Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sermon for March 3, 3016

Interview with the Father
as recorded by Matt Braddock
presented on March 6, 2016

This morning I would like to present to you the transcript of an interview I had with the Father from the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The interview took place a number of weeks ago in the outskirts of a town called Fons Argenteus. I have his full permission to offer his remarks to you this morning.

Matt: Sir, let me begin my thanking you for your willingness to grant me this interview.
Father:It’s my pleasure. Now that I’m getting a little older, I can take some time off from farm work now and then. I’ve got the boys to keep things running smoothly.
Matt:  So, both of your sons are home now. Last we heard about you there was a big party at your place when your youngest came home.
Father:  Yeah, that was some party. Not everyone enjoyed himself though, if you know what I mean. Anyway, that was years ago. The boys seem to have ironed their differences out a bit.
Matt: I never got your name, by the way. I don’t want to call you Dad.
Father: The name’s Alvin O’Heem. Just call me Al.
Matt:  Al O’Heem. Catchy name. Al, tell us what was really going on when your youngest son left home.
Father:  Oh, it seems so long ago now. He was about 20 years old. Not married yet. We had a nice family business here. I guess he just got sick of it all. You know how kids are. He wanted his share of the business–not an unusual request. I thought maybe he was going to take his money and go off to school or set himself up with his own business. The way we work it is like this: the law says that my oldest son gets 2/3 of the business when I die, and the youngest gets the remaining 1/3. But, once the son takes the money, he has no more legal claim. In other words, I gave my youngest his share, and it was just expected that he wouldn’t come back later and say, “Hey dad, how ‘bout takin’ me back in?” Once you take your share of the money it’s like cutting ties once and for all.[1]
Matt:   That’s interesting. He was just supposed to take his money and then do the best he could with no further expectations. Then, I understand, he squandered it and came running home. And then you took him back in.
Father: Well, the law says I can cut the ties. But he’s my son, you know. You should have seen him when he came home. You should have smelled him! His eyes were sunken inside dark black rings. His face was cadaverous. He smelled like a summer latrine. He was living worse than the animals on my farm.
Matt:   Did he tell you what he did with the money?
Father: I didn’t need the details. Like I said, I could smell him from a mile away and my imagination filled in the particulars. I guess it didn’t take him long to blow through the cash. Our country was going through a deep recession at the time. Stock options were plummeting. Inflation was high. Jobs were scarce. So, he landed a job feeding hogs. Can you believe it? Our law says that there is a curse upon a person who feeds pigs. We aren’t even supposed to touch them. He made himself unclean just to survive.
Matt:  Couldn’t he just take a shower?
Father: Funny! You know what I mean. In our customs, touching unclean animals makes us unclean. He wouldn’t have been able to worship in the temple. People would have to avoid him on the streets. The way he smelled, people would want to avoid him. He must have been lonely.
Matt:   And he came to his senses?
Father:  I guess so. I’m sure he felt bad over what he had done. I mean the boy had everything he needed, and he wasted it. He knew it, too. That’s the beginning of repentance, isn’t it?[2] You see what you’ve done see what a mess you can make out of your life, and turn around and walk home.
Matt:    So, you took him back. Weren’t you disappointed in him?
Father: I take no responsibility for what he did with his money. I gave him the freedom to do as he pleased with his share of the money. I was just so happy to have him home. I hadn’t heard from him for so long. I was sure he was dead. I remember sitting in my chair after lunch, looking over the books, and one of the servants came running up to me and said, “Mr. O’Heem, your son is home,” and I said flatly, “I thought he was out plowing in the fields. I didn’t know he went anywhere.” The servant was senseless with excitement and he said, “No, your youngest son, sir. He’s coming down the road right now.” I left my bookkeeping and looked out the window, and I just can’t tell you what I felt. You know how it feels when someone dies and once in a while you wish that person was right back at your side, but you know it’s not going to happen? Well, here was my wish coming true. All I remember is that I ran to him, and I was crying. I ran as fast as I could. When I got to him, my boy fell on his knees. He started mumbling about being sorry, and sinning against me, and shaming the family honor. And he wanted me to hire him as one of my servants.  I couldn’t stand it. I scooped that boy up, and threw my arms around him, and I held him in my arms and I kissed him and I said, “I don’t know what you’ve done. I don’t know where you’ve been, but all is forgiven. I thought you were dead, but you came back to me. Welcome home.” I had the servants clean him up and get him the best suit and shiniest shoes they could find and put them on him. We butchered the best stall-fed steer I had, and we had a party.
Matt:  Your oldest son wasn’t too happy about all this, was he?
