03/10/13 Sermon (March 10, 2013)

posted Mar 6, 2013, 11:11 AM by David Hawkins   [ updated Mar 10, 2013, 2:43 PM ]

03/10/13 Sermon (March 10, 2013)

“The Prodigal Dad”

Scripture Reading: 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: "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.'"

Sermon: “The Prodigal Dad”

I have to tell you, I’ve been really nervous about this scripture passage. This story about a wayward son and a forgiving dad is just so well known, I feel like most of you all have more to tell me about it than I have to tell you. I’ve heard this scripture preached at least twenty times in my life, as I’m sure most of you have.

So, when I was laying out my scriptures and themes for the year, I admit that there was part of me that wanted to preach on something else, to choose a less-well known topic, a more obscure scripture passage to explore with you today.

But, as I was doing my research, I was lucky enough to find the original story of the prodigal son, hidden away deep in the archives. Yes, in these scrolls (show scrolls), I found the true story of what happened so long ago, the story behind the parable that Jesus is teaching. So I brought it with me today, and I thought that I would read it, instead of preaching today. Don’t worry, I’ll translate it from the original Hebrew as I go along.

(unroll scrolls)

Let’s see here, yes, here it is, it’s called “The Story of the Prodigal Dad.” It doesn’t really say who the author is, but apparently it was written by an eyewitness. Let’s see what it says:

I’m standing here, thinking about whether I should just reach out, grab the door handle, and walk in. I can hear the music, I can hear all the laughter, the talking. It’s a real party in there. All I have to do is walk in and join the fun. But I’m not sure if I want to.

I don’t agree with this party. I think it’s a mistake. I think it sends the wrong message. After everything that jerk has done, to throw a party for him? It’s like we don’t remember what happened. Like we don’t care what he did, what he said, like we don’t have any standards, or pride, or decency whatsoever.

Yeah, I heard what my dad said about all this. In fact, he just left a minute ago, to go back in there and laugh it up some more. But I just don’t understand him. I don’t understand him acting like everything’s OK. I know he’s getting up there in age, but I find it hard to believe that he’s forgotten the way my brother talked to him, they way he insulted him.

My brother’s always been the baby of the family. Nobody’s ever expected him to do anything on the farm. Nobody’s expected him to work like I did. Nobody cared if he laid around all day. He had no work ethic at all. In fact, he would make fun of me when I’d try to tell him that he’d better shape up. He’d just laugh and ignore me.

And then one day, he decided he’d had enough of living out in the sticks. He wanted to go to the big city, see the lights. I guess he’d had it with his exhausting life laying around the house all day doing nothing. He wanted to get out into the world, and do nothing.

But he needed money to do that. He had no intention of working for a living. That was for suckers. And so he cooked up this plan to ask our dad for his inheritance, as though dad was already dead, and he wanted his share. You should have seen the look on dad’s face. Of course that was nothing compared to mom. It broke their hearts to be told that they were as good as dead to him. And I told him what he was doing was wrong. But my brother shrugged it off, like it was nothing. Because that’s what it was. It was nothing. We were nothing to him.

So dad let him go. let him go with his portion of his inheritance, with money, with animals, and with land, our family’s land, land that had belonged to our ancestors for generations, land that had been a gift to our people from God himself. And what did my brother do? He sold it! He sold our land, sold his birthright, sold his one connection to us and our forefathers, and to our God. Sold it so that he could have even more money, to get as far as he possibly could from us.

We didn’t hear from him for years. And that was fine. There were stories that would come back to us from time to time, stories that would make you blush, stories that shamed our family. He was living the good life, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t one that made my father proud. It wasn’t one that my mother could tell her friends about.

Well, it couldn’t last forever. And when he crashed, he crashed hard. First the money ran out. Then there was the famine, and I don’t need to tell you about that! Everybody remembers the famine. I like to think that it hit my brother especially hard, and maybe it did. Serves him right. I heard that he actually had to stoop to working for a living. Can you imagine, someone who had never lifted a finger in his life, trying to find a job?

And he found one, all right. He found just about the worst job in the world. He became a pig-keeper. That’s right. He gave up on God, and now God’s given up on him. He’s reduced to slopping hogs, to taking care of the most unclean creatures to ever curse this earth. Serves him right. As far as I’m concerned, he could have stayed right there with them for the rest of his life. That’s where he belonged. Eating bean pods with the pigs. Sleeping in filth.

