Thursday, March 7, 2013

Prodigal Confessions

Our texts for this Fourth Sunday in Lent are Joshua 5:9-12 and Luke 15:1-2, 11-32, which can be read here.  Don't read them til after you read this blog, though--you'll see why below!

Okay, so here is my Lenten confession (well, one of them, anyway):  I am terrified of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or the Parable of the Prodigal Father...or Lost Sons...or Dysfunctional Family...whatever you want to call it).  Perhaps this explains why, though this is one of the most beloved stories Jesus told, I realized recently that I have been preaching for 10 years now and have not yet taken on this second half of Luke chapter 15.

I think the reason I haven't is primarily because it is so well-known.  It's the same reason it's so hard to preach Christmas and Easter every year, even thought those are central stories of the faith that need to be heard over and over:  after the Christmas Story and Easter Story, perhaps alongside of the Good Samaritan this is arguably the most well known Gospel text.  It's a story, at least in skeleton form, that most of us can tell without a Bible in front of us:  younger son runs away from home and squanders all money.  Comes home to beg forgiveness, only to be extravagantly welcomed by father.  Older brother grumbles bitterly at younger brother who gets away with everything.  There are a lot of cultural details that we can and probably will draw out to give this more nuance, but this is it in a nutshell:  a story that most of us probably, at one time or another, have seen play out in our own relationship structures in some form.

And maybe, other than its biblical familiarity, this is the scary thing about this parable:  we can find ourselves in it.  We can find ourselves all over it.  We can perhaps see ourselves in the younger brother, remembering our arrogant pride and massive screwups and the ways we were welcomed--or not welcomed--back home. We can remember the times we have been the father, hurt deeply by someone we love and having to decide what reconciliation will look like--or maybe, sometimes, standing on the front porch for years only to never see the other person return.  We can connect with the times we have been the older brother, thoroughly annoyed by those whose mess-ups take all the resources and attention while we get nothing for our faithfulness--the times we haven't been given a party even though we feel like we've done "all the right things" and find ourselves unable to join the party because we are so angry and bitter, staying at a distance--we get completely left out of the picture, like in the painting above.

There are even more places to connect than this with this story, which is great news--but also terrifying for the preacher trying to take the story on!  I think, though, that what I would encourage you to do in advance of Sunday, to get a fresh look at this story, is something I often write into curriculum when I am working with a particularly familiar story.  Sit down with a pad of paper and write down every detail of this story from Luke 15 that you can remember.  Then, read slowly, carefully through the story again, noting things you didn't remember, things that capture your attention.  Where might there be something fresh for you in this familiar story?  And where might you simply need to hear its ancient, timeless, all-too-relevant message once again speak its truth into your life and teach you, again, about the bizarre, unconventional mercy of God?

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