February 8, 2018

My weekend sermon / The Prodigal’s Father

by Rod Smith

A sermon based on the parable of the lost son: The Father’s Heart

Luke 15: 11-32 / Lewisville Presbyterian Church

Rod Smith / 02-11-2018

ProdigalFather

I purchased this painting from a street artist in Gorky Park, Moscow  in 1992. The subject immediately brought the prodigal’s father to mind.

Luke 15

Now the tax collectors and sinners (rejected people, “other”) were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees (schooled, religious) and the teachers of the law (leaders, elite) muttered (expressed dissatisfaction, complaining), “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (He does things that are against our religious laws and ways and things we would never do).

Then Jesus told them (he addresses them – they are important to him) this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents (renewal, turns around) than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two (this is a natural triangle – rivalry perhaps comes with the territory – it certainly has in my family) sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ (usually a disbursement reserved for after the father’s death – so the request itself is hurtful – this sounds like something many younger sons I know would do). So he divided his property between them. (I am sure this might have been a painful thing for the father to do. Notice that Jesus gives no inkling as to what it is that motivated the younger man to do the things he does).

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant (perhaps he desires to be unknown) country and there squandered (wasted) his wealth in wild living. (Sounds like he had a plan when he asked for his share of the wealth). After he had spent everything (probably a considerable sum since the father is portrayed as wealthy – he has a large operation with hired hands), there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. (We do know the young man understands the need to work). He longed (suggests cravings) to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (I think Jesus is using a little shock value here to show just how desperate the young man had become. He is apparently friendless – perhaps when he still had money he was not. I have noticed Jesus has a way of rubbing it in – and with a handsome touch of perhaps playful and dramatic humor).

“When he came to his senses (implies he was not sensible to this point, when he got his sanity back), he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare (my father’s servants are better off than I am), and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father (treasured words of repentance) and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son (he is correct); make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. (An act that requires humility – loss of face – and effort.)

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him (notice the father sees him, it doesn’t say he sees his father – the father was looking out for him) and was filled with compassion (no anger, no recrimination, no lessons) for him; he ran (eager, undignified) to his son, threw his arms around (lets any other people who are nearby see his welcome and hi gladness) him and kissed him (the signs of a father who is overjoyed).

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (He acknowledges his sin, he’s correct about having lost his place in the family).

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe (restore) and put it on him. Put a ring (restore his status) on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. (The father orders a party) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. (The father does not have the same view of the son and what he deserves – his response is extravagant, over-the-top, and is in response to the son’s coming home, not in response to his waste or his prior senseless and uncaring actions).

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ (We see his immediate jealousy – even understandable jealousy.)

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded (sad that he had to do this) with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (the older son is correct – but “correct” does not accommodate extravagant love – at least in this case. Extravagant love seldom makes sense. We see the distinction between a place of entitlement and a place of undeserved grace.)

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

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Parable: Story, some long, some very short, to illustrate a larger or deeper truth, often humorous, often wild or outlandish. Once heard or read they seldom leave the searching reader alone. Parables niggle; present a counter view of a prevailing axiom; a good parable can be a bump in the brain of the thinking listener or reader. The upside is that parables are usually universally accessible. The downside, if there is any, is the church-reared has usually heard all the parables at some time or another and can therefore easily believe a particular parable to be fully milked. Jesus used parables as did and do many effective teachers.   

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As you read and read and read the chapter over and over again (the underlining and the parenthesis are mine) kindly note several themes that emerge from the three parables: losing, finding, celebrating the restoration, in community. All three suggest rejoicing when what was lost is found. The man risks in order to find one of a hundred sheep (1/100) and rejoices and wants others to rejoice with him when he does. The woman employs great effort to find her one lost coin (1/10). When she does find it she rejoices and hopes others will rejoice with her. The father rejoices when his lost son returns and wants his family and the community to do with him (1 of 2). Each parable has something lost and something found and a reason for celebration. A wandering sheep and a lost coin suggests no act of will or deliberate action on the part of the sheep or the coin. The younger son is deliberate. His actions are an expression of deliberate rebellion. I will remind you that Jesus is addressing sinners (tax collectors, rejected, uneducated people) and the educated (Pharisees and teachers of the law) are watching and listening and muttering (expressing contempt) that he “welcomes sinners.”     

