Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout the season of Lent, our Wednesday worship services have focused on the traditions for the Great Lent in Ukraine and Russia. Today’s Parable of the Prodigal Son, which is one of the most familiar of Jesus’ parables, is read every year in the Orthodox church two weeks before the start of Lent. In preparation for the season’s fasting and penitence, the story offers a wonderful promise of what happens when we turn our live around and return to God.
The Parable, as you know, unfolds with the father and his two sons living in an idyllic, quiet neighborhood not unlike Lake of the Isles- in the summertime- with pleasant green lawns and quaint white picket fences. The shadows were long in the light of the setting sun. From inside the father’s house, you could hear the music of Mozart floating from the open windows. The curtains were gently billowing in the breeze. And then suddenly the younger son appeared on the front porch forcefully pleading with his father. “Dad, I’m tired of all these rules and expectations. I’m tired of living in this house. I’m not a kid anymore. Just give me half of what will be mine, and I’ll get out of the way.” And so the father, taking out his checkbook and calculator, divided his property between the younger son and his brother, and wrote a check. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country- probably Colorado.
Mind you, the younger son had every good intention of beginning a new life somewhere else. He left his home and his father with hopeful dreams of the future. He could have never imagined squandering the wealth he had been given or losing the property that he had been entrusted to him. He had fond memories of his happy, sun filled home and he remembered nostalgically fondly the melodies of Mozart, the green grass and the white picket fence. He longed for these things himself. They were the finest gifts of life.
Perhaps the young prodigal’s story, reminds you of your own- or someone you know and love. You had no intention of journeying down the path of sadness, disappointment and despair. You launched your life’s journey with the best of ideals and goals… family, friendship, and career. But along the way something went wrong. And you wonder: Were you longing for more than your daily bread at your father’s table? Was it that you needed all of life’s pleasure here and now, and were afraid to wait? Or was it truly all your fault? Instead of placing your hopes and desires into God’s hands, you chose to take your dreams into your own hands? All you know now, it that is went terribly wrong.
What a pity that the younger son hadn’t learned the simple truth that God longs to give you everything you need, and to share the very best with you. But God also longs for you to offer your best- your complete trust and confidence in him. Unfortunately, the younger son had to make his own mistakes. He had to learn by the school of hard knocks. It’s a school where many of us have learned our most important lessons as well. And there the son faced one hardship after another. The transmission went out on his car, he was evicted from his apartment, and he was fired from his latest job. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; but no one gave him anything.
Then we read, “But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went home to his father. It must have been a glorious moment of self-discovery. In one brief painful moment, the younger brother discovered the secret to offering his best -it began by freely receiving and then offering himself freely and openly to God’s plans. He was now on his way to being found.
Regretfully, this re-centering isn’t a one time thing. You and I take risks and chances every day. We step out into new and exciting adventures daily where we do not know the ending. So how do we dare take that chance? Now you may imagine that the people who have taken a chance and are performing at their best have had everything go their way. Sure, you might say, they are successful, because they have had it easy. Over thirty years of parish ministry, I have had the opportunity to visit with a number of successful men and women. I have heard their stories of “success,” and almost without exception, I have heard of the difficult times, and even desperate moments they encountered along life’s way. They shared the troubles that came to them from outside, and the troubles that came to them from within themselves. They even told of the trials that were so difficult that the solutions and courage needed were beyond themselves. And yet, somehow they were not defeated, but like the Prodigal Son, they came to themselves, and success made its way into their lives.
How did they come to themselves you may ask? In three ways: First, they admitted to themselves, and to others, that life’s victory was beyond their own capabilities. Second, they believed that the life and mission they were called to pursue was of God and could not be abandoned. And third, they knew that only by God’s grace and power could victory be won, and so they submitted themselves and their lives to God. In the midst of personal and professional trials, they came to themselves. They recognized their need for God. That, my friends, is how you too can experience the wonder of the Father’s love in your life.
For those who are willing to turn their life around, even in the smallest measure, and to allow God to use their lives and gifts, they will be greeted like the Prodigal, and God will cover them with his love. This young man was on his way to his father; but he would not have reached him unless his father had come the major part of the way. Even before he could see the green grass and the white picket fence, even before he could hear music playing, the strains of Mozart filling the air, even before the evening breeze gently blew the curtains in the open window, the Father saw his son returning. He had been waiting for this moment. When you give God an inch, he will give you a mile. If you come to him a little way, when you are still “yet a great way off” he will run to meet you. Yes, he sees you returning, and he is running to meet you, to throw his arms around, and to cover you with kisses of joy and happiness, of peace and forgiveness, of rejoicing and redemption.
And so we read that everyone began to celebrate the younger, lost son’s return- except for one- the older brother who was standing alone outside leaning on the white picket fence smoking the last stub a cigarette. The parable, you see, is really the story of two lost, prodigal sons. The story begins with the wasteful younger brother, and ends with the sour-faced older brother, displeased with his father’s gracious love. We don’t know which son turned out to be more lost than the other. The older brother may have actually been more prodigal than the younger simply because he refused to forgive and to be forgiven, and he begrudged his father’s right to love. He felt privileged and entitled to something more. It is a pattern we can all fall into.
My friends, which of the two brothers are you? Do you hear the music playing? Just beyond the white picket fence, and the green grass, a waiting Father, is longing to cover with you with his love. Have you turned to him, or are you still far off. Come to yourself. Discover the gifts that are waiting for you inside. Taste the banquet of forgiveness and the life he has prepared for you.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.