Sunday 6th

SERMON 2

 

6.30pm  Holy Communion     4th Sunday in Lent / Mothering Sunday       Preacher  -  Carol Shelley

 

2 Corinthians 5 v 16- 21;

Luke 15 v1-3, 11b- 32

 

Today of course is Mothering Sunday; and for those of you for whom this is a special day I truly hope it has been a happy one; especially if you were fortunate enough to share it with your own mothers, or to be able to share it as a mother with your children.

The irony of today’s Gospel reading was not therefore lost on me. Have you ever noticed that in the story of the Prodigal Son the one person who is absent, never giving an opinion or responding to the situation, is the mother.

The whole focus of this story is the relationship between the father and his sons.

Last Saturday, Frances and I were in Yarnfield at a day conference for Readers. One of the speakers raised the topic of Jesus’ parable about The Prodigal Son.

Now at this point I could well imagine you think that I had my sermon instantly prepared for me; “no such luck” as they say. In fact what emerged was that this story can be interpreted in as many ways as people discussing it.

Do we view it from the point of view of the younger son, the elder son, the father? Certainly it is the behaviour of the latter that is perhaps the most complex.

Then add to this the historical and cultural differences of the era in which the story was told, and you perceive even greater complexities. It is also important to remember that Jesus was telling this story to an audience which included Pharisees and teachers of the law. These were people for whom the law and acceptable behaviour was vital. The society in which all these people lived was structured in such a way as to allow stability within families and communities. Such behaviour as the parable outlines would have been totally unacceptable.

As if this were not enough it was suggested we then think about the story in terms of modern family culture; strangely the whole story seemed far less extreme. Our culture would actively encourage children to explore the world, and learn from their experiences before they took on board the greater responsibilities which come with adult life.

Even today however, we would be alarmed if our offspring asked for their inheritance at this stage in their lives: not least because there might be an inference that they wished us already dead. Certainly that we are an encumbrance to the plans they have made for their own lives. Not reassuring for any parent as they reach old age. This would have been one of the major objections from Jesus’ audience at the time, looking after old relatives was essential.

As is always the case such stories when told by Jesus, have many profound teachings within them. This is not simply an example of his method of teaching, it is definitely one of the most complex examples.

As I have already intimated it has many starting points from which we can consider the teaching.

Equally we will as individuals respond to the characters in very different ways, according to our own position and past experiences.

Was the younger son sincere in his emotions on his return or was he still the arrogant young man manipulating his father?

Is the elder brother justified in his reactions, or simply selfish, did he actually ever love his brother as he should, had he always perceived his brother as his father’s favourite?

As a result of being unable to forgive his younger brother, was he not rendering himself equally lost to his father.

And the Father? Was he naive, blinded by his love for his son? Was he embarrassed by the Son’s return, especially in such a degenerative state so that he sought some means of disguising his true feelings?

Here we do have some guidance from Jesus. The Father truly forgave because he was sincerely full of love for his Son.

Here we can begin to perceive the true teaching of this story. Here begin the lessons for us the listener.

God is of course the Father of our story.

His love is unconditional and God is truly happy when one of his people is restored to him.

True repentance is not an easy process, it is not a soft option, certainly not as easy as this parable may suggest. We are all generally,  far too proud by nature.

Forgiveness can be even more difficult and complex.

However, Repentance brings the need for Forgiveness.

This was to be a lesson for the Pharisees and Jesus’ audience at the time, and so it is for us today. Our relationships will be challenged by individual’s behaviour and our response may find us struggling within our basic humanity.

The Pharisees saw themselves as the link to God – the interpreters of God’s laws.

Now here was their life’s work was being challenged by Jesus and his new teachings. Jesus was portraying God in a completely different role: God the loving Father rather than God the authoritarian.

However hard forgiveness may be, it is an essential part of God’s expectations for us. If we are unable to forgive then we like the elder brother will be separating ourselves from the Father’s love.

God, like the father in the story with his elder son, will still love us, but the depth of the relationship will remain challenged.

What we must recognise is that we are the creators of the separation, not God. It is our responses that cause the divide, God waits always for our return.

This is the very essence of Paul’s message to the Corinthians. Let us listen to his words again.

“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

This is God’s standard, one which we may try to avoid by the explanation that we are mere humans, however such wriggle room is not available to us for Paul goes on to say:-

“He has committed us to the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

This is truly the challenge to us all, a challenge which we must strive to fulfil, although in truth we must accept that we will also err. This will bring us to repentance and God’s forgiveness.

It is a process with which we are familiar but that is not to trivialise what is happening.

It is a difficult reality which we have to work hard at.

By accepting how difficult this two way understanding is, for ourselves, with God, we will become more open to the reality of such a situation between ourselves and others.

Should we doubt that we are able to achieve such a goal, there is one more section to our Corinthian reading which can stand as our inspiration:_

“Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteous of God”.

God loves us all, his greatest desire is for us all to live in peace and harmony. As his children in Christ we must accept the difficult path of being non judgemental, holding out the hand of reconciliation.

We are completely underserving of such love, given in a totally unconditional manner.

If we accept this gift then we too must accept the responsibility of bringing peace, harmony and reconciliation within our own relationships and communities.

Although the source of our teaching is based in parental relationships, what we can learn from today is applicable to any relationship we create; including that with God.

Not always easy but with the gift of God’s Grace it can be a reality for each one of us.

Amen