Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
15Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to
listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling
and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So
he told them this parable: 11b “There was a man who had two
sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the
share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his
property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son
gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he
squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent
everything, a severe famine took place throughout 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 to his fields to feed
the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the
pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 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! 18 I
will get up 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 like one of your hired
hands.”’ 20 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. 21 Then 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
slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted
calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine
was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they
began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when
he came and approached the house, he heard music and
dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going
on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed
the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then
he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and
began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For
all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have
never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even
a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when
this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with
prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said
to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is
yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of
yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been
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Recently I discovered that my Daddy built our farmhouse on the highest
point in Clay County.
Momma laughed as she told me that, a couple of weeks ago, a group of
people from other parts of the US touring the Kansas City area were found
walking through our fields to atop our little hill.
My sister kindly welcomed but warned them that trespassing on private
land could be extremely dangerous. Sometimes you just scratch your head
and wonder what are people thinking?
As a boy growing up on that small hill, and as a man visiting it, I’ve always
appreciated the darkness of the night sky in contrast to the brilliance of the
I used to lay on a blanket in the front yard observing star patterns twinkling
in the night sky; that is, until the chiggers overtook my body.
Then I’d move to the open porch or stand on a rung of the fence so I could
continue staring up unto the beauty and vividness of the universe.
If you’ve ever gazed up at the night sky or pondered the vastness of the
universe then you’ve tapped into the process of wondering about the nature
of God. If you’ve contemplated the complexity of life or God’s purpose for
this world, then you’ve introduced yourself to what is called theology.
Theology is the study and analysis of God, of God’s attributes and God’s
relations to the universe. (www.dictionary.com/browse/theology)
Our worship is theological expressions intended to assist us in considering and
experiencing the mystery of God and our place within that mystery.
The Rite I liturgy we’re using today is familiar to some and uncomfortable to
others. This poetic liturgy phrased in Victorian English warms memories
and hearts of some, but for others it is an example of the Church being
No matter your persuasion, the liturgy for this morning coupled with the
Gospel reading gives us two important theological perspectives relating to
the human experience of the mystery of God.
Jesus tells the parable of a Son demanding and then squandering his
In time, he comes to a disturbing conclusion.
His self-awareness propels the Son to return home, a desperate failure,
hoping to be accepted as a slave by his Father. At least he would be
treated with some dignity as a slave, being given food, clothing and shelter.
Though meager provisions, it would certainly be more than he had living
among the pigs.
The Son returns home to his Father humiliated, penniless, filthy, and
feeling unworthy of being loved and received as family. Rite I liturgy
includes the perspective of the Prodigal Son.
The Prayer of Humble Access goes like this:
“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in thy manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather
up the crumbs under thy Table…”
Some of us adamantly refute this perspective. But experience has taught
me that there are many people who really believe they are too unworthy of
being welcomed and loved by God or anyone else.
That’s why, I think, this liturgy can still be important to share. Like Jesus,
liturgy is intended to meet people where they might be in their lives.
I confess to fighting feelings of unworthiness myself.
There are times when I hear voices, sometimes from the past, and other
times in the contemporary; voices of judgment and condemnation, voices
emitting norms and morality fitting nicely into personal pious tabernacles
containing closed-minded perspectives harmonizing with prejudice.
There are times when a person’s sense of unworthiness needs to be
appreciated so that there may be opportunity for transformation.
As the Prayer of Humble Access continues:
“But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.”
Those reassuring words take us back into the parable.
Upon seeing his Son in the distance, the Father ran to meet his Son.
Finally standing face to face, the Father welcomed his Son home, hugging
him tightly and kissing his Son’s dirty face.
But the Prodigal Son cried: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and
before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
His remorseful feelings were expressed; then, it was his Father’s turn.
The Father’s response to his Son’s return: attiring him properly – as a Son,
not as a servant, feasting and celebrating, for what “was dead…has come
to life;” and what “was lost…has been found.”
Though we may feel unworthy to approach the God of the Universe, God
welcomes us as precious children.
By now you probably recognize that the Parable of the Prodigal Son isn’t
really about the Son, it’s about the Father.
Parental imagery has the power of affecting you and me differently.
With that in mind, it does us well to recall that in the ancient, Jewish world of
Jesus the Father was the symbol of family power and provision.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son dramatically expresses Jesus’ view of God.
If we abandon God, living for our self alone without regard for meaningful
connections God and others, God still hopes and watches for our return into
God’s divine hug.
If we choose to come back to God, we are welcomed as cherished Family and
heirs of God’s embracing, forgiving, healing, restoring, reconciling love.
Maya Angelou wrote: “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”
God’s light of love shines forever.