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The Lamentful and Diligent Son - Lent +4 (C) 2013

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"The Lamentful and Diligent Son" - Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent 2013

Sermon text: Luke 15:1-3,11-32

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Today is the 4th Sunday in Lent, and today's Gospel reading has often been considered to be one of the most well loved parables in the gospels. This is a parable that I'm sure nearly everyone here is familiar with, a parable that is generally referred to as "The Prodigal Son."

Here, Jesus is telling everyone who has come near to him, the tax collectors, the scribes, the Pharisees, all those who are listening about a son who asked for his inheritance from his father, then takes off and squanders all of it, goes and leads a life of disrepute, winds up destitute, then finally comes to his senses and he remembers that even the people who work for his father have it much better than he does. And surely, even if his father doesn't forgive him, he will most certainly employ him. So the son comes back to beg for his father's forgiveness, and lo and behold, to his surprise, his father not only takes him back with open arms, he decides to throw celebration in honor of his return.

Now, we could stop there when we recount this parable--after all, it's commonly referred to as "the Prodigal Son" and if we do stop there we can certainly use the parable as an exemplar that the father represents God and that God forgives us of anything without hesitation, no matter what. We admit our wrongdoing, accept his forgiveness, and join in the celebration. There you have it.

But titling this parable, "The Prodigal Son" doesn't do complete justice, in fact it relegates the father in a more passive role. I've even heard it referred to as the "Prodigal Father", which can certainly give us a greater emphasis on the one who is in the central place in the parable. But there's more than that even than just a lost son returning home and a loving father giving him forgiveness.

If you stop there, you're missing the rest of the story. What if we knew this parable as "The Diligent and Lamentful Son"? Because here you have this older son, who has been diligently working the fields from the time he was old enough to do it, keeping faith to his father and being right there beside him, taking his share of the inheritance and making productive use of it. And now there is this party going on in the house, and nobody invited him to it, and it's probably just an oversight, because he's been spending all his time out in the fields working, and so nobody sees him back up at the house. So he hears this ruckus going on and he asks one of the workers what's up and finds out that his ne'er-do-well brother has just suddenly turned up after all these years as if it's been nothing and his father decides to throw a party. After all the older son has done, after all the time that he's put into keeping the place up, making improvements, turning his own portion of the inheritance, and he's never gotten a party.

I mean, the least Dad could have done is lecture the younger son.

The elder son doesn't see the gifts that has always been there for him, the gifts that his father provides him each and every day, because he's been present there each and every day. He takes it for granted, he's been accustomed to having things a certain way in his world and someone comes along to completely upset the apple cart, and he gets resentful and self-defeating. "I've done everything that I was supposed to do, everything that you wanted me to, and he comes along and gets to take advantage of your good will?"

The younger son was lost but now is found. The older son is blind. Will he see? His father is standing there inviting him to come into the house for the celebration. And he's steadfastly refusing to budge. Refusing to change. Refusing to be transformed. His father is holding his arms open wide, ready to embrace this beloved son and he's just too darned proud to hug him back.

Because he feels entitled by the simple fact that he's the good son, who has been constantly faithful, constantly doing the right thing. He refuses to see the joy that is possible. How can he be transformed if he refuses to set foot inside while everyone else in the household is celebrating the return to life of the younger son?

But the door is open. The father is standing there inviting him in. God is inviting him in to celebrate. The older son is welcome to join in the festivities. It is only his own ego keeping him outside, angrily and self-righteously looking in.

Now, if you heard Pastor Steve's sermon from last week, he admitted to being a bit jealous of me in that I was going to be preaching on this passage from Luke. I have my own confession to make. As Pastor Steve told me earlier in the week when we sat down to discuss the text, there is a huge challenge with proclaiming the gospel on this passage in that so many listeners will have already made their minds about what the passage entails. So whereas you would expect that this passage would provide some easy material, in fact, the opposite is true, because of those people

And I myself cannot help feeling anxiety about this, that no matter what I share about this passage, there may be people listening to me right now that already know what to think about the parable of the Prodigal son, and are just simply biding time until the sermon is done and over with.

Perhaps I could be presuming things; maybe there isn't anyone here that falls into that category--but there is something very sad about the fact that there are people stuck in such a mode, such a way of thinking that they cannot get something new about this very familiar parable. Because in order for us to preach the word, in order for the holy spirit to work during the course of a sermon, there has to be a willingness on everyone's part to be transformed by the word.

Thinking about people who are stuck in such a mode that they can't get something new out of the parable is something that makes me very sad. If we have already made up our mind before the word even starts to come in then where does the transformation take place? But I have been guilty of the same thing from time to time, doing the same thing, just the bare minimum of what I thought I was supposed to be doing as a means to an end, and wondering why other people were reaping the rewards of having their lives transformed while I was stuck in a deep rut.

What does it take to just come to church and not be transformed? Just yesterday I was speaking to someone who told me when he was younger he had been to church and while he was there he felt spiritually fulfilled but...

How many people are there out there who treat church as a hobby, something they do, that they come and worship because they have nothing better to do with their time, it's what is expected of them, and so they diligently go through the maneuvers of getting all dressed up, piling their families or spouses in their car or just going on their own, walking in, sitting in the pew and then just going home again after that to the rest of their lives?

And for them to be transformed means that they have to realize that they too need to be saved, that they too need to be forgiven, that it is only a matter of admitting to themselves that like the older son, in spite of all the works of their hands, they still are still just fallible human beings and still need forgiveness.

It seems like it would be the easiest thing in the world to do, just to say to God that we're helpless, fallible, sinful and wrong. And yet it can be so hard for us sometimes to just take his invitation when we know that it is available to anyone who asks for it. Why is it that we work so hard and spend so much time doing the right thing when God bestows his grace on anyone who asks for it?

And there is God calling them, begging and pleading with them to come in and celebrate the new life, the new creation, in a feast to come.

There's a party going on right here. A celebration. Those who have once been lost are being found. Those who have been dead are now experiencing new life and wonderment. Those who are blind can suddenly see. The invitation

As we continue our journey throughout this Lenten season, we should continue to keep in mind that God's grace is for all of us, whether we are the wayward children who fall away in distant lands, out of God's presence and who return, and ask for his forgiveness, and find out that his grace is unconditional, or whether we are the fixed and steadfast children, continuously going through motions day in and day out, being there but oblivious to the gifts before us; when all we need do is accept his love for us, his everlasting grace.

When we have God's transformative love and grace abounding, how can we do anything but seek to have our sins cleansed from us?

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This page contains a single entry by Cary Bass-Deschenes published on March 10, 2013 8:35 PM.

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