March 6th, 2016 – Fourth Sunday of Lent - Loss and Gain

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be found acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Thank-you once again for the opportunity to come and be with you this Sunday morning. I know it wasn’t supposed to be me but here I am! Let me tell you how this happened. It is Saturday at 6:30 PM and I have just returned from Mille Isles where we were having a celebration with Anglicans and Presbyterians and the fact that their churches are so close – one being opposite the other but now they want to celebrate that proximity and share the fellowship and the joy of that!

Prior to that I was in Lachute attending Nick Brotherwood’s course on Reimagining Church which began in the morning and ended in the afternoon! The phone rings and I am called to replace the Lay Reader scheduled for today. We meet at St. Aidan’s and I receive these wonderful Orders of Service and return home to prepare dinner for my husband and grandson and then to write a sermon. I probably have many sermons about grace but I don’t feel that the story of the “Prodigal Son” is totally about grace but more about loss.  Besides, I believe that God called me to be a Lay Reader and that my role is to approach each opportunity with fresh eyes (even though tired) and new reflections on what is an old story well heard by all of us from Sunday school days until now. Sometimes this story feels worn out from being handled so much - so how do we look at it with the fresh eyes that I feel God has commissioned me to do? This is a parable of joy because the lost younger son has been found but wait - there is an older brother who was not lost but stayed with his Father and worked the family business at his father’s side doing everything over this time that was required of him. This is a story to me of three personal losses not just the obvious one. First of all, the precocious younger son comes to Dad and says give me my inheritance so that I can go off and explore the world and I will ask nothing more of you - in other words he loses any rights to the Father’s estate when he dies. The Father agrees and suffers the first and obvious loss as his youngest goes off. The second loss is that of the young man who loses his fortune and lands up tending swine for nothing so that he is starved and wanting what he has lost - his Father’s love and his brother’s love and his position in the family. He thinks surely I can return and work as a servant in my father’s house where he knows that they are not starving now. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the eldest is working hard to help his father have a successful and prosperous farm business and to prove himself worthy of his family position. On this particular day he is arriving home from the fields with the sweat of the day on his brow, longing to get washed and be refreshed with food and drink, when what to his eyes should appear but his father embracing the younger brother clothing him and bestowing him with a return to his family position by giving him a ring and worst of all killing off the fatted calf! The focus of our story is not on this son but if you were him, how would you feel? I think we would all feel resentful, angry and sad and probably judgmental towards this person who did not have the right to return and be celebrated for it! Slaughtering the “fatted calf” imagine! So now we have the loss of the eldest son’s love for his father and his younger brother and his position in the family dynamic as well as the estate that he has worked so hard to keep. It is injustice at its worst for him. Well what do we feel? What would we do? Think of all three persons in this story and try to put yourself where they are and how you might feel. Normally when I prepare to take a service, I know well in advance and take about two weeks studying and planning how my sermon will look and be presented. Old story should be easy right? Not so – it is often harder because it is so familiar and slightly used as I stated before. One of my favorite sources for information is Comments by Chris Haslam from the Diocese of Montreal so here is his conclusion of what he thinks Jesus is trying to tell in this parable; he says: “In the context of first-century Palestine, several things look out of the ordinary:
•  for a son to ask his father for his share of the inheritance would be like a death wish;
•  no older self-respecting Jew would run (v. 20) to his son;
•  a father would demand a full display of repentance, not the truncated one of v. 21.
Clearly Jesus tells a somewhat unrealistic story to make a point. Allegory is at work: each character stands for someone other than himself: the younger son for the “tax collectors and sinners” (v. 1), the elder son for the religious authorities, and the father for God. Jesus makes three points:
• the younger son could return home – so all sinners may repent and turn to God;
• the father sought the son (he saw him while “still far off”, v. 20) and offered him reinstatement – so God seeks people out to restore them; and
• the good brother begrudges his father’s joy over his brother’s return – so those who are godly should welcome God’s extension of love to the undeserving. The parable raises a question: at the end of the era, will godly people be ready to be joyous in sharing the Kingdom with reformed sinners and a God who loves them?”
What do you think? We know that God rejoices when sinners repent and welcomes them back with open arms. What we will never know is if the “good” brother had the grace to forgive the younger brother as well as his father and restore that love also.
Let us pray: Grant us Lord the grace to restore love that is lost; to reflect the love that you bestow on us in our daily work and doings in this world. We ask this always in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.