Sermon for March 27
May God’s grace, mercy, and peace be with you, through God the Father, and the Son Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
There’s an old joke about a man who robbed a liquor store and got sent to prison. On his first day there he was sitting in the dining hall at lunch and suddenly a man stood up and shouted 37! And everybody laughed. After a while another man stood up and shouted 52! And everybody chuckled and smiled. After a few more minutes some-body else stood and yelled 86! And again, everyone laughed. The new guy leaned over toward the man across from him and said, “What’s going on? Why is everyone laughing at those numbers? The man said, “It’s like this. There are only a hundred or so jokes in the world, and in here you hear them all. We decided to save time and give them numbers.” Wishing to fit in and win friends, the new convict decided to give it a try. “17!” he yelled out. Nobody laughed, nobody looked at him. Finally, he sat back down, mystified. “What happened?” he asked his new friend. The man shrugged and said, “Oh, some people know how to tell a joke, and some people don’t.”
There are certain stories in the Bible that probably could be numbered like the jokes. Stories like “The Good Samaritan”, “The Birth of Jesus”, “The Feeding of the 4000, and “The Prodigal Son”. Depending on where you live in the world and it’s different cultures, we may hear the Prodigal Son parable called “The Lost Son.” This is how it’s known in Egyptian Christian circles. The title begs to ask the question” “Which son is lost?” Lebanese Christians refer to the parable as “The Clever Son”, referring to the younger son. And maybe a lot of women would refer to it as the parable of “The Absent Mother”.
All preachers need to say is “The Prodigal Son”, and nothing much else needs to be said. We all know what it means so we quit listening, even before the reading ends and we doze off to sleep. When we stop listening, we rob ourselves of an opportunity to let the Holy Spirit teach us something new. Perhaps if we look at it in the con-text in which Jesus told the parable it might help to look at it a little differently.
Jesus had been eating with the Pharisees; they were grumbling about him eating with sinners, a sign of friendship and acceptance. He told them three parables. The first about a shepherd losing a sheep, leaving the 99 that was left and searching until he found it and how he celebrated with his friends.
The second is similar to the first. A woman loses one of ten coins. She searches her house, sweeps the dirt floor and finds it. She, too, rejoices and celebrates with her neighbors and friends. Neither of these parables are about repentance, but more about searching for that which was lost and celebrating the result.
The shepherd loses one out of a hundred sheep. The woman loses one out of ten coins. It’s a wonder either of them realized one was missing. But they search diligently for what they had lost. In the third parable, the man had two sons; he lost one. But the father does not look for the younger son. The prodigal took off to a distant country, out of his father’s view and influence. And he became lost.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, it was not that unusual for a son to ask for his share of an inheritance before a father’s death. It is not a sin, but more a lack of wis-dom and good judgement. And the father went along with it. He could have stopped it right them and there. But this is a parable with a message. We know how the young son wasted his money and wound up feeding pigs to avoid starvation.
But he made up a plan. “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you (these are the same words Pharoah told Moses after the plague of locusts); I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” Quite honestly it sounds more like Junior was conniving more than repenting. He is described as coming to himself. And that self is the one who knows that Daddy will do anything he asks. Daddy still has money in the bank account and maybe he’ll be able to get some of it.
He goes back home, practicing his little speech. Unlike the sheep and coin, he has not been found. Remember he wants to be treated as a hired hand. And he begins his little speech to his father not with the title of Lord or Master as a hired hand would do, but with Father. In so doing he reinstates himself as a son. Whether the son is sin-cere or not, his father doesn’t care any more than the shepherd cared about his sheep repenting or the woman cared about what the coin was thinking. The father hugs and kisses him and calls for the best robe and a ring and sandals. But notice that Luke does not record that the father speaks to his new found son.
And so the party begins. The killing of the fatted calf; the dancing, the music, the joy making. Nothing is said about Junior’s reaction to all of this. We would hope that he was overwhelmed with the grace shown by his father, that he would confess his un-worthiness and accept the restoration to sonship with humility. We just don’t know. And so the parable ends for Junior and for a lot of the readers.
But then there is the other son, the older one, the one who has worked and slaved all this time. The one who has always obeyed him without question, the loyal son. The one perhaps we would feel a little empathy. The shepherd and the woman called their friends and neighbors to celebrate. But no one runs out to invite the older son to the feast. No one even noticed he was missing. He has been ignored just like many of us do who read the parable and let it end with the party going on. No wonder he’s angry. Who knows what else Daddy is going to give Junior?
Now the father is in the place of the man searching for his lost sheep and the woman searching for her lost coin. The father now realizes that the elder was the son who was truly “lost”. So now he needs to make his family whole.
The father attempts to restore and maybe even create a relationship between the two children. He corrected the elder son’s phrase “this son of yours” to “this brother of yours”. He reminded him that there is a relationship between the two of them. If either brother is missing, the family would not be whole.
A father had two sons…The details can be filled in. But the scriptures give us hope for the two sons. They should also give us hope for reconciliation from our personal lives to the worldwide family. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees about accepting sinners in God’s family. We need to count not only our own blessings, but those in our families, and our communities. And once we count, we need to act. Finding the lost takes work whether they’re sheep, coins, or people. It requires our efforts and from those efforts there is the potential for wholeness and joy.