Sunday Sermon 27th March
The Lost Son (Mothering Sunday)
Welcome to our reflection for 27th March.
This is meant to be Mothering Sunday, and yet the sermon isn’t about mothers. The reason for that is originally Mothering Sunday was never about mothers.
It was a time when the rich of the land let their servants have a free day where they could go back to their mother church. Often that was doubled up with a visit to the graves of the family.
It was more a time when we reflect on our place in the church, which is why we are using the passage and reflection we are looking at today.
Which we will look at after Gil gives us the reading and prayer for today.
Though if you want a wee talk on Mothers and celebrating mothers, then look at our children’s address for today.
Today’s reading is from the New Testament, Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 15, and verses 1 to 3, followed by 11b to 32.
This is the story that we know as “The Prodigal Son”.
In Jesus’ time the religious folk followed a very extensive set of rules so that they could be certain that they were obeying all the requirements of the Jewish Law. If anyone did not follow the rules, they were viewed as sinners, and shunned by the righteous folk. The people who saw themselves as righteous did not mix with sinners, and they would certainly not have invited them into their homes, nor would they have shared a meal with them. But Jesus often broke the rules.
Now let us read from Luke, Chapter 15, starting at verse 1.
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3 So he told them this parable:
11 "There was a man who had two sons.
12 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.
13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15 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.
16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
17 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!
18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." '
20 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.
21 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.'
22 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.
23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.
25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
27 He replied, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
29 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.
30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
31 Then the father said to him, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32 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.' "
Let us all come before God in prayer.
Loving God, creator of everything, although we may be in many different places, we are gathered to worship you. We know that you are the all-powerful, eternal God, the creator and sustainer of all things, and that you are the source of everything that we have.
We thank you that you are merciful, and that you are always willing to listen to our prayers, and to forgive us when we are truly sorry. We know that we should live our lives as Jesus taught us, but we find it hard to follow him, and we continually try do things in our own way. Merciful God, we need to ask for your forgiveness.
Forgive us for the times when we have not thanked you for all the things that you have provided for us; when we have taken everything for granted and have failed to acknowledge that all good things come from you. Forgive us too, for the times when we have been lazy, possessive, or greedy. We have misused the gift of time, and we have not been careful with the world’s resources which you have provided for all of us.
Guide us to use you gifts wisely, not to waste them, and to share them with others.
Forgive us for all the times when we have failed to treat people in the way that we should. Sometimes we have allowed our emotions and egos to get in the way of loving others as we should. We have not always been welcoming and hospitable to strangers, and we have tended to put people into categories instead of treating them as valuable individuals who are loved by you.
Remind us that Jesus showed his love and concern for all people, including those who were feared or despised by others. Help us to follow his example.
Today we want to thank you for all that you do for us; for all that you provide for us, and for all your love and care. We thank you too for our families, and friends. Today, we remember the important part that mothers play in our families, and we are grateful for all the love and care which they have shown to us, and to others.
We thank you, that your Spirit has prompted many people from all around the world, to show love and concern for those who are in difficulty or danger. In particular, we thank you for the help that has been given to refugees from Ukraine, and from other parts of the world. Help us to do our part to support and encourage those who are helping those in need or in danger.
Compassionate God, we pray for ourselves and for all people everywhere. The plight of the people affected by the war in Ukraine is uppermost in our minds, but many other places in the world are in turmoil. There are many troubles and conflicts, as well as diseases, and natural disasters, some of which have been made worse by human actions. Lord, may your Spirit guide world leaders, and those with influence, to look for peaceful ways to resolve their differences, and may we all work together to look after this wonderful planet that you have given us.
We offer our prayer in the name of Jesus, and now we pray in the words which he taught his followers:
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
What does God expect from us?
I have read and reread so many commentaries on this passage.
I have considered it from the eastern churches perspective where the story is never called the parable of the prodigal son but the parable of the loving father.
The reason for that is that technically the parable was written in a way that the start of the story is reflected at the end of the story and the whole story moves into the middle and then is reflect like a mirror out from the middle to the end.
It is a well known and established way of writing in the Middle East.
So instead of the punch line and conclusion being at the end of the story, it comes in the middle of the story, and the middle of this story is when the father is looking out for the son.
So the story is not about a son that goes wrong, it is about a father that lovingly is willing to wait.
I have read it from the systematic outlook. That we have three parables one after the other all building on each other.
The scene is religious people complaining about how Jesus is spending too much time with people they think are unworthy.
And Jesus builds up three parables on things that are worth finding.
A shepherd would look for a sheep if it was lost because that is his income.
A young woman would look for a dowry that was lost; because on it depended her future security.
A father would look for a member of the family who was lost to come home, because he is family.
So in answer to the grumbling of the Pharisees Jesus is saying these so called outcastes are still family, they are worthy to be found, we have no right to give up on them.
Recently I have been reflecting on this passage and I have been wondering about the two sons, and wondering if really this parable isn’t a warning to the older son.
The people Jesus was talking to were Pharisees and teachers of the law, the religious folk, and we are the religious folk.
So maybe the message, particularly of the last parable, of the prodigal son, is meant to be directed to us;
a warning to us religious folk, about how God isn’t fooled by us.
The only person we are hurting by the way we live our faith is ourselves.
Let’s look at this parable a bit more closely.
We have a good son and a bad son.
How would we define a good son?
Maybe Faithfulness...the good son stays at home and does as he is told.
Maybe loyalty...the good son stays where he is needed.
What about honesty?
Well maybe there we have a problem.
You see as religious folk we tend to side with who we think is the good son, the elder son, because we feel we are loyal and faithful. We stick around and work for God and we don’t seem to get any of the rewards.
Then that waster son arrives and he is all happy and enthusiastic and gets everything handed to him.