In the Biblical parable of the prodigal, the son who returns after squandering his inheritance, the father runs to meet the now-humbled penniless son and celebrates his return. A massive party ensues. He who was unreachable and in a distant land (no Facebook; no SnapChat) discovered the harsh truths of the consequences of diminishing and then vanishing resources. His desperation sends him home as one willing to be his father’s hired hand. The parable, the subject of a million sermons and interpreted by the greatest of artists over thousands of years, is about the father’s love. He is generous. He is patient. He is forgiving. He’s spent, we can safely presume, years watching for the son’s return, and when it finally happens, the father is overwhelmed with joy and there’s no a trace of recrimination expressed in his vulnerable, exuberant welcome. Of course the dad could be hurt again. He could use the return as a “teaching moment” but he doesn’t.

The Characters

FATHER: He never regards the son as anything other than a son even though the son has “bought” himself out, moved away, harmed himself, soiled his reputation, and squandered unearned wealth. His deliberate destructive decisions and the actions they birthed have succeeded in depleting his resources. They have have succeeded in knocking him from atop his high and entitled horse. They have succeeded in humbling his now-hungry self.

His actions have not succeeded in destroying or diminishing his father’s love. His father’s love for him is not about the younger son or his behavior. It’s about the father. The Father regards the son as a son and loves him as a son no matter what behavior the younger man has demonstrated. The father’s love is not in response to who the son is or what the son is. The father’s love emanates from who and what the father is. The father doesn’t buy into the son’s line that he no longer deserves to be part of the family. Once a son, always a son – is the father’s truth as revealed by his behavior.  

OLDER SON: He has no joy at his brother’s return. It is as if the return is a significant inconvenience, another expense, another drain on the estate. I can hear him asking, “Has he not cost us enough already? Are there no consequences for his behavior?”  The older brother is focussed on what he’s done (years of faithful hard work) and not who he himself is and what he himself has. He is filled with his own sense of righteousness. As correct as he may be, being right, being faithful, has not succeeded in transforming him into being a loving person, at least toward his brother. My observations and my experience tells me that love becomes generic. We specifically, perhaps naturally, love members of our family but the love we experience overflows into our lives and permeates all of our relationships and shifts everything about us and the way others experience us. Godly love is transformative. It transforms the source and the recipient. I suspect the older son’s attitude to his younger brother is something the father has tasted before today and about matters unrelated to his younger brother.   

YOUNGER SON: He is entitled to his share of the estate after the father’s death but wanting it sooner reveals something about him – perhaps he is precocious, has what we may call wanderlust, perhaps the wealth and the homestead are overwhelming for him. In many formerly British countries and in the UK it is quite common for a young high school graduate to take a “gap year” or a “walkabout” year – to embark on a lone adventure overseas. I know the feeling! Perhaps this is what he wanted.

It’s in being away that he becomes the prodigal (lavish spending, wasteful, extravagant) and is spending and carousing on resources he himself has not earned. In describing the younger son’s behavior Jesus is showing that he is unafraid to talk about such topics.

When he is at his most desperate place his eyes and his heart turn toward his father and his home. This tells us something (actually, a lot) about the father. We know at least that when he left the door was not sealed closed behind him.

Hunger drives him to humility and both make it possible for him to want to go home where at least he knows he will be fed and where at least he knows he will survive. There is no indication in the parable that he thinks he will be fully restored to his place in the family and be celebrated.     

Challenge

I don’t know what went on in his heart (and it is a parable) but I do know what it is like to receive my father’s love after years of distance and rebellion. Dads everywhere – please reach out to your sons and daughters today – young child adult, local or distant, and express the love for your sons and daughters that is burning beautifully in your heart.

What goes on in your parent heart?

I know what goes on in mine, I think. Mine’s like the furnace in middle of winter.

The furnace never turns off. My parent heart (or head) is working, thinking, planning, hoping, watching. There are times it’s distracted, but it’s never off duty. There are times it’s filled with anxiety and it can feel like it’s tumbling out of control. There are times love doesn’t always feel like love and feel like something quite different. It can feel like rising anger or a lightning jolt of protection. I see it expressed as I unwittingly scan the surroundings for dangers and potential dangers. I experience my heart as hoping beyond hope and wanting the seemingly impossible for my sons. I experience it as sometimes ignoring my own needs and placing all things on hold until I know what the boys may need. My heart (or my head) is constantly shifting through priorities, trying to identify what is crucial from what is necessary to what is mere waste. Sometimes, really only occasionally, it feels broken by a lapse in a son’s integrity or a harsh word or a moment of son-to-son betrayal – but it is thankfully, quick to recover.

