Today we heard in our Gospel Reading
(Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32) the familiar parable of the Lost Son or
Prodigal Son. It's a story that I really can't do justice to
in 15 minutes, so today I hope to touch on some points and
offer some thoughts that will spur you on to further
reflection, study, and perhaps discussion with others.
Now today I particularly want to focus
some attention on an aspect of the story that the Bible is
silent on, but nevertheless an aspect of life many experience.
The issue I want to explore is what the father and mother must
have gone through in deciding to give their younger son his
inheritance, and what they must have been feeling as his son
left the family to spread his wings, so to speak.
Now I can imagine that the parents
decision was not a spur of the moment reaction. I can imagine
there were many discussions, even arguments, about the sons
desire to want to go out on his own.
We also don't know how long it was
between the time the son left and when he returned home. And I
wonder what the whole family must have been feeling during
this time of uncertainty?
I'm sure many of us can remember a
time or two when we were perhaps teenagers and we just knew we
had all the wisdom the world had to offer. We were discovering
our independence and we were ready to take on the world
declaring, "Look out world, ready or not here I come."
And with this new found attitude, and
sense of confidence, an arrogance developed manifesting itself
in words like, "I can make my own decisions," "I won't get
hurt," "You just don't trust me," "I know what I'm doing," and
so on and so forth.
Or perhaps you've experienced this
story as the parent whose child has determined they're reading
to spread their wings and leave the nest for bigger and better
Any of this hit home?
I know as the father of 3 teenage
boys, this new sense of self-awareness, infinite wisdom, and
phrases like "come on dad why not," just oozes from my house,
offering Susan and I challenge after challenge. And I'm sure
this isn't new to many of you.
So, as we return to Jesus' parable we
have this father, and I would assume mother as well, who have
this son who decides it's time to go out to do his own thing.
I can't imagine the father and mother simply saying, "ok, have
fun." And as I mentioned earlier, being a good Jewish family,
there must have been conversation, and probably heated
arguments about this kids desire to leave the family and move
on. But, eventually the father agrees to his son's wishes and
grants him his inheritance.
We don't know why the father gave him
his inheritance, perhaps he was worn out from all the
arguments, or perhaps he knew his son needed to learn the hard
way about life, and what truly awaits him. Many families find
themselves in the same situation today, do they not? We hear
of countless stories of teenagers dropping out of school, or
deciding it's time to leave home as soon as they turn 18 years
old, feeling that age determines when one is ready to start a
new life, rather than maturity, or proper preparation. We have
kids who rebel against the norms for the sake of rebelling
boldly proclaiming they know a better way, and the reasons go
on and on.
Now as parents, grandparents, Aunts
and Uncles etc. we want the very best for our children, so we
try to provide guidance and wisdom to our children, which as
we all know isn't necessarily received with unbridled
I find that many young people are so
focused on self and what's happening today that they fail to
see the longer-term ramifications of their decisions. And this
is where the experience and wisdom of older individuals can
play such an important role, and it's where the tension
between older adults and children often times begins.
Now some young folks will receive the
wisdom offered by older adults and others insist on doing
their own thing because quote, "they know better." So as
parents we are often times entangled in the web of do I put my
foot down and hold my ground, or do I just give in and let the
chips fall where they may? And certainly there is no absolute
answer for this question, it's pretty complex actually,
because we need to consider things like: ¢ Age of the child ¢
What it is they want to do ¢ What are our values ¢ Will they
get hurt: physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally ¢
How does my child learn - And lets face it some learn the hard
way. Any of you tend to learn the hard way?
I sense from our Gospel reading that
the prodigal son was one that learns the hard way. So, as the
story goes, his parents send him off.
Now like us, if our child decided to
leave the family against our better judgment, I have to
believe the father and mother in our Gospel were in great
pain. I'm sure they must have worried, I'm sure they prayed
for their son's safety, I'm sure they prayed for the son to
see the errors of his way, before he got hurt or hurt someone
else, and I'm sure a day didn't go by when tears weren't shed
as the image of their lost son remained vivid in their minds.
You know these folks didn't have
e-mail, cell phones, or any other means of quick communication
so they could keep tabs on their son. Can you imagine not
knowing what's going on? And to top it off we don't know how
long the son was gone, could have been months or maybe even
So what are we to do when faced with a
similar situation with our own kids, or kids we know and love
from our extended family?
Often times when we're faced with a
teenager wanting to leave home for what we view are
inappropriate or unhealthy reasons some of the thoughts we
encounter and begin to ponder are: ¢ Where did I go wrong,
what did I do that's creating this problem. ¢ How can I have
four children and 3 seem to be on the right track and the one
has essentially made a sharp right turn. ¢ What do I do, let
them leave, or stand fast. ¢ If they leave what am I to do. ¢
What will I do if they get hurt ¢ How can I keep tabs on what
As parents we all want what's best for
our children, just like God wants what's best for us. So my
first suggestion is when faced with a situation like this we
ought to seek the guidance of God, and we ought to seek the
guidance of someone we respect who's not in the middle of the
situation, so they can offer objective alternatives based on a
I also suggest we stop blaming
ourselves for everything our teenagers do. Yes, there are some
things we ought to take responsibility for because of the way
we raised them or treated them, but at some point our children
have to make their own decisions, and it's times like these
that they become accountable for what it is there about to do,
or not do.
