Sermon Texts: Corinthians, Psalter, and Luke
This is the story we always refer to as the “Prodigal Son.” What does prodigal mean anyway? It’s not a word we commonly use, except when referring to this story.
Etymology: Latin prodigus, from prodigere to drive away, squander, from pro-, prod-forth + agere to drive — more at PRO-, AGENT
Date: 15th century
1 : characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure : LAVISH
2 : recklessly spendthrift
I don’t know that Jesus would have preferred this title. He, after all, tells the story of two sons, and the second is as prodigal as the first when it comes to driving away people from his own heart and squandering his relationships.
We are most likely overcome with the story of the younger son because his story is so dramatic. He goes from a comfortable home to a pig sty in two sentences.
It is also compelling to us because it is the story of grace…..
I’ve always lingered over this older brother outside the party, asking the servants to give him news of what’s going on, and then complaining to his father for accepting his brother back into the fold.
The first part of the story is compelling because it is so dramatic in its shifts and so honest and bare in its emotionality. The second half of the story is so compelling to me because it so real. It seems more complex and subtle. The first son has lost his way, that’s clearly apparent to him by his realization that he is getting hungry looking at pig slop.
But, the older son who stayed home and helped on the farm perhaps doesn’t even realize that he too is lost. He’s lost right there at home.
More often than not, we don’t have dramatic “bottom of the barrel” type experiences like the younger brother. Some may, and those are compelling and inspiring times in our life, no doubt. But I don’t want to give the whole story to the younger son. After all, Jesus, the master storyteller, leaves the older son’s story as the lynchpin. He leaves it unanswered, compelling us to integrate the experience into our own lives and ask ourselves, “well, what would I do?”
I think it’s a great truth of this story that we can become just as lost in our work and in our dedication and in our obligations and sense of duty as we can by turning our back on the Father and going our own way and “scattering our substance” in dissolute living.
Yes, we can become just as lost dutifully coming here to sit in these pews every single Sunday as those who have never stepped foot in a church. And the glaring evidence of our disorientation can be found in our attitude toward those who find their way home and toward a God who welcomes everyone, no matter what, with open arms.
The reality of being home, being found, being alive to God’s grace has everything to do with an attitude of the heart. Do we harbor contempt? Do we consider others unworthy of God’s grace?
God is running down the road to throw His arms around a lot of people who I might not believe deserve a second chance—am I willing to not only accept that but celebrate that? To come in to the banquet and toast my brother’s return home—that is participating in grace. That is being alive to God’s grace.
Sometimes I wish I had a better story to tell. I wish my faith life was big and dramatic and compelling so that I could persuade all of you to a life of redemption and purpose because I have lived it—because I’ve been in the gutter, and boy can I tell you—you don’t want to be there. I hear preachers who have those kinds of stories, and there’s a part of my heart that whispers, “frauds!” “hucksters!” “What are you trying to sell?” “What are you trying to pull?”
My story isn’t as dramatic. My story isn’t as exciting, and I know you know this about me. I’ve been here close to four years now, and I know my story, who I am has not reached some of you—it has not “lit many fires” or prompted many Kleenexes to be used. Perhaps I’m boring, perhaps I’m pedestrian, perhaps I just haven’t had what it takes to convince you. I’m no prodigal son.
No, I’ve spent my whole life here on my Father’s farm. I’ve tended the sheep…and the goats. I’ve stuck around here like most of you. That’s not all that exciting. I’ve haven’t really had many compelling changes of heart. I’m pretty much the same person now that I was 5, 10, 15 years ago. I’ve never felt desperate for the nourishment and safety of home like that son sitting in the pig sty. I may have gotten some postcards from “distant lands” where debauchery and dissolute living are the trade, but I’ve never really been there—at least I don’t consider myself to have been there.
So, I feel the cliffhanger of Jesus’ story. I get it. I want to believe that I’m excited and celebrating what God is doing in the world—where grace is being shown—but sometimes I look out at the kind of people who are claiming God’s grace, and I say to myself, “what ass...inine people"
Let me assure you—it’s as easy to be lost here at home as it is out in the distant lands. And by God’s grace I’m reminded by this Heavenly Father—“Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. But we had to celebrate.” I want to go in to the party. I want to applaud God’s grace wherever it is being shown. I want to accept the grace that has been with me my whole life. I want to admit this grace into my spirit and let it shape me and mold me into the likeness of my Father, who is pure and unbounded joy and forgiveness. I want to go into the party.