Sermon from Sunday 27 March 2022
Sermon for 27.3.22 Reverend Jenny Simson Grafton Cathedral.
The parable in the gospel this morning, is the last in a set of three.
The first two (in previous verses,) are about a lost sheep and a lost coin.
All three parables relate how God’s mercy knows no boundaries and is abundant beyond our imagination.
God’s mercy is as lavish and extraordinary as a shepherd who abandons 99 sheep to save one, as a woman who turns her house upside down to recover a paltry sum, and as a Jewish father who joyfully welcomes home his wayward son who has lived as a gentile.
The message in all three parables, challenges the mindset that promotes a way of “holding on” to old ways - rather than the way of letting go and moving ahead.
Our gospel story this morning is the parable of the prodigal son.
It is a favourite of many, perhaps because the characters and their predicaments seem to reach into the deep, hidden places of our own life experience and anoint us with everlasting hope in the great mercy of God.
The parable portrays different emotional experiences – those of the father, the elder son and the younger son.
Some are welcoming and loving that make the heart sing. Like when the father sees the son coming home after his wayward jaunt - and how he runs out to meet him. The father isn’t bothered about protocol or tradition- for it was considered undignified for an older gentlemen to run – instead he let his natural response express his heart – and he runs out to meet his returning son.
And then there is the crucial turning point in the younger son’s story when he “came to himself,” before he returns home.
These very simple words indicate that there are stirrings within that agitate him to face and accept his reality, and the hurt that had been done to others and to himself.
The healing pain of his repentance results in his return and the embrace of his father.
Sometimes we have to reach the lowest point before we face our reality and surrender to God’s mercy. And, from my own life experience, it can happen more than once on our life’s journey.
Now there are some troubling parts in this parable as well.
The older brother resents the fuss and the welcoming celebrations that the father lavishes on his brother. The father however refuses to let this halt his goodwill.
The father tell his older son that he is “always with him,” and he reiterates the need to celebrate what was once dead but has come to life.
Sadly the older brother’s own sense of justice wins the day. He holds on to his resentment and disowns his own relationship as a son and a brother.
Theologian Jane Williams makes the point that both the brothers are in need of forgiveness, love and mercy – The older brother, wants love and recognition, like the younger one, but he wants to believe that he has earned it himself, rather than receiving it as a gift.1
The younger brother accepts what the father offers and finds himself in the father’s arms, wearing a special robe and smelling the feast being prepared for his homecoming.
The younger brother’s repentance is what Paul writes about in Romans and describes as ‘the circumcision of the heart’. ‘Circumcision of the heart’ in the Spirit, means a state of union with God that speaks of humility, and a right judgment of oneself.
It is the beginning of becoming a new creation in Christ as Paul writes in today’s Epistle: “so if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation everything old has passed away. See everything has become new.”
The embittered older son, who holds on to his resentment, denies himself all the possibilities of the two sons sharing the relationship with each other, and with the father –in which all three have the opportunity to blossom and bring forth much fruit, wholeness and joy. He denies himself newness.
The most valuable asset in the parable is not what is earned or worked for, but what has come from repentance and that is, the regained relationship between father and son.
And it is comforting and reassuring to believe and accept, that in the Holy Spirit we have a constant companion who we can trust, who will lead us into our newness.
Jane Williams shares her insight about this. She writes: The story of Jesus is significantly different from the parable of the prodigal son, because Jesus is God come to find us, not just waiting for us at the end, but present at every turn of the road. Jesus tells this story, but the story he lives is a different one.
The life of Jesus is the life of the God who leaves home to be with all of us prodigals, in good times and in bad, and even into death. The life of Jesus means that we can turn and find God beside us everywhere.2
This then is our challenge- to live in the acceptance of this very personal love and mercy and depend upon it.
Lent is the perfect time to once again “come to ourselves,” with God. The perfect time to “let go” of restrictive habits and move ahead into our authentic humanity, or our Christ likeness, in his loving and abundant mercy.
The Lord be with you.
1 Jane Williams. The Merciful Humility of God, Bloomsbury Cotinuum, London: 2018, p5.
2 Ibid p4.