Sermons 2007
Party or Pout? Lent 4C, 18 March 2007, Luke 15:11-32

Home | In the Beginning was the Word, Christmas Day, 25 December 2007, John 1:1-14 | What's Missing? Christmas Eve, 24 December 2007, Luke 2:1-20 | Joseph, the Forgotten One, Advent 4A, 23 December 2007, Matthew 1:18-25 | Come with Joy, Advent 3A, 16 December 2007, Matthew 11:2-11 | Darkness or Light? Advent 1A, 2 December 2007, Matthew 24:37-44 | What Kind of King is He? Proper 29C, 25 November 2007, Luke 23:35-43 | Predictions and the Horseman of the Apocalypse, Proper 28C, 18 Nov 2007, Luke 31:5-19 | Just passing through? Proper 27C , 11 November 2007, Luke 20:20-38 | Not like others? Proper 25C, 28 October 2007, Luke 18:9-14 | "We are bold to say", Proper 24C, 21 October 2007, Luke 18:1-8a | "The ten lepers", Proper 23C, 14 October 2007, Luke 17:11-19 | Proper 22C and Holy Baptism, 7 October 2007 | A taste of cool water, Proper 21C, 30 September 2007, Luke 16:19-31 | We hear what we want to hear, Proper 20C, 23 September 2007, Luke 16:1-13 | "Lost -- but found!" Proper 19C, 16 September 2007, Luke 15:1-10 | "Who is coming to dinner?" Proper 17C, 2 September 2007, Luke 14:1, 7-14 | Doors and narrow gates, Proper 16C, 26 August 2007, Luke 13:22-30 | "Fire to the earth", Proper 15C, 19 August 2007, Luke 12:49-56 | "Do not be afraid, little flock', Proper 14C, 12 August 2007, Luke 12:32-40 | "How much is enough?" Proper 13C , 5 August 2007, Luke 12:13-21 | "Lord, teach us to pray" Proper 12C, 29 July 2007, Luke 11:1-13 | "The Better Part?" Proper 11C, 22 July 2007, Luke 10:38-42 | The Good Samaritan -- the Summary of the Law" Proper 10C, 15 July 2007, Luke 10:25-37 | "Travel Light!" Proper 9C, 8 July 2007, Luke 10:1-12, 16-20 | "Independence Day" Proper 8C, 1 July 2007, Luke 9:51-62 | "Three Questions", Proper 7C, 24 Jun 2007, Luke 9:18-24 | "In or Out?" Proper 6C, 17 June 2007, Luke 7:36-50 | "On Grace", Proper 5C, 10 June 2007, Luke 7:11-17 | Trinity C, 3 June 2007 | Pentecost C, 27 May 2007 | "Unity and Diversity" Easter 7C, 20 May 2007, John 17:20-26 | "Come, Holy Spirit, Come" Easter 6C, 13 May 2007, John 14:23-29 | "What is this thing called love?" Easter 5C, 6 May 2007, John 13:31-35 | "Numbers and Sheep", Easter 4C, 29 April 2007, John 10:22-30 | Virginia Tech, Easter 3C, 22 April 2007 Revelation 6:8-10 | Thomas Doubter and Believer, Easter 2C, 15 April 2007. John 20: 19-31 | ""Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Easter Sunday, 8 April 2007, Luke 24:1-10 | Good Friday 6 April 2007 | Maundy Thursday 5 April 2007 | Why are we not surprised? Palm/Passion Sunday C, 1 April 2007, Luke 22:39-23:50 | Party or Pout? Lent 4C, 18 March 2007, Luke 15:11-32 | To Stand on the Mountaintop, Lent 3C, 11 March 2007, Exodus 3:1-15 | "Ways Not Taken", Lent 2C, 4 March 2007. Luke 13:22-35 | "Liminal Thresholds and Lintels", Lent 1C, 25 February 2007, Luke 4:1-13 | Ash Wednesday Meditation 2007 | "Transfiguration and Transformation, Epiphany Last C, 18 February 2007, Luke 9:28-36 | "Weal and Woe", Epiphany 6C, 11 February 2007, Luke 6:17-26 | "Who, me?" Epiphany 5C, 4 February 2007, Luke 5:1-11 | "Filled with rage!" Epiphany 4C, 28 January 2007, Luke 4:21-32 | "The Spirit of the Lord is upon us," Epiphany 3C, 21 January 2007, Luke 4:14-21 | "Weddings and Miracles," Epiphany 2C, 14 January 2007, John 2:1-11 | Schism and Epiphany, Epiphany 1C, 7 Dec 2007, Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Lent 4C Luke 15:11-32

Right after World War II It was a common phenomenon in the Deep South in small towns during the summer months to see a large tent set up on a vacant lot. Traveling evangelists back then, the televangelists of their day, would conduct week long revival tent meetings. In those days before television, it was usually the only show in town. Some of us may remember those tent meetings.

