Sermon of the Week
The Wrong Answer: Norms Over Relationships
Keywords: Phoenix and Resurrection, Prodigal, Unmerited Grace, Reconciliation
A couple of weeks ago, I came by here on a Saturday morning
to grab a book from my office
and I ran into our pastor emeritus, Clay Cook
who was setting up for a Sunday morning Adult class he was going to lead
and Clay, as is typical, was dressed beautifully
in a matching baseball cap and jacket.
It had a symbol on it that I didn’t recognize,
so I asked him about it,
and he told me that it was from Milburn Country Club
which is up in Overland Park.
Milburn has suffered not one, but two devastating clubhouse fires:
one in 1947 and, more recently, in 2010.
After some consternation, from what I hear
they all regrouped and decided to rebuild
and that led to their new community logo,
that symbol on Clay’s jacket and hat:
it is of a phoenix, rising from the flames
recalling the ancient Greek mythology
of that ancient story.
It is a symbol of persistence, and determination,
and, as it has been recast in Christian theology at times,
a symbol of resurrection.
It has helped me think a little bit about today’s reading–
The story of the Prodigal son.
If last week’s reading was a little weird and inaccessible,
the tower of Siloam and the wrath of Herod…
THIS reading, by contrast, is one of the most well known of Jesus’ stories.
It is a story about redemption, and hope
and picking up the pieces after your life has been torn asunder and burnt down.
I invite you to listen today’s reading from The Gospel according to Luke:
15Now all the tax-collectors and sinners
were coming near to listen to him.
2And the Pharisees and the scribes
‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
3 So Jesus told them this parable:
11There was a man who had two sons.
12The 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.
13A few days later the younger son
gathered all he had
and travelled to a distant country,
and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
14When he had spent everything,
a severe famine took place throughout that country,
and he began to be in need.
15So he went and hired himself out
to one of the citizens of that country,
who sent him to his fields
to feed the pigs.
16He would gladly have filled himself
with the pods that the pigs were eating;
and no one gave him anything.
17But when he came to himself
“How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough
and to spare,
but here I am dying of hunger!
18I will get up and go to my father,
and I will say to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
19I am no longer worthy to be called your son;
treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”
20So 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.
21Then the son said to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
22But 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.
23And get the fatted calf and kill it,
and let us eat and celebrate;
24for 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.
26He called one of the slaves
and asked what was going on.
“Your brother has come,
and your father has killed the fatted calf,
because he has got him back safe and sound.”
28Then he became angry and refused to go in.
His father came out and began to plead with him.
29But 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.
30But when this son of yours came back,
who has devoured your property with prostitutes,
you killed the fatted calf for him!”
31Then the father said to him,
“Son, you are always with me,
and all that is mine is yours.
32But 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.” ’
May God bless to us our reading,
And our understanding
And our applying of this word, to the way we live our lives. Amen.
Robert Dunham, the former pastor of University Presbyterian Church
in Chapel Hill, North Carolina,
once noted that this story from Luke
has logged more pulpit time from preachers near and far
than any other.
He might be right.
This story is a beloved, beautifully complex story:
a storehouse of sin and redemption,
of grace and the refusal of grace.
And we can read it from several different perspectives—
the father, the wayward son, the older brother, maybe the servants
who had to watch and endure all the drama too.
Dunham noted how, over the years,
preachers have tried all sorts of approaches to unpack its riches.
He says he knew of a pastor
who once gave a sixteen-week sermon series on the Prodigal Son.
After the sixteenth sermon,
a woman greeted the pastor at the door of the church and said,
“I’m so sorry that poor boy ever ran away from home.”[i]
Goodness. [Read more…]