Sermon for Lent 4
Year C 2019
The parable of the two sons
‘Just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.’ Gal 4:29
“Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” 1 John 4:20
‘Away from Home, in Body and Heart’
So we are half way now through Lent, and the fourth Sunday is observed in parts of the Church as Mothering Sunday. In part the roots of this are found in the practise of allowing those in service to go home to Mother for the day, and of course Mother Church.
Returning Home is the journey of the Christian Life, beginning as it does with our ‘coming to our senses’, waking up to the Reality of existence and setting out to find its beating heart.
Of course, Home doesn’t always carry positive and hopeful attributes in our minds. People run away from home. Home is where family is, and on days such as Mothering Sunday down through the years I’ve been confronted with the fact of broken homes and relationships. Mothering Sunday wasn’t universally a day of warmth and joy – and indeed returning to Church can carry similar baggage, indeed it usually does. The family of the body of Christ can be just as challenging, indeed it helps if it is . . .
As a fridge magnet we were once given by some friends put it ‘Friends are the Family we choose for ourselves’. Much as I appreciated the warmth shown by the gift, it troubled me, for of course the grounds of our salvation are not what we choose for ourselves. Our core problem is that we do not love well – so we choose poorly. Our desiring capacity is off beam, and being wrapped up in our self we tend to flock together with those we are like.
Consumers that we are trained to be – we love the idea of this – ‘have the world to your tastes’. Indeed even in the church, there are those who say we each need a church according to our own personality. Yet consciously or unconsciously to choose this path – and it is often unconscious and rationalised to suit our deep misdirected loves – to choose this path is to avoid the difficult task of renewal of our hearts and minds. Which is to avoid God himself, made known to us in Jesus.
(In this regard, as I often say, people become Vicars who have most to learn, for God puts us in a place where we don’t get to choose with whom we worship 🙂 We are given a family 🙂 )
Being a Vicar in a rural context was instructive in this regard, for there was only one (Anglican) show in town. If you were Anglican and it mattered to you, there was no choice. Indeed we were often the only church in ‘town’. And of course then we realised that as the family of the church we weren’t all with the family we’d choose for ourselves . . . as it was of course in the rest of the week. The people we didn’t want ot see on the street, then turned up in church on Sunday
Family dynamics. The Givenness of Family, the givenness of a church family – the arena for finding our way Home, the gift of God, towards the heart of God.
Confronted with the difficulty of the Command to Love those amongst whom we find ourselves – I have been told, ‘but I’m not Jesus!’ Which of course is the point. No, I am not, but to find my way Home I must grow into his likeness, to Love as God Loves, not in the partial selective way we do.
We are not well served by consumer faith, or indeed spectator faith, watching on whilst Jesus ‘does it for us’ His call is to follow, to go with Him, and to be shaped by that cross shaped journey into His Likeness.
Yes, we may well say we believe in Jesus, but to believe in Him is to Know Him – to Know His Heart – to have his heart, the heart of the Father, the heart of God. When we love God with all we have and all we are, His heart grows within us – and if it isn’t growing, we are not loving God.
Jesus said, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you . . . love one another as I have loved you’ How are we to love one another? With the Love of the Father for the Son . . .
And so in this parable, a parable about our hearts, the focus is not on the ‘Prodigal Son’, it is the elder Son. We can like him be at home in Body, but far away in regard to our heart.
We know little if anything of the heart of the Prodigal – we tend to make a set of assumptions, but they are just that. Judgements of his motives as we observe him, but that is all.
“There was a man who had two sons. The 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. That’s it. We might say ‘he disrespected his Father!’, ‘he couldn’t wait to see his father dead!’, but the parable doesn’t say that. He simply asks for His share and His Father without hesitation gives it to him, and also btw gives it to the elder son . . . ‘he divided his property between them, a few days later the younger son gathered all he had’ . . . the elder son didn’t, but was welcome to . . .
There are a couple of moments when we see a little deeper into the younger son. He ‘came to his senses’, sat amongst the pigs . . . a place where the senses may well be awakened 🙂 And he tells a story about himself. If we heard well, we may remember an echo of a theme we explored last week, that of shame. And how, full of shame he doesn’t See clearly and he judges his Father.
