This is the sermon I preached today on the Prodigal Son. For the first time I preached away from the pulpit, and made it into a monologue, first person narrative. Some people liked it. I think other folks would have preferred three points and prayer. Anyway, here’s my attempt to put a new twist on a familiar story.
Hi. You don’t know me. Not really. You think you know me, because you have heard my story a hundred times. At least if you grew up going to Sunday school you know part of my story. You don’t know my name. They call me the prodigal son. Whatever that means. Other people call me the lost son. Hmph. I didn’t think I was lost. I knew exactly where I was going – anywhere but my dad’s house. At my dad’s house there were rules. There were expectations. There were responsibilities and none of those things were the rules or responsibilities I wanted. They were put on me. I understand that you all are Americans and like have this idea of an American Dream….? Well where I come from there was no American dream. Guys didn’t go off and leave their family or their community to try to make it on their own. It sounds like that is something that is expected where you all are from, but where I come from, as the son of a farmer, my whole life was planned out for me.
It wasn’t just my dad who made these rules. It was the community. When you live out in the country like I did, everybody was in everybody’s business. We all helped each other out with raising barns, or bringing in crops or when a calf was born. The neighbors looked out for each other. So if you wanted to not be a part of that community, you were letting down a whole community of people. Also, where I come from whose family you are part of is a big deal. I come from what you call a patriarchal society. It’s all about who your dad is. Your last name is really important. If you mess up, you don’t just hurt yourself you hurt your whole family. My Dad was in charge of everything. He was one we were supposed to honor the most, because if we dishonored him we would dishonor our whole family.
That’s the kind of place I grew up. I didn’t like it. I was sick of it. My older brother was so perfect and hardworking, I couldn’t compete with his perfection and I didn’t want to. I wanted to go see the city. I wanted to meet girls. I wanted to have some fun while I was young. The way I saw it, my future on the farm was nothing but obeying my Dad and honoring what he asked of me. There had to be something better. Something more. So one night after working all day, I was done. I told my Dad that I was out of there. If the neighbors heard about this they would have thought my dad could disown me and throw me out. But not my Dad. There was nothing he could say that could convince me to stay. He gave me half of his inheritance. It was pretty sweet. I had a stash of money. I walked out the door. I didn’t even say “goodbye” to my brother – what did he care? Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But I hate him too.
….What did I care? What did I care? I cared plenty. Not that anyone ever asked. Yes, I’m the older brother. I don’t even get title credit in this story. Figures. But, look somebody has to do the work and my younger brother is a complete bum. I understand responsibility. I don’t necessarily like it. I don’t serve my father because I enjoy it. I serve him because that is what I’m supposed to do. It’s my duty. If that makes me good and my brother bad. Fine. But I get up every morning at 5:00 a.m. and work hard because that is my job. I don’t serve my Father out of love, I serve him out of duty. My brother. He has it so easy. My Father just lets him walk all over him. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brother. But I hate him too. He didn’t even have the guts to say goodbye.
….I headed to the big city about 2 days away and woowee did I have fun. I met girls. Cute girls. I met these guys who taught me how to play games and tried to get more money. I spent and spent and spent. Man, it was a good time. I bought things my responsible brother would never have the guts to buy. I tried things that would have put my father to shame. It was awesome. Loved it. Then one day I went to get some money and I was like, “dude, its gone.” I went to find my buds, to see if they could loan me some cash but it turns out they weren’t really my friends at all. Once they found out I was broke, they just walked out. The neighbors where I grew up never would have done that. I had nothing. No money, no friends, no food, nothing. I found a job that was worse than any job I ever had to do at my Dad’s house. My job was to clean manure out of stalls. I was knee deep in “you know what” every day. The farmer that I worked for treated me about as well as the stuff I was cleaning up. I had to sleep in it. I had nothing. I was a mess. It was awful. I was like, “I could work for my dad as one of his servants and have a better life than this.” I didn’t deserve for him to take me back. I blew all his money. I embarrassed him in front of his neighbors. I dishonored him and I abandoned my brother.
…That’s right he did abandon me. That’s my favorite part of the story. Serves him right sleeping in the animal’s waste. I love revenge. I wish he had stayed there. My Father had every right not to let him back in the house. I could smell him coming, before I saw him walking down the road. Actually, when I saw him, I didn’t recognize him. His body was a skeleton of what he once was. His hair was grown out and his clothes were a mess and his shoes were gone. I thought he was some begger…. But then I saw my father run out of the house. My Father, running. My father never ran anywhere. But I saw him run toward this skeleton man, and I thought, no…it can’t be.
…I got about a quarter mile from my Dad’s house and started feeling really nervous. What if he kills me I thought? What if the neighbors kill me for him? If the community saw me before my Dad, and found out what I had done, they would have killed me! What if my brother kills me? He’d definitely kill me! Maybe I should have just died in the pig sty. I came over the hill and saw the front door open and my dad, a little greyer, a little shorter came, running toward me. My Dad. He just started running. Patriarch’s didn’t run to their kids. Kid’s ran to their dad’s. But my Dad ran to me. He came up to me and we looked in each other’s eyes. I had my speech all ready to go, about how I would be a servant for him and do whatever he said, I told him I was sorry and how terrible I felt. My Dad stopped me before I could finish. He took his coat off his back and he put it on my filthy shoulders and he took his sandals off his feet and put them on my mangy feet and he took his ring off his finger and put it on my grimy hands and he put his arm around me walked me back to the house. All the neighbors and servants were watching. He shouted to his servants to kill the fatted calf—not a goat or a lamb or a dozen chickens, but a calf. My Dad was planning a party. I didn’t understand. I didn’t deserve it. How could my father love me and be so happy to see me when I had done nothing but hurt him? The only thing I had done that was of any consequence was come home.
…. I didn’t understand. He didn’t deserve it. He was going to kill the calf! A calf, I could have totally used for a party after bringing in the harvest. Instead my Father has a party for a bum. I work hard for my Father. My work should be rewarded. Afterall, isn’t that why I do the work, so that my father will love me? I was so mad, I decided to dishonor my Father as well. That would show him. I refused to come into the party. I knew that was a huge snub on my Father, but he deserved it. I refused to come home. But, you know what happened? My Father came to me. He went out of the house, left his guests, left his pride and came to me and asked me what was wrong. You know what I thought when he did that? I thought, “My Father will do anything he has to do to have relationship with me. He will even let me be angry with him. He will even come to me even when I am sulking and really don’t want anything to do with him. He will still go looking for me.” So my Father came out of the house and I just let him have it. I said, “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.”
My father then looked at me deep in the eyes, and for the first time I really looked at him. He was quiet for a while. He looked so tired and sad. He said, “Son, everything I have ever had is yours.” I realized he was worn out by watching both of his children be wasteful of his love. Yeah, I was wasteful too. I worked for him out of duty, not of love. I took advantage of everything he freely gave me. I wanted to be right and blameless, by making my brother wrong and sinful. My work was not out of love, it was out of greed and pride and I had betrayed him too. My Father stayed outside with me. Even though there was a party going on in his house. He waited with me. Stayed with me. Loved me. Even though I didn’t deserve it. Eventually I realized that the only thing I could of consequence was come home.
At last we two brothers stood in our Father’s house with all of our neighbors watching. Face to face, we two brothers. There were no words. We looked into each other’s eyes and we saw each other as if for the first time. Tears of confession and forgiveness streamed down our face. There was nothing to say. It was time to celebrate. We were home.