A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
After I accepted the call to serve
First Baptist Church in New London, New Hampshire, Renee and I drove from
Shaker Heights, Ohio to New London in two days, in two separate cars, with one
We go lost in upstate New York
because Map Quest … do you remember Map Quest? … failed to give me one very
important turn, and I failed to double-check the directions with an actual map.
Once we found our way back to the interstate, we finally arrived in New London
late in the evening.
The parsonage is a grand, old house
right in the center of town, across from the town common. As we drove into town
there were fireworks in the sky. And then as we drove down Main Street, there
was a carnival with rides and games on the common. I thought, “What an
extravagant welcome! Do they do this for everyone?”
We arrived at the parsonage … across
from the carnival … and found two large sawhorses blocking the driveway. We
were tired … our feline passenger was howling … so I did what any reasonable
new pastor would do … I drove across the front lawn of the parsonage and parked
in the driveway.
We unloaded the cars, made up one of
the beds and went to sleep to the sound of the Crazy Bus ride across the street.
At 7:00 AM, we awoke to … “GOOOOOOD
MOOOORNING, New London!!!” blaring over some loud-speaker system! We jumped out
of bed thinking, “What on earth is going on?! What is wrong with this town?!?!”
It turns out that Hospital Days is
an annual three-day event in New London to support the local hospital, and they
have a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning! It is a wonderful community event
… but it was not very wonderful for two weary travelers and their cranky cat.
This morning, we heard about another
party that was not warmly received by everyone involved.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is
considered by many to be the most popular short story ever written. People that
have never set foot in a church sanctuary can likely tell you what the story is
about. It has been told and retold and retold again across the generations.
I have preached on this parable
numerous times. Each time I try to bring some new insight to the story, tell it
from a different perspective. We have focused upon the lost son … the prodigal
son. We have focused upon the bitter and ungrateful son. We have focused upon
the loving father … the running father. Just this week, I saw a poem written
from the mother’s perspective. (I will save that one for another day.)
We know about the younger son. We
know that he was “lost.” He asked his father for his share of the inheritance …
one third of the father’s property. This act was not unheard of during that day
and age. It was not common, but it did happen. But leaving home was uncommon. In today’s world, children leave the nest all the time. In that culture, it was
shameful. Then to compound his lostness, the son heaped disrespect upon his
father when he squandered his share of his father’s fortune. We also know that
he defiled himself by taking a job feeding swine.
We know that the older brother was
also “lost” in his own way. We know that he did not delight in the return of
his brother. In fact, he was resentful. He would rather have seen his brother
suffer … perhaps even perish … than to be welcomed home and embraced by his
father. He likely knew that the feast being thrown for his brother would eat
into his own share of his father’s fortune.
Of course, we also know that the
father lavished love and forgiveness and joy upon his son. He who was thought
dead was alive!! That is the message of this parable … love, forgiveness and
However, as I read the various
commentaries, I realized that we always skip over one group of characters in
the story. The parable tells the story of three imaginary characters, the
father and his two sons. But the parable was directed at real people.
You and me? Yes … indirectly.
This parable is directed at the
scribes and the Pharisees. They are more than the preamble for the story. This
story is intended for their ears. And as it turns out, they were even more lost
than either of the fictional sons.
The story began with the scribes and
Pharisees condemning Jesus for welcoming tax collectors and sinners into his
presence, and even … heaven forbid … eating with them! And that was the point.
According to them, that WAS forbidden.
The Pharisees demanded strict
adherence to the numerous laws dictating purity, hospitality and fellowship. They
refused to have any contact with those who did not obey every minute and petty
detail. They decided those who were clean and those who were unclean. Their
list of those who they considered to be “sinners” was quite long.
The common folk were called “People
of the Land.” They would not have any contact with them, they would not do
business with them, and they were forbidden from being the guest of any such
person. They would never consider having them as a guest in their own homes.
People who did interact with them were often considered to be defiled
themselves … unclean.
And there was Jesus … welcoming them
and eating with them.
The Pharisees did not pray for the
lost sinners. They did not offer grace or salvation. It was actually just the
opposite. They did not rejoice at their salvation, they desired and looked
forward to their destruction!
The Pharisees constructed barriers
to fellowship. They heaped sawhorses in front of the Temple gates. They cast
judgement and rejected repentance. They withheld grace and mercy. They withheld
joy. They restricted access to God to those that THEY determined were worthy.
But Jesus ate with them. Jesus
walked with them. Jesus welcomed them. Jesus mirrored and embodied the heart of
God when he did so. All heaven rejoices when even one person finds their way
back to God.
God’s love is much broader than
human love. God can forgive where we fail to forgive. God’s view of the
universe is much more inclusive than we could ever imagine. God’s love is open
to any and all that seek it … and even those who do not.
In our view of the world, we often
see things in a binary way:
Good or bad
Sinner or saint
Winner or loser
In or out
That way of seeing the world might
make us relate more to one of the sons rather than the other. But the father’s
embrace of the younger son did not diminish his love for the older son in any
The love of God can defeat the
foolishness of humankind, the seduction of tempting voices and even the
deliberate rebellion and rejection of the human heart.
The Pharisees did not speak for God
as they rejected those whom they determined were unworthy. They certainly did
not speak for God when they prayed for the destruction of those that they
deemed to be sinners.
The same can be said about us. We do
not represent God when we determine a list of those to be excluded.
We do not speak for God when we
withhold grace or forgiveness.
We do not reflect God when we decide
that some do not deserve God’s love.
The scribes and the Pharisees missed
the whole point. Rather than rejoicing that “those” people were spending time
with Jesus and perhaps turning their hearts toward God … they grumbled … they resisted
… they rejected. They were the most lost of all.
Let us choose a different path home.
May we choose the Way of Love. May
we choose the way of welcome.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072