A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Ga on March 14, 2010.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
It has been labeled The Greatest Short Story Ever Told. I’m not sure the religious leaders listening to it that day would agree. They were critical of just about everything Jesus did, so this story, which portrayed them as the angry elder brother of the Prodigal Son, would only upset them more.
I am confident you know the story, perhaps the most familiar Jesus told. The younger of two brothers left home with a lot of money and little maturity, which was a lethal combination. Because of his immaturity and irresponsibility, he lost all his money, along with his freedom and pride.
He returned home with a broken and contrite heart, content to be a slave on his dad’s farm. To his surprise, however, he was welcomed with open arms and given full status back into the family. To celebrate his homecoming, a lavish party was thrown in his honor.
It seems everyone was rejoicing over his return until the older brother came in from the field and heard the music. After discovering the reason for the celebration, he refused to participate, deciding instead to have a pity-party.
The story ends with the father explaining to the older brother why he was having a party for the Prodigal and coaxing him to join the festivities. Isn’t that interesting?
Ever notice in a family when you solve one problem, you quickly encounter another? I know we long for the day when all problems will be solved and issues resolved, and even tell ourselves that day is just around the corner. It’s not and never will be. This story is a vivid reminder of real family dynamics and our need to rely upon the Lord for wisdom, strength and patience.
Do you think the angry brother finally went in and welcomed the Prodigal home? We’ll never know. It appears that Jesus left it up to his listeners, including us, to finish the parable. I encourage you to do this.
There is no shortage of sermons this text has birthed. Some of them have actually been good. I’ll add another to the list this morning, based upon my pondering last week. It’s a different approach for me, and perhaps it will be for you, too.
What connects the three characters in the story is home. The son leaves home, only to be welcomed by the father when he returns, which makes the older brother mad. Three questions emerge for me that must be answered.
Why did the Prodigal return home after losing everything? Why did his father welcome him home with open arms? Why did the older brother become angry at his father for welcoming his delinquent brother home? I’ll share my observations.
Why did the Prodigal return home after losing everything? It wasn’t for more money, Tom Ehrich writes. He returned home for his father’s love.
Out of all the things he lost, including his money, pride, freedom and perhaps his health, he realized this was the most valuable. Evidently, he bounced from place to place where no one loved him or helped him. People took everything he had, and when it was all gone, they dumped him.
Who might love him enough to at least keep him alive and help him have some quality of life? There must have been something about his father’s nature that led him to believe his dad still loved him enough to let him come home. So, he returned home, or more accurately, to his father, with a broken and contrite heart and a rehearsed speech that asked for just enough mercy to keep him alive.
What do you need to do to make your home a safe place to fall for a family member? What do you need to do, for that matter, to make your home a loving, peaceful, happy place that might keep someone from running away? What about people who have no home to go to or no father that would welcome them home? What could you do to help them?
Why did his father welcome him home with open arms? Why did he run to meet him and hug him repeatedly when he saw him approaching the house? This is what parents do. It is called unconditional love, which is a love for individuals at their best and their worst.
Evidently, the separation was as agonizing for the father as it was the Prodigal. Apparently, there was never any doubt in the father’s mind the he would welcome his son home. Every day, he looked down the road hoping to catch a glimpse of him. When he did, he interrupted the Prodigal and blurted out words he had rehearsed.
Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate! For this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found Luke 15:22-24.
Who in your family needs help the most today? What difference would a hug or words of encouragement and affirmation make in their life? How would this troubled person respond to a second chance?
Why did the elder brother get mad at his father for welcoming his brother home? He didn’t love his brother the way his father did. As a matter of fact, he would not even call him brother, but this son of yours.
There was no room in the elder brother’s heart for this much grace. Love had to be earned, merited or deserved, as he was sure his was.
I’m not surprised. Pure grace makes most people mad. This seems to be the case with the Pharisees, with whom Jesus had to contend. It is radical, illogical and absurd.
It is also transformative. Grace can redeem the most rebellious and irresponsible person. Redemption, however, was not on the older brother’s radar; revenge was.
So, what did the older brother do? He refused to join in the celebration, choosing, rather, to accuse his father of ingratitude for his years of faithful service and favoritism.
How did the father respond? He showered him with as much grace as he had the Prodigal. He stood between these two boys and did his best to keep his family together.
Who needs you to be patient with them and help them understand what they don’t? To whom do you need to listen?
Who can help you do these things? Who can help you go home after you have disappointed loved ones and who can help you welcome them after you have been hurt? Who can help you deal with feelings of shame or anger? Who can help you make changes in your life or home?
Remember the Pendulum Principle? Every encounter with man must be balanced by an encounter with God. I believe the God that Jesus revealed in this magnificent story will help you. He delights in bringing wounded family members and friends together by providing the patience, wisdom, love and hope necessary to heal broken relationships. Would you let Him help you?