This was the first passage I ever preached from at a United Methodist Church in Pearisburg, Va. (also known as Pastor Sarah’s home town). It is almost too easy to pick this passage as my favorite in the gospel of Luke. At the point in which I spoke on this passage for the first time I saw myself as the Prodigal Son. I wasn’t too far removed from the stings of active addiction. Someone else even had to drive me for a number of reasons: one being to make sure I actually showed up and didn’t chicken out; and two, I am not even sure if I had a driving privileges at that point. I am not sure how the sermon was received; I don’t remember looking up once. I was asked to come back nearly five years later while on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail as this church is the first church in the Holston Conference and has been a partner in the ministry for longer than I have been a part of it. I had no intentions of hiking more than a day at that time in my life. Just like in this parable given to us from Christ, God was there for me the first time I stepped foot in that church and the next time and all of the steps in between and thereafter.
On top of this story that comes to mind with this passage I like to look back on Luke 15 and see how my understanding of God, Jesus, the work of the Holy Spirit, and my understanding of scripture has grown over the years. Like most young people I made the mistake of thinking this story was all about me, “the Prodigal Son.” I wanted to say things like, “it’s possible to live in the father’s house without having the father’s heart” as I wag of my finger to those who have been sitting in church and turning their backs on a sick and suffering world. After rereading this passage, it changed to the point of view of the “faithful brother.” I saw from his point of view as time passed the aggravation and confusion he must have felt during all of this. I could better relate to how this son, who had worked hard and been beside his father through all the work and worry of his brother’s wandering, resented the extra load placed on him and the feeling of not being appreciated for who he was and his faithfulness. What I love about scripture is after reexamining it just like the other two times I believe I finally have the point that Christ was trying to make, it’s not about what I the “prodigal son” has done. It’s also not about what I, “the faithful son,” have done. It’s not about my mistakes, the guilt, self-pity, shame I carried home with my tail tucked between my legs as the world had beaten me down. It’s not about the prideful, cold shoulder I give to those who are still wandering lost, or the anger that I feel when someone doesn’t think the way I do about a certain topic. It’s about the Father, His Love, His Grace, His desire to Celebrate Recovery of the Prodigal Son, the restoration of a family, and the welcoming of those who were lost. It’s about the Father who has noticed the faithfulness of those who have always been with Him in service, in ministry, even in the confusion and hard times.
I love this scripture so much today because at the end the Father has a response for where ever I find myself that day, Luke 15:31 “My Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours, But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: He was lost and is now found.”
For the prodigal, God promises we can be found; for the faithful He promises everything I have is yours. I am so thankful and blessed to be a part of a community of believers who not only believes this to be true but just like the father joins in the celebration of the prodigal’s return to the family.