Faith United Methodist Church

March 6, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood

Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Prayer for Illumination:

O Lord our God,

Your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love,

that we may follow your will

and live always for your glory;

through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Sermon: Welcome Home

Do you know that feeling when you arrive home after a long trip, or even after a short time away? In that moment ‘home’ is the best place in the whole world. Even if you escaped home just a week or two prior, to jet off to warmer climates, the feeling of returning home is comforting, nurturing, familiar. Home. I am a homebody and, while a like vacation, I don’t like to be gone for more than a week. In a weeks time I start to miss the things of home ~ my couch, my books, my bed, my breakfast oatmeal made just the way I like it. As a girl my parents and I would always sing a little rhyme as we pulled into the driveway, as a way of celebration at coming home: To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, Home again, home again, jiggety-jig!

Perhaps that is how the prodigal son felt when returning home after squandering his money and disgracing himself:

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is probably a familiar one to many of us; maybe even a little too familiar. It’s a story of greed and irresponsibility, humiliation and regret, repentance and welcome. It’s a story of elaborate parties and refused invitations. It’s a story of a family struggling with love and forgiveness and resentment. It’s a story of homecoming. It’s the kind of story that gets the neighbors talking, a story you might see on Dr. Phil. The irresponsible younger child takes advantage of Dad’s generosity and the responsible older child just can’t sit back and let that happen. And there’s Dad in the middle, trying to keep it all together.

Does any of this sound familiar? Families struggling with betrayal and forgiveness? Resentment and regret? Damaged relationships? I’m sure none of us has ever had those kinds of problems in our families, right? We’re good Methodists ~ all of our families are perfect ~ or at least going on to perfection. Not a trace of dysfunction here.

But maybe that’s why this parable draws us in and speaks to us… because we all can relate, in one way or another, to the characters. We may have all been, at one time or another, the younger, the elder, the father. Like the younger, reckless and irresponsible. Like the elder, dependable and stoic. Like the father, caught between two people we love very much.

But Jesus didn’t tell this parable as a demonstration of family dynamics. He told this parable in answer to the Pharisees’ accusation, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Sinners ~ people who aren’t seen regularly at the temple. Sinners ~ people who don’t take seriously their responsibilities. Sinners ~ people who don’t do things like we do.

It is interesting to me that we use the word prodigal to describe this parable. Do you know what prodigal means? It actually has two meanings, which are related but somewhat contradictory. Depending on how it’s used, prodigal can mean exceedingly or recklessly wasteful or extremely generous or lavish. Maybe this parable should be renamed, as some have suggested, The Parable of the Prodigal Father.

For in this parable, isn’t it the father who behaves recklessly and lavishly? Allowing his son to leave home with his inheritance in hand. Yet welcoming that same son home again without question. Then following his older son out of the party to encourage him to join the celebration, telling him ‘All that is mine is yours.’ As the preacher Sara Shelton put it, “The father is prodigal in that his love is extravagant and more excessive than either the younger brother’s loose living or the older brother’s moral [righteousness].” The father has more than enough love to go around ~ more than enough forgiveness for all their sins.

But what does this have to do with Jesus eating with sinners? Well, I might be going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that Jesus was trying to point out the prodigal nature of God’s love. Generous and lavish, at times reckless and wasteful. Who would have guessed it? There is more than enough love for the younger son and the older son. For the sinner and the Pharisee. For all of us gathered on this Sunday morning. In the words of this morning’s Psalm, “Happy are those whose transgressions are forgiven.”

So where are you in this story? The younger? The elder? The father? A sinner? A Pharisee? Did you leave home or stay home? A more relevant question to our Lenten journey may be, when have you been prodigal? When have you been prodigal ~ wasteful in using the resources given you, reckless in rejecting the grace of others? And when have you been prodigal ~ lavish in giving or receiving forgiveness, generous in sharing what you have, loving without counting the cost?

And how have you been welcomed home? When have you sat down at the sinners’ table and taken pleasure in a meal with Jesus? When have you questioned someone else’s place at the table? It is annoying when you find out that something you thought you had to earn is in fact available to everyone. But isn’t it also an amazing gift? Because it means that everyone ~ younger brothers, tax collectors, older brothers, Democrats, Republicans, drug addicts, pastors, politicians, choir members, the homeless, criminals, FLOCK teachers, college students ~ everyone is welcomed home and everyone is forgiven.

This parable is not a fairy tale where all live happily ever after. In fact, we don’t even really know how the story ends. We are left wondering what will happen next. Does the elder son realize his pettiness and go in to celebrate with his brother? We don’t know. Does the younger brother stay or take off again and break his father’s heart? We don’t know. And how does the wife, the mother feel about all that happened? We don’t know. Yet such it is with life as well.   We are part of a story that is continuing to unfold.

What we do know is that we are all one family in the body of Christ ~ dysfunctional as we may be. Among us there are younger brothers and older sisters, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, and everyone in between. And we are, all of us, in some state journey along the way home. And, just as in the parable, when we arrive home we are all invited to the celebration, a celebration to which prodigals of all sorts are more than welcome. Home again, home again, jiggety- jig. Let us pray:

Lord, we are all too often prodigal sons and daughters ~ wasting the gifts you have given us and squandering our inheritance as your children. Yet you are prodigal with us as well ~ extravagant in the forgiveness you offer and lavish in the love you share. You welcome us home. We thank you, Lord, as we ask you to lead us in the way that leads to life so we can proclaim with the Psalmist, “Happy are those whose transgressions are forgiven”. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.