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Homilies from Nola Crewe
18th March 2007


Luke 15:1-3 & 11b-32

THE PRODIGAL SON

15:1        THEN drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.

    :2        And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

    :3        And he spake this parable unto them, saying,

   :11b     A certain made had two sons:

   :12       And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.  And he divided unto them his living.

   :13       And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

   :14       And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

   :15       And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

  :16        And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat:  and no man gave unto him.

   :17       And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

   :18       I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.

   19:       And am no more worthy to be called thy son:  make me as one of thy hired servants.

   :20      And he arose, and came to his father.  But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

   :21       And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

   :22      But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

   :23      And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

   :24      For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.  And they began to be merry.

   :25      Now his elder son was in the field:  and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing.

   :26      And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.

   :27      And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.

   :28      And he was angry, and would not go in:  therefore came his father out, and entreated him.

   :29      And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment:  and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:

   :30      But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

   :31       And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.

   :32      It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad:  for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found. 

 Lord, open my mouth to praise you and open hearts to hear . . .

                                                                             A M E N

 

How often when we stand at the lectern, proclaiming The Word, are there parishioners hearing a story we are not telling:  taking a lesson that was not intended and walking away with a message that was not given? 

Let me give my own example.  I used be quite smugly grateful that so many of the Bible stories are about men.  It gave me an excuse to virtually ignore them.  I would wrestle with Martha and Mary, or Naomi and Ruth, even Eve’s culpability or whether Mary Magdala was a sinner or saint.  But the parable of the prodigal son . . . that was definitely one for the boys, and I could tune out. 

After all, it wasn’t as if Luke wasn’t telling some of the Master’s stories that I could relate to in that chapter. 

First there was the parable of the shepherd with 100 sheep and when one was lost he left the others and searched high and low for the lost one and then carried it home on his shoulders and celebrated with his friends and neighbours at its return. 

I was quite happy being the lost sheep that the shepherd came to find. 

And the second story tells of the woman with ten coins who when she lost one, lit a lamp and scoured the house, hunting in every nook and cranny until she found it. 

Again, I was pleased to diligently hunt for the lost coin or share in the rejoicing. 

But as Luke got around to relating the third parable in chapter 15, the “prodigal” or the “lost” son, I was quite content to sit back with a “boys will be boys” shrug. 

To help me in preparing for today’s sermon I interviewed 20 people for their take on this Gospel reading.  And the results spoke to their understanding of this as the story of a VERY dysfunctional family . . . one where it was easy to lay blame at the feet of each of the three characters.

Here are some of their comments. 

To start with the Father . . .

What was the father thinking when he gave such an immature boy his entire inheritance?   
Surely he knew that his son would mess up?
Why didn’t the father just give him enough to travel around and see some of the world? 
Or set him up with his own flock of sheep?
Why hadn’t he educated him to the dangers of the world?
Why hadn’t he trained him in self-restraint and self-respect?
Didn’t he love him enough to say
“NO”.
But having done it, why didn’t he go looking for the boy?  
What happened to the message of the searching shepherd or the lady with the lost coin?
And, from the lawyers:  If he HAD divided the property between them, as he said, it means that it’s big brother’s fatted calf, robe, sandal and ring that he’s just given away!

Then there’s the Prodigal Son – clearly the favoured and spoiled baby of the family:

Where did he get the brass to demand ‘HIS share” of his father’s estate? 
Who did he think he was?
What had he ever done to deserve anything?
And where was the gratitude?
Why did the boy have to act so irresponsibly?
And, having totally wasted everything his family had worked so hard to accumulate over the generations, why shouldn’t he pay for his folly? 

Where’s the justice?

And then,

Why is the Older Brother such a judgmental prig? 
What did he do that was so special . . . other than being born first?
Who is he to judge anyone? 
Particularly his own father?
Where does his sense of entitlement come from?
What happened to sibling love:  why can’t he be happy that his brother is back? 
And, while we’re at it, why didn’t he go looking for his kid brother? 

Hadn’t he learned the answer to the question in the story of Cain and Abel:  “Am I my brother’s keeper”?

Of the twenty people, only two identified with the prodigal son, and both saw blame with the parents for not having set limits, or coming after them when they left home; some felt that, like the father, they had given their own children too much, to everyone’s disadvantage.  While most identified with the older brother, doing what they should, while others who didn’t, got all the headlines and caring.

Virtually everyone in identifying with one of the three characters, saw their character as a victim.  

So it’s not just the questions that reading the Bible raises, it is getting lost in identifying with one character or another . . . or, in concluding,   “ . . . hey, this is just about a bunch of guys dead 2000 years:  nothing to do with me.” 

But as preachers we strive to find the “right” message and communicate what we want to send our “flock” away with each Sunday.  We examine the Commentaries and Study Bibles and internet searching for the relevant and meaningful.  And worry over what the original Greek might have said.

And we seek what will challenge:  without, of course, turning the congregation off?

We make it all so complicated.

But Christ didn’t tell his parables to a theology class. 

He told them so that ordinary people could get to know their God better. 

