A sermon preached at Kowloon
Union Church on Sunday 6 March 2016, the Fourth
Sunday in Lent, by
the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke
God of eternity, thank you
for your gracious present. May your Word inspire us. The Holy Spirit guides us
and draws us closer to your love through Christ. May the word of my mouth and
the meditation of my heart be acceptable and pleasing to You. Amen.
Today I would like to focus
my preaching on the gospel story from Luke. It is a parable about a prodigal
I can imagine this is a
familiar story to many of you.
It was a parable told by
Jesus when he was challenged by the Pharisees and the Scribes.
These grumbling religious leaders criticized Jesus because “he
welcomes sinners and eats with them.”(Luke 15:1-2)
In the prodigal story, the
loving and forgiving father represents God the Father and Mother in
heaven. The prodigal son represents the sinner who repents. The older son represents the attitude of the Pharisees in not desiring sinners to turn to God.
Jesus was defending his right to associate with sinners for
the sake of the gospel. To Jesus, the gospel is for sinners. This was
his mission to call sinners to return to God.
We have entered into the
season of Lent. The prodigal son story is timely for us to reflect on our
spiritual journey of repentance and returning to God.
In the story, the younger
son is the prodigal who repents and returns home to his father. He admits his
mistakes and is willing to take his responsibility and pay the cost for his
wrongdoings and his own choice. He was once wandering in a distant country and
outside of his father’s home. But now he is back home and restores
his relationship with his father.
The son who was
once outside home is now in. On the contrary, the elder son who has been
inside his father’s home, when the younger son is back home and having a party
to celebrate his return, he is on the outside. He refuses to enter in because he
is angry. In the conversation between him and his father, we find that his
heart is filled with jealousy, bitterness, resentment and anger.
son is the lost son, the hidden prodigal son. He does all
things a good son is supposed to do
externally. But internally he has wandered away from his father. He does his
duty, works hard every day, and finishes all his obligations. However, he is
unhappy and feeling unfree. He said he is a slave and is upset because no
recognition has been given. Very sadly he does not feel the love and presence
of his father all along.
The loss of
the younger son is clear. The loss of the elder son is not easy to identify. The
younger son is the seen prodigal son who
left home physically. The elder son is the unseen prodigal son who is psychologically and
spiritually separated from the home of his father.
the elder son mirror our current life and relationship with God? Are we
physically at home and yet spiritually has wandered to a distant place where we
are outside the home of love where God dwells? Are we physically at home and
yet we are psychologically outside the home of love where close relationships
From the story of the prodigal son, it is obvious that the father
forgives his younger son and accepts him unconditionally when he returns home. It
reveals that God values every
lost one. Through Jesus Christ, we know that God treasures those who are
regarded as unimportant, no good or even sinners by the majority and the powerful in the society. Jesus calls
them to return to the home of God and receive God’s love and forgiveness.
The way the
father listens and speaks to his elder son while he is grumbling and
complaining reveals his compassionate love to him too. As the elder son, he does not see his
privileges as the eldest to receive more than his younger brother. According to
the ancient Jewish law, the eldest son is given two third of his father’s possession/inheritance.
From an equal distribution point of view, this practice of course can be
criticized. But it is not the main point here. What I would like to highlight
is the elder son is somehow blind to what he already has. But the father shows
his kindness and acceptance to him by going out from the house to speak to him
(as he refuses to go into the house) and assure him his love for him. He said
to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Very
importantly, he explains to him why he celebrates and rejoices for the return of his younger
son. He said, “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost
and has been found.” He points out a fact - this brother of yours – the younger
son is not only his son, but also the brother of this elder son. It is the
restoration of relationship that this father matters. It is the reconciliation
between the father and the son, and also the reconciliation between the two
brothers that are important.
does not tell how the elder son responds after speaking to and hearing from his
father. Is the elder son touched by his words and thus return to his home like his
younger brother? Would he begin to remember his good time with his father in
the past? Would he realise he has
more than he thought? Would he recognize the fact that this younger son is also his
brother that is close to him? Or is he still angry and unhappy and refuse to
come home? We don’t know. The answer is left open. The answer is a choice that is left to the elder son to make.
It is also up to us to create.
At the end
of my sermon, I would like to invite you to spend some moment to meditate on
the ‘the Return of the prodigal son’, a painting of Rembrandt, a Dutch painter from the 17th
century. You see the father embracing
his returned younger son who is
kneeing on the ground on the left. On the right is the elder son who is
standing a bit distant from his father and his brother.
you relate yourself to these three characters in the story of the prodigal son – the father, the elder son and the younger son who returned to the home of his father?
you respond to the father who represents the forgiving and
compassionate God. This God is tenderly waiting and welcoming our home
finish this silent session after a few minutes with the sound of the bell. (we
heavenly father and mother, we thank you for your unconditional love. Thank you
for calling us once again to come home where your compassionate love dwells. May we live as the return of the prodigal son,
to repent and receive God’s forgiveness and grace. Gracious God, grant to us faith to
trust. Give us hope and strength for the reconciliation with you and with
others. May we bring you joy by finding the lost and restoring their lives from the death in your presence. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our
redeemer and liberator. Amen.