Framing: The last time I preached on this text at Brown Memorial it was the Fall of 2018. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings were in full swing, and I was in my first few months here in ministry and a new Baltimorean. What an odd coincidence that the same week I am preparing to preach on the story of the Prodigal Son, our country is in the midst of the Ketanji Brown Jackson hearings for another Supreme Court seat. The gift of the Revised Common Lectionary, and the gift of this parable, is that we return to it again and again. While the parable does not change, the circumstances of our lives and the political landscape around us does. Join me in exploring the parable once again, and see what Jesus has say.
“Touched By An Angel” by Maya Angelou is interspersed throughout the sermon and is italicized below. Sermon is extemporaneous. See full transcript on YouTube.
Does anyone even know what the word prodigal means, anyway? It seems like one of the non-words in our Christian vocabulary, a word we say often in church but do not understand. I assumed it had a negative connotation because it describes the younger son’s behavior. And, depending on how we use the word, it does describe unlikeable traits – recklessness, wastefulness, imprudence. To my surprise, prodigal does not have to mean all of those unlikeable traits. It can also mean extravagant, lavish, generous. But the real secret of this parable is that everyone’s a little bit prodigal. And the grace of God is the most prodigal of all. God’s grace is extravagant, lavish, and generous. And it is reckless, wasteful, and imprudent. What else would grace be if it wasn’t all of those things?
Part One: Walk through the passage.
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
Part Two: The younger son and his awakening to his need for grace
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
Part Three: The father and the deep well of love for his children
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
Part Four: The older son and his awakening to his need for grace