The Lost Son
Sermon preached on Mothering Sunday by the Reverend Neil Bramble Chapman
I am sure that we have all lost something in our lives, whether it is the keys to our house, a pair of shoes or a sock in the washing. I am the one to blame for that since I do most of the washing in our house. I recently asked the other members of my family what it was that they lost most often. My daughter said that it was her hair brush, my son said his cars and my wife said her keys. Perhaps you too can think of common things that you have recently misplaced and struggled to find. We often have endless rituals to try to remember where we last placed the lost object. We go back to the room where we last were, or we try to recall what we were doing when we last had the object in our hands.
Even losing something as trivial as a sock can be enormously frustrating. Just imagine what it must be like to lose a child. I remember when I was very small, that I was out shopping and I became separated from my mother. It was probably only for a very short while, but it was alarming and frightening nevertheless. Eventually my mother found me and there tears all round. I know what this feels like now from a parents point of view since a few years ago we were off to a family funeral and had stopped in Colchester to collect my father-in-law. Just as we were about to leave, we could not find Keziah, our daughter. We searched all over the house, in the garden, we went to the little play area along the road and she was nowhere to be seen. After just 15 minutes we were getting frantic when she emerged from behind the long curtains in the lounge with a big smile on her face thinking that it was all a great game. Eventually I could see the funny side of the episode.
On a deeper level, there are times when we lose a friendship. Keziah is often saying that she and her friends at school have fallen out and then the next day they are back being best friends again. Perhaps things are a little different when we grow older, but it can still be a painful experience if our best friend doesn’t talk to us for a long time. Of course the death of a dear friend and loved one is perhaps the most painful experience we can ever know. The pain of loss through bereavement is life shattering. Sometimes in family relationships we can experience a loss which is almost like a death when there is a great family division over the Will or over some other issue. We can all probably think of families where such a terrible situation has arisen and two sides of the family vow never to talk to each other ever again.
This morning’s Gospel comes in the context of the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep and here we find a parable about the Lost Son. It is a tale of family division and dispute, of reckless living and exploitation, of desperation, starvation, jealousy, anger and unbridled joy. Sounds just like Eastenders! The youngest son asks for his share of the inheritance and then goes off and lives life to the full without a thought of the consequences. He travels away from the security of his own family, his own country and religion. All the support networks that he might have known are removed from his life. He is distracted by all the easy living he finds around him. He is distracted by luxuries of wine, women and song. He lives an exciting and expensive life. If we think about our own situation, we may realise that we are easily distracted from the things of God, from trying to live a good Christian life. Sometimes without even realising it we have been distracted. Just think how easily in Church we are distracted from the sermon by a banging door or a cough or when someone comes into a room late.
The lost son of the story is so distracted by his easy living that he doesn’t realise until too late that he has run out of money and is reduced to eating pig food. In doing so he becomes unclean and outside of God’s love and blessing. Eventually out of sheer desperation he travels home seeking a job from his father. Thankfully for the son, the story does not end there for the father, overcome with love welcomes the boy back into the family and places a ring on his finger, a cloak around his shoulders and shoes on his feet. These are all symbols of acceptance, trust and restoration to the family. To top it all the father says that they will have a feast to celebrate his return. Well the elder son cannot take any more of this and is outraged at his father’s actions and tells him so. Perhaps in our lives today we would identify with the elder son and we feel his jealousy.
It is important that we are not distracted here by our own feelings of anger or jealousy, for we must look to the heart of this parable which speaks of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. It tells us that God reaches out and searches for those who are lost and does not let the fact of our sinfulness act as a barrier in our relationship with Him. God seeks us and His deepest desire is that we are restored to the fold. He desires our repentance and that we recognise the folly of our ways, that we need to change and be recreated in the Image of Christ. It is wonderful news that God loves us no matter what we do. Despite our sin, despite being disobedient, despite our foolishness, God continues to love us and seeks to draw us back to Himself.
Theologically, then, we can see this parable in terms of Redemption. God, in His love for His people, redeems those who are lost. He will also continue to redeem us today. We can also see it in terms of God healing broken relationships within families. As we have seen and possibly experienced in our own lives, the breakdown of family life can be extremely painful. But the purpose of God is to restore and heal that which is broken. Of course we have a large part to play in this process of healing, by our loving those who are hurting and broken, by our showing compassion to those in need and by our listening to the stories of the wounded.
Finally then, we are faced then with a challenge to think and reflect about those things which might distract us from our Christian discipleship, those things which might lead us away from God and serving Him. We are also challenged to think about healing and restoring our relationship first of all with God and then also with each other. To reflect upon those aspects of our spiritual lives which we need to put right, so that we might walk ever closer with God. And also to reflect upon our relationships within our families, within our churches and the wider community. Perhaps we need to reach out in love either to those whom we have hurt or those who have hurt us.
Neil Bramble Chapman