Welcome to our live streamed service today!
Today we continue in our focus of “listening” and Pastor Mick’s series on “Encounters on the Road to the Cross”. The Bible reading is from Luke chapter 15.
We’ll also be sharing communion together so make sure to have your bread and cup on hand in advance!
We’re also excited for Huw to lead us in another Kid’s spot!
The service starts with a 15 minute countdown, where we share some news and announcements. Please use the scroll bar to skip straight through to the service/message if watching the recording.
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Today our journey on the road to the cross brings us to a famous story/parable told by Jesus. It has famously gone by two titles: ‘The Lost Son’ and, perhaps more popularly, ‘The Prodigal Son.’ Now I don’t often give my sermons titles but if I were to give today’s message a name it would be this, “who is ‘lost,’ and who is the ‘prodigal?’” Because those are the two questions I want us to consider as we reflect on this famous passage.
You might think that there is a pretty obvious answer to those questions as you hear the story. Surely the terms ‘lost’ and ‘prodigal’ refer to the actions, and the consequences of said actions, of the son who disrespected his father and his family by demanding his share of the estate early (literally wishing his father dead), and went on to use this on wild and shameful living which resulted in what often comes from such actions: a pit, rock bottom, shame. And you’d be correct in this. That is most definitely a lesson to be taken from this story. When fulfilment is sought from such things – ‘wild living’ is the description given but I’m sure we can use our imaginations – it very rarely, indeed ultimately never, lives up to what it promised at the outset. And so with his tail between his legs this lost son goes home.
This gives us hope doesn’t it? I wonder if you have ever prayed for a ‘prodigal.’ Perhaps you are praying for one right now. Someone you love who was once part of the family of God but has since wandered off. They have declared that they are no longer part of the community of faith and better off alone. I know I am. And this story gives us hope that there is a way back – what a beautiful truth!
Now, if that’s how you’ve answered those questions – who is ‘lost’ and who is the ‘prodigal?’ – then, like I said you would be correct. But what if there’s more to this than first meets the eye? I like to think that there is always more in the Scriptures. They do, after all, point to an infinite God so there must be infinite revelation in them, right? You see, the story doesn’t end with this previously discussed son being lost. He is declared to have been ‘found,’ by the Father and because of this there is reason to celebrate, eat, have a banquet – much like the one we discussed last week. But, just like last week, not everyone has taken their place at in the celebrations. Not everyone is excited at the return of the previously lost son. His elder brother, having declared himself as nothing but faithful, and as such, can’t celebrate the return of someone who has lived so recklessly, and so he excludes himself. Remember this: All are welcome, the only ones excluded are the ones who exclude themselves? So I ask again, who is lost in this story?
Let me remind you of the message of our series so far – the Good News of the Gospel is this, ‘the outsiders are now being welcomed in!’ But, it appears that not everyone is happy with this. Jesus ‘audience’ as he tells this story is a mixture of tax collectors and sinners (outsiders) and Pharisees (insiders), and this story would have been a mixture of good news to sinners, but also a warning to the Pharisees; and perhaps a warning to us today. Don’t lose sight of the beauty of the truth of Kingdom of God. The Good news of the Gospel is this: the outsiders are to be welcomed in. This means all are welcome, and, again, the only ones excluded are the ones who exclude themselves. So one last time: who is really lost here? It has been said before that perhaps a better title for this story is the parable of the two lost sons.
And so what of the second part of my question? Who, in this story, is the ‘prodigal?’ Well the word prodigal, if you look it up in the dictionary, means to spend freely or recklessly or to give on a lavish scale. And again this description is often given to the son who lived wildly. He spent his whole inheritance in what appears to have been a short space of time – reckless, lavish, prodigal, right?
But what of another prodigal in the story? What if I was to suggest that there was an even more ‘prodigal’ individual than the wild living son? What about the Father?Think about it. This Father has been hurt and shamed by his son. In Biblical times the family name was carried on by the children and the actions of the children, culturally, would have been attributed to the Father. A culture of honour and shame, if you like. In fact this son’s actions were so serious that according to the Law, and you can read this in Deuteronomy 21:18ff, the father was entitled (commanded, perhaps) to have his son publically executed by stoning him to death with the other elders in the town. The son would have known this and was hoping for grace from his father: ‘please accept me as a hired servant.’
And the son does receive grace. Boy, does the son receive grace! Far from having his son executed, the father runs to him, an action unbecoming of an elderly gentleman due to its involving the undignified action of lifting one’s garments. He runs to him and embraces him, and celebrates his return. If this is not lavish, free, prodigal, then I don’t know what is.