Sermon for March 31, 2019 (Fourth Sunday of Lent).
For technical reasons, this week’s Church without Walls sermon video in the park could not be posted online. Pastor Paul has graciously summarized his sermon in written form for you. We will return to video format next week.
Luke 15:1-3, 11-31
1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
This, (The Story of the Lost Son), is one of the all-time favorite stories in scripture because is always taught about God’s unconditional love. While that is true, some things are not looked at with enough attention. Let us understand the players: Farmer=God, Two Sons=humanity.
First, The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” This is important as to why Jesus tells the story. Religious leaders of the day just like the Evangelical “conservative” religious leaders of today did not like the all-inclusive message of Jesus.
Second, “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him.” Let us take note that as soon as the son decided he wanted a relationship with his Father (God), the Father (God) came to him…found him. He had not got home or back to church, if you will. It is the decision to be in relationship that changes everything.
Third, “…the son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening.” Traditional church folks never pay attention to the fact that the formal confession is neutralized. Do we need to know our shortcoming?, Yes! Do we need to take responsibility for them? Yes! However, the Church leaders do not get to use confession as a power and control mechanism to deny a person their rightful place with God. One cannot be denied Holy Communion because they have not confessed to a minister or Priest. Jesus is very clear here… it is the desire for relationship that trumps everything else.
Fourth, the (2nd son) son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’ This is clearly pointed at all those folks who think because they are “born again”, go to church regularly, read their bible every day, think women can’t preach, that LGBTQI folks don’t belong because they are bad people. The Church over the centuries has been divided into the good and bad with the good thinking they are something special. Again, this is all about power and control of religious leaders to keep people in line by judging them to not be worthy.
Fifth, “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours” Those who are in relationship with God and have no stumbles and breaks in relationship have been and will always be with God. So to the religious conservatives, hear this VERY clearly: “Get over your bad selves!”
Finally, “This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” St. Peter and St. Paul are at the Pearly Gates. Paul is looking through the “Book of Names”, and says to Peter, “There are far more people in here then there is supposed to be! Go find out what has happened!”
Peter runs off, and sometime later returns to Paul. Paul asks Peter what he has found out. Peter replies matter factly, “It is pretty simple, Jesus is at the back of heaven and helping people over the fence.”
Rev. Paul M. Turner, Senior Pastor
Gentle Spirit Christian Church