I have come to see that a parent’s love has many seasons, a variety of intensities, and, while it seeks nothing or very little in return, when return-love and gratitude is expressed, even in the smallest and quietest of ways, the reward is wave-like, even overwhelming.  

Tell me what yours is like – please.

Application

May we all welcome all sinners and see the inner-sinner within us each. I find that I am both sons and I am the father – are you all three, too? I can be even more extreme than each son and fall short of the father but there are reflections of all three within me.

May the prodigal in each of us find the father’s welcome.

May the parent in all of us know how to welcome and celebrate all of our children (adult and youth and those who have left and those who are wasteful and those who are not).

May we have the hungry son’s repentant humility and none of the earlier haughtiness.

May we have none of the self-righteousness and harshness of the older brother.

May we learn the joy and the value of writing about our love on paper and then place it in the mail with a stamp and send it to out to the people we love, for their sakes and for ours.

I close with this quotation from one of my favorite South African novels, Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  

The Reverend Theophilus Mismanage says, But there is one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.
Benediction – from Colossians, chapter 1:

15-20 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Now, go out into the world, and may the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the passion and the power of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and forever more.

Amen  

 

February 6, 2018

Love and freedom and what it is not….

by Rod Smith

Love leads to listening, freedom, warmth, care, and mutual support. It’s sharing dreams; it’s facing challenges together. It’s pooling resources for mutual benefit. It’s providing a safe place for each other and for any children with whom you share your life.

Love is not love when:

  • Coercion is threatened or used
  • There are attempts to seclude or cut off from family and friends
  • Betrayal is threatened or used
  • Love is used to trap, manipulate, or possess
  • Confinement is threatened or used – car keys hidden, doors locked, plans cancelled without consultation or knowledge
  • Privacy is denied (rooms, cupboards, purses, phone, computer, email, conversations)
  • Traps are set to test fidelity
  • Stalking, watching, tracking of any manner is threatened or used
  • Attempt at important talk repeatedly escalate to shouting matches
  • Violence of any kind (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological) of any degree of severity is used
  • Warmth, kindness expressed to others (old friends, family, former colleagues) is given as the reason for jealousy and conflict
  • When the use of alcohol or legal or illegal substances deplete mutual resources and lead to aberrant behavior or conflict

 

February 4, 2018

Let’s get breakfast sometime….

by Rod Smith

I wish we knew each other and could sit together in a coffee shop or a Wimpy and chat over breakfast and hear about each other’s lives. If we could, I’d assume – knowing I could be wrong – some things about you, that are true for me, and it would make it very comfortable for us to talk:

  • You want to do better in your relationships – especially with the people who are really close to you. You want to love better, listen better, and you want to learn what it means to really get behind and support the people you love and all whom you know. We could talk about this. It’d probably be good for both of us.
  • There are times that things from your past, or even your early childhood, “visit” you. They surface in your mind, even lunge at you in your dreams, and you wonder how and where and why it is all stored within. It happens to me. I like to explore these memories. Maybe you’d like to as well.
  • You wished you could, or regret that you were not, more comfortable about loving and enjoying your parents. You so want or wanted them to happy and fulfilled but it was not easy for you to express this desire and now you face the occasional regret.
February 2, 2018

Fearless Journey

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Monday

Embarking on the Fearless Journey

The power of repair, of change comes, not because you buy a new car, get a new job, or ditch your wife for a new one. It begins nowhere else but in the deepest recesses of your soul.

For the journey you (“we” – I am on it too) will require a steel will, pencil and paper, humility, and an open heart.

Then…

1. Face yourself. It’s impossible to be genuine with others while you are fooling yourself. Tell yourself the truth about yourself. Unwind, dismantle, your self-lies and pretensions and sophistications. Despite your fears, you will probably not fall apart. My hunch is you’ll “fall together” and become a more beautiful than you can imagine.

