LENT 4C March 21, 2004Outrageous! by Linda KraftLuke 15:1-3, 11b-32 I have a confession to make. Not a big one, but I must make it just the same. You see, when I first read the appointed lessons for today, I wasnt really very excited about them. In fact, I must admit, my attitude was more like, "Ho-hum. This story again. Maybe theres a nugget in the Old Testament Lesson or the Second Lesson I can draw out into a sermon of acceptable length." You see, this story of the prodigal is SO well known, I kinda figured I knew what it was all about and so do you, so Id probably end up doing a presentation that would allow yall to catch a few winks and then wed just go through the motions of the rest of the service. Isnt that a terrible attitude for a pastor to have!? BUT, it turns out that I was WRONG! There is a LOT here that Ive never really explored. And, I hope youll agree, theres a fresh approach to this old old story thats surprising and invigorating and refreshing and even scandalous and outrageous! When I first reviewed the gospel for today, I got caught up in old expectations. Here is a story Ive heard at least a hundred times before. I thought I knew what to expect from it. I thought I knew what it was all about. So, without any real hope or expectations, I started looking for clues about the storys importance. I checked out some of the words in Greek to see if there was something Id overlooked there. Nothing new, just as Id thought. I checked to see where this story comes in the context of Lukes gospel, and I found a little bit of a connection to build on there. Luke places this parable of the prodigal right after two other lost and found stories: the lost sheep and the lost coin. In the two other stories, I think its safe to say, the sheep and the coin cant be held responsible for getting lost. Still, they ARE searched for and everyone rejoices when theyre found. I started to think maybe todays lesson about the prodigal was meant as a contrast to those two stories. Maybe its meant as a lesson about maturity. After all, coins have no choice on where they land or dont land. Sheep are led by their stomachs. But, human beings make decisions. There are consequences for OUR actions. To choose against our parent, God, to choose a foreign land, to choose another home than the one God has provided for us, to make a deliberate decision not to follow Gods way... Maybe there was something there I could build a sermon on. Still, it didnt feel right. It felt like itd all been said before. There was, after all, nothing new there. Yup nap time. So, I started looking for different kinds of connections. I looked at what it might mean to be found. I remember a bumper sticker from the 70s and 80s that followed around a lot of cars. It said: "I found it." I always wondered what it was that was found. I heard someone explain one day that the bumper sticker meant the cars owner had found God. Well, *I* didnt know God was lost! In the story of the lost coin a lamp is lighted so the woman can search for the coin. The shepherd searches for the sheep and its restored to the community. Some preachers would say that the prodigal son makes a personal decision and is restored to the father. THAT is not really the case! Yes, he comes to his senses and decides to return, but only when faced with crisis and starvation. In fact, he doesnt really expect to be restored to his position of "son". He hopes he MIGHT be treated like a household servant and at least make enough to ward off starvation. Not too good a prospect. No, I dont think this story is about us finding God, but about God finding us. About the joy God feels when we come home. Theres some good stuff to think about on that level. I mean, just picture what happened all those many years ago. Here we have a report of total outrageousness from beginning to end! Ask anyone in the Middle East today about this story of the prodigal being based in truth and theyll tell you: it just couldnt be true! Its totally unbelievable!
- Kenneth Bailey, who has lived there for forty years and has studied the peasant culture in that part of the world actually went around asking people what they thought of our gospel lesson for today. He told them about the younger sons request for his portion of the inheritance and then asked: "Has anyone ever made such a request in your village?" "Never!" "Could anyone ever make such a request?" "Impossible!" "If anyone ever did, what would happen?" "His father would beat him, of course!" "Why?" "This request means he wants his father to die!"
- Kenneth Bailey, Poet & Peasant & Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke. Eerdmans, 1983.
- Agnes W. Norfleet, Abingdon Womens Preaching Series. Ed. Janet Childers.
- Ibid., p. 69.
(Comments to Linda at Linda_Kraft@Ecunet.org.)
Linda Kraft, Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Trumbull, CT