HOMILY & IDEAS

Joshua 5:9-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-2; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

The Gospel reading this week includes ONE of the greatest parables, if not THE GREATEST parable that Jesus tells. It is loaded with preachable themes and images that play very well in this season of Lent. I will divide the parable into sections and suggest some ideas.

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying -- This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. So to them he addressed this parable.

The setting in which we hear this parable delivered includes tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees and scribes. The tax collectors and sinners draw near. The Pharisees and scribes complain. One may ask what causes these reactions in each group? Perhaps the tax collectors and sinners know that what Jesus will say will give them hope and a way out of their sin. They trust Jesus. He welcomes them and dines with them. Conversely, the Pharisees and scribes complain. Perhaps they are proud, arrogant and suspicious of the authority with which Jesus speaks and acts. These are fairly classic reactions to Jesus in the gospels. Perhaps we have been in both of these places in our lives: There have been times when we have drawn close to Jesus to hear His words and there have been times when we have shunned His words out of pride or arrogance -- or even fear. If we were to look at our lives over the past 6 months would we say that we have been drawing nearer to Jesus? Or, have we been standing in the shadows of sin looking on from a distance? Have we been judgmental of the individuals we see as tax collectors and sinners in our own community? Have we been self-righteous?

Then he said -- A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me. So the father divided the property between them.

A fair amount of ink has been spilled by scholars when considering how inheritance law operates in this story. To keep things simple in my own noodle I am adopting the position that the older son was to inherit 2/3 of the estate upon the death of his father and that the younger son was to inherit 1/3.

It should be very unsettling to hear the younger son ask for his inheritance now. This action is as good calling his father dead. It is extreme, hurtful and disobedient. Sin is like that. It can cause us to consider our relationship with our heavenly Father dead.

One might find it of interest to note that there is no objection from the Father. No chastisement and no pleading. The estate is divided. The father allows the younger son to exercise his free will and to make this poor choice. We, too, are not puppets on a string in this world. We are given free will with which to do beautiful, charitable works for God. However, it is this very free will which also allows us to make very bad decisions in life. God does not glass us into sin-free cubes like mimes. God allows us to make choices. C.S. Lewis wrote -- Ideally we should pray to God in this world -- THY WILL BE DONE, otherwise God will say to us at judgment -- THY WILL BE DONE.

After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.

This is where I begin to see in this story that the Father is a man of wealth -- a man who has a sizable estate. The liquidation of 1/3 of the estate finances a trip not to the neighboring town but to a distant country. Perhaps the few days that pass before the departure of the son was required to pack up a pile of trunks upon a caravan of camels around which a band of servants scurried. The son hits bottom as he finds himself in dire need. Perhaps he should have returned to his father then and there; however, he may be paralyzed by pride or even shame. He would rather try plan -B- than return to his father. Maybe I can get myself out of this mess -- he thinks to himself. Have we been in this position? Have we stopped ourselves from being reconciled with our heavenly Father out of shame, pride, or fear? Have we contemplated a plan -B- which only prolonged our pain? Did we only sink to a lower place until we came fully to our senses like the son is about to sink?

So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.

Tending the swine communicates the depth to which the son has sunk. He is working with unclean animals and willing to forego any legal preparations of food to render it clean. He is willing to eat pods on the ground. He is hungry. He is desperate. Interestingly there is both a hint of selfishness and humility in this passage. The thing that causes him to go back to his father is his own hunger and comfort. He compares himself to the servants of his father who have more than enough to eat. He longs to be like them. Satisfied. Comfortable. Still, he is willing to have this comfort at a price. He is willing to no longer be called the son of his father, but rather a hired worker. We will see that despite the motives that bring this son back to his father, that the father still warmly welcomes him home. What does this tell us about God and ourselves? If our plan is to wait until we become perfect human beings before we dare turn back towards God then we will never begin our turning. God knows that we are broken. God knows that we are sinful. God knows that we have made bad choices. However, God will take us back in any condition we are in with the hope that we continue to grow more deeply in His love. We should never wait until we think we completely have our act together before we return to God.

So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.

Many scholars will point out the fact that the father must have been waiting and watching for his son in order for him to see his son coming from a far way off. The response of the father is immediate and powerful -- compassionate, loving, affectionate. His first words are NOT -- Gee son, you might have noticed how the farm is now 1/3 smaller!

Further, being a man of wealth, being a man who has a sizable estate, who can order rings, robes, shoes, musicians, dancers, caterers, and the slaughtering of fattened calf a moments notice, the father has no business running in public. A man of his stature, of his dignity and of his wealth would wear a beautifully embroidered robe which would nearly touch the ground. The only way he could have run to his son would be to hike up his robe, expose his legs and sprint. This would have been far beneath his stature -- hiking up his robe, showing his legs, running. Still the father is filled with such joy that this is no matter to him. What does this say about God? It says that our God is a God who is not afraid to show his legs. Our God is a God who is so filled with joy that he runs to us. The thought of God who created all things, who is omnipotent and all powerful running to us should send chills down your spine. Still, this is the kind of joy that can be generated and experienced by our conversion and repentance.

But his father ordered his servants, Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found. Then the celebration began.

Why were the servants right by the side of the father even though he is half way down the road with his son? Perhaps it is the first time they have ever seen their master running. Perhaps they are concerned for his sanity -- with his robe hiked up and his legs exposed making a trail of dust in his sprint. Of course they would run after him to see if he was altogether well.

What may also be of interest is the fact that the father makes no response to the son when the son tells him that he no longer deserves to be called his son. The father feels such unexpressible joy that these words fall on deaf ears. He has his lost son back again and that is all that matters. It is time to celebrate. This is true joy. This is the kind of joy that our own repentance causes in heaven.

Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.

Despite the anger of the older son, the father does leave the house to meet him. The father pleads with him. This should not be overlooked. The father does not act cold and callously toward him. These actions of leaving the celebration and pleading speak of the love he has for his older son.

He said to his father in reply, Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.

Note that the younger son is referred to as -- YOUR SON. Out of anger he will not refer to him as his own brother.

He said to him, My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.

Now the son is referred to as YOUR BROTHER -- reminding the older brother of his relationship to him and the fact that he should share the joy of having his brother back. We are also challenged to share in the joy of having any member of our community or family back who has traveled off into the distant land of sin. We must come to terms that what seems just or fair in our world is not to be imposed on God. The ways of God are His ways. Our ways are our ways. In the end I believe we will all be grateful for the mercy, compassion and love that God has for his creations. Perhaps we are more like the younger son than we know.

Blessed preaching.

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