Summary: A sermon for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Series C

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4th Sunday in Lent, March 14, 2010, “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, in your infinite mercy you sent your only Son into our midst, that we might know your will and grace for our lives. Through Christ, you reach out to us with your resourceful love, even when we don’t know how to reach out to you. In the cross which Christ bore, you embraced us with a sacrificial love and redeemed us from sin and death. Inspire us through the power of your Holy Spirit to desire and share your sacrificial and infinite love with each other. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

In a resource whose author has long ago been forgotten, the following the following statement was made. “In his early etchings and woodcuts of ‘The Prodigal Son,’ Rembrandt depicts the younger brother as the principal character of the story. In one rendition, the young man is ready to leave home. He has mounted a magnificent riding horse. He is wearing a feathered hat, cocked at a jaunty angle. He appears much like an old movie version of a swashbuckler, ready for excitement and adventure. The father doesn’t even appear in the picture.

But toward the end of his life, Rembrandt painted his famous oil rendition of the parable in which the young man kneels before his father in a posture of humility. Only the young man’s back is visible. The main focus of the painting is on the father: a majestic looking old man, with the grace and wisdom of the years on his face. More than that, you see the father’s hands, full of forgiveness and compassion as they rest on the boy’s shoulders. Clearly, Rembrandt came to realize in his last years, that the real hero in the story is the father and that the main point of the story is the father’s abundant love.” End quote.

This morning’s Gospel lesson is probably one of the best known of the many parables that Jesus utilized in his teachings. We have heard it read many times in worship, and have heard many sermons based on its text. But since none of the parables of Jesus were given titles by the writers of the Gospels, I think that it is unfortunate that this parable has come to be dubbed “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” I happen to agree, that in his later years, Rembrandt got it right. If we need to assign a title to this famous parable, it would be more accurate to refer to it as “The Parable of the Loving Father.”

After all, the story of the prodigal son finally returning home to a waiting father includes more than the account of a shiftless and ungrateful son. His elder brother emerges toward the end of the story, and he, too, helps to flesh out the portrait of the father’s love. From both sons, we learn that love is there for the despicable as well as the dependable. It is a lesson that we all need to learn.

First, let’s consider the younger son. Here was a young man with an itch explore the world, that just wouldn’t go away. The family business was filled with too much routine and left him bored. He felt a call to greener pastures, and hoped to strike out and create a different life for himself. So, in youthful enthusiasm, this young man propositions his father for the chance to strike out on his own, staked by his share of the family fortune.

And it is here, near the beginning of the story, that we get our first hint of the father’s patience and love. He respects his son’s desire for adventure and independence. Perhaps he know that this particular boy needed to learn firsthand, perhaps even the hard way, that a happy and meaningful life consists of more excitement and adventure. And so he grants his son’s request for his inheritance.

Within a few days, Jesus tells us, the young son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, far away from the familiar routine of home, where he squandered his entire inheritance on loose living. Even if he had high-minded goals, he lacked the discipline to carry them to fruition. Thus, his life became a round of mere games, which left him reduced to slopping swine to survive. He had hit bottom, thought about life back on the family farm, and in humility, desired to return, not as a son, but as a slave.

On the other hand, the elder brother stayed at home, working in the safe and secure environment of the homestead, which would eventually be his very own. He was the kind of child that many parents dream of having. He was dependable, worked hard in the fields, never missed a day’s work unless he was sick.

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