The Prodigal Sons

Preacher: 
The Rev. Karla Hunt
Sermon Text: 

Karla Hunt

Luke 15:1-3,11B-32

Sermon for 31 March ASEC

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Don’t we just hate it when things aren’t fair! When others get away with stuff that we can’t get away with. Sometimes it’s because we know we’ll get caught. Sometimes it’s that our upbringing just won’t let us try. Doesn’t matter which: it’s stuff others can do but shouldn’t that we simply can’t do. At times like these, we can really identify with the elder brother in Luke’s gospel.

The younger son said in effect “Father, I can’t wait for you to die so give me my inheritance now.” Wow, that’s cold!

And then after he goes and blows it, he slinks back home with his tail between his legs and what does the father do? Welcomes him with open arms! Doesn’t seem to care about the waste of money or property. Doesn’t ask for an explanation or excuse or anything. Just is so glad to have him back that he dresses him in finery, gives him the family jewels and throws a party! He rewards him for coming home! How is that fair?

The elder brother is the one who stayed home, doing his duty, working hard every day, fulfilling his obligations while at the same time becoming more and more unhappy and feeling trapped and unappreciated.

And besides if the prodigal already had his half of the father’s wealth, then the balance belongs to the elder! How’s this going to work now?

We can really feel the elder brother’s fear. “Father, do you love him more than me?”

The elder brother’s resentment comes from comparing his own unimpeachable behavior to that of his younger brother and this reveals his inability to appreciate his father’s generosity because he sees it as taking something away from him. Does this elder brother feel unlovable? Does he need to learn to love himself?

We’ve seen this ‘poverty of being’ before; the elder brother is also a prodigal son but doesn’t recognize how lost he is.

But what does this anger and resentment get him? Does the father turn around and say “I’m sorry! Let me send the guests home and throw this rascal out again”?

Not hardly. The father doesn’t defend his own actions or even mention the behavior of either son. Instead the father assures the elder that he is equally loved, that he enjoys many blessings that come from the father and then the father invites him to the celebration, almost pleads for him to come in.

The father’s unconditional, nonjudgmental love does not compare one son to the other but invites the elder to put aside his resentment and step into the light of the father’s love.

The father is always there, ready to give and forgive, completely independent of either son’s response. It doesn’t matter whether or not his sons repent, the father is always ready to love them and welcome them back.

How do I choose to respond to God’s love for others? Do I resent those less fortunate than myself because I believe they don’t pull their own weight or behave as they should?

Do I believe, like the elder brother, that what they are given comes out of my pocket? Is it at all possible that I can step into the light, setting my fear aside and choose love? How on earth can I do that?

The only way forward is with God’s help.

Like the elder brother, I have a choice. Henri Nouwen describes it this way, “I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and wrap myself up in my resentment. But I don’t have to do this…As long as we belong to this world, we will remain subject to its competitive ways and expect to be rewarded for …the good we do. But when we belong to God, who loves us [unconditionally], we … move from belonging to the world to belonging to God.”

Those who “come to know [this] do not deny the darkness [of the world], but…choose not to live in it.”

But we are not meant to remain sons and daughters. As we grow older, we might marry and have children, our parents pass away, our children may have children and one day we wake up to find that we have become our parents resembling them more and more. There are now more generations in line behind us and fewer in line ahead of us. This is entirely natural and we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens, but we are.

In much the same way, as we mature spiritually we come to resemble God more and more.

We come to view the world as God sees it with the eyes of a loving “and forgiving parent who does not measure out love to children according to how well they behave...”

We can put aside our judgment about others and leave them to God’s mercy. We can become the father in this story: nonjudgmental, noncompetitive, loving unconditionally, rejoicing in the power of love. As children of God, as heirs of the kingdom, we are the successors, those who inherit. We become the father and offer the same compassion to others that has been given to us. We are made in God’s image but we mature into God’s likeness and what a wonderful thing this is!

I like to think that the elder son repented and joined the celebration because the world does not need more younger or elder sons, converted or not.

The world needs a loving, nonjudgmental, compassionate parent who lives with hands outstretched, welcoming returning children into a mighty embrace.

May we all grow to be like the father, if we don’t do this, who will?

 

 

Bibliography

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Volume VIII: Luke, John; edited by Leander E. Keck et al, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, copyright 2002.

Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of The Synoptic Gospels, Fifth Edition by Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr., Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN; Atlanta, GA; London, England; Vancouver, British Columbia, copyright 1992.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Roland E. Murphy, New Revised Standard Version, New York, Oxford University Press, copyright 1991.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, S.S.; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J. (emeritus); and Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm. (emeritus), with a foreword by His Eminence Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, S.J.; Prentice Hall, copyright 1990, 1968.

HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, Paul J. Achetemeier, General Editor, With the Society of Biblical Literature, HarperOne: An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, copyright 1985, 1996.

Introducing the New Testament: A Historical, Literary, and Theological Survey, by Mark Allan Powell; Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, copyright 2009.

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri J.M. Nouwen; An Image Book published by Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York, New York, 10036; copyright 1992.

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