06 March 2016

Lent 4 C 2016 the Prodigal Father

Sermon by Stuart Pike
Preached at St. Luke's 6 March 2016
Photo Credit: tutincommon on Flickr.com

Sermon Text:

So today we have probably the best known parable of Jesus – commonly called the parable of the prodigal Son, though I think there is good reason to name it, the parable of the prodigal Father. The word, Prodigal means “having or giving something on a lavish scale”, or “wastefully extravagant.”

This seems to be describing the behavior not only of the son who goes and spends his inheritance, but also of the father who lavishly pours out everything – his resources, his forgiveness and his love, not only on his wayward son, but also on his more responsible and resentful son.

The father shows us an image of a God who is extravagant and reckless with his love, his forgiveness and his grace. It’s hard for us to understand. It’s hard for us to even condone. God’s love is too extravagant. It’s not fair!

But we live with a difference sense of economy than God does. God’s resources – especially God’s love is infinite, whereas we are used to meting out everything: our physical, emotional and spiritual resources – like our forgiveness and our love.

So here we are, heavily into the season of Lent, the season of repentance and we have the story of a son who asked for his inheritance early – almost the same thing as wishing his father dead, and amazingly, the father actually, like a prodigal, sells off some land and livestock and gives it away to his son.

The son, after spending it all wastefully comes to destitution and regret and repents. Or at least, he might be repentant. Is he really, or is he only trying to con his father one more time to save himself?

It matters not to the father, who doesn’t even let him finish his well-rehearsed speech. The father’s love just washes over him as he wraps his arms around him and, like the prodigal he is, showers him with abundance.

So, is this a repentance story? I think it is. The word repentance doesn’t mean “to grovel in misery.” The word means to turn one’s life around. To change direction and to follow in the right path. It means to align one’s path with God’s will.

The wayward son, no matter his hidden motivations does just that. He changes his direction, he returns to the father. And even if he did this for selfish reasons, it sure looks like his father’s love will win his heart once again.

Love wins. As it always will.

Talking of love, yesterday I led a marriage preparation class for 7 couples who will be married here at St. Luke’s in the coming year. Holly, Elliott and Sheila and I will all be doing some of those weddings. Of course, all of these couples are madly in love. It is that love which has brought them to this time as they are preparing to give themselves to each other for a lifetime commitment. It is a sacrament which Jesus himself sanctioned, as it was at a wedding feast that he performed his very first miracle, changing over a hundred gallons of water into wine: what a prodigal son Jesus was, not to mention the life of the party!

It is at a wedding that we celebrate the grace of God poured out abundantly upon God’s people. Remember, God’s economy of love is more than we can imagine.

The day before yesterday I celebrated a marriage with the sacrament of Eucharist here as well. An unusual wedding in Lent, which normally isn’t the done thing in an Anglican Church. However, there were reasons which made this the right thing to do. God’s grace abundantly pours over and through our rules which simply can’t hold God’s grace back.

I was delighted to be able to celebrate at that wedding, because I really believe that love – all love: the romantic kind, the brotherly kind, the compassionate kind - it’s all a holy thing. It’s a divine gift which God gives to each one of us to exercise in the world. God is love, and celebrating the love that two people have for one another in a marriage ceremony shouts out loud about the holiness of love.

However, given the news this past week out of the house of bishops, I feel saddened that I can’t, and probably won’t for a very long time, be able to celebrate this pouring out of God’s grace and love for everyone who would ask it of me.

As many of you know, General Synod will be looking at possibly changing the Marriage Canon to allow marriage between any two people who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other; to give themselves to the other because of the love that they have for each other. Perhaps I should be even more explicit: this would mean that we would be offering marriage to any two people, whether they be straight or gay. Whereas now, in the Diocese of Niagara, we will offer marriage to straight people, but only the blessing of a civil union to gay people. In other words, they need to do the civil marriage bit outside of Church, but we will let them in the Church to bless their marriage afterwards.

Because this is a matter of doctrine, it means that it has to pass in two consecutive General Synods, both times by a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses of laity, clergy and bishops. This past week the bishops, from a special meeting of the House of Bishops, issued a communiqué stating that it looks like it will not get the two-thirds majority vote needed in the House of Bishops. This both seems to preempt the process of General Synod, yet, it is also the Bishops being honest about where they seem to be in this issue. Please note that many bishops, including our own, are very much in favour of this change to the marriage canon. But probably not enough to make a 2/3 majority.

Now you’re asking whatever can this have to do with the story of the Prodigal Father?

Well, it’s partly timing, because this news from the House of Bishops came this week. But it’s also because the story is about God’s love. How overabundant that love is and about how much God wants us to turn, to repent, to change direction and to align our way to his way of love and grace.

In many ways the story of the prodigal father is the story of two lost sons, and the father who pours out his grace to win them both back.

In many ways I see the Church as often showing the characteristics of both sons. The one who wanders so far away from God’s way of overabundant love and grace. And the one who metes out condemnation and judgment and is filled with resentment.

God created each one of us and after he creates humanity, he says, it is very good, and blesses each one and gives them this divine gift of love to exercise in this world.

God only knows why God created some of us straight and some of us gay, but it’s very evident that God did this. It is one of the unfathomable mysteries of the diversity which is God’s wonderful world.

Now there are several ways in which you can use scripture to justify intolerance and even persecution. Scripture has been used in this way to justify slavery, misogyny and even genocide. And it has been used over millennia to justify the persecution of gay people. None of this is God’s will. God is the prodigal father who pours out his love and grace on all his children. We do not have to use scripture like this. Jesus tells us it is wrong when he berates the Pharisees and their rigid interpretation of scripture which persecutes God’s people.

The great news of this story of the prodigal father though, is that it is never too late. God’s love will win. It will overpower us and it will bring us home. It is the season of Lent for us as individuals, but also for us as the Church. We can repent. We can repent  no matter how far we have strayed from God’s way of love and grace. We can repent from the way we as the Church have condemned people and even done it in a way that at one time made it seem righteous! It doesn’t seem righteous anymore, probably because it never was right and more and more people of the Church have come to understand this.

The great news is that God’s holy spirit can move us and help us repent, to change direction and to be made new. That’s what the Gospel is all about. That’s what Jesus was all about. And that’s what we can pray for, for our Bishops and clergy and laity who will be discerning God’s voice at General Synod.

Love is holy – all love is holy – it is a divine gift which God gives to each of us. May our prodigal God pour out God’s grace upon us all and allow us to repent, to change and to love one another. Amen.


  1. What a wonderful sermon, Stuart. Thought provoking for some, thought affirming for others. Love and affection for all.

    Brenda Gleason - Judy Robertson's sister

  2. Thank you so much, Brenda. I pray that a way will be found to move forward.