The return of the "Prodigal Son"

Nikon D70s, 1/500 sec, f10, -1/3 EV ISO 200 (Bigger)
Waiting on Shore“, Rosses Point, Co. Sligo
Today’s Sermon, Text Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Mothering Sunday)

Facebook is sometimes in the news for bad reasons but there is also plenty about it that is good too. One of the good things about it is that it brings people who had lost contact together again. Here’s an example: When Avril Grube’s marriage came to an end in 1982, she decided to remain in her hometown of Poole in Dorset, while her husband returned to his native country of Hungary. The couple had one son, Gavin, of whom Avril was awarded sole custody. Avril’s husband was only given visitation rights.
One day, while in town to visit his son, Avril’s ex-husband asked to take Gavin to the local zoo. Avril agreed, and off the two went for a day of fun. As day turned into night, however, Avril became worried. She waited and waited for them to return, but they never did. She would soon learn that Gavin’s father had taken the boy back to Hungary.
For years Avril and her sister searched for Gavin, going so far as to take up their case with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the authorities at the Hungarian Embassy. But their efforts were fruitless. Over time, Avril slowly lost hope of ever seeing her son again.
But 27 years later—27 years—she found him.
In March of 2009, Avril’s sister typed Gavin’s name into an internet search engine and found his Facebook profile. Avril and her sister immediately started sending him messages. When Gavin didn’t respond—they later learned he doesn’t use his account much—they started messaging his children, who also had Facebook accounts. Eventually, the two finally reconnected after so many years apart.
“She is absolutely on cloud nine,” Avril’s sister told a reporter for the BBC. “They have been hugging—really, really happy.”
Brian Lowery, managing editor, PreachingToday.com; source: BBC News, “‘Kidnapped son’ found on Facebook” (5-29-09)
The parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’, (as it is often known), is probably familiar to most of us. It is a very powerful, moving and challenging story about a Father and his two sons. This being Mothers’ Day, it is not too hard to apply the role of the Father to that of the Mother also. Most parents of grown-up children will be able to relate (at least a little) to what the Father goes through, and all of us (as God’s children) know what it is like (at least a little bit) to be like that ‘Prodigal son’. The older son is typical, taking responsibility and protocol seriously and the younger son too is typical (perhaps stereotypical) as carefree and with little or no understanding of duty or respect.
So we begin with the younger son saying to his father ‘give me my share of the estate’. He wants his inheritance NOW! He is naive and has little or no sense of worth or respect. He seems to be only thinking about himself and what he wants. Why does the Father agree to this very unusual request? Perhaps we wonder why God lets the sinner go his or her own way. Why doesn’t God stop them, we ask? Perhaps sometimes the only way we can learn is by learning the hard way.
So the property is divided between the two sons. The younger son collects together everything he has and sets off for a distant country. What does he do? We are simply told that he ‘squandered his wealth in wild living.’ In the original language it reads that he ‘scattered his resources’, it is like he literally throws his money away. Now he is penniless things get even worse. A severe famine comes over the foreign country where he is. Desperate for a job, the only thing he can find is one feeding pigs (a job that would have been very dishonouring for a Jew, for whom pigs were ‘unclean’ (see Leviticus 11:7)). So he has hit rock bottom, even the food that the pigs are getting is better than what he has. Here is the lostness of a sinner – but at least he realises it, many people today are lost and do not realise it.
At last, in the hour of his deepest need, he begins to come to his senses. Even his Fathers servants have a much better life. To be outside of God’s family is to be utterly alone. So he makes plans to return home. It was only a short time ago that he couldn’t wait to get away from home, now he can’t wait to return, no matter if he is only hired as a slave when he gets there.
He has a thin thread of hope that his Father will take him on a a slave, perhaps after a severe telling-off and punishment. Little did he know what was about to happen. He might have for a time forgotten all about his Father, but his Father never forgot about him. There may have been times in our lives when we have forgotten all about God as we have gone away from Him, but he never forgets about us.
But the son doesn’t even get near his home before something extraordinary happens. The Father couldn’t care about protocol, with unconditional loving abandonment, not caring what anyone else thinks or says he runs, yes he runs to his son. His heart is overflowing with love and compassion. He drapes his arms around his child and kisses him. The son manages to begin his long-rehearsed apology which no doubt is now from his heart but his Father doesn’t notice it – he is too overcome with joy.
You know, I have met people who think that God can’t or won’t forgive them. People often see God as stern, an old serious man with a white beard and a pointing finger. This is very different to the Father that Jesus told us about, who actively seeks out the sinner and goes looking for the lost, or as Francis Thompson describes him in his famous poem, He is “the Hound of Heaven”.
The celebration begins. The Father calls for the best robe to be brought and a ring and sandals, for the fattened calf to be killed and for a celebration to begin. O what rejoicing there is in heaven Jesus tells us over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7). What celebration there was in heaven the day you gave your life to Christ / what celebration there will be for you the day you decide to give your life to Christ if you haven’t yet done so.
The elder son had been working in the fields. He hears all the music and dancing and wonders what is going on. A servant tells him that his younger brother has come home and they have killed the fatted calf and are celebrating.
The elder brother is enraged. He refuses to go to the party. His Father comes out and pleads with him. Here is a great irony. The son who was on the outside (the younger son, is now on the inside and the son who was on the inside (the elder son) is now on the outside! This is what Jesus means when He talks about the first being last and the last being first. Where are we on that scale – Do we resent God for forgiving those who we think we are better than? God will lavish His grace on the undeserving and that included us – none of us deserve God’s love, none of us are ‘good enough’ to ‘earn’ His forgiveness. Who are we to think like the older brother – and yet we do – and if we do we need to be careful, very careful.
The Father explains to the elder son that there is no need to be angry, everything he has belongs to him. The elder son has always had reason to celebrate because everything will one day be his. One of the things that makes this such a powerful parable is that the story is left hanging – we don’t know what the elder brothers response is. Of course the whole point is to provoke a response from us – what would we do in his place?
God’s grace is unfair and that means it is is unfair for us all. We don’t deserve God’s love, we don’t deserve His forgiveness. Yet once we experience it, who are we to question who God should forgive.
God’s open arms extend to all who will come to Him, they are open for you, for me and for anyone who will turn around from their old way of life. All of us are in this parable somewhere, are we the younger brother before he leaves home, are we the younger brother who has gone away are we the younger brother who is at last beginning to come to his senses? Are we the younger brother fearful of what the Father will say, are we afraid to go home? Are we the older brother? Do we have a superiority complex!? Do we think of ourselves better than we ought? Whoever we are and wherever we are we need to come to the Father and trust that when we do so it will have been the best and most important decision we have ever made… Amen.

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