First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Greg Briggs,
Interim Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720

Sermon- March 31st, 2019

The Parable of the Prodigal Father – 3/31/19   by Pastor Greg Briggs

  1. Prayer and Introduction
    1. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, our rock and redeemer. Amen”
    2. The parable of the Prodigal Father
    3. Did you know there are no titles for stories and parables in the Bible
      1. Parable of the prodigal son
    4. Where we tend to focus
      1. What does the word prodigal mean again? – good SAT vocabulary word
        1. Is it related to prodigy? (no)
        2. To spend extravagantly, even wastefully
      2. Characters in the story & Where we identify ourselves or others we know in the story
        1. Prodigal son – younger son
        2. Prodigal father – father
  • Resentful Brother- older son
  1. The story itself seems to tempt us to decide which brother is more beloved, or more distasteful
  1. Temptation to fill in gaps or explain away questions
    1. There is value in it. In Judaism it is called midrash, exploring the spaces in a story
    2. Or allegorizing the story, interpreting it to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one
  • Invite you to resist that urge to do either for today, so we can first hear why Jesus told it
  1. Larger context of the parable
    1. 1-3 tell us it is in response to the grumbling of Pharisees and legal experts about Jesus welcoming and eating with sinners
    2. Jesus tells 3 parables in response, this is the third
      1. Shepherd who has 100 sheep and one is lost
        1. Calls his friends and neighbors to celebrate when it’s found
      2. Women who has ten silver coins, and loses one
        1. celebrates with friends and neighbors when it’s found
      3. This parable
        1. We may like to assign people we know into these roles, but the story is pretty explicit
        2. Father is Jesus \ God
  • The brother who left and came back is a repentant believer
  1. Resentful brother is Pharisees \ resentful worshipper
  1. Renaming the parable “The prodigal father”
    1. Father is the one who has the power and authority to affect change, and is the only person to interact with both sons
    2. The Father’s actions towards sons are mirrored
      1. Comes out to them – invites them in
      2. Gives share of inheritance or assures them of their inheritance
    3. Shifts story from focus on one son, to all three characters.
    4. Father is exceedingly generous
      1. Is extravagant, but for a nobler reason
      2. Rejoicing at the restoration of a lost, possibly presumed dead son
    5. Others call it “Parable of the Father’s Love” – but for today, I think it is important to keep prodigal in the title, to contrast with how it was view before. And, because that is what God calls us to be. Prodigal with love and welcome.
  2. We could also, more pessimistically, call it the parable of the self-serving brothers
    1. Both are looking out for themselves, more than for the family or the community
    2. Maybe both sons learned part of the example of their father’s life
      1. One knows the joy of extravagant celebration
      2. The other knows the joy of diligent discipleship
  • Both need to learn the lesson the other brother did
  1. Extending the story out, eventually these sons will replace their father
  1. Cultivating and letting go
    1. In a commentary about today’s reading, Amanda Brobst-Renaud wrote “The parable invites us to sit with the younger son in the messes of his own making, with the elder son in the bitterness and fear of being overlooked, and with the father as he leaves the comfort of his home to bring in all that is lost and all that feels forsaken.”
    2. The need to let go of self-serving scarcity mentality is seen in both of the sons, though in different ways
    3. Cultivate prodigal welcoming forgiveness
  2. Father only felt the party is complete with both sons
    1. Begged the elder son to come join them
    2. Reminds older son that he still has everything that is promised, but there needed to be a celebration in the return of what was lost
      1. Just like in the other two parables
    3. Reminder of what church is to be
      1. Not for only one kind of brother or the other but both
        1. “Church as a hospital, not a country club”
        2. “Churches without the broken are broken churches”
          1. Though that’s a bit elitist. This parable reminds us that we all have brokenness, it just looks different
        3. Final part of the parable – the open ended-ness of the story
          1. We don’t know how the story truly ends, only how the next chapter is begun
          2. We don’t know how either of the brothers respond
            1. Older brother – does he shift his perspective? Welcome his lost brother back? Or does this remain a financial transaction?
            2. Younger brother – what happens to him? Restored to family, or become a servant? Healed and goes on to something else?
          3. We do know that at least the younger brother is already in the party at the end of the story – the older brother is left to decide if that’s where he wants to be, too.
          4. Other open ended question, does the younger son really “deserve” it or is it another con?
            1. Not relevant to this story. Whether his repentance is genuine or just self serving to stave off hunger, the father’s response is the same – joyous, extravagant, prodigal welcome
            2. More importantly, I think the response of the father helps tip the scales between real and partial repentance
          5. Afterthought, the deserving and undeserving poor
            1. This last question about the younger son gets at another point, deserving or undeserving poor.
            2. The father’s response is simple. It doesn’t matter, welcome them anyway.
            3. “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” Dorothy Day
            4. “do theology with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” Karl Barth
            5. if those who have wasted all they have are welcomed and can come back, what about those who haven’t been prodigal, but just put upon?
          6. New parable? The parable of the put-upon sons and daughters
            1. The refugees at our southern border.
              1. We must be reminded that the vast majority of them are our siblings in Christ, and the vast majority did not cause their problems.
              2. Yet, they are not welcomed, at our border. Their treatment is inhumane, their requests for asylum are scoffed at, and they are demonized in our press.
  • Money that could be spent to aid them is instead spent to be more inhospitable, to keep them out. This week, it came to light that hundreds are kept in an outdoor pen under a bridge in El Paso Tx.
  1. those that live out the gospel are demonized
    1. Further, those that do go down there to treat them humanely are flagged by our government as instigators and held for questioning including aid workers, lawyers, and at least one UCC clergy person, Rev. Kaji Dousa, Sr. Pastor of Park Avenue Christian Church.
    2. contemplate this when you reflect this week on what this parable says to you about what to cultivate and what to let go.
      1. Even the most basic kindness is threatening to those in power
      2. If you think I’m being hyperbolic, I remind you that we are in the midst of Lent, leading up to when our Lord and Savior was executed as an enemy of the state. But even then, that was not the end of the story.
    3. Conclusion – The prodigal father, the shepherd of lost sheep, the woman with unfound wealth
      1. The gospel leads us in unexpected directions
      2. One Great Hour of Sharing is a response, but it alone is not enough
      3. When those living the Gospel are being persecuted, it calls for a greater response.
      4. It challenges us to cultivate and let go of more than just our personal attitudes, it calls us to cultivate an outward focused voice, to say “not in our name”




2 Corinthians 5:16-21 Common English Bible (CEB)

16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

18 All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 19 In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.

20 So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” 21 God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.



Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 Common English Bible (CEB)

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus told them this parable:

11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.

14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27 The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28 Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29 He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31 Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”


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