Sermon ~ Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The parable of the Prodigal Son that we heard read in today’s Gospel is a story of a young man who wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. Not unlike what we face in society today. For some people today the concept of what is right and what is wrong is a movable feast or it is only what they believe what is right and what is wrong. This is not new but we have seen this come up more and more in the last few years. No one wants anyone to tell them what to do and I am afraid that same sense has infected the church.
For the last few weeks religious leaders in our country have been locked in a battle with White House over an issue of religious freedom. Oh some in the media and the White House itself want you to believe this is about contraception, and to some extent it is, but this is not a contraception issue it is a religious freedom issue and more and more restrictions are being placed on what we can say and what we can do and unfortunately we have sat back and watched it happen. Someone reminded me recently that freedom of religion was so important to the writers of our Constitution that it was placed first in the list of freedoms in the 1st Amendment. It is first before freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. Our country was founded on the very notion that all people should be able to worship their God the way they see fit without any government intrusion. Sadly this White House has chosen to take the rights of us away with the stroke of a pen.
The Roman Catholic bishops in the United States have been up in arms about this and last week I included a statement from our Orthodox bishops Assembly regarding this issue. This is a very serious issue and it is time that all of woke up and start to pay attention to what is going on before it is too late.
Unlike some, make it up as you go along feel good churches out there, we do not decided matters of theology based on what is popular. We decide matters of faith, and that includes morality, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed to us through the 2,000 year history of the church. Oh sure we could say that everything is okay, life is great, God loves you, there is no sin there is no hell, and we could pack the place out like so many of those mega churches we see on TV. But that would do a disservice to all of the martyrs who stood up to this kind of thinking and gave their life to preserve the church.
I was listening to a discussion the other day regarding something that happened on the campus of the University of Rhode Island. A student group led a silent protest on Martin Luther King Day and some of the more liberal minsters on campus got upset because they were offending people and Dr. King never did that! Well if that’s not revisionist history I don’t know what is. Dr. King offended people, he offended do many people he forced a nation to change its long held stance that the black man was less than the white man. He led a revolution that literally changed the complexion of this nation. That got me thinking of others. Gandhi offended people and in the process won freedom for the nation of India. He offended people with their own words and actions. He offended people by being a humble, peaceful person who set a nation of people on the road to freedom. And then I came to Jesus!
Jesus was offensive, and still is offensive to people in the world today. Jesus told it like it is, but he did it with love. When Jesus met the Samaritan Woman at the well he did not tell her, oh it’s okay you have been married 5 times we want you to feel good about yourself. No, he told her straight out that she was sinning and needed to get her life right! He told the religious leaders of the time that they were wrong and they were defrauding the people. He flipped the tables of the money changers over in the Temple because they were ripping people off. Jesus was not all about I’m okay you’re okay, no he was all about sin and getting your life right with God before it’s too late!
It’s not the job of the Church, any church, to be politically correct, the job of the Church is to teach and guide her people to a life that is pleasing to God and that life has certain responsibilities and it is not an easy life. It is our job to be offensive to people, it is my job to offend you, offend you to change. I would not be doing my job, living up to my calling as a priest, if I stood here each week and told you what you wanted to hear. I would be letting you down and just maybe putting your very salvation at risk. This is serious business we are about here.
In today’s Gospel the Father is God, the inheritance is heaven, and the son that leaves is us. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, to do what he wanted to do with it, and not listen to anyone. We see how that worked out for him. He ended up eating with the pigs! Close your eyes for a moment and picture yourself in a pig pen, eating what the pigs will not eat! He came to the realization that he was wrong, he sinned, and he needed to get his life back on track and was willing to return to his father’s house and take up the lowest position. His life was filled with sexual immorality and debauchery and he had had enough and needed to return to his father’s house.
In the Epistle reading today we here, very clearly the words of Satin Paul when he says, “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” And I will add, he never does it alone, there is always someone else involved. So not only does he who commits the sin, sin but he leads another to sin as well. St. Paul tells us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and immorality brings shame to that temple!
The man in the story realized he needed to make a change in his life. He had to turn away from the I will do what I want when I want lifestyle and he returned to his father’s house where we can assume there was structure, the structure he so desperately needed.
Life in the Church is not easy. Life in the Church goes against everything that the world wants us to be. Life in the Church has a certain moral code that does not change because a majority of her members wants it that way. The faith we have the faith that people have given their lives for, has come to us from the Apostles who received it from Jesus Christ! It’s a hard faith and a hard way of life.
The prodigal son came to the realization that his life was not working, that it was going in the wrong direction. The Prodigal in the story is us, humanity, we have been given the inheritance of the Father and we squandered it with sin. But the door is not closed. We need to pick our heads up from the pig trough of sin and return to that which the Father has given us. We need to run, not walk, back to the loving embrace of the Father who waits, patiently, with a robe of gold and a ring for our fingers. He waits with the fatted calf ready to celebrate our return. The first step is ours; the first step belongs to us and only us. Church we need to wake up and realize what is at stake here. Our very lives depend on it.
I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father; And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You had given me. Therefore, I cry to You like the Prodigal: “I have sinned before You, O compassionate Father; Receive me a penitent and make me as one of Your hired servants.”
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