2. Open up. Be more vulnerable. Let others, but not all others, in. Tell people who love you what terrifies you. Expose your masks, the facades you fear losing. Tell them about what you fear will be exposed. But, take your time. The cover-up has taken a lifetime. It won’t be repaired overnight, or without pain.

3. Set yourself on a “highest good” track: for yourself first, for others, second. Do no harm and try to avoid people and organizations that do. Promote the empowering and the wellbeing of others. This is most tangibly done through acts of generosity, service, and forgiveness.

(If you “like” it, please “share” – thanks.)

February 2, 2018

The Parent Heart

by Rod Smith

What goes on in your parent heart? I know what goes on in mine, I think.

Mine’s like the furnace – something not usually found in South African houses – in middle of winter. The furnace never turns off. My parent heart (or head) is working, thinking, planning, hoping, watching.

There are times it’s distracted, but it’s never off duty. There are times it’s filled with anxiety and it can feel like it’s tumbling out of control.

There are times love doesn’t always feel like love and feel like something quite different. It can feel like rising anger or a lightning jolt of protection. I see it expressed as I unwittingly scan the surroundings for dangers and potential dangers.

I experience my heart as hoping beyond hope and wanting the seemingly impossible for my sons. I experience it as sometimes ignoring my own needs and placing all things on hold until I know what the boys may need.

My heart (or my head) is constantly shifting through priorities, trying to identify what is crucial from what is necessary to what is mere waste. Sometimes, really only occasionally, it feels broken by a lapse in a son’s integrity or a harsh word or a moment of son-to-son betrayal – but it is thankfully, quick to recover.

Tell me what yours is like – please.

“But there is one thing that has power completely, and that is love. Because when a man loves, he seeks no power, and therefore he has power.” – Rev. Theophilus Msimangu, Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

January 31, 2018

A note to dads….

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Thursday

In the biblical parable of the prodigal who returns after squandering his inheritance the father runs to meet the now-humbled son and celebrates his return. A massive party ensues. He who was unreachable and in a distant land (no Facebook, no Snap Chat) discovered the harsh truths of diminishing then vanishing resources and his desperation sends him home as one willing to be his father’s hired hand.

The parable, the subject of a million sermons and interpreted by the greatest of artists over thousands of years, is about the father’s love.

He is generous. He is patient. He is forgiving.

He’s spent, we can safely presume, years watching for the son’s return, and when it happens, he is overwhelmed with joy with no a trace of recrimination expressed in his vulnerable, exuberant welcome.

Of course the dad could be hurt again. He could use the return as a “teaching moment” but he doesn’t. He loves with abandon.

I don’t know what went on in his heart (and it is a parable) but I do know what it is like to receive my father’s love after years of distance and rebellion.

Dads everywhere – please reach out to your sons and daughters today – young child, adult, local or distant, and express the love for your sons and daughters that is burning beautifully in your heart.

January 27, 2018

Lies to girls

by Rod Smith

Lies girls are fed and often appear to believe:

  • Your body is more important than your brain therefore focus on your body, not your brain. Your body will get you further than your brain. Your body is bait. Use it well for a fine catch (riches, status – things you can’t get alone). Other people are more important than you. You are on Earth to serve, particularly all males.
  • Once a husband finds you, your greatest calling is to be a mother. If you have other ambitions you will compromise your mothering. Your only worthwhile ideas pertain to cooking, cleaning, and childcare; leave thinking about sciences, technology, and mathematics to males.
  • Once you are in love you will give up yourself for your husband and your children. This is what love is. You are a half. When you meet a man and marry you will become whole. If you suffer in silence and allow others to use you God will reward you.

Having addressed female audiences in the USA, Southern Africa, and in three Asian countries, I perceive these covert and overt messages to girls remain consistent. Perhaps saddest is that when girls find faith, they often expect God to be the ultimate male, issuing similar messages, demands, and expectations.

January 26, 2018

Message for my sons…..

by Rod Smith

Written rather rapidly but written by request….

Five things to say to my children… (well, according to age, of course)….

1. I like to think that nothing you do or don’t do will ever diminish my love for you – but – given that I am human, tainted, and “fallen,” it’s not impossible. This cuts both ways. While I hope you will always love me, I understand that our mutual imperfections may get in the way. Nonetheless: I love you. I will seek your highest good as much as I am able. When my love for you is challenged, I will try to always give you the benefit of the doubt.