You remember? We Sin and then for shame, judging God by our standards – we imagine that God cannot forgive – and we hide. Well the younger son decides not to hide and sets off for Home, but in expectation of at the best a place as a servant in his father’s house – yet, as we heard last week ‘your ways are not my ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts’. We judge the Father incorrectly, we always do, until we have his heart, until we Know not just about His heart, but Know His heart. Until we Love Him, we shall not See Him, or Know Him
The Father’s response, to this errant Son? He runs to meet him! He has been looking out for his return ‘from afar off! He puts his arm around him and kisses him. He doesn’t seem to notice the shame ridden testimony, for that he knows as a cover, a fig leaf of shame – he rejoices to have his dearly beloved Son home. He sees deeper than the surface – he sees the Beloved Son.
He dresses him in the best robe! He orders a ring for his finger, a sign of restoration to full sonship, and sandals for his feet. And a fatted calf is prepared – this is going to be a feast, a great banquet with celebration! What a celebration – when the elder son returns from working in the field, he hears ‘music and dancing’ The word for music is ‘symphonie’ 🙂 But this isn’t like being sat in the town Hall for some high culture, which perhaps we might ‘judge’ – no, it is wild and exuberant! You Have to join in!! To share in the music, to share in the heart of the Father.
The Father is rejoicing! Like the man who found his lost sheep, like the woman who found the lost coin . . . a party is in order! And what a party . . . but someone won’t come in
As I said, we know nothing of the heart of the prodigal – just the odd glimpse, but even that open to misinterpretation – whilst the elder son is revealed. Quite simply, he does not have the Father’s heart for his brother. He does not look with love upon him. He cannot rejoice to have him back . . . and not having the heart of the Father he is estranged not only from his brother, but from his Father also. The two go together . . . we are left wondering if he will respond to the father’s plea regarding his brother . . . will he go in? Or will he shut himself out? As C.S. Lewis puts it ‘hell is locked on the inside’.
For as John says, “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” The elder brother does not know the Father – he has no love for Him. He considers himself a slave, trying to earn his Father’s love . His Father has already given him all he has, but he cannot see it – his heart is closed to his brother and to His Father. He does not Love, thus he does not See, thus he does not Know.
He does not See – all he sees is the Sin the younger son bears – besmirched with Sin – that is all he sees. The younger Son is a scandal, a stumbling block to Him – his vision is filled with his judgement of his brother, and so he cannot See His Father in truth. He is blind by the Sin of his own judging.
When we judge another this is what happens – our eye is filled with what we take to be the truth of a situation and a person, but to See truthfully. We see the mote, and it is all we see. Think of how a single thing fills our mind about a person when we judge them. Apart from Love, we are blind. To Love is to see the other as God Sees . . .
To return to something we explored last week, the purpose of Judgement is to heal. This is the Cross, it is the judgement, it is the place where Sin is shown to be utterly sinful – and we get that far . . . but this is not to See the Cross in truth, for it is also the place of atonement – of Healing. We seeing only the Sin, as we observe the Prodigal, do not see the Cross as the place of healing
Only in the Light of the truth of Sin can healing come about – The Cross diagnoses and Heals! . . . but do we want to be healed? Do we want others to be healed? Do we Love God? Do we love our sister and brother? Are we children of God? Do we love as he loves us?
This is the command of Jesus and the way of Jesus . . . and the business of the church of the messy family we are born into, is to become like him. Loving as he loves us. Having the Heart of the Father.
Do we Know Jesus? Do We See Him? Do we Love Him?
Of course, we readily enough see God in the parable . . . the Father who throws a party for the Son who has returned, but do we see Jesus?
What is the context of the parable?
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable . . .
The younger Son comes out from the Father’s house – ‘He left his Father’s throne above . . .’
He carries the wealth of the Father – ‘So free, so infinite His Grace . . .’
He squanders it seemingly carelessly to the point of notoriety – on those who don’t deserve it – prostitutes no less!!! – ‘Emptied himself of all but love . . .’
When at the last he is emptied – he is abandoned by all – and hungers . . . then, carrying all the shame he goes to the face the judgement . . . ‘and bled for Adam’s helpless race’
the judgement – which is revealed to be the place of healing and feasting and celebration . . .
He who was dead, has come to life . . .
Do we see our sister and brother with the Father’s Love?
Do we see Jesus?
May God use this season of Lent to heal the eye of our heart, and together with our brothers and sisters, may we hear with our brother Jesus, his call to come Home.