Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Who is the prodigal?”

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 15:1-3, 11b-32.


Opening prayer
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.

Introduction
Today I would like to focus my preaching on the gospel story from Luke. It is a parable about a prodigal son.

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.

This elder 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.

How does 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 dwell?   

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.

The story 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.  

How would 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?

How would you respond to the father who represents the forgiving and compassionate God. This God is tenderly waiting and welcoming our home coming. 

I will finish this silent session after a few minutes with the sound of the bell. (we now start)

Let us pray:

God our 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. 

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, March 06, 2016

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