Sermonizing on Sunday

It's Sunday and St. Patrick's Day. I hope you're having a lovely, green day.  I think I'll share today's sermon.  I really like today's parable because it has so many meanings and connections to life today.  It's the story of the Prodigal Son. For today's sermon, I focused on the old brother of the prodigal son.  

Gospel background {I shared this part before the reading the abbreviated gospel}: Today's gospel is a parable. It's a story Jesus told to get people thinking. It's the story of a father and two sons. It's often known as the story of the Prodigal Son. Today, we’re focusing mostly on the older brother. So what happened in the parable?  Well, the younger brother basically disowned his family.  He took his inheritance early and left everything. He did some wild living and spent it all. Desperate, he ended up working and living with the pigs.  For a Jewish person, this would be the dirtiest job of all.  He lost EVERYTHING.  Then, he comes home, hoping his dad will forgive him and at least let him be one of his servants. Then comes the really shocking part.  When the dad sees him coming, he is OVERJOYED!  The dad says, “YES!  Of course I welcome you back!  Here’s a ring. Here’s a robe. We’re having a giant party! We will even kill the most special cow and eat it!”

All of this was very exciting for the younger brother. But you can probably predict the older brother’s response.  And that's where our gospel for today picks up.....

Luke 15:25-32: ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 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. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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.” 



For a portion of junior high and high school, I was the stat keeper for the Dunkerton Raider Softball Team. I imagine some of you have done some stat-keeping, too. I wasn’t particularly great at it. I found it especially challenging to mark down mistakes, which made for some pretty inaccurate stats. All the stats were important: strikes, hits, walks, missed plays, fouls. All teams have statisticians – and that’s because, in general, we find stats helpful and important in sports.

They help to guide decisions about who will play and who needs more practice. Stats also help players know what to work on.

In daily life, without even realizing it, we often fall into a pattern of being a different kind of statistician. A statistician of morals. We tend to keep track of our own behaviors and the behaviors of others.  Morality stats.

We don’t walk around with a LITERAL stat-book but we do hold a lot of it in our minds. We tend to keep track of our own stats as well as those of our family members – our friends – and everyone else in the world the. We don’t necessarily mean to – but before we now it, we’ve got a running tally going of everyone's good and bad behaviors.

In our parable for today – everybody would have known the the younger brother’s moral stats. He would have been the talk of the town.  Left home early. Greedy.  Can you imagine the rumors? "Did you hear he took his part of the inheritance and left his older brother with the workload????"  Everyone knew he got out of control with his lifestyle and then came crawling back for forgiveness.

If anyone knew the younger brothers stats – it was the older brother who had been left to deal with the pieces!

But what’s going on with this dad?!?! As we learn about his response to his son’s return, it’s almost like he forgot the stat book. What about the fact that his son took the money and left? So when he returns, why on earth is the dad so happy?!?!   He even kills a special animal. It’s almost like everybody wins. What about all the bad stuff the son had done?

The father’s response is surprising. It can also be challenging for our modern-day ears. It’s hard to understand where this father is coming from letting him off so easy. It’s not that hard to understand the older brother’s point of view.

So now we have to pause and explore – this is a parable that Jesus told to get people thinking. There are 3 kinds of parables. #1: Example. #2: Riddle. #3: Challenge. Today’s parable: CHALLENGE all the way. It’s meant to leave us challenged. And I think we can assume that Jesus’ original audience must have felt REALLY challenged, too.

To help us understand the parable, we have to remember who Jesus was talking to and the message he was trying to convey. Why would Jesus tell a story like this one?

Jesus spent his time with all kinds of people. He spent plenty of time with the rule-abiding older brother types. These were the folks who were scandalized every time Jesus spent time with "sinners."  And, Jesus did send plenty of time with the wild-card younger brother, rule-breaking types. And – he loved them all. Like the father in the parable who loved BOTH of his sons – God, too, loves us all. Whether were jealous and angry and confused. Or pleading for forgiveness. God loves us.  Jesus really wanted to help people understand this important truth.

What does this parable mean for us today? It means all kinds of things! A parable is like a piece of gum that never loses it’s flavor! We can chew on this parable forever, and it will always reveal something new.

One central point: This parable reminds us that God has the stat-keeping under control. And we, God’s children, can let go of that. We don’t to keep a never-ending tally of our own mistakes. And we don’t have to keep a tally of other people’s either.

It's also good to note: the Father in the parable never tells his younger son that his earlier behaviors were okay. He just sees a bigger picture. He knows that in that moment – when his son returns – nothing matters more than expressing his grace and forgiveness.

Same for his older son. The Father knows that in that moment it really isn’t about the stat book. It isn’t about who was the better son.  It isn't about who is better at following the rules.  It isn't about who deserves the bigger party.  They are BOTH his beloved sons. And what really matters is restoration. The restoration of a family. The healing of relationships. Hope for the future.

In our own lives, when we can let go of the morality stat book – we’ve got a lot more heart space. And a lot more head space to rejoice and celebrate. That’s the dad’s guidance! The dad says, "We have to celebrate and rejoice!  Your brother is back!" Is it really that easy in our daily lives? No, of course not. There are many layers to every story.  Sometimes it takes healing.  Sometimes it takes time.

But it’s sure something to think about. Maybe sometimes it is that easy. In our gospel text, Jesus ends the story before we find out what the older brother decides.  I invite you to ponder that.  What happens next?  What did the older brother decide to do? Did he go in and greet his little brother?  Did he stay outside, unable to let go and move forward?

Jesus shared these parables for a reason. He knew we’d have something to chew on for thousands of years. The father shows forgiveness and grace to BOTH of his sons. God shows forgiveness and grace to us.

 If we’re going to keep track of anything – it may as well be all the times EVERY SINGLE DAY when God shows us grace and love. Those are the kinds of stats worth noting.  Those are the kinds of stats that have the power to change the world and to change our hearts.  Forgiveness. Grace. Love. Acceptance.  For everyone.  Forever. Amen.


  1. "This parable reminds us that God has the stat-keeping under control. And we, God’s children, can let go of that. We don’t to keep a never-ending tally of our own mistakes. And we don’t have to keep a tally of other people’s either."


    This is something I need to always remind myself of and you put it perfectly.