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Sermon for Mothering Sunday Year C Prodigal Son (1)

February 19, 2016

St. Peter and St. Paul are at the Pearly Gates. Paul is looking through The Book of Names, and he says to Peter, “There are more people in heaven than there is supposed to be! Go find out what has happened!” Peter runs off, and some time later he returns to Paul. Paul says, “Did you find out why there are too many people here?” Peter says, “It’s Jesus. He’s helping people in over the back fence again…”

If you’ve ever been the parent of a teenager, you’ve been here: Be back home by 11. Time is now 1. Where is she? Why can’t she call? Why can’t she be more responsible? When she gets home, she’s going to get a new definition of the word “grounded.” Then a car pulls up. She’s fine, crying, sorry, and your resolutions of judgement have melted into tears of relief.

How heart wrenching that must be for parents.  It is painful enough to bring a child into the world, to see yourself in them, to dream of the possibilities that lie ahead for them, to try to keep them safe as long as you can, and then to watch as the world draws them away, into places you know will only bring them distress and despair. To watch as their teenagers have been swept up into the world of drugs and crime?

A loving parent can only wait for them to return, hoping that the phone doesn’t ring with the voice of a policeman on the other end.  Maybe mentally rehearing a speech that goes something like: “Don’t come running back to us, we warned you, we gave you all the chances in the world and you threw it back in our faces.  Now you can live with the consequences.  You made your bed.  Now lie in it!”

Beneath the often mushy sentimentality of Mothering Sunday lies the profoundest of truths, that we will know God best in the most basic of things, by giving and not by receiving, and by celebrating relationships restored.

This is a mother who never gave up on a wayward son. His name was Augustine. Her name was Monica, your patron.

Those of you who are parents and grandparents will often have heard children complain: That’s not fair.’ In today’s parable, Jesus illustrates that the love God has for us is of a quality that normal human values cannot comprehend. The father’s restoring his place in the family to the younger son at the expense of the older son is Jesus’ way of telling us about God.

Regarding the younger son, we learn that God’s love and mercy is totally unconditional. God’s love and forgiveness come to us without strings. It is not related to the bad or good of our actions. The forgiveness and love of God is beyond reason and beyond any human concept of fairness. God is a spendthrift, giving away what he has to those he loves. No human being can forgive so absolutely or completely embrace the depth of God’s forgiveness and love.

When Jesus had the father say to the older son, “Everything I have is yours,” he described the treasure chest of God’s mercy and love that is inexhaustible. God makes each of us equal heirs of God’s kingdom. God gives each of us an equal share, whether we come to the kingdom early or late. As the father said to the younger son, “you remain my son, and you share equally with you older brother.”

prodigal returnedpietaCroatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic carved two statues for the chapel of Notre Dame University in America.

On one side of the high altar is the prodigal returned, with his head buried in his father’s arms. On the other side is the Pieta with Joseph of Arimathea standing behind Mary, who is holding the body of her son. One is the story Jesus told, the other the story that he lived.

But the story he told does not have a neat and sentimental ending, of a happy family celebrating together, the other son’s nose is put out of joint, and he is a mass of resentment. He doesn’t talk about ‘my brother’, but of ‘this son of yours’. We don’t know what happened. Perhaps that is because we have to live the story to. To model that love to our children and in our other relationships. To model that love that wins over the most rebellious.

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