PRODIGAL

CONFESSION / LORD’S PRAYER

(READ OUT LOUD:  IF WITH FRIENDS/FAMILY, READ TOGETHER)

 

Father, who gives all,

we ask that you forgive all. 

Father, who braved the cross,

may we too find courage to count the cost. 

And, Father, may we, without cause to stall,

into your strong arms this day fall.

Our Father, who 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. Amen.

SCRIPTURE

(READ OUT LOUD:  IF WITH FRIENDS/FAMILY, TAKE TURNS READING EACH SECTION)

(Luke 15:1-2)  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.”

(Luke 15:11-32)  Then Jesus said, “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 traveled 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.’”

PRAYER

(READ OUT LOUD — IF WITH FRIENDS/FAMILY, READ TOGETHER)

God, help us to understand our need.  Help us to understand your love.  Help us to understand our responsibility to share your love with a world in need.  Thank you for this time of worship.  Amen.

MESSAGE (By Pastor Ben Banner)

(READ OUT LOUD — IF WITH FRIENDS/FAMILY, TAKE TURNS READING EACH SECTION)

(15:1-2)  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.”

I looked long and hard for the verse that reads, “Jesus grumbled.”  But I couldn’t find it.  And I guess its possible that — there isn’t one!  That’s pretty convicting — at least to me.

The God-man had very few kind words for the pastors of his day, and plenty of other words we won’t mention here.  I have to believe there were at least one or two good pastors, but it reads like they were mostly an uninspiring bunch fitting most of the negative stereotypes people have about Christians today.  “I mean, come on, you can’t even make it to your own God’s birthday party!?”

 

On Christmas I sneak a miniature pastor figurine into the manger scene, because I want to believe that at least one pastor got invited — or didn’t have better things to do when he was.  But I know in my heart that the poor sap didn’t make it — because he was too busy grumbling about something or other.  And that’s the way it with most of us — most of the time.  And that’s the way it was with the older brother.

“Wait, who?”

That’s right, the older brother.  This story is at least as much about the older brother as it is about the younger — God has something to say to those who would rather grumble than show up to the party.  After all, they were the ones he was telling the story to.

But before this story is about the older brother, this is a story about the prodigal.

(15:12)  The younger [brother] said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’…

Friedrich Nietzsche is famous for saying, “God is dead.”  And he was right by what he meant by it — that the world — Nietzsche’s Modern world, and ours as well — has followed in the footsteps of the younger brother by wanting the father’s stuff, but not the father.  Here is another translation of this verse:  “Dad, I wish you were dead…so I could have your stuff.” 

The younger brother didn’t want the father, he just wanted the father’s stuff. 

This must have shocked Jesus’ listeners.  No Jewish boy would ever say such a thing to his father.  The penalty was disownment or even death.  But something more shocking happened next.

(15:12-13)  …So [the father] divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country…

Dividing his property would have been complicated, disempowering, and humiliating — among other things.  And then the son leaves, and was happy to get his father out of the picture.  

But, as it turned out, he was playing for a love he’d never find outside his father’s arms.  

So, eventually he comes to his senses…well, sort of…he devises a plan to work for his father, probably in an attempt to make restitution for his outlandish behavior.

(15:17-18) …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…

This is not an “if,” but a “when,” because at some point we all come to ourselves.  At some point we realize that all that glitters is not gold and that the things we had hoped would fill us seemed to leak out of our shoes and leave us empty.  We discover that we’ve been playing for a love we’ll never find.

We all come to ourselves when we’re forced to face the sadly shocking reality that all the romance in the world won’t fill the bottomless hole in our hearts any more than all the alcohol in the world will fill the bottomless hole in our guts — anymore than all the money in the world will fill the bottomless holes in our pockets.

There are bottomless holes in our God-sized souls that only He can fill.

So, our prodigal came to himself… and (15:20) …set off and went to his father…

…with his speech in hand.  And, of course, “the tax collectors and sinners” listening to this story had all prepared their speeches too — many times over.  They had all, in their own way, gone groveling back to their pastors and their pastors’ God who seemed to want nothing but blood.  “More blood!”  “More blood!”  And my guess is they had emotionally bled out.  They were worn down.  Tired.  Beat up.  

These poor miscreants were just desperate enough to go to church (coincidentally, on the Sunday Jesus was preaching).  They were just desperate enough to admit that they were broken.  “My name is Joe, and I’m a sinner.”  They knew what they had to say to get through the door.  They had their speeches worked out, because if church had taught them anything, it had taught them that God had to be bargained with and appeased and always loved a good grovel.

But…

(15:20) …But while [the prodigal] was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 

If this verse doesn’t knock you to the floor, you’re probably an older brother.

If you don’t have tears running down your face, it’s quite possible that you’re an older brother.

This is the plot twist that no one — and I mean no one! — was expecting.  

Friends, this is not Forest Gump.  Jewish fathers did not run.

To run would mean, lifting your robe and bearing your ankles, and that was an absolute taboo.

Jewish fathers did not run.  (Jewish mothers…maybe.)

What is absolutely clear in the text is that the father completely embarrassed himself.  He did what no Jewish father had ever done, nor would ever do.  He did the unthinkable.

The son did the unthinkable.  The father responded by doing the unthinkable.

That’s the gospel.

Here is a piece of the song we are going to sing at the end of this service:

I couldn't earn it I don't deserve it
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God

The son can’t believe it.  He was so sure he knew how his father would respond, that he missed his father’s actual response.  I wonder if some of our prayers are like that — we keep on talking, not imagining that God might want to join in the conversation at some point.  (And who knows, he might even say something surprising.)

