Prodigals

a sermon from Erin Pendreigh as preached at St John's and St Andrew's 10 March 2013. Scripture Luke 15:11-32

Who do we identify with this morning?

Illusion (Young woman Old lady)

Have a look at it this image for a moment – who do you see?

Do you see the young lady – or the old woman?

Try as I might I can only see the young lady.

I have tried turning my head this way and that – but the old woman just won’t appear for me.  I have a memory of seeing this picture a while ago and I am sure that I could see both – I thought I must have been really clever —- but I wonder if it was that I was just open to the possibilities.

So who do you see?

You know I still see myself as young….that is until I am in a room with mums with young preschool children – and then to my dismay I realise  I am a totally different generation.

They probably see me as old…been there and done that.

I see myself as one thing – but perhaps I need to identify with another.

So this morning I ask ourselves to think about who we identify with.

I don’t know of many church going people that haven’t heard of the parable of the lost son.

I don’t know many church going people that haven’t used the parable of the lost son or the prodigal son as a source of hope for family or friends in their midst.

When we are in despair about friends and family that have walked away from God and from church the Prodigal son story is our go to for inspiration, for prayer and to remind ourselves of God’s desire that people would turn back to them.

When we want to encourage others who have children that have left home and often left the church we remind them of the Prodigal son.

It is a great reminder to us of the hope we can have that the work of God is never done in spite of how dire a prodigal’s life looks.

It is a great reminder as we examined last week with the fig tree in the vineyard that God gives time to us before his day of judgement. That he will spread his grace and his mercy as he waits for us to repent and turn back to him.  Our prodigals will be ok.

If we consider this morning the work of a parable this is worth noting. Every parable is a call to a better life and a deeper trust in God….

Minister and scholar T W Manson challenges us to see a parable a picture in words – a work of art – that draws the listener to a likely response of – acting in a particular way towards his fellow humankind.

Manson is taking us quite deep – perhaps today he would say a parable is a work of art compelling the listener to identify who they are in the story and respond to consider the way they can do better both in their relationships with humankind and with God.

A parable is for us.

So who do we identify with in this story considering there are three main characters in the reading:

The Father, the lost son and the older brother.

In Bronnie’s message on the front of our news-sheet she offers the thought

Are we not like the prodigal? We too rush head-on into life, often with no regard for God; living to pay the next bill, seeking a “goldmine” ! We easily display our own blatant disrespect for God as we rush on! It is only as we slowly unravel, dissatisfied with life and wondering what’s missing that we can come to a place of brokenness and humility, with the prodigal, seeking forgiveness. Then we too may be restored.

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669. 262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint PetersburgI wonder if in our mind that is why this parable is so dear to us as a church.  That we can see the lost son in ourselves.  And in a way it is the comfortable option…it is the happy ending story…..we come running back to God and his open arms.  All is well.

Can we consider today though that we have already been welcomed – we already wear our Fathers finest robe.

So with that in mind let’s focus today on the older brother.

Can we at times identify with him? The one that stayed….

The older brother was certain of his inheritance – of his role in life – the order in which things would come to him.  He was certain of his place in the family.

If we look a little closer – if we take our eyes off the hope of the lost son being found for a moment we see a second lost son.

It is obvious that the prodigal is lost.

Jesus is painting another picture to alert us to a new understanding of lostness. That there are two lost sons – the older son is in some ways in greater danger.  And as the scribes and Pharisees before us experienced – this type of lostness is being experienced here today.

We hear this morning of the father “killing the fattened calf”, an enormously expensive extravagance in a culture where even having meat at meals was considered a delicacy.

The older son realized his father was ecstatic with joy. Yet he refused to go into the biggest feast his father has ever put on.  It was his way of saying, “I won’t be part of this family nor respect your headship of it.”

The father had to “go out” to plead with him. Just as he went out to bring his alienated younger son into the family, now he had to do the same for the older brother

For the 1st century Jews they would have heard the same act of public humiliation by the father – the same demonstration of unexpected love.

