Sermon for The Second Sunday in Lent
March 17th, 2019
The Prodigal Son
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Community Congregational Church Of Chula Vista
Rev. Elizabeth Aguilar
Today we are focusing on a well-known and well-loved parable; The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Some Biblical versions refer to it as the “lost son.” You might be wondering why we would be looking at this familiare story urging Lent, of all times. It is because Lent invites us toe examine where we have fallen short. Who it is that we need to ask forgiveness from and who it that we must forgive as well. It is a seaon of seeking repentance.
Just as I have asked you in previous sermons, I want to ask you again today- with which character of this Tory do you identify the most?
Is it the gather figure- who was hurt, sad, betrayed, possibly angry and then oh so joyous a the return of his wayward son? The father who wa ready to forgive his lost,confused son?
Or, are you the prodigal son? You broke your parent’s hearts. You left either physically or emotionally or both. You “hit rock bottom” sort to speak, only to come to your sense, eventually, and return home?
Or are you the older son? The “dutiful one?” The one who was always there at his father’s side, doing “everything that he wa supposed to do.” However, instead of being happy when your lost, younger sibling returns you are bitter, jealous of your father’s love for him and even resentful because all you had “played by all the right rules.”
So which one are you? My guess is that you can answer that in question ins a instant. I can. I have always known. I am the older son. I was the “good daughter” in my family; always played by all the rules, always did the right thing.
But, this sermon isn’t about me. It isn’t really about any of us. It is about God’s amazing gracious love, God’s forgiveness and acceptance of all of us.
Well Jesus was a brilliant storyteller. He always knew how to tell a good story with a good message. The author of Luke has this parable after Jesus has already shared other parables. He has been curing the sick, performing miracles. He has dined with sinners. He is famous. He is also beginning to be criticized by the Pharisees.
In preparation for this sermon, I re-read a short but very good book by Henri Nouwen, called The Return of the Prodigal Son. You will recall that Henri Nouwen was a Jesuit priest who had been a professor at Yale and Harvard. Later, in his career, he went to minister to developmentally disabled adults in a community called L’arche Daybreak Communityin Canada. There, was where Nouwen stated he learned the most and was “molded him.”
This short but powerful reflection of Nowen’s invites us to look closer at this famous parable. To look closer at the themes of sin, loneliness, rejection, jealousy and of course, forgiveness. I also re-read parts of Daryl Tippen’s book, Pilgrim Heart, where he examines this famous story, as well.
What I enjoyed about both books wa they invited me to re-look a thi story with fresh eyes. It invited me to ask myself- who is that I need to forgive? Who is it that I have been so judgemental toward that I have been unable to regirse them? Who is that I have been jealous of? When does jealousy get in the way of my growth in my walk with Christ? Who is that may been my prayers because they are a parent or grandparent waiting for their lost son or father to return? When have I really thanked God for forgiving me?
In Tippen’s book, interestingly, he quotes a doctor of palliative care and hospice. Coincidentally, this doctor became a colleague of mine when I was a chaplain at Providence hospital in San Pedro. Dr. Ira Byock is now the director of the Institute for Human Caring and was one of the first doctors back in the 1970s who began to provide hospice care to patients. He wrote. A book called The Four Things that Matter Most whis a book about dying well. In his book he stated that what most matter to people at he end of life a these four messages, they are: please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you and I love you. Of course, Tippens says that these messages are ones that all people use hear throughout their lives, not just as they face death.
But both Tipens and Byock make the point that without forgiveness and without the opportunity be forgiven a person can live or die who much emotional and spiritual sidress. And who want sot live or die that way?
I once met a man, whom I will call “Frank” who had played for the Red Sox minor league when they used to have one. He was a patient of mine while he was on hospice. He was a “devout atheist” and loved to remind me of that every week while I visited him for 1.5 years before his death. He got a kick reminding me of it. I always found it interesting that although he was an atheist he required that i visit him every week. And so I did. As he shared his life story with me I realized that the common theme was his need to give or receive forgiveness.
We made a decision to work on a project. He would write three letters; one to his ex-wife, one to his son and one to current wife. Fortunately, we finished his letters 2 weeks before he died and I was able to deliver those letters to these individuals at his memorial service.
I was grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this helping process. To hear his stories, to help him reflect on why he need to forgive and ask for forgiveness. I’m mostly grateful for the opportunity to gently share with him that God would forgive him if he asked for it.
Later, I thought to myself, how much more powerful had it been had this gentleman had the opportunity say those words of repentance and forgiveness while he was still alive? I like to belie that hoteliers were enough for all involved. But again, why wait until we are about to die? Why not forgive now? Why not say I am sorry to the one who have injured? Why not forgive the one who has injured us? Why wait?
Reading Nouwen’s book helped me to realize my own difficulty in forcing and not judging. You see, I had Leander the I “thought” I had forgiven some people in my life but I was still holding resentment and yes, judgement against them. The simple thrust can’t oe light or me which was this- how ant i continue to judge those people when God does not judge me? God HAD forgiven me over an over and donto hold bitterness or resentment toward me. Who am I to do that toward others?
The beauty about the Christian faith is that we know we are indeed sinners who are forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are however, fallen creatures who sometimes continue to sin but all we need to to do is ask for forgiveness and accept it.
One thing we cannot forget is that we are called to repent. The Hebrew word for repent means to turn around. A literal turning around. To change, in other words. Therefore, we can no keep repeating our offenses over and over. We can not seek forgiveness and then treat the other person to behave in the same way repeatedly.
If we did repeat that sinful behavior and expected to be forgiven that would be called cheap grace. The great apostle Paul and the great Reformer, Martin Luther warn us of cheap grace. No, the real work of seeking forgiveness is about repentance. It’s about changing one’s behavior through God’s Grace because all things are possible through Him. And then, not reacting that offline over and over again.
And so my question to you today is- who do you still need to forgive? Who do you need to ask forgiveness from? And lastly, have you asked God to forgive in a way where you can truly believe that you are forgiven and therefore, do not need to continue to punish yourself?
Have you accepted God’s forgiveness? These are difficult questions which only you can answer in your heart with God. But I think that God does invite us to do the hard work of discipleship in order to continue to grow in our faith and not get stuck in one place.
I will end by giving you a challenge- If you have old resentment among anyone in your family, or or friends or even people who worship with you, here- consider forgiving them. Remember that “all things ARE possible” through God’s amazing grace who gives us the power to forgive. Let us not be like the Pharisees who lacked humility to see their own faults and just focused on the faults of others. Let us be like the gracious father who forgave his son. Amen.