And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” – Luke 15-11-32 [ESV]
There are, in case you did not know it, classical sermon outlines that preachers have used over the years. One of them is easy to remember and clever. It’s for this parable of the Prodigal Son.
The Prodigal Son:
Clever, huh? I think so. Consider how it really works out that way here:
Asking for his inheritance is like telling his father to drop dead. That is a special kind of madness.
Taking off for parts unknown after having received it is thoughtless to his brother and the rest of the household.
Thinking that a life of profligacy will satisfy the ache in his soul was unwise and short-sighted.
Thinking that he could sustain that lifestyle forever was foolish. The money will eventually all run out.
It’s not difficult to see how his madness gives way to sadness.
The money runs out.
His friends leave.
Then he must hire himself out to a local farmer who sends him into the fields to feed pigs. This was certainly the last straw. And here is a critical turn in the story. We can put ourselves in the place of the Prodigal Son: In the face of pain, setback, suffering, hardship, and loss, do we turn to God or away from him. Do we get sad, or do we become angry?
One definition of anger is pain borne alone. In other words we take all the pain into our hearts and souls and keep it there and isolate ourselves. Our anger can appear as complete shutdown and withdrawal (depression). Or it can appear to be a firehose of fury by which we keep everyone at arms-length or farther. We isolate ourselves because of the anger and bitterness we spew toward others.
The sadness here is of a different kind. It is a lament, a sadness over sin, and a desire for comfort.
“Godly sorrow,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 7, “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
There is a sadness bereft of faith and partnered with blame. This is resentment. This is the blame game. This is the hopeless sadness of resignation. That is not sadness that leads to repentance and faith.
Godly sorrow is contrition over our sins, sorrow for the ways we have hurt others, sadness for the choices we have made, and even grief over the pain others have imposed on us. It is not about blame. It is about brokenness and springs from a desire for something better and a belief that something better is available to us from God.
That is the Prodigal’s sadness. He realizes that even his father’s servants have it better than he does. And he determines to go back home and ask his father to make him as one of the hired hands. He has no delusion of being welcomed again as a son. He knows he’s squandered his inheritance. He will go home and beg for mercy.
But he is in for quite a shock. His sadness will be replaced with his gladness.
His father has been waiting for him to return.
His father is delighted that he has come back home.
His father bedecks him in a fine robe. He is given shoes for his feet. A ring is placed on his finger. All these are signs not of a hired hand. These are the insignia of a son!
His father throws a party in honor of his son’s return.
All this echoes the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
You can put the Father in these categories as well:
Madness: Giving his son his inheritance
Sadness: Many months absent his son
Gladness: His son’s return
You can also put the older brother somewhere here:
His madness: Anger that his brother is receiving all this attention and celebration.
His sadness is a bitter sadness. We never see him join in the party. He has no part in this gladness.
I want to challenge you today about your place in this story. You may be the one who has run away from God and has returned to learn of and experience God’s great love and mercy. That’s what Sundays are all about.
You may be the Father yearning for someone to come home, hoping, praying, longing for the return.
You may also be the older brother, not too certain there ought to be all that folderol over returned sinners.
Some of us have a difficult time really identifying with the older brother. But he’s in each of us. The key, in my mind, is to get some of these lost sons up close in our church or our lives. Think of people taking your pew. Think of enthusiastic new believers who discover a new song you’re not so sure you like. Think of a grumpy man who challenges you in the love your neighbor category. Think of a Democrat, a Republican, a Never-Trumper, and a MAGA fan…all in the same church because they value Jesus more than their political affiliation. Think of someone who has gotten his fair share at your expense and then is asking for more. Think of a college grad who has recently been forgiven all his student debt. Think of an illegal alien who has come to faith, and who may work for the yard service you use each week. Think of a Russian soldier who hears the Gospel from an embedded missionary, or from a Russian Bible and wants to follow Jesus.
Do you get my drift? I don’t think I have all the answers regarding these issues. But I do believe that allegiance to Jesus is more important than any other allegiance. And I believe any political beliefs must be held as a strong second to our belief in Jesus. That may mean we must exercise the gift of holding one’s tongue – Thanks to Dietrich Bonhoeffer for that one! And thanks to Jesus for his heart for the lost. Remember, we were once lost but now are found. Let’s join the party for all the others in this category! Amen.