Does that seem fair?
We don’t realise that we have looked through the story with biased eyes.
For instance, why is the younger son poor?
Well because he wasted all the money on prostitutes.
That’s what the Bible says...
Only that’s not what the Bible says, that’s what the elder brother says.
The Bible says he was reckless with the money. But the reason he was struggling was because of a famine that hit the land.
There would be a lot of people struggling because of the famine; that was something out with the son’s control. It wasn’t the younger son’s fault there was a famine.
The problem is our attitude.
We want to blame the younger son, because we see ourselves as the elder son.
We want the younger son to get what we think he deserves because we see ourselves as the older son.
As this is mother’s day let’s look at single mums.
How comfortable would a single mum feel in joining this church?
I would like to think that we wouldn’t be bothered if a woman was single or not.
But that hasn’t always been the case, has it?
It wasn’t that long ago single mums were frowned upon.
So they were struggling, well they got what they deserved, playing outside the rules, not doing things the respectable way.
Forget about the fact that they may have been in love and were conned by a respectable married man.
Or that their boyfriend ran away as soon as responsibility came knocking.
Or even that maybe they were widows, husband unfortunately died.
Or maybe even that she had three children by three different fathers, she is struggling because she is getting no support.
What did any of that matter? If she was a person in need surely that was all that mattered?
Let’s look at this elder son.
How did he know that his younger son spent the money on prostitutes?
Was that just his imaginings, his own corrupt thoughts?
What kind of good person would presume the worst of his brother?
Or maybe it was the truth.
Part of the elder son’s duties was to keep the family together.
When the father died the elder son would become the head of the tribe and his role was to look after all the tribe and keep them safe.
As such maybe the elder son had gone out to find the younger son, and had found him.
But then having found him did nothing to help him, nothing to bring him back to the family.
The heart of the elder son was so damaged that he would rather see his younger brother lost, maybe dead, than bring him back home, bring him back to safety.
What kind of person is that?
Is that the actions of a good person?
Then you have to ask yourself, what is it in the younger son that the father was attracted to?
And I would suggest honesty.
The younger son was true to himself.
He was unhappy.
He was surrounded by the best of lives he could have, but he was unhappy.
And as long as he stayed home he would get more and more unhappy.
So the father doesn’t berate him, doesn’t attack him for wanting to leave.
The father lets him leave, presumably with his blessing.
It is only when the younger son compares the life that he created for himself, with the life that his father had created for him, that he realises what he has missed.
The younger son returns home because he wants to be home.
There is an honesty in all that the younger son does.
That’s not to say that the younger son doesn’t make mistakes, but then we all make mistakes.
And as mistakes go, are honest mistakes not the better ones to have?
And because he is honest, he can see the mistake he has made and is not too proud to seek help where he knows he can find it.
Knowing full well that his actions have damaged his relationship with his father and accepting and expecting that the relationship will not be the same;
he might not be treated as a son any more, maybe treated no more than a hired hand.
But that’s ok, he realises his actions will have had consequences.
Seeing that, what father, what mother would not rejoice that their child has come to their senses and found their way back home safe?
The older brother?
I have to ask what he is doing at the farm at all.
Sure he is loyal, sure he is faithful, but he doesn’t want to be there.
He feels that he has been treated as a slave.
The truth is the older son has no joy because he is not true to himself.
The older son was given his inheritance at the same time as the younger son.
If he wanted to leave he should just have left.
But he didn’t.
Maybe out of a sense of guilt, maybe out of a sense of responsibility, maybe out of a sense of duty.
Who knows, but it is obvious that he has resented his situation all that time,
he blames the father for him being there,
for having him live up to expectations he can’t aspire to,
for forcing him to have obligations that he feels were too hard for him to live up to.
The truth was, the father never did that to the son.
The son did it to himself, the elder sons life was the life that the elder son created for himself, but he couldn’t resent himself, so he resented his brother, his father.
I am sure every night the father would look across to his elder son while they ate and saw someone who destroyed the joy of the home, because no matter how wonderful the home was, he didn’t want to be there, he couldn’t see the joy and the support and the love the home could give.
I expect the father wept with joy when he saw the younger son final got it.
I expect the father wept with sorrow then he saw his elder son still hadn’t seen it.
Which brings us on to this, our mother church, how do we feel about it?
All I would want, and I suspect that all God would want, is for us to be honest about it?
If we are here because it is an obligation and duty then be honest about it, because if we are honest about it we can do something about it.
We can leave, find a place where we feel our church is like a home that helps us, or sort ourselves out, like the younger son, realise we have been mistaken and change our heart and our attitude.
If we are here because we know this is our home, a place where we feel support and encouragement, then we need to spread that out. For there are lost children out there, and our responsibility is to let them see that this can be their home as well.
If we truly believe this is a place of refuge, then why would we leave our brothers and sisters out there in the cold, in a place of darkness, in a place where they might be in danger?
If this truly is our spiritual home, then let us make it a home for many.
Let us pray
We come to you today, knowing that at some time we all have been lost.
Like children we have all been angry at you, frustrated at you, said and done things we have regretted.
Like little children we may even have hated you because we didn’t get our own way.
Like a good mother, like a good father, you have understood that we are young, that we have been in pain, that we were hurting and didn’t understand the words that we said and the consequences of our actions.
Like a good mother, like a good father, you have waited for us to calm down, waited for our anger and hurt to subside, waited for our pride and ego to soften, sometimes you have waited a long time, maybe you still are waiting.
Our joy is when we come to our senses, and we see you running to us, enclosing us in your arms of love, reminding us that we are home, we are safe.
May our response, may our gift, be to love others, welcome others, as you have loved and welcomed us.
This we ask in Jesus name.