The Prodigal Son

 

 

I never post sermons on here. They tend to sound antiseptic on here. Plus: I don’t tend to be that grammatically correct.

However, I was looking at a very familiar passage last week for Mothering Sunday (my least favourite Sunday ever. Most books/web pages that give ideas for all age stuff for this day make me almost wretch. Maybe I shouldn’t have written that: but that is why I blog): Luke 15:11-32, the story of the Prodigal Son. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then a tendency not to listen.

As I began to doodle/make notes on Monday, a line came to me, I wrote it down and kept writing. 

As I said last week; I don’t want to say ‘God gave it to me’ (cos when you hear it, you end up thinking ‘I can see why: probably glad to get rid of it), but this is it. It is a ‘narrative sermon’. The last time I wrote one was about a dozen years ago. Maybe the writing itself was therapeutic: it is certainly no great beauty and neither is is autobiographical.

It is, however, very long….

So I am stood under the hot Galilean sun, sweating, wondering.

 I came here for a break; I wasn’t focussing really….

I was with the crowds listening to a holy man talking. Sometimes hearing them makes the fog life a bit. I couldn’t follow what he said about sheep and coins: too busy thinking about life…my life. Sometimes it gets you like that: the best things can happen and you miss them; too much going on.

I have been faithful: worked my turn at the synagogue. Always been there for people; I think. A decent bloke: never did any harm to anyone. It’s a cliché, but I thought it was true.

Then he started talking about sons- my attention lifted- his words cut through the fog of worry. I have sons: my youngest is trouble…can’t work out what is going through his head most times. The wife and I have almost come to blows…. Once he was easy: I remember nights when he would sink into my arms and I could smell that sweet child smell. Then he grew and changed- wife says he is still the same- but I can’t see it. His friends mean more to him than us & I can’t stand most of them.

Anyway, where was I? Yes: this Rabbi & that story. It wasn’t just the mention of the sons; it was what the youngest one did. He asked for half his share of the wealth. At that point I just shouted out ‘No: this ain’t right’ and people around me said ‘shhhh’ and got angry. I wanted to hit them- glared at them. And he…..Jesus…just stopped and looked at me.

Asking for half your father’s money and property! That is ridiculous…

But then suddenly I could see in his son, my son. I mean he has never asked for that, but I can sometimes see that look in his eyes ‘I WISH YOU WERE DEAD’. That is what that younger son was saying: well once Jesus said that I started listening- I was furious. And then he leaves…walks away.

At first I thought ‘Good riddance’, but I was sad- I mean, mine, I don’t understand him….but going away? I hope he will eventually be like the others- settling down in the same village, getting a trade: supporting us. But then in the story- silly sod, he went and wasted all that money. I mean I’d like a bit of that freedom- what it was exactly Jesus didn’t say, but I could imagine what ‘dissolute living’ is like….I’ve watched others try it on: outwardly disapproving but inwardly thinking ‘I want a bit of that’.

And it is a good story with a moral: he ends up feeding the pigs. I didn’t like a Rabbi talking about pigs; thought it was just trying to scandalise us unnecessarily. At that point I was satisfied: it should have ended there though with ‘no one gave him anything’. You do bad: you walk away- you may have your fun, but I remember those words ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord’.

———————————————–

But he kept going- I didn’t need the speculation. The good morality tale had calmed me down- gave me order in this strange world…. Then he starts talking about what the son did. At first I thought; well he is going on a bit, like Rabbis do- they can never quite finish their story if they think they have made a good point….. but the son comes to his senses and ….wait….. ‘whoa there’.

Stop right there…he wants to go back home and be a slave. Well this is just wrong. This wouldn’t happen. I told you I was wound up: I wanted a simple story- something to pick me up, give me strength and I thought I had it. There is no way back from here. But he told the story so well that I stayed and listened, just managing to keep the anger at bay.

The son’s calculations were ok, I suppose- I mean it is meant to be a story. By rights, he should be flattened- you’ve made your bed, now lie in it…. But the grovelling was pleasing. I have often imagined people who have crossed me doing just that; it is satisfying; I guess we all long for that secretly sometimes…someone coming back crawling.

But I was disturbed from my day dream as he started to talk about me…sorry, the father. I was about to yell out ‘Just bloody stop right there….STOP IT’….. I don’t behave like that. We don’t behave like that, us men. Especially me. You don’t run, you don’t show your emotions like that…. He does not deserve anything like that- ever. I don’t understand what would have driven the Father to wait and wait either.

That word ‘compassion’- it ain’t just a feeling: the kind of thing you experience for a bit before your stomach rumbles and you think ‘Time for tea.’ It describes your whole body filled with emotion, longing, hope, reaching out…. I have never felt like that. He did….and he ran and he ran….despite myself I began to feel elated and full of joy and pain, and longing and Hope…… and I didn’t know why. And the crowd began to look at me…must have thought I was insane. I thought I was insane….