So that the fisherman and the shepherd and the housewife could understand how God loved them and forgave them, with images they lived every day.

So how should we as 21st century seminarians hear these words from Luke? 

Well, the first two lessons remain constant:  the heaven’s great rejoicing over the lost being found, the repentant sinner returned.  

In the third, again that joy continues to blaze forth:  for even before the boy can make his carefully rehearsed confession, the father is calling to his servants to bring the sandals for his son’s feet to demonstrate that he is no longer a swineherd; a robe to proclaim his authority; the ring to denote his status as a family member and the fatted calf:  the meal of a great and special occasion for an honoured guest. 

These are the symbols of total forgiveness and the son’s return to the full status of beloved child. 

His son has been forgiven. 
Nothing more needs to be said. 
Son and father are reconciled. 
All the insult and the damage done to his father and his estate are put away.
The heavens rejoice.

But that is not the end of the story. 

Perhaps, instead of “The Prodigal Son” this parable should have been called, “The Father’s Two Sons”:  for there is another son. 

There is the son who is sometimes called “the good son”

The son with whom most people identify.  The son who many people feel was unappreciated and wronged.  They see him as being like the 9 coins and 99 sheep:  doing what is expected, but earning no credit for it, no rejoicing in heaven, for living life as they ought. 

But was the good son really doing all that he should do?  

Are any of us doing that?

When we see pain and suffering and merely complain about the politicians who do not fix things, are we obeying Christ’s injunctions?

When we know there are souls thirsting for faith and we do not seek them out, are we failing our Lord? 

When we see war and famine and merely mark it up against the foibles of generals and global warming, are we failing our Lord?

How many of us faced with problems fall to our knees asking God to remedy the woes of the world, woes humans, not God, created? 

And how many of us fall to our knees and ask God instead, to give us the strength and the courage to go out and do something about it ourselves?

It is the sins of omission that haunt us.

The elder brother did not love God with his whole heart, or he would have been celebrating just as heartily, his brother’s return. 

He did not love his neighbour as himself or he would have been out hunting and searching for his brother and praying for his return. 

But, yes, he did plod on doing all the assigned tasks. 

The chores required of him.

All that this world demanded of him. 

But he did not exert himself to do what our God demands.

And are we any better?

God has given us freedom to choose.  
And freedom to choose does mean that we CAN make REALLY bad choices. 
We can choose to leave home. 
We can choose to abuse our bodies with too much food and drink and cigarettes and drugs.
And we can waste our resources and choose evil companions. 

And we do.

And we can also choose to do nothing. 
We can choose to close our eyes and ears to the needs of others. 
We can ignore prisons as places holding only criminals, instead of our lost brothers and sisters. 
We can choose safety and never bring solace to the streets of the oppressed and depraved. 
And we can sit comfortably in our churches, proud of our faith and our God, praying for the mission field and fretting our declining church numbers.

And we do. 

And God waits.
He waits patiently. 
He waits in sorrow for our failings and our pain and our dumb decisions. 
Our sins, both of commission and omission.

And he keeps his eyes on the horizon, waiting to see us turning homeward, stumbling, crawling, hesitating, but just as long as we have turned our hearts toward Him, He is running across the fields and the highways towards us:  running with open arms to hold and kiss us and welcome us home in His infinite love and thanksgiving. 

God, like the father of the prodigal son, gave His own Son freedom.  
And His Son chose life for all of us, rather than life for Himself. 
He chose to pay in full, for the forgiveness of our sins, with His own suffering and death. 

And now each of us can choose.

God has given us all the resources of this world.  He has given us intelligence and the knowledge of good and evil. 

He has blessed us with all we will ever need, far more than we will need, if we just employ it and not squander it.  

But the choice remains for each of us to make.  Do we turn homeward to the cross of new life, or do we continue to share the slop of the pigs? 

As ever, the choice is ours alone. 

And God stands back and loves and trusts. 

He loves us just as He always has done,
loves us just as we are in all our failings and errors and sins;
loves us enough that over and over again He stayed His own hand from destroying our world:  from giving up on us;  from judging us on our works . . . which are never adequate to secure a place in heaven. 

He even loves us enough to believe that His love will someday be returned.  

And He trusts . . . trusts that we will come to choose good over evil.
He trusts that we will choose compassion over greed.
He trusts that we will choose to live our lives loving our God and our neighbour.

And He trusts that you and I will go forth from Wycliffe carrying and living that message of his love for each and everyone of his creatures. 

Unlike the “good” brother, it is up to you and me to take on the challenge,

to go looking for the lost and the forgotten, wherever they may be, and not merely wait for them where we feel comfortable. 

It is up to us to keep in mind our own failings, instead of judging the failings of others.   

In confession we ask forgiveness, not only for what we have done, but we also ask it for what we have failed to do. 

Not doing wrong is not enough.    

Instead of remaining in the safety of the familiar, we need to be actors on the stage of life.  

We need to be keepers of our sisters and brothers. 
We need to be the loving neighbour. 
We need to be giving the heavens cause to rejoice in the lost returning to our Father. 

We need it for our own souls’ sake.

                                                A M E N.


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