Luke: 15:11-31 — A Man had two sons. — 11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. 17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ 28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.
Today is Father’s Day. This is a time when we honor our fathers – just like we did with our mothers on Mother’s Day. It is a day to remember – it is a day to cry – it is a day to celebrate – it is a day to appreciate — it may be a day to forgive.
Being a father is much more than a biological action. Certainly, that was part of it, but that momentary flash of sparks was nothing compared to the intense relational role of being a father. And being a father is hard, but joyful work. I know that from my case, I wish that I had an instruction manual delivered to me when our first child David was born and even when our second child was born, Amy, I still needed a lot of instruction.
Here are some of the suggested titles of instruction manuals I could have used–10 Easy Steps to being a Father! – or better – The Inside Secrets to Diaper Changing! – or The Repair Manual and Guide For Your Loving Teenage Children. Actually – even if I had had an instruction manual – it probably would have been the last thing that I would have read. –“if all else fails read the instruction manual” I clearly did not know what to do with a baby — certainly Ann and I had help of parents and friends — but I was at a loss – feeding – changing diapers – staying up at night – Ask Ann – I was not very good at it then and even now still am not. But – as you all are aware — we learn by trial and error. We remember how our parents helped to shape us – good or not so good. We listened to our friends – but then we just learned how to raise children by trial and error.
Hopefully our errors were not so overwhelming that we could not correct our failings.
The Return of the Prodigal Son is an oil painting by Rembrandt. It is among the Dutch master’s final works, likely completed within two years of his death in 1669. Depicting the moment of the prodigal son‘s return to his father in the Biblical parable, it is a renowned work described by art historian Kenneth Clark as “a picture which those who have seen the original in Leningrad may be forgiven for claiming as the greatest picture ever painted”.
Several years ago, Ann spoke on this topic, and she has willingly lent some of her thoughts to me. The parable today has traditionally been called The Prodigal Son or sometimes –“A Man Had Two Sons” and is considered the epitome of the parables. It is the longest and not just one parable, but three parables wrapped into one story.
Most of you know the story well. It centers on the younger son who was tired of living under the roof and the rules of his father and wanted to experience life firsthand and to “find himself”. Sounds familiar! The younger son asked his father for his inheritance and that is scandalous as that implies that he wanted his father dead. The father gives the son his rightful inheritance and he promptly begins to squander it recklessly on wine, women, and partying. Finally, the younger son comes to the point where he has no money and his “friends” have disappeared. No money – No friends! He gets a job feeding the pigs, the lowest of animals in the Israeli culture, and realizes the pigs have more to eat than he does. In hitting bottom, he comes to understand the truth about himself and his situation. He has no one else to blame but himself. He decides to repent and goes to his father to ask forgiveness. His father is filled with compassion and embraces his son, calling for a celebration of his return.
However, this parable should really be called “The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons” because the younger son is only half of the story. The elder son has stayed at home and fulfilled all his responsibilities. He never broke any rules and did what he was told to do in a timely manner. He was a model son.However, with the return of his younger brother, all his bitterness and anger rises to the surface. The elder son returns from the field and he hears the sounds of the music and sees the banquet tables filled with food. He asks a servant the reason for the celebration and is told that his brother has returned safe and sound. The elder brother is so angry that he refuses to join the celebration. In his jealousy and bitterness, the elder son only sees that his younger brother is receiving more attention than he is. He feels less loved.When the father comes and urges him to join in the festivities, the elder son retorts angrily about his faithfulness all these years that have gone unappreciated. Never has there been a celebration for him and his friends.The father does not try to defend himself or reproach his elder son for his behavior and his words. He responds with words of abundant love “My son you are with me always. All that I have is yours.” The father’s unreserved and limitless love is offered to both of his sons wholly and equally.
We know from the parable that the younger son returned home literally and figuratively to the Father. His return consisted of First “came to his senses” Second, took an action by getting up and traveling back Third, asked for forgiveness.
Henri Nouwen in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son suggests two things that will help the elder son return to a close relationship with the Father: The first is Gratitude. This is an attitude that — all that we are and all that we have — come from a generous and loving God. This helps us search for signs for the good in people and in the situations around us. We work to give up the perspective of ourselves and join more closely in the movements of God in the world.
Gratitude is the opposite of resentment — like the elder son was feeling. Gratitude and resentment cannot co-exist. Resentment blocks the understanding of life as a gift. Gratitude is a spiritual discipline that involves a conscious choice. We can choose to be grateful even when events are not going our way. We decide to be grateful even when our emotions are telling us otherwise. Again, this is a choice and it does not come without effort. But each time we do it, the next time becomes easier. There is an Estonian proverb that says, “The person who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” When we can give thanks for the little things in our lives such as a beautiful sunrise, a time where we really connect with loved ones, then we realize that life is filled with grace.