Father: You heard about that, did you? I had a servant run out to the field and tell him that his brother had come home. Some time went by and I didn’t see him, so I went out to the barn. There was my oldest son sitting on a bail of hay with his fists on his cheeks, pouting. I said, “Son, aren’t you coming to the party?” He grumbled, “No, I’m not.” So I asked him, “Why not, Son?” And he said, “Listen here, Pa. All these years I’ve been here, and I’ve tried to be the perfect son. If you said, ‘Go plow the field,’ I did it. If you said, ‘Chop some wood,’ I chopped it. I went with you to worship every week. I got a badge for ten years of perfect attendance. I’ve been good to you here, and I just don’t understand how it could be when this creature, this son of yours, comes home, after wasting your money and living with harlots, you kill the fat calf for him.” I didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t even refer to his brother by name. He called him “this son of yours.”[3] I could smell contempt as he hissed those words.
Matt:   Where did this business about harlots come from? You never said anything about your younger son running around with women.
Father: Well, that’s just the thing. No one ever said anything about that. My oldest was so pathetic. All I can surmise is that my oldest son thought his brother was doing what he would have been doing if he had been out on his own. My oldest just gave himself away. By judging his brother he passed judgement on himself.
Matt:   It sounds like your oldest son was really the lost one.
Father:  You got it! It’s almost as if he was going through the motions of hard work and obedience to me, but in his mind he was the one wasting his life. Every time he went to the field, he was thinking about how much fun he could be having if he was in his brother’s shoes. Little did he know you don’t have to run away from home to waste what you’ve been given. So I told my oldest son, “You know, everything I have is yours. Don’t waste the gifts you have here right in front of you. Now that your brother is home, I can’t help but to rejoice. He was lost, and now he’s found. We thought he was dead and now he is alive.”[4]
Matt:   I’ve always wondered what happened after that. I mean, the version of the story we have leaves us hanging. Did your oldest son come to the party? Did he see your point? Or did he stay outside and sulk?
Father:  Well, that’s personal family business. I don’t really want to tell you that part. You will just have to draw your own conclusions.
Matt:   Let me ask you this, then. Did you love one son more than the other?
Father: I just love them. There is no quantity to it. I’m ready to give it out freely to both my sons. It’s their choice to accept it. I’ll tell you this, though, I was intensely concerned for my lost son. I had almost given up hope. I had decided long ago that if he ever came back to me, I would just wrap my arms around him and remind him how important he is to me. My oldest son, the uncompromising critic, well, I love him too. But he’s different. He’s respected. He’s smart. He knows how I like things done. He said it himself; he is faithful in worship and obedient to do everything I ask. Whatever he wants, he gets. The difference is this: I love that oldest son of mine so much, but he just doesn’t know it. He sees his brother as dirty and thriftless. And he thinks I’m at fault for being too quick to forgive and accept. My oldest just doesn’t see that I offer the same to him. If only he could stop looking down at others and take a hard look at what he really needs. He’s just as lost, but he can’t see it.
Matt:   Al, part of what I hear you saying is that some people work so hard at being perfect that they forget what’s really important.
Father: You could say that.
Matt:  Do you have any advice for my listeners based on your experiences? Some strategies or techniques would be really helpful here.
Father:  That would be nice! However, you’re not going to get techniques from me. I’m not going to give you your three-point sermon outline this week, pastor. All I can tell you is what I’ve experienced as a father. If you focus on the how-to’s all the time, you’re going to miss out on what’s really important. You will be like my oldest son -- so worried about doing it right that you forget what you’re doing it for.  What’s most important is your growth and becoming the person God made you to be. For some reason my youngest son got it, and my oldest[5] son–well, he didn’t.
Matt:  Al, did you ever meet Jesus?
Father:  Yeah, he stopped by the farm to shoot the breeze a few times. A nice guy, the Rabbi. Has quite a bunch of guys following him around. He makes you a little uncomfortable sometimes, but that’s not all bad. I suppose that’s you how grow. Yeah, I told him about my sons, and he said he could use my story. He said something about the Pharisees who were getting all riled up about him eating with unclean, despicable sinners. It doesn’t seem to me that the Rabbi saw folks that way. It seems he was just trying to get people who called themselves spiritual to really act that way. But do you know what? That guy just loved everyone, no matter what. I can understand that! It’s a shame he had to die the way he did. Once in a while I hear a rumor that the Rabbi was crucified because he spoke in parables. Challenge can make people angry or scared. People love answers, you know.[6]
Matt:       I do know. I’m one of them. Well, Al, thanks for your time. I think people will really appreciate what you have to say.
Father:   Yeah, I’d love to talk to you all day, but we’ve got some work to do.

[1]Clarence Jordan and Bill Lane Doulos, Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation (Scottdale: Herald, 2001), 54-55.
[2]Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, Luke XX-XXIV, AB (New York: Doubleday, 1985), 1085.
[3]Jordan, 55.
[4]Jordan, 56.
[5]Edwin H. Friedman DD, “An Interview with the First Family Counselor” (Bethesda: Friedman, 1994), 12.
[6]Friedman, 21.

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