2. We are separate people. You are responsible for you. I am responsible for me. I try to give you the most advantageous position as far as I am able, and according to our (limited) resources, but ultimately making your life successful is your responsibility. I will support you. I will encourage you, but essentially who you are and what you become is firmly in your hands and will live and grow within your unique dance with God, your community, your skills, talents, dreams, and desires.

3. I will never measure your success by wealth or possessions or fame or any one of measures commonly associated with success. For me it will always be measured in the manner in which you treat people, all people, people who are weaker, stronger, richer, poorer, people who are different from you, people who love you and those who don’t. If you hobnob kings but you cannot treat those who serve you as if they themselves were royalty, I’ll see you as having a lot of growing to do. This, too, by the way, cuts both ways.

4. Life has an odd and gracious ways of giving us (you and me) second, third, fifth, even sixth chances. Take them. Screwing up here and there is expected and human – but at least have the wisdom, unlike me, to learn from your mistakes. I’ve learned from a lot of mine (apparently not all) but my deepest regrets are attached to the fact that it usually took me such a very long time to do so. Do better than I have done at this – please.

5. While it is convenient, resist making decisions about what kind of Person Jesus is and what kind of Being God is from what you see in the church. It’s a travesty, really, that God and Jesus and the Beautiful Holy Spirit have been reduced to the Sunday Hymn sandwich or the antics of a “modern” worship leader prancing with a guitar, or a cool pastor who has mastered the pulpit and PowerPoint. None of that, none of the best of all of that, ever comes close, even nears (and I don’t care where you are told it is all happening) the Creative and the Dangerous and the Enthusiastic Nature of the All Powerful God and the Humble and Edgy, Inclusive Person of Jesus and their Playful and Powerful and Unsettling Representative in the form of the Holy Spirit. Together, and separately, They are ALL nicer and more and more and more than I have ever known any church anywhere to be able and brave enough to portray. This said, find a community (church or not) – serve it, be a part of it, and play your part. You’ll never become fully who you are unless you are committed to a group of people whom you can love and will love you in return.

January 25, 2018

Victims abound…..

by Rod Smith

The Mercury / Tuesday – re-run, by request of hard-copy readers / Victims Abound

There are victims everywhere – and, here’s the kicker, there may be one within you, or me.

Resist him. Don’t placate her. He’s out to get you. She’ll persist until she gets her way.

Unless he or she is willing to grow, any expectation to grow up, become stronger, to cast aside the victim mode, will be resisted.

Don’t give in, don’t placate, or soften your serve – be kind but treat people as strong and capable.

Perversely there are rewards for being a victim.

Easily offended, rapidly bruised, ever on the lookout for any who may infringe their fragile sense of self, be it for race, gender, sexual orientation, language, or size, victims crave attention, demand coddling and expect social waivers.

The backlash, if you expect someone who trades upon his or her victim status to grow up, is inevitable.

It’ll be tooth and nail. You’ll be called names – the nicest of which may be uncaring or unloving.

But you will potentially spark the best in people.

You will foster growth and see the victim emerge from his or her victim-hood and contribute to your community in helpful, creative ways, rather than suck the life out of everything as victims are often prone to do – even if he or she is living within you, or me.

January 24, 2018

A little insight into life here in Indy….. in our part of the woods:

by Rod Smith
  • A neighborhood team schedules major parties every year. This means your neighbors and their children become people you know and love and they know and love you and your children in return.
  • Sometimes it’s so cold and icy that the city asks you to all stay home. A 5am text from the school system can tell you that school is cancelled for thousands of students. After the winter there are hundreds of huge potholes in the streets.
  • I inadvertently (of course) left my laptop at the coffee shop and three hours later it was sitting exactly where I’d left it. I also left it, on another occasion, on the top of my car (in its zipper bag) and it sat there for at least two hours in a public parking spot with scores of people passing by. It remained untouched. The computer on the car roof is an even more odd and wondrous tale than I have told but I will leave it at that for now.
  • The mail-carrier (the post-man) can deliver mail to your house for 20 years and watch your children grow up and know your name and hold packages for you when he or she knows you won’t be home to sign for them.
  • If you order stuff from Amazon it may be delivered to your house and left at the front door and it’s unlikely it will ever be taken – unless a neighbor sees it and takes it in for you until you get home.
  • I’ve had 7 burglaries in two houses.