Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Okay, I’m going to tell you the story again that you heard in the Gospel, and while I’m telling the story what I’d like for you to do is for you to be thinking also about some story you know where someone ran away – and hopefully where they came back.
Jesus tells about two brothers, and we are assuming from the way that he tells it that they are about 18, 19, 20 years old. You became an adult in the Jewish world, when you were 12 or 13, you could get married then. But you didn’t become on your own till you were thirty. It’s a pretty good system actually – you’ve got some of the privileges but your dad can still swat you upside the head if he needed to. Now one of these boys went to his dad and said, “I want you to divide up everything I’m going to get when you die. Everything I’m going to get when you die, I want that part now. Half of everything you’ve got.” It was the same thing as saying to his dad, “You’re not dying fast enough.” And so, the dad – he had no obligation, by the way; this boy had no right to anything until his father had passed away, but he claimed it. He just couldn’t wait to be king, right? And so when the dad divided up the money – he had to probably sell half the farm, and half of the farm equipment, and half of the livestock, half of the barns, and when he had done that, then he gave his son his half of it. And then, when he gave him half of it, the boy waited three or four days. He’d probably been planning this a long time. He wanted to party on, dude. He wanted to have a good time. He wanted to let his hair down. He wanted to rock and roll. He wanted to bar hop. He wanted no rules – no one telling him what time to get up, or what time to go to bed. He couldn’t do this near home. You see, his buddies, the guys he grew up with, they liked to have a good time too, and they worked on farms too. But they were Jewish kids. They knew the rules. They knew you didn’t mess around with girls. They knew you didn’t get drunk; you didn’t eat pork, right? Those were the rules. So, he had to go to a place where he didn’t know anybody and no one knew him. A far off country where they worshipped idols. Now I don’t know whether he went to where they worshipped Marduk, or where they worshipped Baal, or whether he went to where they worshipped Molek. All those gods, by the way, were worshipped by having babies killed and their blood poured on the statues. Isn’t that awful? And you know, in most places in the world, there’s nothing you do at all that’s not religious. Even a party is religious, so if you had a party, there was always a statue of a pagan god there – a great big idol with a golden head. Every party he went to was offered to a demon. It said that matins this morning: “He paid his money to the demons.” Also, when you bought meat in another country, that meat didn’t come from the butcher shop, it came from the temple of the Gods. The priests of Marduk, and of Isis, and Osiris, and of Baal, they cut up the meat, and sold it in the temple so it was a religious act to eat that meat – it was a sacrifice to an idol. And this is what this kid did for a long time, and he could do it for a long time because he had a lot of money, right?
Meanwhile, his dad and his brother are back their trying to make a living off half the farm. And the dad somehow knows where the boy is, but he doesn’t go and bring him back. He can’t, because the dad in this story represents God and the boy represents you. And God can invite us, and he can long for us, but he can’t force us because the greatest gift God gave you is his image, and that is the ability to make choices. The longer you stay away from him, the harder your heart gets. I worry when anybody misses church for three weeks because I have found, and I later found that the fathers found, that after three weeks of not going to church, most people don’t miss it as much anymore. The devil lets them think, “See, you missed three weeks and nothing bad happened to you. What would happen if you missed four?” And it takes something really big to get you back, doesn’t it?
Anyway, the kid spent all his money and he thought, “I’ll get a job. I can still live here in pagan land.” His money went pretty fast because all his friends let him throw the parties for him. But he couldn’t get a job because there was a recession, an economic crisis. And nobody was hiring, and there was a famine and food prices went up, and he had to go out and be a pig feeder. Even the pigs weren’t getting slop. They were just getting these buds that grew on trees – coriander seeds, okay? Pods. Because they were trying to keep the pigs alive, they couldn’t make them fat because there was no extra food. And you know what? He would have liked to have eaten those pods that grew on the tree, but they were for the pigs. They weren’t for him. He was starving. And he said, “I will get up. I will go back to my father and I will say to my father, ‘I’ve sinned against heaven and against you and I am not worthy anymore to be called your son. Let me be a hired servant.’” His father saw him coming a long way off. Once he saw him turned around – that word we use “metanoia,” or some us say “repent,” means stop going the wrong way, turn around, and start going the right way, backward. Turn around and go home. And so, once his dad saw him coming back he was able to run to him a long way off, threw his arms around his neck. He didn’t say, “You see, you nasty kid! You took this money, you wasted it, you wasted our lives!” He simply said, “Go get my most beautiful clothing for him. Get some nice soft slippers and put them on his feet. Put a ring with the family initial with it on his hand because we’re bringing him back into the family, and kill the fatted calf. We’re going to have a big celebration, a party. Because my son was dead and he is alive again. He was lost and now he’s found.”