God has given us the ability to reason
and the ability to choose, and we as parents, at some point,
have limited influence on our children's choices. As our
children become older, moving into their teenage years
especially and beyond, our influence on their decisions as
parents diminishes. At some point whether we like what our
children are doing or not, they're going to do it, so like the
mother and father of the prodigal son, the issue becomes what
do we do next? For this answer we need to turn back to our
Gospel reading, because it's here the gospel is clear about
our next steps.
Now the prodigal son, after blowing
his entire inheritance, was trying to figure out what to do
next. Remembering the love his family showed him while growing
up, he decided to go home, just hoping he would be received,
at least as a servant, if not as a son. He wasn't going home
to get more money, he was going home because he learned the
hard way that life isn't about "sowing ones wild oats," it's
about love, it's about respecting ones-self and the wisdom of
others, it's about following the will of God. So he returned
to what he knew was love, his family.
How would each of us react if our
child were to announce that they're leaving to go live with
someone whom they just met for example, becasue they know this
is the person they want to live with for the rest of they're
life. Not an uncommon story by the way. How would you respond?
Lets say after 3 months the
relationship falls apart, you know they were living an
improper life, a life you completely disagree with, they're
hurt, embarrassed, and they call one day to ask, can I come
home? How would you respond?
If you're not going through something
like this you might may be quick to answer yes, but I suggest
many would not come to that answer so quickly. If the leaving
from home was a traumatic, anger-filled and emotionally
hurtful experience, saying yes right away might have its
difficulties, because healing relationships and restoring
wholeness isn't always easy.
We also, may wonder what will happen
if the child returns home. Will they up and leave again when
the opportunity is right, thus taking advantage of our
graciousness, what's the motive of the child wanting to come
home? Not all motives are pure as we know. So I think you see
what I mean, the problem itself is often times complex, as is
the process of coming to an answer.
So lets turn to our Gospel reading
again. In our Gospel the son genuinely knew he was wrong in
what he did, confessed he had sinned and asked for
forgiveness. His, father then graciously received him, knew
his son learned a valuable lesson, and had returned home with
repentant heart. And I suspect many of us would respond in
similar fashion if our child returned home with a repentant
Notice also that the prodigal's son
father never affirmed the son's inappropriate actions, yet he
never stopped loving him. And this is a key point not to be
We may not approve of what our
children do, or have done, but we should not stop loving them.
Love is not an affirmation of what was done, love is the
action that leads to healing and wholeness of relationship.
And we have the greatest example of all to fall back on. God
doesn't approve of many of the things we do, yet he never
stops loving us, and is always there for us to return home, if
we return with a repentant heart.
In our parable the father's response
is contrasted with the older brother's. The father forgave
because he was filled with love. The older son refused to
forgive because he was bitter over what he saw was the
injustice of the whole situation.
In his bitterness and anger the older
son was rendered just as lost to the father's love as the son
who left, the path to being lost was different, but both were
lost nonetheless. Being lost doesn't mean someone has
necessarily physically moved. Being lost can happen through
social rejection or isolation, spiritual wandering and doubt,
and through feeling unappreciated or unloved.
If we don't have a forgiving and
reconciling heart, if we don't seek to restore wholeness to
broken relationships, the weight of carrying around bitterness
and anger can just fester like an open sore. Without this
healing even our relationship with God is not as whole as it
could be because we are not completely free from the bondage
of bitterness and anger. So as God forgives us, we too are to
It's sad when you see folks who have
this need for healing and reconciliation, but refuse to
forgive, or refuse to ask for forgiveness out of stubbornness
and pride. When I see friends going through situations like
that of the older son in our parable, who insist on remaining
bitter and angry, it is sad, because the anger and bitterness
affects every aspect of their life.
I know folks who have gone to their
grave bitter and angry because they refuse to forgive, they
refuse to be reconciled to the ones they once loved, thus
setting both free. They viewed forgiveness as a weakness or as
affirmation of a person's wrong doing, and they insisted on
remaining "strong" even to their grave. It's tough to watch,
so I know it has to be very difficult to experience.
You know it takes great courage to
forgive; it takes great courage to say I'm sorry, but as
children of God we ought to seek the strength that comes from
the love of God, and the courage that comes from God's wisdom
to welcome the lost home, or perhaps to return home ourselves.
At some point in life we all will
experience some sense of being lost, but thanks be to God for
always loving us even when we're lost and for welcoming us
back when we return home.
Read other messages by Pastor Wade