Inspite of this act of love the older brother resists:

“All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed…” (v.29).

No I am not coming in….

The good son is not lost in spite of his good behavior, but because of his good behavior. So it is not his sin keeping him out, but his righteousness.

For him his works should have been enough to guarantee his inheritance.

If we look at both brothers motives.

The younger brother wanted the father’s wealth, but not the father. So how did he get what he wanted? He left home. He broke the moral rules.

But it becomes evident that the elder brother also wanted selfish control of the father’s wealth. He was very unhappy with the father’s use of the possessions—the robe, the ring, the calf. But while the younger brother got control by taking his stuff and running away, we see that the elder brother got control by staying home and being very good. He felt that now he has the right to tell the father what to do with his possessions because he had obeyed him perfectly.

Jesus is very clear that there are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord.

  1. One is by breaking all the laws and being bad.
  2. One is by keeping all the laws and being good.

If I can be so good that God has to answer my prayer, give me a good life, and take me to heaven, then in all I do I may be looking to Jesus to be my helper and my rewarder—but he isn’t my Savior. I am then my own Savior.

We remain lost if we obey to get control.

Belonging obeys for a different motive – just to love and to please – to draw closer.

So what can lostness look like as an older brother.

Some people are complete elder brothers. They go to church and obey the Bible—but out of an expectation that then God owes them.  The gospel, the cross are like water off a ducks back.

As discussed previously this morning though how we can be a bit prodigal like – so too we can be a bit older brother like.

We can get angry when we try hard to live up to the standards of God and still bad things happen to us.  The Gospel reminds us that Jesus lived a better life than any of us – still he suffered terribly.

We can develop a servanthood mentality that becomes more a joyless and mechanical obedience (v.29—“I’ve been slaving for you”).  What is our heart motivation for doing all we do.  Do we do put our names forward while we mumble under our breath ‘it is always me that has to fill in.’   Serving as a means to an end (whatever the end is) is a bit lost….

Jesus warns about being disdainful of others (v.30—“this son of yours”). The older son will not even  relate to his brother.  Like last week are we in danger of commenting so much on others sin that we fail to realise that we are indeed naked (as Ian reminded us)

The saddest I think  is a  lack of assurance of the father’s love (v.29—you never threw me a party).  If we aren’t certain of God’s love for us – how will we know that we are good enough?  How will we know we have repented deeply enough.  That our prayers are enough….

And if we are uncertain about Gods love we can become lost with an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. The elder brother does not want the father to forgive the younger brother.

In trying so hard to be good a certainty can develop that surely I would never do anything that bad!”.

So can we agree that the older brother is in a greater sense more lost than our dear prodigal

This parable is about us – the potential we have not only to be prodigals but to guard us from being older brothers.

My son – the father said – you are always with me and everything I have is yours

This is the gospel.

We are accepted through Jesus Christ – therefore we obey. Therefore we serve.

This parable asks us to search our hearts to know our reason for being here today.

This is brutal stuff really.  Why are we here?

What are our motives – only you know yours – only I know mine.

If we are here and we are lost we will get different results to being here knowing we are found in Christ.

Both will produce radically different kinds of character

One produces anger, joyless compliance, superiority, insecurity, and a condemning spirit.

The other slowly but inevitably produces contentment, joy, humility, poise, and a forgiving spirit.

This is the gospel

We are who this parable is being spoken to – tax collectors and sinners.

Jesus is not willing to leave anyone in a place of confusion. Of being lost even within the bounds of his family.

As we continue our journey towards Easter and towards the cross the parable of the lost son is a foreshadow of the moment on the cross when he says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Knowing what he did for us accepting what He did for us – is us putting on His best robe. We were so sinful he had to die for us..

But we were so loved that he was glad to die for us.

When we accept that  – that we are so loved any pride and the fear that makes us elder brothers must be gone.

Take a moment to pray.