Fr. Steve Teague, Rector

Will the Real Prodigal Stand Up?

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fourth Sunday in Lent

Luke’s 15th chapter – three Jesus parables, each ends with a party. I think Jesus likes parties. That would him a good Episcopalian. Grumpy people don’t play well with Jesus. A shepherd loses one sheep – leaves ninety-nine, finds it, brings it home, and throws a big party. A woman loses one coin, knocks herself out searching, finds it, and throws a big party. A prodigal comes home and dad throws a huge, rip-roaring party.

There are appropriate occasions for throwing a party. I misplace my cell phone sometimes. I have learned to call my number then listen for the ring. Once, days passed with neither phone nor ring tone. I remembered a jacket – and there it was. I was thrilled, but throwing a party to celebrate “my iPhone that was once lost, now is found,” never crossed my mind. In Jesus’ stories when what’s lost gets found, throw a party. Heaven even joins the joy.

Jesus rubs parties in the faces of Pharisees and scribes – non-party people. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus says, “Yes, and your point. God’s overjoyed to find those you won’t.” In this parable, a prodigal gets more love than he expects, implying that’s just how God waits for all of us prodigals.

You know the story. An indulgent father – a selfish younger son who basically says, “Die old man. Give me my inheritance now.” He heads out to Gentile-land, a town named, “Desolate Living.” He squanders his inheritance on booze, women, and bacchanal parties. He has to find a job. He becomes sous chef to pigs. One day he “comes to himself,” “Those pigs have it better than me. I’ll go home, and tell dad, ‘I’m unworthy. Give me a job as a hired hand.’ Then I can get three squares and a bed, and be done with these pigs.” Off toward home he goes, practicing his speech as he walks.

Unbeknownst to the boy, dad’s been praying each day his trashy son will come home – hasn’t given up on him. One afternoon dad spots a familiar figure walking up the road. Unable to contain his joy, dad sprints down the road like a fool, scoops up his boy, laughing and crying, not paying attention to a word the boy tries to say. He’s come home. That’s what matters. Dad doesn’t say, “Well, I hope you learned your lesson;” or “Son, you about put your momma in her grave.” He violates all social and religious standards. He imposes no restrictions, consequences, or reprimands. Instead dad throws the finest robe on his back, a ring on his finger, and a pair of Allen Edmonds shoes on his feet. “He was dead. Now he’s alive. He was lost. Now he’s found. Call in the neighbors – break out the best Scotch – heat up the grill, hire a band – it’s party time.” A parent who acts like this, won’t even make him say he’s sorry – and who is the real prodigal?

Older brother walking toward the estate house hears the merry-making. “What’s up?” “Your brother just came home, and your dad’s gone crazy; thrown one heck of a party.” Older brother says, “Cold day ‘you know where’ before I go in there. This is not right.”

Dad notices a sheep is missing, a coin’s lost. He goes out to find the older boy – begs him to join them. His response: “You’re disgusting, welcoming and eating with sinners. You never threw me a party. I’m not going.” The older boy’s right you know. He’s dutiful, obedient, the good child, keeps the farm afloat – and he’s also probably boring. “Son, you’re with me. Your dead brother is alive now – home. Come with me to the party.” A son who acts like this – could he be a prodigal, too? How do we respond to God’s outrageous love and desire for people like us, and unlike us?

Jesus’ light falls on a dysfunctional family and a father who swallows his pride to save his children. It’s about grace, a broken-hearted father who keeps waiting and reaching for those he loves. If you’re the younger prodigal, the father’s grace is a blessing. If you’re the elder, the father’s grace is DISGRACE. Someone’s getting what you’ve earned. Well, get over it. Gods calls us to join His mission of reconciling, seeking, welcoming and restoring those willing to come home. And those who refuse, “Go find them and invite them in.” God keeps the light on for all of us. “I’m throwing a party – rejoice and come in” – that’s God’s point.

This story is not about us behaving badly or about us at all. It’s about God’s outrageous love and what God does for us in Jesus. The human heart, when self-centered and not God-centered, can be conniving and deceitful – or it can grow hardened and bitter. We exclude ourselves, yet God won’t. God keeps reaching and inviting us to the great party of divine love, a God who won’t be bound by what we think is right and wrong.

Can you hear the music, tapping your foot to the beat? Here, grab a plate, have some punch; can you get your Electric Slide on? What finally heals our defective hearts is to join the party, see and rejoice for all God is doing. You’ll accept God’s invitation when such outrageous grace and love raises such joy in your heart you dance and weep at the same time. Welcome to the party. God doesn’t lose anyone; keeps no one out; forces no one in.

And there the story stops. Now, Jesus puts this story into your hands and mine to finish. I hope you have your party clothes ready.