Parable of the Lost Children

Parable of the Lost Children

SLIDE 5: PRODIGAL SON

X PRODIGAL SON        As some of you know one of my favorite passages from the scriptures is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. For years I preached this story in its classical interpretation, the ne’er do well son comes home, and he is received by the all loving, all forgiving Father, while the elder brother stands outside in judgment of his younger brother’s behavior and his Father’s misguided forgiveness. And let’s face it this interpretation plays really well at United Church, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. We are a collection of likable misfits and affable sinners.

SLIDE 6: THE OLDER BROTHER

X THE OLDER BROTHER   The last time I preached this passage, however, I took a different approach, I asked us to focus on the older brother and appreciate the story from his point of view. He really had been a dutiful son. When his brother left taking a third of the estate with him, all of the responsibilities fell to him. And based on his complaint he never even got an “atta-boy” in return. He felt taken for granted, taken advantage of — disregarded. His decision to stay on the farm his sacrifice wasn’t valued.

SLIDE 7: LOST CHILDREN – CLUELESS FATHER

X LOST CHILDREN CLUELESS FATHER     After reading Amy Jill Levine’s take on our Parable this morning, I realize I have missed the point of the story even more than I had guessed.   The title of the Parable should be the Tale of the Lost Children, or maybe even the Story of the Clueless Father. Amy Jill begins by noting, first century listeners may have heard not contrition, but conniving in the younger son’s return to his father. Junior, while he is trying to eat the pig slops recalls that Daddy still has money, and he might be able to get more. Unlike the sheep and the coin, he has not been “found.”   Rather he recovers his true nature — he is described as “coming to himself” — and that self is one who knows that Daddy will do anything he asks, because he has been the favorite like so many of the other younger sons of scripture: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon.  Although Junior speaks of being treated as a hired hand, he repeatedly suggests that he still thinks of himself as his father’s “son.” The Vanderbilt professor of preaching David Buttrick concisely summarizes the prodigal’s strategy: “I’ll go to Daddy and sound religious.”

SLIDE 8: THE OLDER SON WAS LOST

X THE OLDER SON WAS LOSTWe do well to see this father as a happy dad whose favorite son has returned. And so should notice who is not mentioned, who was not even invited to the party. No one was sent into the field to invite the older brother. “Some man had two sons.” Most of us, including the dad in the parable, had lost count.

The father did not know until this moment that the elder was the son who was truly “lost” to him. Once the recognition comes, he does what the shepherd and the woman do: realizing his loss, his lost son, the older boy, the one whom he has over looked, he seeks to make his family whole.

With the older son, however, years of resentment have finally boiled over and found expression. The son’s fidelity has been over looked. Once again, the problem child has received more attention, or more love, than the prudent and faithful one.

SLIDE 9: SEEK OUR OWN LOST RELATIONSHIPS

X SEEK OUR OWN LOST RELATIONSHIPS  Jesus asks us to identify with the father and seek our own relationships who are lost. Is repeated pleading sufficient? What would be? What does a parent do to show a love the child never felt? The parable shows us that indulgence does not buy love, but withholding can stifle it. And so we search desperately, because our family is not whole. Sheep and coins are easy, children or other relationships less so.

SLIDE 10: DON’T WAIT FOR AN APOLOGY OR YOUR ABILITY TO FORGIVE

X DONT WAITH FOR AN APOLOGY    If we hold in abeyance, at least for the moment, the rush to read repenting and forgiving into the parable, then it does something more profound than repeat well-know messages. It provokes us with simple exhortations. Recognize that the one you have lost may be right in your own household. Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate with others, both so that you can share the joy and so that others will help prevent the recovered from ever being lost again. Don’t wait until you receive an apology; you may never get one. Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find it. Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past.

SLIDE 11: FIND THE LOST IN OUR FAMILIES

X FIND THE LOST IN OUR FAMILIESInstead go have lunch. Go celebrate, and invite others to join you. If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better. And if not, you still will have done what is necessary. You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation. You will have opened a second chance for wholeness. Take advantage of resurrection — it is unlikely to happen twice.

We need to take count not only of our blessings, but also of those in our families, and in our communities. And once we count, we need to act. Finding the lost, whether they are sheep, coins or people, takes work. It also requires our efforts, and from those efforts there is potential for wholeness and joy.

SLIDE 12: IN OUR OWN FAMILY

X IN OUR OWN FAMILY   Beth and I have found Amy Jill’s interpretation of this Parable powerful in our own lives. Just as we were studying the Short Stories of Jesus, our dutiful overachieving child, Jennifer, came to visit. Where her older brother had dropped out of High School three weeks short of graduation, Jennifer graduated from college, and earned a Master’s and Doctoral degree. She has gone on to become a tenured Full Professor at a University. She has been the responsible kid. And yet as we discussed during her visit, she always felt overlooked, because we paid so much attention to her brother who was in trouble — the affable sinner.

SLIDE 13: FAMILY DYNAMICS

X FAMILY DYNAMICSThe power of the Parable is that so many families share different but similar versions of the story. Family dynamics, sibling rivalry, dysfunctional households have been part of most of our growing up. And repeating patterns of messed up relationships seems to haunt even our best attempts at parenting. We swear and declare we will not repeat the mistakes of the generations before us, and then find ourselves falling into the same old family patterns, or sometimes creatively inventing new ways of messing up.

SLIDE 14: MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BEST

X MOM ALWAYS LIKED YOU BESTWhat relationships in your family are damaged? Are there old jealousies that continue to wound and block healthy relationship? Like the famous Smothers Brothers, Tom and Dick, and their signature routine “Mom always liked you best.” I’m reminded of my father and his sister, who stole the inheritance. We still don’t talk to that side of the family. Or my children trying to sort out their varied relationships made all the more problematical for our having been a blended family. Although I do feel good that we have come to the point where there are no steps or halves, we are just family, even in the face of those who would try to insist otherwise.

SLIDE 15: SHE IS MY SISTER

X SHE IS MY SISTER  A few years ago a member of the church confronted Elizabeth asking, “Now Leah is your half sister?”

“No,” Elizabeth responded, “Leah is my sister.”

“Well, you know,” the person continued, “she’s not really your whole sister.”

“No,” Elizabeth persisted, “Leah is my sister, and in our family there are not steps or halves, we are just family.”

SLIDE 16: WHAT’S LOST, WHAT’S FOUND?

X WHAT'S LOST WHAT'S FOUND  As you think about your own family today, are there children who have been overlooked? Are there people who are not speaking to one another? Are there relationships that are in need of healing? Who has been forgotten? These are all practical questions that apply to our 21st century families just as much as the people of the 1st century to whom Jesus was speaking. What’s lost, what’s found, and when we realize a relationship is lost, how do we recover it?

SLIDE 17: DON’T WAIT FOR AN APOLOGY, DON’T WAIT TO FORGIVE

X DON'T WAIT FOR APOLOGY 2Let me encourage you to consider this profoundly wise advice from Amy Jill Levine. Recognize that the one you have lost may be right in your own household. Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate with others, both so that you can share the joy and so that others will help prevent the recovered from ever being lost again. Don’t wait until you receive an apology; you may never get one. Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find it. Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past.

SLIDE 18: CELEBRATE RESURRECTION

X CELEBRATE RESURRECTION Instead go have lunch. Go celebrate, and invite others to join you. If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better. And if not, you still will have done what is necessary. You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation. You will have opened a second chance for wholeness. Take advantage of resurrection — it is unlikely to happen twice.

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