March 22, 2020
Luke 15: 11-24
This scripture is familiar, but this morning we’ll look at it in some new ways. We often call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Naming it this way focuses on a young man who made a series of poor choices. But if we focus on this man’s mistakes, we miss its richer meaning. So, instead we’re going to look at this as a Parable for Our Times.
Jesus’s parables have many lessons to teach. Just when you think you’ve got it there’s a twist that shows there’s more to the story. As we look at this parable one such twist is that while this young man was away from his family in a distant country “a famine took place throughout that country and he began to be in need.” Was the famine his fault? Surely not. But the famine affected him profoundly. He suddenly found himself in the midst of this famine dying of hunger. Some of that was due to his poor choices, but the situation was made much worse by circumstances beyond his control.
In the last few weeks, we have found ourselves in circumstances beyond our control. Many of us were living responsible lives – caring for our families, paying the bills, and saving for retirement. Others had spent a lifetime preparing for retirement and were now looking forward to a long-planned for vacation, enjoying the retirement nest egg.
Suddenly a “famine” hit the land. An economy that was booming just a few weeks ago is in freefall. People are forced to stay home from work. How they will make ends meet with no income coming in?
As I have talked with people this past week some have been worried about catching the Coronavirus, but more have worried about the financial fallout. Will they lose their house? How long will they be out of work? It’s hard to see retirement savings falling day after day. And what about those grocery stores, whose shelves are now looking more and more empty? How will we feed ourselves if this continues?
These tearful conversations are happening all around our country, and actually around the world. Where do we turn in the midst of all this?
Like the young man in our story, we also have a loving father. God is there for us with arms wide open, eager to show us he loves us and cares for us. Sometimes it takes a tough situation like this to learn that we can trust God to look out for our wellbeing. This young man had to set aside his pride to return home asking his father for help. We, too, may need to set aside our pride and return to the God who has been there for us loving us and caring for us all along.
That’s one way to think about this story, not focusing on the dissolute living of the young man, but on the unconditional love of the father who loves us no matter what.
Then there is another twist to this story. This young man’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when he was away from his family in a distant land separated from the people who loved him and were looking out for his best interests.
One of the difficult aspects of the Coronavirus is the social distancing. A famine of sorts has hit our land, a famine from one another as we are forced to be separated from one another. When we
can’t physically be together its harder to notice when people are struggling. It’s harder to know when to help them make good decisions.
Fortunately, there are ways to be together that span physical separation. Some of these are familiar, like the phone, text messages, email or Facebook. I encourage you to use them – call people, text them, check in on them. Others may be less familiar like Skype, or Zoom, or Facetime.
New situations call us to stretch outside our comfort zone. I wasn’t comfortable with preaching over Facebook Live — but here we are. I encourage you to find new ways to be with the people in your life, and to be church together, even if it means trying a technology that you’re not used to. We can be there for one another, even if it is remotely. And we need to. We need to be community with one another, even while maintaining safe social distance. We need to support one another so we don’t find any of us starving to death, or worried that just can’t make it in this foreign land.
As the body of Christ, we need to be the ones to wrap our arms around one another even if it is virtually. We need to tell our friends and family they are loved and assure then everything will be okay. If things aren’t going okay for a them, we need to be there in support. We need to let that unconditional love of God flow through us and welcome each other home to a place of love and security.
Unfortunately, when we do, we may find people like the older brother in our gospel story who resent it. It is easy to cast judgement on others. It is human to be resentful when people are given things that we think they don’t deserve. But the father in our parable showed grace to his son. As the son was trying to get that well-rehearsed apology out of his mouth, the father was already calling for new clothes for this young man and ordering the killing the fatted calf to feed him. Let’s suspend our judgment and show each other some grace. Let’s be that source of unconditional love for one another like the father in this story.
We had originally planned to have a guest speaker today speaking about a program in the local school that provides food for hungry kids to take home on weekends. Those who were struggling to make ends meet before everything got shut down are struggling all the more now.
Be on the lookout for people who are most at risk. Find ways to support them even as you may be more worried about putting food on your own table. Help your neighbors. Support our food shelves. We have to take care of one another through this.
Jesus said “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me… just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35-36 & 40).
We are family to one another. We are the body of Christ. So as hard as all of this is, this is the time to step into that role as the body of Christ and be our best selves.
Let us trust the God who loves us unconditionally. Let us reach out to one another across the social distance. Let us be gracious with one another during these tough times. And let us fully live into our role as the body of Christ loving and caring for all those in need.
Together and by God’s grace we will make it through this. God bless you! Amen.