The Parable of the Prodigal and His BrotherLuke 15:11-24 (NRSV)
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 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. 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. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 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. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 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! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 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. 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.’ 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. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
STORYTIME: How Do You Hug a Porcupine? by Laurie Isoc
Since the beginning of September, we have been following a sermon series that reminds us of who we are as a church. And over the weeks, we have discussed that fact that “In This House: We give grace, We tell the truth, We make mistakes, We say I’m sorry, We have fun, and today’s theme is, “In this house: We give hugs!”
I know, it might not be a message that you expect to hear in church, but the truth is that a simple hug can say more than any words ever can. A hug can say, “It’s okay,” “You’re safe.” Or a hug can say, “I’m sorry.” A hug can say, “Hello” or “Goodbye” or “You matter to me.”
I remember several years ago I heard from a parent of one of my son’s friends. She had lost her dad just a few weeks earlier, and my son, along with several of his other friends, had attended the calling hours. The woman told me that person after person came into the funeral home and shook and hand, put their hand on her shoulder, and told her that they were so sorry for her loss. But, she said, when my son Leo came through the line, he said nothing—he just reached out and gave her a hug. With a tear in her eye, she told me that that hug said more, and was more comforting, than any words ever could.
In our scripture reading today, we hear the story of the prodigal son. It’s the story of two brothers who make very different choices in life. After being given their father’s inheritance, one goes off and squanders all of his father’s money, making poor choices and immature decisions, while the other brother stays close to home, working hard to help his father on the farm.
Now friends, it is easy to judge and to point fingers at the poor choices of others. It’s easy for us to join the older brother in looking down at the younger son. It’s human nature to focus on the shortcomings of others and the choices and actions that are not the best. But when the younger son returns from his escapade and his poor choices, what does his father do? Does he stand in the doorway and read him the riot act, telling him how disappointed he is and what a horrible person his son is? Does he question him on why he did what he did or what he was thinking?
No! The father simply reaches out with open arms to hug his son. Then he calls to his servants saying, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
I wonder, would you react the same way if your child, or sibling, or friends, arrived at your door after having made a mess of everything? Would you greet them with a hug and a celebration, or would you slam the door after sharing a few choice words?
The parables and stories that Jesus shares—like today’s story of “the prodigal son”—are told to help us understand what the kingdom of God is like. And the hug that the father offered his son, after his son had really messed things up, was an example of the unconditional love that God shares with all of us.
God knows that we aren’t perfect, because we aren’t made to be. We are human beings, full of flaws and shortcomings. We try our best, and we all make mistakes sometimes. But the good news is that no matter how many mistakes we make, God is patiently waiting with a hug to say, “It’s okay. Try again, and don’t ever forget that I love you just the way you are and there is nothing that you can do about it!”
Folks, just a few minutes ago we baptized little Callan and Dane, and we welcomed them in the family of God. Does the fat that they’re now baptized Christians mean that they will never make mistakes? No. Does it mean that they will always be polite and never fight with their siblings? No. But what it does mean is that, as members of God’s family, no matter what they say and do, and no matter what decisions they make, God will always hold them in the palm of His hand. And if they lose their way and stray from God, God will patiently wait for them, offering them a warm and welcoming hug and an unconditional love that they can never earn or deserve. Because the love that God gives to all of us is not tied to our actions. It’s not about how good we are, or how happy we make the people around us. It’s about God, and God’s unconditional love and grace for all of God’s children.
So friends, I wonder, if God loves us to that extent, what do you think we are called to do? Yes! We are called to love others the same way! And that is why this week’s theme is In This House: We Give Hugs. Because sometimes, we just need a reminder that we are loved. Sometimes we have a tough week, and we just need to know that it’s going to be okay, or that someone else cares, or that we matter. Friends, a hug is something so simple. You don’t need to have the right words to say, or know the right answers. You don’t have to agree on things, or even see eye to eye with one another. A hug is an unconditional way of sharing God’s love with others.
But how do you hug someone that you don’t like, or someone that bothers you? How do you hug someone that you think makes really poor choices in their life or someone that is just plain “prickly?” Well, I think we learned that in our story book this morning. As the book told us, you can even hug a porcupine if you do it carefully. All you have to do is offer a true sense of care, compassion, and love. Friends, as Christians, our greatest call in life is to love.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, know that you are loved just the way you are, and then go out and share that love with others—especially the prickly ones!—because sometimes they are the ones that need it the most. And folks, that’s why In This House: We Give Hugs!
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!