Der Vasken's Sermon on March 17, 2019

Mar 20, 2019

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.  It is the third Sunday of the Lenten period.  The story of the Prodigal Son is one of the most famous and loved of Jesus' stories.  We've heard this story before but there is something about this story that grabs our attention each time it is presented.  It is the story of rebellion, repentance, forgiveness and grace. It shines its light in many directions.  We could focus on the forgiving father, who represents God.  We could reflect on the wasteful son, who represents all of us or we could dwell on the elder brother.  In fact, even though he gets the least space in this great story, the elder brother holds a very important place in this parable because the parable is really about him and his resentment of how the father welcomed back the wasteful son.

Here is a little background of this story. Some of the Pharisees, the religious elite of the day, were complaining that Jesus was too welcoming of people, who did wrong in life.  In fact, they were complaining that He was dining with people they called sinners.  So the Gospel says Jesus addressed this parable to them.  Now since we have heard this story many times over the years, let's go beyond this parable to think about "the rest of the story" as the expression goes. 

The wasteful son realized his wrong.  He comes back and is welcomed back by his father, who throws a great feast because his lost son has returned.  And what parent wouldn't celebrate that?  The story ends there, but is that it?  Is that the real end of the story?  Does life go back to normal the next day as though nothing happened or does the son, who returned, now have some work to do?  Doesn't he have some bridge-building to do with the elder brother, with the other people in his family, even rebuilding trust with his father?  He has quite a bit of damage to repair.  He has amends to do.  This is the part of the story we don't hear about.

These questions apply to our lives as well.

  • Suppose we damage a person's reputation by spreading gossip, true or false, then we become genuinely sorry.  We kneel for confession and receive the priest's absolution.  Is that it?  Don't we have some repair work to do to try and restore that person's good name?
  • Suppose we told a lie, big or small, that conveyed an untruth to another, then we become truly sorry.  We kneel for confession and receive absolution.  Is that it?  Don't we have an obligation to correct the record?
  • Suppose we damage property by making a big scratch on the side of another's car, then we become truly sorry.  We kneel for confession and receive absolution.  Is that it?  Don't we have some repair work to do to fix the scratch?
  • Suppose we cheat on our taxes, then we are sorry.  We kneel for confession and receive absolution.  Is that it?  Don't we have an obligation to make good on the taxes we didn't pay?
So often it happens that people we know, dear people, omit the responsibility to repair the damage their actions have done.  Their thinking is that, if they are truly sorry for what they have done, then that's the end of the story, but it isn't.  Part of our confession and absolution is to understand that we all have an obligation to repair the injustice, the wrong, the untruth we have introduced into the world.  If we are truly sorry, we will not only need to do the repair work, we will want to do it.  If we don't, then the guilt, even though confessed, will quickly or slowly eat away at our soul because confession or absolution takes away sin, but they don't remedy the disorder that the sin has caused.

So on this Sunday of the Prodigal Son, as we look at the story of a father and his two sons, we can see how confessing our wrongs and receiving forgiveness is not the end of the story.  It's the beginning of a new story.  It's the beginning of a renewed life of repairing the damage our wrongs have done in this world.  Forgiveness plays a big role in this story, but forgiveness is not the end of the story.  Forgiveness is the new beginning for the rest of the story.  Today is the third Sunday of Great Lent.

  • Where in your life do you need a fresh start that only confession and absolution can provide?
  • And where in your life do you need to do some repair work?
Something for all of us to think about as we walk through the forty days of Lent.

Amen.