First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: March 31, 2019
Scripture: Bhagavad Gita 2:14-15, 66-68, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Sermon: “It’s Not About Me!”
I have continued the pondering of the Lenten Labyrinth over the past weeks. While it feels like we are on a journey toward something, the center, there is something that speaks to me differently in this moment. As I ponder the scripture passage for this week and the parable it occurred to me perhaps, I have been thinking of this journey somewhat askew.
So many times I read the mystics telling me it is not about the destination, rather it is about the journey. I have been considering this Lenten Labyrinth something like moving toward a destination, working my way to the center, when I have to wonder if it is something different… perhaps the journey is the destination.
I think especially in light of the parable we read just a bit ago. The familiar parable of the Prodigal Son. For those of us who have grown up in the Christian faith, or at least familiar with it, it is one of the most familiar stories in the Gospels.
It is one of my favorite tales Jesus shares. It is about a youngest son. Any here a youngest? The last born, often identified as creative, fun-loving, uncomplicated, outgoing, and free-spirited. I certainly know if my older sister were here, she would claim I was the spoiled one of the family. I always told her mom and dad let me do more because they trusted me.
I do confess though, I think the reins were most likely a little looser on me than they were on my two older siblings. I was a bit more free-spirited and care free than they. It is certainly true for TruDee and I and our two boys. Matt, the oldest was more docile, a pleaser. We could set him down in the middle of a room with a few toys and he would be content for a long time. I could tell Matt “No” and reduce him to tears with a stern look and a pointed finger.
Nate, the youngest, on the other hand was much more the free spirit. We could set him in the middle of the same room with a few toys and he was pulling on the lamp cord, sticking something in the wall outlet, or some other creative mischief. I could tell Nate “No” give him a stern look and a pointed finger and he would smile at me and do it anyway. There is something about the youngest child.
So, we have this youngest son who asks his father for his inheritance so he can get on with his life. Some commentaries suggest the son has just declared his father dead… so to speak. The father agrees and off goes the impetuous one to live a wild life of gluttony and extravagance. And here we are… the youngest son sets off on a wild adventure, too much money in his pocket and too much time on his hands! A youngest child, no budget, no investment, no cares, no plans other than having fun. Soon he runs out of money. He hires himself out to a farmer who puts him to work feeding the pigs. Especially in Jesus’ day, it would have been the last place any good Jewish person would have been found. Not only working with and feeding the pigs, but being tempted to eat the same thing they are eating because he is so hungry.
And Jesus says the young man, “comes to himself,” other translations say he “comes to his senses.” He realizes the depths to which he has sunk… the sense of self he has forfeited and lost… he remembers himself: who he is, whose he is… he comes to his senses…
I remember one of my father’s favorite chastisements when I would do something less than sensible… I wish I had a dollar for every time he said… “Think Son, think!” It was not necessarily an angry rebuke… but a calling back. A calling me back to who he knew I could be… knew I was. I hear those words every time I read this story.
The young man, The Prodigal Son, comes to himself, think son, think… and decides to return home not as a “son” but as a hired hand… thinking at least his father’s servants have enough to eat… and so he comes up with an appropriate speech and practices it over and over again on his way down the road.
Have you ever been there? Knowing you need to go back, to return to an experience, a circumstance, a conflict, an anxiety filled encounter to rectify, to reconcile, to make things right somehow, some way… and you play your words over and over again in your head? I certainly have. Over thinking, imagining the worst-case scenario so you want to have just the right words… to say just the right thing, say it in just the right way, and to think about the responses and have the responses to the responses practiced as well.
The young man, the Prodigal Son, knows he has messed up, wronged his father. He doesn’t want any special treatment, he just wants a job, maybe a roof over his head, and a little something to eat. And so, he walks the road, playing and replaying the speech in his head. The Prodigal Son… we are told is all of us. All of Us. He is, we are told, the point of the story.
And then of course we have the older brother. He is the one who had a plan. He is the steadfast one. He is the one who was incensed by his younger brother’s reckless declaring of his father deceased by asking for his inheritance! The older brother who has stayed and worked day in and day out in the fields, stayed with his father, took care of his father. Not so much as even a goat or a few chickens and a little wine for a party with his friends. This “son” … who has wasted his life, turned his back on his father and brother… returns and the father throws a huge party and roasted the prized calf nonetheless! He is enraged!
