2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and Our Redeemer. Amen.
Today, like so many Sundays in the Church now, is one of those weird Sundays when more than one thing come together –
All preachers this morning have the freedom to choose from about ten different readings, either giving an emphasis on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, or to Mothering Sunday.
Last week we had a harsh message from the Gospel, I was preaching at Llanishen and the Gospel passage was ‘Repent or Perish!’ so not very cheery.
Today we have something a little more joyful – a little easier to cope with perhaps, for those who don’t mind parables.
In our Gospel Reading for today we are given more than just one, Jesus tells the parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Good Samaritan…both making a very important point about grace, and mercy and forgiveness. And perhaps as you heard this parable, you had someone or some situation particularly in mind…I know I can relate to it on many levels. There are all sorts of prodigals in my family – and it took my uncle in particular the death of my aunt his sister to come back to his senses, and to come back to the family.
It’s not without it’s difficulties but my Nan is happy to have her son home, even if it did take him about 40 years….! He’s not perfect, but then no-one is. But he is home. And that’s surely at the heart of our Gospel for this morning.
You know it’s funny I always say, we read the Gospel and we don’t find the fact that Jesus eats and spends time with sinners that surprising – because we kind of get the Jesus thing….we know that that’s just what he does, he’s very comfortable in anyone’s company.
But for the people of his day, he really was pushing the boundaries. He made them feel all sorts of things by the way he lived and moved and ministered.
And part of the parable I just read was demonstrating the utter horror of the Pharisees and the Scribes – the intelligent upper classes of the day, in response to what Jesus was doing.
Now, I don’t know how you feel about Mothering Sunday –
Different Churches do it in different ways….but one thing is sure
Mothering Sunday has the capacity to make you feel a multitude of things –
Contentment….the list could go on.
For mothers whose relationship with their children is perfect this day is rather blissful.
For Mothers whose relationship with their children is not so good, whose children are estranged, no longer living, or perhaps more in love with the in-laws than the biological parents…that presents its own problems.
And then there is the difficulties that Mothering Sunday poses for those women who have not decided to have children, who have not had the opportunity to have children, or who have been unable to have their own biological children.
Mothers for whom successful childbirth has proved impossible, and those who have had children born still….often more than once.
This day, has the capacity to make you feel all sorts of things – and those of us who are men, do not get a special looking on Sunday’s – which I think is a bit bizarre….but I must get off my soapbox!
Of course, in our Gospel Reading for today – there are many perspectives.
The perspective that we have as readers –
Perhaps sympathizing with the other Son. Or rejoicing with the Father, and the prodigal – that they are reunited once again.
Perhaps something in the story resonates with our own experience either as Children, or as parents.
Then we have the perspective of the Father –
Rejoicing endlessly, as his heart and his home are now complete. His reckless son, who as he says ‘was once dead’ is alive and home again. Who wouldn’t throw a party for such an event?!
Then there is the perspective of the Prodigal himself-
The prodigal, who becomes tired of living at home….who is really hungry to be free from the restraint of parents and so asks his father to give him his inheritance early. We don’t know exactly why he has returned except that he sees the standard of his living and is disillusioned…the reckless lifestyle did not satisfy him, and he was too weak to live a life of shame and poverty….so he comes to his senses and returns.
Then there is the perspective of the Older Son –
Who hears the music and dancing, and is really quite agitated by what he hears. He is jealous. Confused. Bewildered. Angry and heard headed – he feels short changed for his faithfulness and dutiful carrying out of his fathers tasks….working, as he puts it as a slave for you…having never disobeyed your command….yet you have given me nothing Dad!.
And yet this ‘son of yours’ note that he doesn’t say ‘my brother’ (it’s like an episode of Emmerdale or Eastenders) has spent your money doing all these things……which are actually the older brothers imaginative allegations.
There is of course, one person who is absent in this whole narrative – the perspective, voice and emotions of the Mother.
She is out of sight, and not given any voice – we don’t know why, or where in the narrative she is supposed to be and fit in – but she is silent.
We could assume all sorts –
That she has died.
That she has left the family.
That she is rejoicing alongside her husband but is too unimportant from a cultural perspective to be given a role and a voice.
Now this parable tells us many things – but it really only has two lessons for us, which are fundamental.
The first is to learn something of the attitude of God towards his children, that’s us, you and me – with all our failings and our sin.
Because in telling the parable, Jesus is saying something fundamental about who and what God is –
God is that father, who when a penitent sinner, a sinner who is aware and repentant of their condition – throws themselves at God’s feet.
God shows extravagant grace – he wastes his love upon us.
And the second thing for us to learn from this – and this is the most challenging I think, is that this is exactly the kind of attitude the Church should have as Mother and Father in the world, to all of God’s children.
Mothering Sunday is really about that – actually.
Beneath all of the sentimental nonsense, that I really think has no place in Church – there is set before us this enormous challenge, to be Mother to al God’s Children.
To rejoice in the coming home of even one of God’s once reckless, thoughtless, sin-drenched children….to bring them back into the fold.
To clothe them with the best robes,
To throw a celebration in the house – because the family is a little more complete.
Mothering Sunday reminds us that we all have a mother – and the Mother from which we are never separated is Mother Church….
Out of which we come, and into which are taken up.
So as we give thanks for our Mothers, and perhaps as some give thanks for the gift of mothering – let us remember the inexhaustible love of God –
Which is showered down upon us, each day.
Let us take to heart that challenge to be an open, inclusive, embracing family of God – into which all of God’s children
No matter who they are or how they come, can be welcomed – and loved – and valued.
But you see as St Paul taught us this morning, it’s hard to give what you haven’t got.
And until we can see ourselves in the prodigal son – we are more likely to have the attitude of the older Son than the attitude of the prodigal returning, or of the father rejoicing.
I wonder how much you truly believe that God rejoices every time you come to Him – that God runs out to meet you, as soon as you make time to talk to Him in prayer – to meet him in worship – to confess your faults and failings to Him.
But remember the parable that we have heard today – wasn’t told by me – it wasn’t told by some preacher or scribe – it was told by Jesus Christ – who is God’s very word made flesh.
And God is as good as His word.
So we can trust this image of God – waiting with arms open wide in embrace – to welcome the lost sheep, the prodigal, the repentant sinner.
If we are all honest, there will have been times when we have been too afraid to bear our wounds, and our brokenness before God – too afraid to return home for fear of the reaction – too afraid to receive the embrace that God longs to give us.
I can think of no better image of life in all its fullness than that –
I can think of no better image for the Church to have than that –
I can think of no better way for us to journey towards Easter this Lent than to seriously realize the sheer extent of God’s grace and mercy at work before and ahead of us, in our lives.
‘I was lost, but Jesus found me,
Found the sheep that went astray,
Threw His loving arms around me,
Drew me back into His way.
I was bruised, but Jesus healed me,
Faint was I from many a fall,
Sight was gone, and fears possessed me,
But He freed me from them all.’
May this be our song – our guide – our hope and our life.
For it is only through his love, and by his blood, and in the power of his cross and his sacred name– that we are saved – may we love others into that truth – that they may find a home again, a welcome, an embrace and an everlasting hope.