A sermon given at the 8am BCP Eucharist and 10.30am Choral Eucharist on Sunday 27 March, by The Right Rev’d Chris McLeod, Dean
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. (Luke 15: 21)
There is a marvellous book by the late Henri Nouwen called ‘The Return of the prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming’. It is a very personal book dealing with the theme of reconciliation. It is essentially a book about Nouwen’s reconciliation with God, his life, and ministry, and, ultimately, with himself. It is a personal and moving story set around the painting of the same name by Rembrandt. Canon Jenny has a reproduction of the painting in her study. The painting is, of course, based on the parable of the Prodigal Son; today’s Gospel reading.
Reconciliation is the theme we have been exploring at our Lent Evensong sermon series. When we hear the word reconciliation, we often think of reconciliation in Australia between First Nations and other Australians. Reconciliation has to do with this, of course, but it also has a broader application: reconciling with God, ourselves, and each other. It is at the heart of the Gospel and the Christian life. It is a homecoming where we find ourselves to be loved, embraced, forgiven, and accepted. The parables of Jesus are about God’s reign. He often prefigured his parables with the Kingdom of God is like and so it is with the parable of the Prodigal Son.
In many ways the parable of the Prodigal Son is a misnomer. It could equally be entitled the parable of the loving and forgiving father. The father runs out to meet the son as he returns from a life of shame and very poor choices. The son has a very well-rehearsed speech, which he doesn’t in fact get a chance to give. The father sees him and runs to embrace him and immediately calls for a celebration.
- Being challenged by the parable
So often we get the idea of repentance and forgiveness a bit wrong. We put the onus on repentance before we can receive God’s love. When we repent and show contrition then God will forgive us, and only then. However, this parable messes with this idea a bit. The father so loves the son that he is ready to embrace him and forgive him: he is filled with compassion and longing. We should note, as well, that the son is on his way back and he hasn’t quite arrived home yet. The Father goes out to meet him.
I expect that for many of us we think that God only forgives when we get everything all lined up and in good order. However, the Father rushes to meet us when we are on the journey home. We haven’t quite made it home yet. The journey home can take many winding paths. It is rarely straight from my experience. It has fits and starts, moments of uncertainty and doubt, obstacles, and distractions. God meets us on our journey and brings us home.
The parable tells a lot about Jesus’ view of God the Father. Things to note:
- The Father is looking, waiting, and longing for his wayward son
- The Father runs to greet the son
- The Father meets the son as he is travelling back
- The Father embraces the son and kisses him. (This is no Anglo-Saxon emotionless and distant Father. This is a Father that loves, embraces, kisses, and is filled with passion.)
- The Father throws a party with feasting, dancing, and music. (Our act of worship today prefigures the great celebration that awaits us when we are completely in God’s Kingdom.)
- What about the other Son?
There is another main character in this story, isn’t there? It is the elder son. Jesus would have had the pharisees in mind when he included the elder son. The elder son was dutiful, obedient, yet judgmental and unable to see the fulness of the Father’s grace. This is reflected in his words when he calls his brother ‘this son of yours’. He cannot accept the love that his Father has for someone who, by his own values, is not worthy of such of love. I think we have all experienced something of this view. We can all be a bit judgemental and put limits on those who are worthy of God’s love and those who are not. Yet, this is an important point – God loves both sons equally!
Conclusion: For whatever reason you come to the Cathedral today, know that are you are most welcome, and I hope today you experience the depths of God’s reconciling and special love for you.