Sunday’s sermon: God Moves … Down the Road

down the road

Texts used – Isaiah 40:26-31; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

  • Lenten sermon series: God on the Move
    • Following movement of Christ throughout his ministry
    • Talking about continued movement of God in our lives and the movement of the Holy Spirit in and through us
    • 1st week: way God moved into the wilderness for 40 days when Jesus was tempted by the devil → how God intentionally choose to take on the human experience in its entirety (“the good, the bad, and the ugly”)
    • Last week: talked about God moving past obstacles, not by conquering or overpowering them but they loving God’s way through them with grace and compassion
    • This week: talking about movement in Christ’s ministry not through Jesus’ actual physical movement but the movement of a familiar story/parable that he told
  • Today’s NT text = most often called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”
    • Familiar story → probably one of few stories from the Bible that is recognized/known by people who haven’t heard it in church context
      • Story that you’ve probably heard preached a number of times → I know it’s a story I’ve preached myself a number of times! (sermon series a number of years ago → preached a different perspective/voice from this story every Sunday in Lent)
    • Certainly a story of movement
      • Movement of the younger son: out into the world, through the circles in which he squandered his money, into place of poverty and need, finally back home again
      • Movement of the father: place of generosity (maybe reluctant?) in giving the younger his inheritance early, movement on the road at his return, movement in planning his welcome home party
      • Movement of the older son: (not much at the beginning), movement against his younger brother when he returns home, movement away from the homecoming party
    • Frequently, when we read this story or hear this story (or preach this story!), we focus on the younger son, right?
      • Gets the most “air time” in the story
      • Other devotional writings and sermons focus on the other 2 main characters
        • Father
        • Older brother
    • But today, I’m going to take a slightly different approach to this well-known text. Instead of focusing on one character or another, we’re going to focus on two particular, short phrases today. → explore how those phrases speak to the movement of Christ in his ministry and the continued movement of God in the world
      • One phrase speaks to interior movement – that kind of movement that we cannot see but can feel in the deepest, most elemental parts of ourselves
      • One phrase speaks to exterior movement – movement that is powerfully visible from the outside
  • 1st phrase: “when he came to himself”
    • Text: When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 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; and no one gave him anything. 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.’”[1]
      • Remember what preceeded this parable
        • Part that we read this morning – text: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”[2] → Pharisees giving Jesus grief and grumbling amongst themselves because Jesus deigned to welcome and eat with those who had made mistakes … those who were unclean … those who were imperfect in the eyes of those who judged them
        • Leads Jesus to tell not just this parable of the prodigal son but 2 others as well
          • Parable of the Lost Sheep
          • Parable of the Lost Coin
          • Jesus = trying to clue the Pharisees in on the fact that the “lostness” is not the point of faith (who is lost, how they got lost, how long they stayed lost, whether the “lostness” was their fault or not) … the point of faith is the “being found”
            • Scholar: Like the two parables of joy that precede it, the story of the prodigal son is about the joy of finding and being found. Only this familial homecoming is different. Unlike the sheep and the coin, which are accidentally lost, this prodigal son intends to get lost. He loses himself on purpose, and in the process leaves his family behind. This family is not broken by accident. It is broken by an act of selfish will. The phrase “he came to himself” takes on weighty importance as it begins the long slow turn of the younger son toward home. Before someone who has intended to get lost can be found, they must first want to be found.[3] → It is exactly this wanting that gives us hints of God moving in the younger son to make that long slow turn toward home.
    • Hear this internal movement/turning in one of the other Scripture readings paired with today’s in the lectionary = Ps 32: When I kept quiet, my bones wore out; I was groaning all day long— every day, every night!— because your hand was heavy upon me. My energy was sapped as if in a summer drought. Selah So I admitted my sin to you; I didn’t conceal my guilt. “I’ll confess my sins to the LORD,” is what I said. Then you removed the guilt of my sin. Selah That’s why all the faithful should pray to you during troubled times, so that a great flood of water won’t reach them.[4]
      • Hear repentance in this
      • Hear longing in this
      • Hear a dawning awareness that something is not right
      • All things that we hear in the younger son “what he came to himself” as well.”
        • Most Rev. Michael Curry, currently presiding bishop and primate (aka – head honcho) of The Episcopal Church (and probably most famously known for giving the homily at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle less than a year ago): Wallowing among pigs, the prodigal “came to himself.” He realizes the profound discontinuity between who he has become and who he truly is. He does not have it figured out, but he knows something is not the way it is supposed to be. He is living a nightmare when he is meant to live his father’s dream. Something inside of him says, “You were not meant for this.” … So he decides to go home.[5]
  • 2nd phrase: “he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him”
    • Text: So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.[6]
    • Okay, first, let’s talk about the name of this parable for a minute. It’s most commonly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, right? But do we know what “prodigal” actually means? I think most of us might guess that “prodigal” means someone who has gone away and returned. That’s sort of what it’s come to mean in our culture because of this parable. But that’s not the actual definition of “prodigal.”
      • Definition of “prodigal” = having or giving something on a lavish scale → often applied to the way the son spent his portion of the family fortune BUT maybe this should more appropriately be called “The Parable of the Prodigal Father” for the father’s extravagant grace
        • Very deliberate wording → Gr. “compassion” (“his father saw him and was filled with compassion”) = word used throughout the NT to speak almost exclusively of the compassion that Jesus expressed for the people
          • People he healed
          • People he taught
          • People he sat and ate and spent time with
          • You know … all those pesky sinners that the Pharisees were complaining about.
      • Scholar: The economy of such love and grace surprises, even offends, us in its extravagance. While the ways of the world suggest that yes, the son might be welcomed home, but reasonably so – on a ration of bread and water in answer to his deplorable sin – the economy of God is such that rejoicing for the return of a child is simply not enough. Joy must be made all the more complete by abundance.[7]
    • Expression of that abundant joy = obvious, observable outward movement of the father running to his returning son → And while that may seem like a natural response to us today, we have to recognize what a big deal that was in the context of 1st-century culture.
      • Jessica LaGrone: When the son appears on the horizon, prepared for chastisement, servanthood, even banishment, the father stands still no longer. He runs. It’s hard for us to understand what an incredible picture this is unless we know that in those days the men wore long robes, and men of age and stature did not run. It was not dignified. But this father loved his son more than his dignity, hiked up his [robes], and sprinted off to reach him.[8] → This father is so overwhelmed with joy and relief and love that he throws caution and propriety and his own dignity to the wind and he runs. He runs to the son who had abandoned him, scorned him, and disrespected him by requesting that inheritance early. He runs to the son whom he had counted as lost. Not knowing or caring where he has been, who he’s been with, what he’s been doing, or why he’s returned, he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
        • Always pictured this scene like the end of the Don Bluth animated movie “An American Tail”[9]

