The Fourth Sunday in Lent; Year C (3/10/2013)

Lessons:Joshua 5:9-12 Psalm 32 (11) 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Prayer of the Day: God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy.  By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

St. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Transforming Grace; Transformed by Grace

For the past twenty-five years or so, congregational leaders have been looking at church life through the lens of family systems theory. Murray Bowen was a pioneer in this field, among the first to look at the emotional relationships between family members, and how they affect one another. Edwin Friedman explored how family systems theory could be helpful in understanding the ways congregations and synagogues function. Peter Steinke helped countless Lutheran leaders explore how to make use of these theories in our particular setting. Grossly over-simplified, family systems theory is a systemic approach to life and leadership that explores existing relationships between community members, with a particular focus on how anxiety affects those relationships, and how leaders can most effectively lead communities through anxious times.

Anyone who is the least bit familiar with family systems theory would be intrigued by this week’s parable. Known to many as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” this is a story Jesus created about a family of three men, whose relationships with one another are extremely complicated. The younger son is self-indulgent, irresponsible and impulsive. He seems adept at taking advantage of his father’s grace and staying disconnected from his brother. The father is a loving, doting caregiver, with no clear boundaries between himself and his younger son. The older son is dedicated and responsible, yet cool and aloof (to both his brother and his father, it seems). Jesus gives us just this one episode, but it is easy to imagine that if these three men existed as an actual family in history, the patterns evident in this story would play out time and time again.

In fact, many of us identify with this parable precisely because the patterns evident in the relationships between these three are patterns we have observed in our own lives; in our own families. Who hasn’t, at some time, acted like the younger son, or the older son, or the father? Who hasn’t, at some time, been treated by a family member or friend the way these three men treat each other? It is a story familiar enough to be painful to most of us. And if we were asked to continue the story, we could probably mine our own lives for enough material to write for years to come.

Yet this story doesn’t wind on for years to come. It is interrupted. Interrupted by the father’s grace. A grace that grants the younger son’s foolish request. A grace that gazes longingly, across the field, for days, for weeks, for months… perhaps for years. A grace that compels the father to cast all dignity and decorum aside and run full-speed, arms outstretched, across the field to met his son. A grace that welcomes home the Prodigal, no questions asked. Even a grace that reaches out to embrace a coldly unforgiving brother.

Jesus doesn’t finish the story, but he doesn’t need to: his point is clear. Grace makes all the difference in the world. Grace transforms everything. It transforms the son’s desperation. It transforms the father’s grief. The only question remaining is: will it transform the older brother’s heart. Or ours?


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does the father grant the son’s request for the inheritance?
  2. Does the father seem interested to know if the younger son is truly repentant?
  3. What prevents the older son from experiencing his father’s grace?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Which of these three characters do I most often identify with?
  2. When have I received a grace so profound that it touched my heart?
  3. Who do I have the most trouble with, when it comes to offering grace?