“The Waiting Father”
Text: Luke 15:11-31
Preached by Pastor Don Hubbell at the
York First Church of the Brethren on
October 4, 2015 at the Morning Worship
Introduction: One of these years Vivian and I are going to have to attend NOAC, National Older Adult Conference, held in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina at Lake Junalasca. We are now old enough to attend NOAC. This years Bible study teacher, Bob Bowman is no stranger to us, and I want to thank Greg Bachman for sending me the link to his Bible studies. Bob was dealing with our theme text for this month of renewal, and has some keen insights that I would like to draw from in this sermon series. I seriously doubt that I can in any way improve on what Brother Bob, or in our case cousin Bob(one of Vivian’s first cousins, of which there are something like 35 of them and a number of them are or have been Brethren pastors) shared in his Bible studies.
Example: Here are some excerpts as reported by Brethren Press. “You’ve probably taught this parable yourself…but its my turn this time,” said Bob Bowman, introducing the first of his three daily Bible studies at NOAC, focused on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. In presentations that were part standup, part biblical scholarship, and all relevant to life today, Bowman focused each day in turn on one of the three main characters in the parable: the Older Brother, the Prodigal younger brother, and the Father.
He suggested that “words in a parable are pared down to their essentials,” and that Jesus may have used parables in a number of different ways, as “a subtle criticism of his own culture,” or to “drive home an important point,” or to relate a verbal problem for his disciples to meditate on and lead them to new insights or an, “aha moment.”
While demonstrating there are many ways to interpret a parable like the Prodigal Son, Bowman suggested in his third session of Bible study that the use of allegoryin which each character and item in a story stands for something elsecan be disappointing. “Allegory tends to flatten the story. Allegory tends to stereotype people.”
For instance, insisting that the Older Brother stands for the Pharisees breaks down pretty quickly, he said. “Any true Pharisee would rejoice at a repentant sinner!” As for the suggestion made by some that Jesus is the fatted calf, sacrificed to save the family, Bob only shook his head.
What can be helpful instead, he said, is to put ourselves in the place of each of the characters. “It’s important to experience what each person went through. I want to hover over the figure of the Father,” Bowman said.
In many ways what the Father does in the parablegiving the younger son his inheritance and going out to meet the older brother, rather than insisting the older brother come in the house to see himis neither dignified nor honorable in a society where saving face is integral. This is part of the “unreasonable extravagance” of the Father.
“Can you think deep down in your bones and identify with a parent who asked nothing of you…whose love was so great for you he threw a party? …The father is more interested in having both sons home than in receiving repentance,” Bob asserted, and then asked, “Is the center post of our faith, sin and forgiveness, or is the center post of our faith a relationship with God, each other, and a suffering humanity?”
Surprises abound in the story. Unlike other parables in which the shepherd goes out looking for the lost sheep and the woman seeks her lost coin, “no one goes out looking for the Prodigal. However, the Father went out to seek the Older Brother,” Bowman pointed out. And in pleading with the Older Brother, “the Father did not defend the prodigal. He only defended his joy.”
Cousin Bob has helped introduce us to our theme text for the next four weeks. Each week I want to touch on the different characters in the story, talk about their journey and our journey, where we have been and perhaps where God is leading us, as individual believers, and as a community of faith. Let’s get started with a look at the character of the “Father” in the story.
I.) The Father welcomes home. A.) One of the crucial elements to this story, which by the way has been called “the greatest short story ever written,” is the Father and his approach to his two sons.
1. Neither of the sons is the hero of the story, the father is.
2. It is more about the ability of love to overcome sin.
3. It is of course an allegory which is a story with a meaning or multiple meanings.
4. We will be talking about the story and it’s basic meaning during the course of this series of sermons but we also want to bring it home so to speak, to have it apply to First Church and to our lives, to keep it from flattening out as cousin Bob said.
B.) The story is about forgiveness, restoration, and renewal.
1. There is forgiveness in the story for both sons.
2. A careful reading reveals the sin of both boys which we will deal with in the coming weeks.
Illustration: Abraham Lincoln was questioned towards the end of the Civil War, when it was clear the North would win, how he would treat the rebellious southerners. The questioner expected that Lincoln would take a dire vengeance on the south, but he answered, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” Certainly Godly wisdom from our 16th president. Also very close to what happens in this story.
C.) The Father, or God, as the allegory suggests, extends a welcome to both sons as they come from different directions of being lost.
1. In the Jewish culture of that time it was not unusual for a man to divide his estate before his death to his heirs.
2. The oldest son would receive 2-3rds of the estate with the rest going to the younger son or sons.
3. A man would do this when he no longer wished to manage his affairs for himself.
4. The Father gives the younger son his share of the estate, he promptly packs up and leaves home.
5. After losing everything he comes to his senses and goes home.
6. The other son does not enter the story until towards the end and he is sorry that his brother has come home at all.
7. Talk about sibling rivalry!
8. While the younger brother has been identified as humanity apart from God’s chosen people, the Jews, the older brother in the story is identified as the Pharisees and all those who are of the mind set.
Illustration: One of my most prized possessions is a book by the Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen, entitled “The Return of the Prodigal Son” and it is based on the painting by Rembrandt by the same name.
We moved to Black Rock COB in 1992. I had heard about the pastors seminars that were held each year at John’s Hopkins University in the late spring and how they were good professional growth opportunities for pastors. The chaplain at Johns Hopkins at the time was a church of the Brethren pastor by the name of Clyde R. Shallenberger, perhaps some of you have heard of him. He had Henri Nouwen come as the speaker that year.
I don’t remember much more than an impression of Henri Nouwen who has since then passed away. He was a genuine man of faith. I purchased several of his books and have found them to be deep and insightful on how to live the life of faith. This particular book is one I had autographed by him. He writes, “To Don Hubbell, wishing hope, courage, and confidence. Henri R.M. Nouwen.” May 1993. Special, very special to me.
The book is all about this story found in the New Testament and how God waits and hopes for the return of his children. Extending love and forgiveness, healing and peace to all who will receive it.
9. Every church including York First has had their moments of pain and struggle.
10. Sometimes pain and hurt linger for a time and are held in the memory of a congregation.
11. It may take the passing of a generation or two in order cleanse the memory or a congregation enters a season of renewal that starts with extending grace and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
II.) When this happens, as in our story, the Father calls for celebration and we are invited to share with the Father as the past is healed and future is dreamed about.
A.) Over the past ten years, York First has on two occasions worked at a discerning process of where it is and where it is going as a congregation.
1. These two efforts have met with mixed success.
2. In the coming weeks I plan to share with you some of the specific things that were talked about 10 years ago and then again about 4 years ago.
3. Some of the items have changed and some still need attention and work.
4. The point is, just as in the story, there is an extension of grace and forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
5. There is hope for the future.
6. To me it is fitting that we begin this month of renewal with the Love Feast celebration today.
Conclusion to message: All of us are challenged to examine our faith journeys and make peace with all that hurtful there. Forgive those who need forgiveness and receive forgiveness where we need to receive it. I challenge you to take time now to prepare your hearts and minds as we enter into the time of reflection in preparation for the celebration of the Love Feast. Let’s begin with the singing of Amazing Grace #143 verse 1,2,3,&6.