Ever been there? When life is not fair, when someone doesn’t get what is coming to them? Someone doesn’t get “theirs?” When we feel slighted and ignored when all we have done is work hard and stayed the course and we don’t get “ours?” What is this father thinking honoring and rewarding a son who has done such things… while I have done nothing but sacrificed my life for the good of the farm, the good of the family, the good of the father! The older brother, perhaps, is all of us. All of Us. He is, perhaps, we are told, the point of the story.
Perhaps he is a prodigal, too… I wonder, has this son forgotten. too? Does he too need to come to himself, come to his senses, and remember who and whose he is?
And here is my favorite part of the story… as a Prodigal one myself… one who is so focused on my shortcomings, one who is so focused on how I have messed up, one who is so focused on what I have and how far I have fallen… my favorite part of the story.
My favorite part of the story is that the story isn’t about me…
My favorite part of the story is that it isn’t about you…
My favorite part of the story is it isn’t about them…whoever they are when we feel slighted, when we don’t get our way, or feel appreciated.
My favorite part of the story is it is not about the self-righteous older brother….
My favorite part of the story is it is not about the youngest, the Prodigal…
Because this isn’t the Parable of the Prodigal Son… we have misnamed it for too long!
My favorite part of the story is when Jesus says, “While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” The father has not gone on with life and forgotten his son. The father is obviously looking for, waiting for his return… and sees him from far away and runs to him. He doesn’t even listen to, or let the son finish his well-rehearsed and polished speech! Put a ring on his finger, give him a robe, kill the prize calf, through a party, invite the whole city… my son was dead and he is alive again! This isn’t about your prodigal-ness! Welcome Home!
The father does not chastise the younger son… OR the older son. The father looks at the older son and says… “Everything I have is yours. Come and celebrate with us.” The father says to the older son… remember who you are, whose you are. This isn’t a competition, this is about my love for you and your younger brother! This isn’t about your prodigal-ness.
This isn’t the Parable of the Prodigal Son… this is the Parable of the Loving Father! Bishop Michael B Curry says it this way,
“This parable points to God’s deepest desire, greatest yearning, and passionate dream for all of God’s children and the whole of God’s creation.”1
We were made to be in loving relationship with God and one another, and all of creation! Curry goes on to write, “It is clear the parable is more about the determined, compassionate, infinite, loving God than it is about the ways of God’s prodigal children. In the end, this parable points to the great embrace and deep expansive love, compassion, and justice of God, deeper, wider, and higher than our imaginings.”
This story, in light of the Lenten Labyrinth is less about the twisted, turning, complicated path of life….and more about the Divine Spirit who seeks us out along the path and walks with us on this journey and refuses to give up on us, refuses to leave us alone, refuses to leave us in the deepest darkest corners of our lives. Perhaps we are not on our way to the center…. We are on our way with God… wherever the Divine might take us.
TruDee and I watched the movie Christopher Robin the other day. A quote from Winnie the Pooh as Christopher was sending him on his way back home struck me enough that I grabbed my phone and kept a note… Pooh standing in the doorway in the trunk of a tree that leads to the Hundred Acre Wood, he just stands there. Christopher asks him what he is doing… “Go!” he says and Pooh replies… “Sometimes when I am going somewhere, I wait… and somewhere comes to me.”
This Lenten Season, in more ways than one, we… our community of faith, are on a journey “somewhere.” And if we are patient, prayerful, deliberate, and trusting… “somewhere” Divine Presence, God of the Journey… Somewhere will come to us.
Let us breathe in all that feeds our heart and soul…exhale all that weighs us down, and carry on… Trust your hearts and take a hand and take the first of many steps, into the wild, expansive, dream of the unconditional love of God together… together… let us carry on.
1 Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor editors, (2009), Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2 Lent through Eastertide, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY.
Wisdom Readings –
Hinduism, Bhagavad Gita 2:14-15, 66-68
Use all your power to free the senses from attachment and aversion alike, and live in the full wisdom of the Divine Self.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So, he told them this parable: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So, he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So, he set off and went to his father. But then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a servant for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes; you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”