But then there was this epiphany, or whatever. He sees the light, he comes to himself, I don’t know. Maybe he just took a long hard look at his life and decided it wasn’t going as planned. He decided to come home. He even cooked up some hokey little speech for my dad that he would say, to prove how sorry he was, to ask him to forgive everything, as if that’s going to happen.

Now, this next part, I just don’t get. Maybe the problem is I didn’t see it, somebody told me later what happened. I guess my brother starts walking home, and my dad sees him on the far horizon, dragging his sorry-rear end home, and my dad, who's really too old for this sort of thing, goes running out to meet him! Like he’s glad to see him! Like it’s OK that this wasteful fool has dared to show his face again. How dare he come home?! Who does he think we are? What kind of gall does he have, thinking that he can just waltz in here, and pick up where he left off?

Well I was pretty sure that dad would set him straight. I mean, my dad’s a good guy, but he’s no fool. And he doesn’t want to be seen as a fool either. Sure his son is home, but he’s going to teach him a few things about life. His son is going to learn that you can’t just walk away. There are consequences. There’s a price that needs to be paid.

At least, that’s what I thought dad would do. That’s what I thought dad should have done. But he doesn’t. He runs out to meet him, that old fool runs out in his robe with his tassels flying behind him, looks like the world’s biggest idiot. The hired hands are still laughing about it. He runs out there, throw his arms around his son, welcomes him home like a returning hero, rather that the shameful disappointment that he really is. He didn’t even let him apologize correctly. All that work on my brother’s speech goes out the window, because my dad can’t wait to dress him up like an honored guest, and throw this stupid party for him. It’s embarrassing.

And, it’s not just embarrassing. It’s not right! My brother should never have left. But since he did, he should never have come back. And my dad should never have wasted his love and his money on this ungrateful man-child. After all what has he done to earn this kind of love? I’ve been working the fields since I was a kid, and never has my dad ever showed me this kind of attention. I’ve never been thanked, I’ve never had a party, it’s like I don’t even exist, and yet, here’s my brother, welcomed back from his wasted life, with open arms, a marching band, a ticker-tape parade, and a banquet feast.

It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s not fair. It’s not fair to my father, or to my mother. It’s not fair to me. And I tried to explain that to my father, just a minute ago. I tried to explain to him all things that I was feeling. How if there was no consequence, then was what going to prevent us from doing whatever we liked? If there is grace, why should we worry about how we live? What’s the point of living a life worthy of God, if there’s nothing in it for us? Did I waste my life on this farm? Maybe I should have demanded my inheritance as well. Maybe I should have gone away, just so that I feel what it’s like to come home again.

My dad didn’t have any answers for these questions. He just kept saying that my brother was dead, and now he’s alive. I told hims that no, he wasn’t, he wasn’t dead. He was just not here. And dad said, that there were worse things than being dead. That there are better things than being alive. That is son was once lost, but now is found.

And then he put his hands on my shoulders, and told me a story. He said, “There was once a farmer who was given three wishes by God. At first, he wished for a hundred camels. And he got hundred camels. But his neighbor got two hundred camels. Then he wished for five hundred sheep. And he got five hundred sheep. But his neighbor got a thousand sheep.

“And this made the man furious. That whatever was given to him, was given double to his neighbor. He couldn’t bear it. And so, for his third wish, he wished that he would become blind in one eye.

“And God wept.”

And with that, my dad simply turned around, and walked through that door. And now, I’m standing here, trying to decide if I’m going in there after him. Can I bring myself to forgive my brother? Can I bring myself to accept that my dad has forgiven him? Do I want to be surrounded by friends, and family and food and joy and singing, and shouts of laughter?

Or should I insist on the principle of the thing? That justice was not served, that the law has not been satisfied. My dad should know this. They all should know it!

So why am I out here alone?

Well, that’s where the story ends. It sure would be nice to know what this fellow does. Do he go inside? Do he stay out? Does he ever reconcile with his brother?

Even harder, does he ever reconcile with his dad?

It would have been nice if he would have answered some of the questions for us. But he doesn’t.

Thanks be to God. Amen.