“A Father and His Sons”
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32- 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
6 March 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church & East Rochester United Methodist Church
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Most of us know of this parable of Jesus by the title
“The Parable of the Prodigal Son”.
But, is it?
The word “prodigal” means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.”
Prodigal certainly fits the bill for the younger son in this story.
He divorces his father and brother.
He takes his share of the inheritance
And blows it all “in dissolute living.”
“Dissolute” itself means
an absence of morals, drunken, disreputable rogue.”
But is this a story about the behavior of the younger son?
I’d suggest it isn’t.
I’d suggest Jesus had a more pressing purpose
Than teaching about a week of wild self-indulgence in Los Vegas.
If you would re-title this parable of Jesus what would you call it?
(Wait for response)
Our parable is about three individuals:
A father and his two sons.
The father loves his sons,
Even to the point of enabling bad behavior.
This, of course, angers the older, more responsible son.
He may be faithfully working the field,
But he, too, is divorcing his father and separating himself from his brother
By his moralistic, righteous indignation.
It’s one thing for brothers to fight amongst themselves
When they’re eight years old.
It’s something all together different
When they fight in their twenties or thirties.
I’ve seen brothers separate
And never talk to one another
This is where this relationship is going between the two brothers.
It’s on life support.
The younger brother is so self-centered,
So focused on his immediate self-gratification,
He’s already turned the corner with his older brother.
He’s divorced him;
Written him off as if he was dead.
The elder brother is so diametrically opposed to his world view,
He stopped listening to him years ago.
Prior to the younger brother taking off,
There must have been some interesting discussions
At the supper table.
Then, there is the loving father.
The father loved his elder son so much
That he raised him with a passionate work ethic.
He instilled within him a deep seeded core value of righteous living;
Taking care to be anchored by Hebrew Law.
Behavior matters, the father had undoubtedly taught his eldest son.
Behavior matters, so always do the right thing.
Keep within the Law.
There is no reason to believe
This loving father would have raised is younger son any different.
The difference in outcome
Was the son’s rejection of his father’s values.
“Behavior matters.” “I don’t care.”
“Do the right thing.” “No I won’t. You can’t make me.”
“Reject evil.” “Today, I’m going to eat, drink, and be merry.”
“Keep within the Law.” “Before or after I party like there is no tomorrow?”
“And, oh, take your Law and shove it.”
I guess free choice and enabling got confused.
Hold your horses, here.
Less we become too quick to criticize the father
For cashing in his pension and his 401k accounts
To give a third of his estate to his youngest
Who treats him like dirt and as if he is already dead,
Free choice is a gift.
Indeed, once we make the parable’s transformation
And see the Lord our Heavenly Father as the father of this story,
We can begin to see this is a story of gifts.
This parable becomes a cornerstone of Christian belief and theology
When gifts become known as grace
Because of God’s divine interruption.
By God’s hand,
Gifts become grace.
The father loved both of his sons before they knew what love was.
He cared for them and raised them
(Though Jesus never paints a mother into his fictional parable).
He instilled in both his sons
Values of love and generosity.
Neither son had any idea of the enormous gift their father was giving them, nor did they have any awareness of it.
That’s called Prevenient Grace.
It is the same love and generosity that God had for us
Prior to our awareness.
God loves us so much he sent his son to
Free us from sin
And to escape the finality of death.
We were born into God’s grace
And we didn’t even know it.
There is a whole lot of love
Designed directly into our DNA by our Heavenly Creator..
The father loved both of his sons so much he flooded their lives with extravagant, overwhelming generosity.
He didn’t even think twice before he divided his property between them,
In spite of the fact that,
In doing so,
He acknowledged and finalized the divorce
Between his younger son and himself.
Love that does not quit is called Sustaining Grace.
It is the same love and generosity that God has for us
In spite of the fact that we have a propensity for sin,
That we continue to disobey his will,
And that we might even bring embarrassment and shame upon His name.
There is nothing that separate us
From the love of God, our Heavenly Father.
God’s love never quits.
The father loved his eldest
Even though he copped a judgmental attitude
When he learned his brother had returned and his dad threw him a party.
“That son of yours” snarl
Must have cut his loving father to the bone.
“He’s not my brother, and you’re not my father.”
That’s what he was saying.
The father loved him, just the same.
The father loved his youngest
Even though he squandered a third of the family’s wealth
On gambling, drinking, drugging, prostitutes, and whores.
The father loved him even still.
It is the same love and generosity that God has for us
In spite of the fact that there is nothing we’ve done to deserve it.
You can’t earn your way into the love of our Heavenly Father.
You and I aren’t good enough.
Neither do you and I deserve it.
Yet this undeserved grace of God
Is a solid rock of God’s relationship with us.
God is forever waiting for our return.
It doesn’t matter how many Sundays we’ve missed.
It doesn’t matter how many or how deeply we’ve disobeyed His will.
God is always waiting to welcome us back
To wipe the slate clean
And start over again …
As if we’d never sinned in the first place.
This is called Justifying Grace.
“Justified” means to be washed clean, to be reset, to be forgiven.
This justifying grace of a loving Father
Is completed with Christ’s crucifixion,
Is symbolized by the cross,
And is formalized by the Apostle Paul in the early Church.
(See Galatians 3)
The father’s love never quits,
Even though the parable comes to an abrupt end.
Jesus ended it with:
“‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
(Luke 15: 31-32)
If you or I could write an ending to this Parable,
What would we write?
Would you have the elder son come in and join the party?
Would you have the younger son get his act together
And start to lead a moral and responsible life?
That might be the fairy tale ending,
But I’m not so certain this would portray what really happens
In the lives of dysfunctional families
(Which, of course, would be all of our families).
Perhaps the more realistic ending would be
The younger son turned around and returned to a cheap Vegas strip bar,
The elder son kept up his hot and heated complaints
Like he had a bee in his bonnet,
And the old man kept welcoming BOTH his lost sons back home.
It is the same love and generosity that our Heavenly Father has for us.
His love never quits.
In fact, death isn’t even an interruption.
God’s love transcends life,
The illness, disease, and injury of death,
And is made perfect with our eternal salvation.
The very same Loving Father who rolled the stone away
And resurrected his beloved Son,
Is the same Loving Father who will bring us home.
This is God’s Saving Grace,
And it is eternal.
Our narrative of Christ and his memorable parable
Is, indeed, about grace;
The loving grace, that knew us before our birth,
The sustaining grace, that has supported us every day of our lives,
The justifying grace, that has washed us clean as if we’ve never sinned,
And the saving grace, that opens wide heavens gates;
Bringing reconciliation between sons
And between a father and each of his sons.
Amazing, isn’t it?
By God’s amazing grace
We are reconciled with each other
And with our God.
Reconciliation gives birth to a new creation,
The Apostle Paul reminded us today in his second letter to the Corinthians.
By God’s amazing grace, we are made one with Christ,
One with each other,
And one in ministry to all the world
Until Christ comes in final victory
And we feast at his heavenly banquet.
It is by God’s amazing grace
That, starting now, going forward,
All things are made new.