To keep everyone’s attention, especially the small children who were hot and restless on those damp-drenched humid evenings, the evangelist would bring out a felt board. All the children under a certain age were called forward to sit on the ground in front of the felt board. Although the story was supposedly for the children it was really, Jonathan Swift wise, mostly intended for the adults. As he would retell the Gospel story or parable, he would use other layers of colored felt to recreate the scene. Some times the layers of felt became so thick that it seemed three dimensional.

For the week long duration of the tent meeting there was a new felt board story every night. One of the favorites was the story of the prodigal son, retold in ever shifting images of vivid felt. The children would be mesmerized as that difficult and yet too familiar parable came to life in front of their eyes in layers of felt.
In 1636, Rembrandt painted a suggestive portrait of a jaunty, saucy, debonair Prodigal with a pencil-thin moustache. He wears a hat with enough plumage to take flight while hoisting a large flute of ale, itself over a foot tall. There is a young lady on his lap enjoying the fun while (in the original painting) another lass sans clothing plays a mandolin in the background. A peacock pie on the table suggests the arrogance of the scene. In Rembrandt and the Bible, a note says that the great painter used himself as a model for this particular canvas, which might tell us more than we'd like to know about how parables are supposed to work. (1)

In 1986 the late Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian and writer, toured St. Petersburg, Russia, the former Leningrad. While there he visited the famous Hermitage where he saw, among other things, Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son. The painting was in a hallway and received the natural light of a nearby window. Newman stood for two hours, mesmerized by this remarkable painting. As he stood there the sun changed, and at every change of the light’s angle he saw a different aspect of the painting revealed. He would later write: “There were as many paintings in the Prodigal Son as there were changes in the day.” (2)

Parables were one of Jesus’ favorite ways of teaching. They were not just stories – they were stories with a point, often a point that required some thinking effort on the part of the listener before it could be completely -- or even imperfectly -- understood. Because of the nature of parables, especially those told by Jesus, parables unfold ever deeper and more complex layers of meaning the more they are contemplated. Jesus used parables to teach his followers and also to confuse and confound his enemies and critics. One commentator has defined parables this way: “At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or from common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” (3)

It is hard for us to see something new in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We have heard the story so many times we believe that we have squeezed it dry of meaning. Not only that, but, as the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. When we hear the opening words of the parable once again, “And there was a Father who had two sons,” we greet the words with ho-hum. Heard it. Heard it. Heard it.(2)

Yet it is in the very nature of parables that they cannot be taken literally; they must be interpreted. The listeners become active participants in the communication of the message carried by the parable and begin to offer interpretations according to the way the parable speaks to each of them uniquely at any given time the parable is contemplated. Parables are not used by speakers – and certainly not by Jesus – to control the listeners by telling them exactly what to think and to do about the message of the parable. That is also why parables are often not well received by those who wish to tell or be told what to do, to think, and to believe. Control is lost but participation, active teasing of the mind, is gained in the use of parables because parables must be interpreted if the message is to be received, even though that message might change from listener to listener and from day to day. And context is always important for understanding these stories that Jesus tells.

Just as Henri Nouwen saw many different and shifting facets to Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, so too are there many different angles to the story itself. (2)

So where are we at parable's end? Are we inside the party celebrating? Or are we standing outside with our arms folded, refusing to come in? J esus will not tell us how this story will end. The father passionately invites the older son inside, "pleads with him" to join in the welcome. Curiously, however, we are never told what the older brother decides to do. The story ends but it doesn't end. Will we go willingly to a party thrown by the God who loves us? Or will we stay pouting outside? This parable forces us to make a choice. Who is the real "prodigal" here? Who is the real "wastrel"? From the beginning Jesus says that this is a story about two brothers. Which one is the authentic prodigal? Which one has yet to come home to the Father's extravagant love? (1)

This parable teaches us that the forgiveness and love of God is beyond reason and beyond any human concept of fairness. We learn that God is a spendthrift, giving away what God has to those God loves. No human being can forgive so absolutely or completely embrace the depth of God's forgiveness and love. The parable is a story that is almost too good to be true. It, like God's unconditional love, is almost beyond belief. (4) AMEN

1. The Waster, a sermon by Frank G. Honeycutt, Sermons on the Gospel Reading, Cycle C, Frank G. Honeycutt, CSS Publishing, 2003, eSermons. Note referenced is Hidde Hoekstra, Rembrandt and the Bible (Weert, Netherlands: Magna Books, 1990), p. 337.
2. Brett Blair and Staff of eSermons for Lent 4C,
3. C.H. Dodd, as quoted in Fred B. Craddock, Luke, John Knox Press, 1990, p.108. The discussion of parables is taken from pp. 109 – 110.
4. Selected Sermons for Lent 4C 2007, Worship That Works,