And the hugging, the ring, the fatted calf….I mean I was by this stage…. Not angry… but puzzled…well I didn’t know what I was thinking. It somehow all made sense…although I did not know what sense. Just that the hot sun which was annoying- just something else that made the day wrung out, bland…suddenly seemed wonderful and alive.

———–

Then he started talking about the other one- the older son who had been faithful but angry…. I wasn’t paying so much attention by then. Although I did wonder how my other sons would behave if this had happened. You know: I think they would be ok. Maybe it is me that had to change.

Man, I was lost- I just stood there & then sat down, smiling, relieved, lost in the moment. After a while I became aware of a shadow…it was him. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.

‘Thank you’. I said

‘You’re welcome’ He said ‘But what for?’ He continued.

‘The story…I mean I don’t normally like stories…I wasn’t ready for one… not today. But that one hit the spot. So thanks.’

‘So: what are you going to do?’

‘Go back: tell him. My son. Before it is too late’

‘And what then?’

‘Dunno- maybe Love more, judge less, give thanks more…I’m not sure’

‘How about follow me…sounds like you are on your way already’

‘Maybe’

And that was it….he moved on…. And I went back home. Things were different. Well- I was different. I felt I had come back ‘Home’ (with a capital H)- the place where I had started out from but got lost on the way. Even though things were different, many things were not resolved- they never are….. but Home & looking for those away from Home. That’s more what I do now.

Sunday Thought

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If it is possible to have too many books, then I have too many. Partly that is the nature of what I do: I need a lot of books to refer to. That means that I ‘graze’ a lot.

One book I am grazing on is a book of sermons originally published in 1945. Some of the language is understandably dated, but even when I first got hold of it, it really spoke to me. It is by an old Methodist preacher called Leslie Weatherhead and it’s quiet, contemplative and thoughtful spirit spoke to me even then. Rereading it now, it chimes in with who I am even more.

Here is a passage that I especially like:-

‘Is it not the truth of the matter that we live at such a speed and our lives are so rushed and hectic that God has very little chance with us? He cannot make Himself heard above the bustle and the noise. And I know that I need it to be said to me, therefore I dare think you may need it said to you, that, when we are engaged on the very work of God Himself, we are so hurried and rushed, that as it were, we are closed down to all other stations, open only on one wavelength, that of our own concerns, and therefore insensitive and unreceptive to His voice.’

Amen to that!

(The Significance of Silence (Epworth 1975,1953 p9)

Inspired by the 18th century…really.

So, last week I had to lead a church group in looking at John Wesley’s sermons (if you ever read my tweet feed, this was the one where I used the phrase ‘theological masturbation’ where I referred to our tendency, in Bible study groups just to ‘self pleasure’. Groups becoming just sharing of points and opinions with no vulnerability or attempt to relate it in an active or missionary way to the world outside. O well, I thought it worked…). I actually liked it: I thought it would be obscure and irrelevant, but once I tried to understand language and culture, I was bowled over.

The Sermon was called ‘The Catholic Spirit’ and it was all about, practically how Christians need to love one another without bitching about each other, flaming on facebook groups, saying ‘I will pray for you’ and doing nowt etc. Or at least the 18th century equivalent.

I read it at the beginning of a business meeting so we could hear some nice words before ripping shreds out of each other.

I could paste the whole sermon (which would make your Monday start swimmingly), but I just paste this wonderful passage of humility. I honestly never thought Wesley was like this: he always seemed a bit overbearing:-

Love me (but in a higher degree than thou dost the bulk of mankind) with the love that is long-suffering and kind; that is patient, –if I am ignorant or out of the way, bearing and not increasing my burden; and is tender, soft, and compassionate still; that envieth not, if at any time it please God to prosper me in his work even more than thee. Love me with the love that is not provoked, either at my follies or infirmities; or even at my acting (if it should sometimes so appear to thee) not according to the will of God. Love me so as to think no evil of me; to put away all jealousy and evil-surmising. Love me with the love that covereth all things; that never reveals either my faults or infirmities, –that believeth all things; is always willing to think the best, to put the fairest construction on all my words and actions, –that hopeth all things; either that the thing related was never done; or not done with such circumstances as are related; or, at least, that it was done with a good-intention, or in a sudden stress of temptation. And hope to the end, that whatever is amiss will, by the grace of God, be corrected; and whatever is wanting, supplied, through the riches of his mercy in Christ Jesus.

Wish I could love my fellow Christians like this all of the time (some of the time would be good).

http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-39-catholic-spirit/