From the pulpit

Ninth Sunday after Trinity

by the Rev. Mr. Shannon L. Clark

And when he came to himself, he said, ‘I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worth to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”

The gospel lesson this morning comes to us from the 15th Chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke and contains within it the moving Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Many of us know this story very well.  The selfish son scandalously asks to receive his inheritance.  He leaves home and squanders his father’s wealth with parties and prostitutes.  Once the money runs out, he falls on hard times and finds himself in a pig sty, starving.  Humiliated.  Lost.

And it is in the pig sty that Jesus says, “He came to himself.” He woke up.  He finally sees for himself the utter wretchedness of his own heart.  He sees the absolute offense that he has caused God, for he says to himself, “I have sinned against Heaven.”  He notices for the first time the misery and desolation he has caused his father.  How he has defiled his father’s name with his own perversity.

His conclusion is that he will return home and beg his father to receive him back, not as a son, but as a slave, a hired servant.

Luke 15:1-2 tells us that publicans, sinners, scribes, and Pharisees were listening to Jesus.  How would they have heard this parable up to this point?

The sinners:  “What’s it going to cost me?” “Am I willing to do it?” “I know I am evil.” “I want to get out of this, but I don’t know how.”  “I hope it doesn’t turn out too bad.”  “I hate myself and where my choices have led me.”  “What is going to happen to the Prodigal Son?”

The Pharisees:  “Oh, yes! The sinful son is going to return home, how quaint!”  “The boy is about to get what he deserves.  Preach it, Jesus!  Let the sinner get what is coming to him.”  “Make him suffer according to his deeds!  Let all these sinners know, once and for all, that there are consequences!”  “You’ve got them right where you want them, Jesus.  Let all these tax collectors and sinners know, once and for all, that God is not to be mocked!”

So Jesus proceeds with the story, “and [the son] arose, and came to his father.  But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.  And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.'” 

The father does not hear him.  He does not care.  He has already turned to the servants and said, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring for the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”  And they began to be merry.

This is a very moving parable, indeed.  The absolute grace of the Father!  Jesus reveals to us that this is how God the Father Almighty is toward penitent sinners.  And this is how we must become, for we are prodigals.  Let us pray the Holy Ghost to reveal unto us how prodigal we really are.  Holy Spirit, reveal to us our secret sins and hidden faults.  Show us how confused and backward we really are.

The epistle for this morning [1 Corinthians x.1] shows us how easy it is for the Church to become like the prodigal son.  St. Paul uses examples from the history of Israel and teaches the Church to be on our guard.  The children of Israel had received an inheritance, and they squandered it all away in the wilderness.  They ate the bread from heaven, the manna in the wilderness.  They drank from the rock, the miraculous water of God.  Nevertheless, they lusted after evil things, and only two of them — Joshua and Caleb — were allowed to enter into the promised land.  The rest died in the wilderness — died in the pig sty of their own pride.  They did not return unto the Father.  Even so, St. Paul uses this as a warning to the Church.  In a sense, he says, “Christians (you and me), you have received an inheritance.  The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.  Do not think that these will save you in your pride.  Do not squander the unsearchable riches of your Father.  Do not take them for granted.  Rejoice in them.  Let them be your strength, your comfort, your all.” For through them, we are enabled to return to the Father.

Let me illustrate it like this — I hope it helps, but if not, then forget what I am about to say.  The sacraments are like the road that led from the pig sty to the Father’s house.  The sacraments are the way that the Father’s forgiveness and grace come to us.  It is especially through Baptism and the Eucharist that our Father sees us from afar, has compassion on us, runs to us, embraces us in his arms, and kisses us.  It is through the sacraments that he throws his best robe, the robe of Christ’s righteousness, upon our sore shoulders.  He puts the family ring upon our hand to let everyone know that we belong to Him.  He puts the shoes of the gospel of peace on our aching feet.  And He welcomes us home.

Our liturgy captures this perfectly.  Before the communion, there is always the confession.  Pay special attention this morning as we say it together.  Let us truly examine our hearts to see how we have offended our Father this past week.  Did we love God above all else?  How many thoughts have we had that soiled the Name of our God?  What words have we spoken that have more in common with Satan than with our Saviour?  What evil deeds have we committed?  Let us face up to them and have them in remembrance during our confession.  Otherwise, we cut ourselves off from the grace of God — the grace of the Father who is watching and waiting for his son to return home.

But rest assured that He is right there, waiting, and as we come to him He will come to us and pour upon us all that He has, all that He is.  And when that miraculous bread from Heaven, the Body and Blood of Christ, touches your tongue, the son of God touches your soul and removes all of your sins, all of your wickedness, cleanses us from all sin and replaces our humble confession with a song of praise.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not his benefits who forgiveth all thy sins and healeth all thine infirmities, who saveth thy life from destruction; and crowneth thee with mercy and loving kindness.

For look how high the heaven is in comparison to the earth.  So great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  Look how wide also the East is from the West.  So far has he set our sins from us.  Yea, like a father pitieth his own children, even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him.