The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s156g07 Lent 4 18/3/2007
'he became angry and refused to go in' Luke 15.30
And so we come to one of the most well known parables of Jesus the parable of the Prodigal Son perhaps more aptly named the parable of the Prodigal Father. Most frequently this parable is used as an example of God's acceptance after our repentance - our acceptance after we have come back to Church after realizing the futility of the outside world. But that is less than half of the parable and we are liable to miss the message if we only look at less than half.
Though I have said this before, the primary person who loves unwisely is not the son who goes off and spends his share of the inheritance with prostitutes, but the father who allows him to do so. 'Prodigal' is all about loving prodigiously and this is how the father loves each of his sons.
I would contend that the parable is not primarily about repentance and forgiveness, but about prodigious love and communion; and prodigious love and communion are things that occupy the thoughts and the prayers of many in the Anglican Communion at this time.
Let me be quite blunt. Had the younger son come home and been treated, as he himself expected to be, as one of his father's servants, the elder son would have had no complaint. The elder son's complaint was not with his brother, but with his father who welcomed his sibling as the son he was, not as the servant he 'should' have been. To put it into modern 'christian' terminology, the younger son would have been welcome home by the elder as a repentant sinner; but he was not to be welcomed home as an equal with himself the person who had no need of repentance.
The elder son's complaint was with his father, not with his sibling. There can be no doubt that he was prepared to have his brother home, provided that his preferential status was retained and reinforced. His father's extravagant welcome and feast put paid to that idea.
So everyone in the Anglican Communion is happy for gay and lesbian people to become members of the church provided they acknowledge their past failure and way of life and become suitably submissive members of the Church. However, not everyone in the Church is happy that gay and lesbian people become members of the church on equal terms as everyone else, accepting of their own partners in life, and their giving and receiving of love with the person they have chosen.
Each and every one of us comes with a past and also a present. None of us come to God without bitterly lamenting things we have done - when we have let ourselves down. There have been times when we have been mortified, and times when we have mortified ourselves. Some are lucky that these times have been less public and can pretend that they didn't happen. But all of us also come with a present like these two boys.
The elder son of our story came with a huge 'chip on his shoulder' and a desire that his faithfulness be acknowledged over his brother. The younger son of our story came cringing, lamenting his own stupidity. Both are accepted as they are. The elder son is accepted despite his blindness to his own need to repent. The younger son is accepted despite his desire to be treated as a servant rather than a son.
The prodigal father is spends his affections most unwisely, prodigiously, towards both his sons.
This is, of course, a sequel to the story of Cain and Abel - the first murder, which was committed because Cain 'perceived' that his brother's offering to God was more accepted than his own. We should not be too concerned at Cain's perception it was not necessarily particularly accurate. Both the Old and the New Testament tell us that the perceptions that 'religious' people have of god are notoriously inaccurate. The fact that our parable has the father welcoming both the younger son and pleading with the elder to join in the celebrations, shows God's real preference for communion among all people.
I have said often enough that our atonement with God is dependent with our atonement with other people. So if we want to be at one with God it seems not unreasonable that we act like the father in this parable that we love equally as prodigiously as he did.
So he allowed one of his sons to go off and spend his share of the inheritance unwisely. I am not sure that I have ever experienced the Church expressing it's preparedness for people to live their lives in the way they choose. The Church has been far more interested in spending its time telling people how to live their lives. For this father, nothing the son may do will make him less his son. Despite the son's unwise actions, communion is retained.
Secondly he welcomes the son home without precondition, dismissing expressions of regret or servitude. For the father the most important thing is that the son has returned. Communion is paramount.
Thirdly he pleads with the older son to join in the celebrations for his brother. Again communion is paramount.
So do we allow people to find their own path in life. It may well be that they find fulfilment and compassion even going their own way. Is communion thereby broken?
So does the Church welcome people into the fold without precondition and dismissing expressions of regret or servitude or do we especially welcome those who express regret and their preparedness to be servants? !!!
So does the Church plead with the 'faithful' to join in the celebrations for the unconditional inclusion of others, or do the 'faithful' plead with the Archdeacon that these new comers will upset their view of the kingdom and petition the Bishop to remove the prodigal pastor who welcomes others rather than getting them to conform to 'our' ways?
And this leads me to ponder how the church the descendents of the elder son for all our protestations of being a welcoming and opening community - actually resist anyone who might change our perceptions about God. The paradigm is no different, otherwise the gospel accounts are irrelevant in this day and age. We tread on dangerous ground if we were to say this! For all the Church mouths platitudes about welcoming repentant sinners, Sunday by Sunday, year after year, don't ever suggest that these repentant sinners have anything to contribute other than their money and their obedience! For all we preach about unconditional forgiveness, this doesn't extend to anyone else!
And I want to return to those words of Jesus in the gospel for last week. 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!' and ' you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord'. Luke 13.34, 35. I wonder how often we consider that those who come to Church come because God has sent them? God has sent them no less than God has brought us to this place, and therefore this place is no less theirs than we consider it 'ours'. When we actually start welcoming others rather than stoning them, and allowing them to eclipse our own contributions, we too will 'see the Lord'.
I said that communion is something that is occupying the hearts and prayers of Anglicans at this time, and each side of the debate over sexuality maintains that they don't want to sever communion, that it's the 'other' side who is causing the break. Well it is certainly true that both sides are concerned with communion, but it's significant to consider with whom each want communion. Conservatives want communion only with people who think, believe and act like themselves. Those they complain about want communion to be extended to lots of others. And so it becomes something of a choice with whom do we want communion? I know with whom I wish to have communion and I am happy to plead that others join in too.
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