Now who was sad in the story, by the way? His brother! He said, “Dad, you never had a party for me. And now this son of yours is back, and you’ve killed the fatted calf.” And his father said, “You don’t understand, it’s not just because I’m having a good day. It’s because your brother was dead. He wasn’t completely dead, but he was dying. His soul was dying, his heart was dying. And now he’s alive again! I had lost him, and I’ve found him again.” That’s how Jesus feels when a person who’s done something bad turns around and comes back to him.
I know a story about down here in Globeville. Almost a hundred years ago – maybe about 80 years ago – there was a girl named Mary, and there was a boy named Bill. And Mary and Bill were talking and they were about 9 years old. And Mary said, “Every Wednesday night my mother makes piroshki. I hate piroshki.” And Bill said, “Every Wednesday my mother makes fried potatoes and onions, and I hate fried potatoes and onions.” See, people really fasted then. Don’t tell me they didn’t keep the fast, but they did. This is the way I heard the story. So they said, “Let’s go tell our parents, ‘You’re going to have to stop this, or we’re going to leave.” So Mary went to her mom and she put her hands on her hips, and she said, “Dorothy” – that’s her mom; she called her by her first name! – “Dorothy, this business of piroshki every Wednesday, it’s gotta stop.” And Bill went and told his mom something like that. And Mary’s mom took some bread and put some butter on it, and she took two dimes and a little bandana, and she wrapped it up and put it on a broken broomstick. And she said to her, “Okay, when you get where you’re going, you call me and let me know that you’re safe.” And so the two kids went across the railroad tracks. They went all the way from Globeville to Pollock Valley and they laid down there in the weeds, and the looked, and they said, “They’re gonna come after us. They’re gonna come get us. We know they are. They’re gonna get scared. They’re gonna be sorry.” But it got cold, and the day went on, and the grass was wet, and nobody came from the houses. And finally it got to be dark, and the kids said, “What are we going to do?” So they went back, and they didn’t say, “Mom, Dad, we’ve sinned against heaven, and against you.” They said, “We hope you’ve learned your lesson,” but that was because they were nine, right?
Any of you know a story about somebody who ran off from responsibility, or ran away but got in trouble, or ran away to get in trouble? Anyone know a story like that? (Silence). How about a little lion, who said, “I just can’t wait to be king”? And then his dad got killed – right. Did he go back for his dad’s funeral? Did he cry with his mom and his family? Did he help take over and run the pride? (Kids – “No”) What did he do? He ran off and met a big fat hog and a little kind of rat, and the lived together, and they said – what did they say? How do you say that phrase? – Hakuna Matata. He had no worries, no worries man. We have everything here in the forest. And he forgot about everything he loved, and everybody he cared for. And his father couldn’t come and get him, and his father wouldn’t have because that’s impossible. But somebody did come looking for him. It was Nala, and also his priest – that baboon, right? Conked him on the head with a stick. Now if I did that to you, what would you do? I have a stick too. Better than his… Anyway, he went back and did what he was supposed to do.
You see, all kinds of stories are like the Bible stories. As one writer tells us, there’s only two spiels, only two stories, people tell: The Devil’s story, and God’s story. The Devil’s story is about everybody doing their own thing, ripping off each other, being irresponsible, mean, bad, evil, going to the dark side, and getting away with it. And God’s story is that someday, sooner or later, you’ve gotta answer for what you do.
When did – Luke Skywalker’s father, his first name is… Anakin. Anakin means “again.” It means “family again” – ana – again in Greek, kin – family. When did Anakin become Anakin, when did he come back to his family? At the last minute of his life, right? It’s too bad he didn’t enjoy it earlier. He started out as a good man. But he got tempted didn’t he? He left his church, he killed some of the children of that church, didn’t he? And he became Darth Vader – which means Dark Invader – the dark man, the dark intention that invades our hearts. But he came back, right?
