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Sermon: Prodigal Son

Black and white image of a small child holding his Father's hand, taken from the rear.

pic: by Mark Bonica via Flickr

Sermon from St Edward’s / 27 March /Mothering Sunday / Luke 15 – The lost son

We’re going to focus on our Gospel reading today, the parable of the lost son.

It’s interesting that this parable comes in a set of 3, about lost things:

The sheep, the coin and here the son.

Which it is suggested represent in us:

That we are all lost without the shepherd – like the sheep

We are all helpless, like the coin by itself, until found

And we are all foolish like the son when we try to do things by ourselves away from our heavenly father.

But also that these 3 parables show different aspects of the Trinity:

The shepherd – Jesus the son

The woman faithfully cleaning and searching, led by or as the Holy Spirit

And of course God the Father, in the parable of the lost son

So there is lots we could unpack here but we are going to be thinking about forgiveness, kind of a 2nd part to the sermon from last week where we thought of repentance and letting things go.

You know I think this parable should be called the parable of the lost child, or the prodigal child. Because 50% of us might relate to it better… 

There is an artist called Charlie Mackesy, you may have heard of him, he is a Christian and has done some really amazing paintings including both the prodigal son and the prodigal daughter. They are so profound and moving, a child being held in the Father’s embrace.

I for one feel like a prodigal daughter…

Both spiritually and physically.

Spiritually because I grew up in church but not really having a faith of my own and at age 19 walked away from it all, turned my back on God.

and physically because I did the same to my parents. I told them I was off to Australia, not sure when I’m coming back and off I went – not the era of mobile and WhatsApp, I rarely wrote or called. Rather like the younger son in the story I went off the rails: drink, drugs and all the things you don’t want your kids to do, until, I found myself pregnant and I ended up called my mum saying, I want to come home. They embraced me back into their home, a little less excited about the pregnancy (until she was born and of course they doted on her…) but nonetheless I was welcomed in as the child who had returned: the prodigal daughter.

Running back to God’s arms took a little longer but when I finally did in my 30s, God was there with arms open wide saying I love you child, welcome home, I have good plans for you, you’re going to serve me in my church and be a witness to all I can do…

So you see I am the prodigal in more ways than one.

Perhaps you are too?

Or perhaps you relate to the older son? Are you the dutiful one, the one who seeks to do good, to serve, but perhaps underneath it all has a rumbling sense of judgement on those whose lives are different to our own?

Tom Wright, former Bishop, theologian, one of my faves actually! He says of the older son:

That in his bad temper he shows no mor respect for his father than his younger brother. The younger brother would have cause great shame in asking for his inheritance before his father had even died, it was the equivalent of saying I wish you were dead.

The culture of the day would have found this shocking and that the Father took all this without recrimination. He gave the son his money. Whereas the culture said he should have been beaten or thrown out for asking such a thing.

And yet Tom Wright says, the older son shows no more respect that the younger, with his angry grumbling about his Father’s choices, effectively lecturing his father in front of the guests and refusing to come in, like a toddler tantrum, again bringing disrespect on the Father.

Or perhaps some of us might find an affinity with this son, well he had a point, did he get rewarded for being at home, serving alongside his father? No he did not.

But the point Jesus is making is of course one of our heavenly Father – and for those hearing he was making a comparison with Jews and gentiles. For some Jews who found it hard that Jesus was embracing gentiles, welcoming them into his kingdom. But Jesus is saying, yes this is to celebrate but don’t think your work is done either – as the older brother still required some work to be done on his character! There is work to be done for us all to enter the kingdom of God.

And we don’t know what the end of the story is for the older brother do we? Did he reconcile with his father or did he go off in a strop? 

Where the story starts with the younger brother on a journey of distance from God, he isdrawn back into the Father. The older brother’s journey perhaps starts here?

But as we see the Father offers both sons love and forgiveness, all God’s children are offered the same. Whether we have known God our whole lives or had a transforming encounter later in life. The younger son has seen his need to repent and has done so, seeking forgiveness. The older son, perhaps has not yet seen his need to repent. The younger son was lost and now is found, the older son is in a way still lost. 

Last week we took our chance to let go of the things that had hurt us or the things we needed to repent of, this is a picture of what happens when we do. Welcomed into God’s arms.

Sometimes this is an ongoing task, sometimes we need to keep on repenting and asking of ourselves, which son are we most like in this story? And keep on seeking the forgiveness of the Father whose arms are open wide ready to embrace us.

This picture is of God as loving Father. Some of us may not have had a loving Father or mother, we may have faced not feeling loved and it might feel hard to relate to God as a parent for that reason. But Jesus is showing us here a Father figure who is so much more than all we expect. 

And the love of the Father is abundant – when the Father runs to meet the younger son returning, he is shown running in joy in a culture where senior figures are too dignified to run anywhere! We see him killing the fatted calf – kept for only super special occasions. In the culture of the day this should have been a moment of shame the son coming back like this, but the Father shows a different way to the culture.

And we need to be people like that too. Loving all abundantly, welcoming those into our church whoever they are, and celebrating one another. 

So wherever we are at this morning, whatever our experiences of being shown love or not by a parent or carer, we can all seek to focus on a God who is the best Father, the best Mother ever, who loves us so much, in abundance, who celebrates us, who draws us into those loving arms with such tenderness and compassion, because we were once lost but now we are found.


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