Yesterday while preaching I encountered one of those glorious moments when the preacher finds themselves converted, I was preaching on the parable of the Prodigal Son. The theme for the service was home-coming, connecting with the origins of Mothering, or more correctly Refreshment Sunday. As I have said elsewhere, I refuse to join in with Hallmark holidays, and recognise that for many the theme of Mothers Day is particularly difficult, partly because we dress it up in the wrong clothes, very often we do this with this parable.
At the centre of this story is a Father with two sons, the sons are poles apart in personality and this is shown from the very beginning. The younger son is not content with his lot, he does not want to live within the boundaries and safety of the farm and longs for adventure, he does the unthinkable by going to his father and asking for his share, his inheritance, and despite the fact that this was tantamount to wishing his father dead, his father agrees and provides the young man with the money he craves. With a pocket full of cash the young man sets out on his adventure, and with his first step away from home his journey to his true home has begun. The reality of that hit me between the eyes yesterday as the similarities between the father and the younger son were revealed to me in a startling way.
The young man reached the far country and began living a life of reckless generosity, he gathered so called friends around him and partied hard! He indulged in prodigal living, to quote the dictionary;
|synonyms:||generous, lavish, liberal, unstinting, unsparing, bountiful;|
The fathers heart was alive, if uncontrolled within him, he was living beyond his limits, and when those limits were exhausted his next steps on the journey home began. The Scripture is clear, he came to himself, and in the cold sober light of day he saw the emptiness of his lavish generosity for what it was. After a time of hunger and of feeding pigs he resolved to return home, he was prepared now to live as one of his fathers servants, a clear indication that he did not understand his father at all.
I wonder how many times he rehearsed his speech on the way home; "Father I am not worthy..." I wonder how many times we tell ourselves the same thing, repeating the lie and then covering it up with a thin veneer of Sunday best to try to show that we are at least trying. As home came into sight over the horizon his world was about to be blown apart. We are told that on catching sight of the young man that the father cast all decorum to the wind and ran to greet him, brushing aside the young mans excuses and throwing his arms around him in welcome he called for a robe a ring and a party. The young man found himself embraced, restored and celebrated....
Maybe, if only he had understood, all that was needed in the first place was for him to ask his father for a party, but like many of us he had to know he was lost in order to be found! It is now the fathers turn for prodigal behaviour as the fatted calf is killed and a lavish banquet is prepared. The son has come home, and he knows at last the depth of love that his father has for him.
The older son now enters the scene, and reveals that while he has never left home, he has never been at home either, in deep compassion we hear the fathers heart, " you could have asked me for a party son, I would have loved to throw one for you..."
The younger son now began to understand, his father was not one to hold back, his generosity had both let him go to find himself, and welcomed him home, and in both of these acts a reckless, prodigal gift giving was displayed. From the safety of home generosity and celebration were safe, home was a place of life light and joy, that is something neither of the sons recognised in the beginning of the story.
In the younger son the gift giving nature of the father had always dwelt, it was the hunger created by this nature that drove him from home, but the hunger was never truly satisfied until he returned home to find himself encircled by love and rejoiced over. This truth hit me between the eyes and stirred my soul with force, so many of the things I have told myself and tried to diminish through the years have been unformed echoes of the fathers heart, it is in bringing them home, and offering them to God that they fulfil their potential.
The older sons journey is left unresolved, we are not told if he joined the party, we are simply left with the openness of the fathers invitation; " Everything I have is yours..."
The question we need to ask ourselves is; "where I am in this story?"
Am I hungry for something more?
Am I lost?
Am I on my way home?
Am I at home but far from home at the same time?
Am I living as a servant in my fathers house?
Do I know the father as a lavish gift giver, or have I somehow missed the point?
Wherever we find ourselves, if we only dare to own that with all of our hearts we are invited to turn, to come home to the fathers embrace, and to be celebrated by the one who longs to throw a party in our honour!