And how about… Let’s see, do any of you know the story of Pinnochio? Okay, tell me that. (Child speaks). Yes, his father made him didn’t he? Like God made you – not to boss around, but to love. But Pinnochio wanted to play, didn’t he? He wanted to party instead of going to school. He ended up at a big fair, a carnival, where all the kids ate candy all day and they went on rides, but it was actually the devil’s trap, wasn’t it? They were turning them into what? Yes. Donkeys. It shows that when you follow the devil, you are a donkey, an ass, a fool, because the Devil pays only one kind of salary: pain, suffering, and eternal damnation. The wages of sin is death.
I was thinking these people. I thought about Anakin, and about Simba and Pinnochio, even Adam and Eve in the garden, who, when they had sinned, if they’d gone to God and said, “God, we ate the apple! We ate the fruit! We’re sorry!” They still would have had to be punished, but it wouldn’t have been the same punishment, would it? But instead, they ran off into the trees, the forest, and said, “We can hide from God here right?”
Well, we’re about to start Lent, that’s why we have these stories. Jesus tells us three little short stories together:
He says a man who was a shepherd lost a lamb, and what did he do when he lost his lamb? Who can tell me? Did he say, “Oh well, the lamb can find it’s way back home or wolves can eat it? What did he do when he lost his lamb? (Child answering). He went and got it, didn’t he? (Yes). He put it on his shoulders and brought it back. That stole the Bishop wears represents the lost sheep that the good shepherd brings back. It’s always made out of wool to show that.
And then he tells about a woman who lost one of her dowry coins that her husband had given her – or that she’d given to him and he’d given back to her when they got married. Well, she got down in the dirt on the floor of her house till she found her coin.
But both those people went out and looked, didn’t they? Cuz the good shepherd is Jesus, and he’s always calling us back. And the woman with the coin is the Holy Spirit who’s always trying to beat on your heart and open it up to him again. But in the third story, it’s God the Father. He’s not going to come after you, you after to come back to him
Here’s the point: That each one of us, when we sin, has two choices: We can either right at that point tell God that we’re sorry and then come and stand in His house, the church, and say before the priest to God in the icon, “This is what I’ve done,” and have God forgive us and welcome us back, put our clean shoes back on our feet, our clean robe back on us, the ring back on our hand, and feed us with his life. We can either do that, or we can run off and hide. We can go hide in the woods like Adam and Eve. We can go into another country and say, “Who needs God anyway?” You know, the people who turn away from religion then say bad things about their faith because they’re trying to convince themselves and they’re trying to convince other people as well. They become not only the prey of the Devil, they become the tools of the Devil. So, come to lent, remember, whenever anything’s on your heart, a bad thing you’ve done, don’t let it sit there because then you’ll get used to it. You won’t be sorry about it. You’ll even decide it’s not really so bad. But confess it immediately to God, and when you come to church you confess it.
Now, I’ll tell you one more story to help you probably remember part of this. There was a Sunday school class once and the teacher told the story of the Prodigal Son that I just told you: How the boy went off and lived in the country, how he lived a riotous life, how he lost his money, how he had to feed pigs, how he came back and his father welcomed him and had a party for him. At the end, the teacher asked the same question I asked you, “Who was sad at the end of the story?” And you said, “The older brother.” When this teacher asked the question, “Who was sad at the end of the story?” one girl raise her hand and said, “The fatted calf.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Glory to Jesus Christ!
****Before Communion, Father interrupted the liturgy with an addendum to the sermon. I didn’t get to record it, but I did talk to him later and I’ll try to get the gist of it here***
One of the children asked why the boys in Pinnochio were turned into donkeys, and I gave him a stupid answer. It’s important not to brush off kids questions like that, it was a good question and it deserves a better answer that I gave. The boys were being transformed into the image of the carnal desires they were chasing after. When we chase after those desires, we become more and more like our animal part. You see, we have an angel part, and an animal part. Samboli turns the boys into donkeys so that he can sell them as beasts of burden which is a like how Satan turns us into slaves by tempting us with things we desire.