(15:21)  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.’ 

The son gets it half right.  The truth is he never was worthy of sonship — no child ever is.

(15:22-24)  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.

This is the good part.  Notice the son is no longer concerned about the stuff.  The son has fallen out of love with the stuff that failed him, and has fallen in love with the father who never will.

Have you fallen out of love with your stuff and fallen in love with your heavenly Father?

Ask yourself these questions:  

What do you think about more than anything else?

What do you spend more time on than anything else?

What do you spend more money on than anything else?

How often do you think about God, pray to God, listen to God (by reading the Bible)?

How much time do you spend on God’s agenda?

How much money do you spend on God?

Okay, let’s pray… 

Wait!  The story isn’t over yet!  What about the older bother?

(15:25)  “Now his elder son was in the field…” 

Many of us like the older son, because we’re like the older son.  Like him, we would never be caught dead in a pig trough. (On the other hand, if we’re really honest, most of us older brothers would like to enjoy a bit of “dissolute living” from time to time too, if we could get away with it.)

The problem with good people is they don’t like bad people.  And when they find out God likes bad people, they tend to have a problem with him too.

(15:28)  Then [the older brother] became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 

What you have to realize is that the older brother, in publicly refusing to attend his father’s party, was disgracing his father as much as the younger son had earlier in the story.  No Jewish father would ever tolerate such insolence!  But Jesus was not talking about an ordinary Jewish father.

(On all but one occasion, Jesus consistently refers to God as Father, while, in the Old Testament, there is far less talk about God being a father than you might think.  This was a new concept — and one Jesus had to clarify so people would not confuse God with a typical Jewish father.  God was outrageously different than anyone had imagined.  Might he also be different than you imagine?)

(15:29-30) 29 But [the older son] 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!’

Did you hear the way he spoke to his father?  “Dearest father…”  No, there is no tenderness in his voice.  He speaks abrasively.  Disrespectfully.  “Listen here old man!  What did you ever do for me?”

The older brother reveals his cards.  “I want the stuff too!”  These two brothers are cut from the same cloth after all.  They both considered the father a means to an end.  They simply came up with different ways to manipulate him.  Here the older brother begins to realize that his way isn’t working either.

There is a gritty movie called SLC Punk about a rebellious youth who broke every rule he could in an attempt to make his mark on the world.  In the end, he realized that he could make a bigger mark by playing by the rules.  It turns out you can be bad or good — for the same reason.  Sadly, the movie ends with our young punk imagining that he had figured out how to make his mark, when what he really needed was — a father.  Not the deadbeat who abandoned him, but the kind of father no one had ever heard of until Jesus told this parable.  

Prodigals come in all shapes and sizes.  And so do older brothers.  Which one are you?

(15:31)  Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.

“You’re right, I never gave you a goat.  But you had — me.”

Who wants a goat, when you have God?  

Maybe that should be the sermon title.

What we discover is that God deeply loves the sinner and the saint.

(…which is obviously harder for the saint to swallow.)

God is a good father, and wants all of his children at the party.

So, let’s not aspire to be the older son any more than we aspire to be the prodigal.

Let’s not aspire to be overly religious any more than we aspire to be overly worldly.

Let us rather aspire to make it to the party.

Because we know who’s at the party?  

Dad.  

(15:31-32) 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.’”

…and…then what?!  Jesus leaves us hanging!  Did the older brother make it to the party or not?!

Jesus leaves it to the Pharisees and the scribes — the pastors — the religious folks — Jesus leaves it to us — to answer that question.

Do we make it to the party?  I hope so.

APPLICATION:

What do you think about more than anything else?

What do you spend more time on than anything else?

What do you spend more money on than anything else?

How often do you think about God, pray to God, listen to God (by reading the Bible)?

How much time do you spend on God’s agenda?

How much money do you spend on God?

ACTION:  Try giving up something for God this week.  This is Lent after all.  And see how hard it is.  The harder it is, the more control that thing has over you — and the more reason to give it up.

ACTION:  Look at your calendar.  Come up with a modified Quarantine schedule that practically makes God more of a priority.  Start small.  And follow through.

LISTEN TO THE FOLLOWING SONG ON YOUTUBE:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sc6SSHuZvQE

(or type in: “Reckless Love (Official Lyric Video)”)

Reckless Love

Before I spoke a word You were singing over me
You have been so so good to me
Before I took a breath You breathed Your life in me
You have been so so kind to me

(And) O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God
O it chases me down fights 'til I'm found
Leaves the ninety-nine


I couldn't earn it I don't deserve it
Still You give Yourself away
O the overwhelming never-ending reckless
Love of God yeah

When I was Your foe still Your love fought for me
You have been so so good to me
When I felt no worth You paid it all for me
You have been so so kind to me

 

There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me

CLOSING PRAYER:

Father God, we spend most of our time looking for happiness outside of a relationship with you — we’re still “playing for a love we’ll never find” outside your arms.  May we fail quickly at every attempt destined to fail.  May we go broke if our money is keeping us from you.  May we get sick if our health is keeping us from you.  May we become powerless if power is keeping us from you.

 

May we lose, if through losing we might find.  May we cry if through tears we might laugh.  May parts of ourselves die, if through their death, other better parts of us might be reborn.  And may we foster humility in our hearts, so that as we are sought, we might also be found.  Father, thank you.  Thank you that there is no shadow you won’t light up or mountain you won’t climb up, coming after me.  Thank you that there is no wall you won’t kick down, no lie you won’t tear down, in your loving pursuit of your children.  

Amen.

© 2018 by Woodland Hills Presbyterian Church

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