacrifice that Christ made for us we were reconciled with our God and creator just as the prodigal son was reconciled with his father. We are not called to judge our brother because we are our brother. We are called to reach out to the fallen and help them get back up on their feet and reinforce their strength with our own so that they can reach out to God.
We can be any one of the characters in this parable, the prodigal son, the father, the elder brother, the Pharisees and scribes or even the man who gave the prodigal a job during a time of economic downturn – to use modern language. During our times of famine we are called to reach out to those who have stumbled or even fallen. This isn’t a story of judgment but a story of forgiveness, a story of reconciliation and a story that God has enough love to go around. So no matter who we are in the story and I believe that we are all the characters at one time or another in our lives, we can know that God has enough love for all of us and grace and forgiveness if we stumble or fall and make fools out of ourselves.