  • Hear this overwhelming grace and love echoed in our OT passage this morning – text: Why do you say, Jacob, and declare, Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD my God ignores my predicament”? Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. His understanding is beyond human reach, giving power to the tired and reviving the exhausted.[10]
    • Shows us that this is a parable in which God, just like that father, moves down to the road to us, meeting us where we’re at … wherever we’re at
      • Doesn’t hesitate
      • Doesn’t approach cautiously
      • Doesn’t hold us at arm’s length
    • Bishop Curry: As the story unfolds, it is clear that the parable is more about the determined, compassionate, infinite providence of God than it is about the ways of God’s prodigal children. In the end, this parable points to the great embrace and deep expansive love, compassion, and justice of God, deeper, wider, and higher than our imaginings.[11] Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

CHARGE
Pastor and author Tullian Tchividjian: This morning you woke up to something infinitely better than a new opportunity to get it right. You woke up perfectly loved despite all of your blown opportunities to get it right.

[1] Lk 15:14-19 (NRSV).

[2] Lk 15:1-2 (NRSV).

[3] Christopher H. Edmonston. “Luke 15:11-32 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 91.

[4] Ps 32:3-6.

[5] Michael B. Curry. “Fourth Sunday in Lent – Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 119.

[6] Lk 15:20 (NRSV).

[7] Daniel G. Deffenbaugh. “Fourth Sunday in Lent – Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 118.

[8] Jessica LaGrone. “Lenten Series: God on the Move – Lent 4: God Moves … Down the Road” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 198,

[9] An American Tale. Directed by Don Bluth. Los Angeles, CA: Amblin Entertainment, 1986.

[10] Is 40:27-29.

[11] Curry, 121.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: God Moves … Down the Road

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: God Moves Us … to Empty Ourselves | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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