In addition to gratitude, there is the second item of Trust. Trust is the deep inner conviction that God loves us and wants us home with Him. Trust is the understanding that God is in control of our lives and will lead us to where God wants us to be. The truth is that while we are making plans for what we will do next and how we will do it, life happens: jobs disappear, stock marketdeclines, and projects fail. Then the questions begin to surface: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?
If we are to grow spiritually and return to the Father, then we must give up the idea that we are in control of our destiny. We must listen to God’s nudging and walk through the openings God provides. For the elder son then these two things of gratitude and trust will make the return to God possible. Although God is waiting to run out to find us and to bring us home, we must come to our senses by recognize that we are lost and want to be found. Take the actions of practicing the spiritual disciplines of gratitude and trust Open ourselves to His healing love.
In this parable, I am the elder son and also, my wife Ann, is the elder daughter. Ann and I literally and figuratively are the eldest daughter and son in our respective families. I have a younger brother and Ann has two younger brothers one of whom Steve is significantly disabled. Both of our younger brothers moved out of the area, and we were left to provide the nurturing and support of our four parents as well as —Steve. At times it was overwhelming trying to meet the needs of our parents and my brother as well as the other needs of our own family and ministries. And yes, on a bad day both Ann and I grumbled about the lack of help, resented the multitude of responsibilities, complained about being taken for granted and felt unappreciated.
I was not always in a place where I could be grateful for the longevity of our parents and the important place they held in our lives and the lives of our children. Even though our parents are no longer with us, Ann still has the responsibility for my brother-in-law, Steve, and his welfare.
I am the eldest son in this parable. However, through a deepening faith and God’s grace I have found the joy that God wants us to have as His sons and daughters. Trust and Gratitude are foundations in my life.
Phillip Yancey is his book “What is so Amazing About Grace?” tells this story of the exhilaration of our Father in Heaven when we return home to Him spiritually. There was a teenage girl who lived in the countryside of Michigan. She grew up in a family with rules and boundaries and considered her parents old fashioned. After she disobeyed them and was grounded more than a few times, she screamed “I hate you” and decided to run away. She travels to Detroit because she believes her parents would never look for her there. On her second day she meets a man who is driving the biggest car she has ever seen. He offers her a ride, lunch and a place to stay. He gives her pills that make her feel better than she ever has before. She comes to believed that her parents have been keeping her from the good life! Her boss teaches her a few things that men enjoy and establishes her in a penthouse where men pay top dollar for her services. However, after a year she gets sick and her “boss” turns on her. She is put out on the street without a penny to her name. She is sleeping in the alleys of Detroit in the midst of winter. One night as she is fearfully lying awake under the blanket of newspapers, she has a dream about her hometown where all of the cherry trees are in blossom. Her beloved Golden Retriever is running around trying to retrieve a tennis ball. She says to herself “Why did I ever leave? My dog back home eats better than I do”. Sobbing she realizes what she wants to go home more than anything else. She calls home 3 times only to get the answering machine each time. On the 3rd call she leaves a message “Mom, Dad, it’s me. I was wondering about coming home. I am catching a bus up your way, and it will get there about midnight tomorrow. If you are not there, I guess I will stay on the bus until it reaches Canada.” The bus ride takes 7 hours and she worries that her parents may not have received the message or may not be willing to forgive her. As the bus rolls into the station, the bus driver announces that they only have 15 minutes to use the facility. She walks into the station, not knowing what to expect if anything. There in the sterile environment of the concrete walls and plastic chairs stand 40 people on her family including her brothers, sisters, parents and her extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents. They were all wearing party hats, blowing noise makers and holding signs that said, “Welcome Home!” Her father runs toward her to embrace her, and she begins to weep, and apologize “Dad, I’m sorry …” He interrupts her and says “Hush child. We have no time for that. You’ll be later for the banquet that has been prepared for you at home.”
Whether we are the prodigal younger son who has been to a far-off country living a squandered lifestyle or the elder son who has also been in a far country of anger and resentment, our Father is waiting for us. He rejoices when we return to Him, embracing us with his love/grace. On the altar this morning is a bronze statue of the Compassionate Father in The Prodigal Son.
Description – The father has his hand on his forehead shielding his eyes and is searching for his wayward son. The statue is a replica of a much larger statue by renowned artist Jumilu Mason. Her works can be found around the world, but especially in the D. C. in areas connected to the Church of the Saviour.
Please take time after the service today to take a look at the bronze statue on the altar that represents a foundation for our life today. In this parable, the most important person is that of the Father figure – God– who welcomes his younger and elder sons’ home with over whelming love. God is waiting to welcome us home also so that we can experience the joy of a life lived with Him. Thanks be to God.
Closing prayer: Lord God, sometimes we are careless. Sometimes we are stubborn. Keep bringing us to our senses and make me willing to come home to You, again and again.