The Long and Winding Road – March 31, 2019 – Pastor Donna Doutt

Here we are once again in the rotation of lectionary readings to the story of the Prodigal Son. This particular scripture is one of three parables that Jesus uses to illustrate “the lost”: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. With these parables, Jesus attempts to show…to make evident to those who would ridicule his ministry…that He has no choice than to seek the lost.

 

The scene is set for this parable with those opening lines:” 15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story…”

 

The gauntlet is thrown down for Jesus to defend his actions, and He responds with parables that present God as one who welcomes all. Everyone is welcome at God’s table, even the sinners. Jesus is leading by example.

Does anyone know what the word “prodigal” means? I thought I did, but was surprised that even into adulthood I was wrong? Miriam Webster defines the descriptor adjective, “prodigal” as “characterized by profuse or wasteful or expenditure” and “reckless spending.”   

 

But the noun prodigal identifies a person who spends or gives lavishly and foolishly.” I never knew that. But because of this story, it has also come to represent a person who has returned after an absence, which is what I thought was the ONLY definition of the word.

 

So anyway, we’ve got this young man. He’s itching to get off the farm, so he brazenly asks his father for his one third of the family estate. This was absolutely unheard of in this time, and an insult to the father. We also need to realize he was the younger of the two sons in this story. His older brother was the one who would eventually inherit two-thirds of the family estate and become the leader of the entire family. This all goes against the grain of proper family respect. But dad loves his youngest son. He generously buys him out and off the son goes to set the world on fire.

 

But, like so often happens in life, things don’t go the way he plans. He goes off to party hearty, drinking and living the wild life. And it’s a good life until a famine hits the land and his money runs out. He ends up tending hogs. This isn’t good. Pigs are non-kosher animals and Jews are supposed to avoid them, but here he is pig herding. It goes from bad to worse when the time comes that he’s so hungry, he fears he may have to eat the swine food, the carob pods eaten by animals and the poorest of poor people. He decides he’s going to have to swallow his pride and head home. He’d rather work for his father as a servant than live like this!

 

Don’t you love the description of the reunion? Young blood expects to be confronted by an angry father, but that’s not the case. The father has been grieving and missing his son and hope and praying every day for his return. The reunion plays out like a Hallmark movie. The father sees his son way off in the distance…just a dot on the horizon…but he recognizes the stride and posture. He’s overjoyed and runs as fast as he can to throw his arms around him in a loving and welcoming embrace. Tears of joy must have been streaming down his face.

 

Dad’s so excited, he wants to throw a welcome home party. But when the stay-at-home dutiful older son hears the party happening, he’s upset. Our scripture tells us in verse 28, “Then he became angry and refused to go in.” He rants and throws an angry little fit about how he does everything, HE is the devoted son, and yet dad never celebrates him! He’s a hard worker and no one appreciates him. “No thanks! I’m having no part of this party!” No one appreciates him. How many times have you heard that phrase in a family dust-up?

 

But then the father explains that beautiful verse 31, “ “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

 

Many parents, from then until now, know how this father feels. We do all we can to bring our children up the right way, but at a certain age, they want to do what they want to do. They grow up and make stupid choices, causing harm to themselves, and possibly to others. They break our hearts. But they’re still our children. We love them, no matter what. We might not like what they’re doing or approve of their lifestyle, but our love for them overpowers everything.

 

And let’s not get too high and mighty ourselves. Let us not judge! We may have been the prodigal child ourselves at one time. I wouldn’t say I lived the wild life, but one of my friends surprised me with a picture on Facebook of both of us. She was about 15, so I would have been about 17, yet here we are in this picture, both of us with a beer bottle in our hand! I didn’t even remember this, but her 94-year old mother remembers. It was her brother’s going-away party when he joined the Air Force. Should I be drinking a beer at age 17? Certainly not. But I did. And yet, here I am….still a child of God.

C

hristian author and former editor of Christianity Today, Rodney Clapp, writes, [1]“We humans, we all were lost, mired in sins of sensuality and greed and self-referential resentment, hip-deep in the pig slop of envy.”

The song that resonates in my head when I recall this story of the lost son is that great piece that Beatles performed on their “Let It Be” album in 1970, “The Long and Winding Road.” It’s a poignant lyric of a person who is adrift and trying to be found. It’s a lost soul who struggles to keep faith, reassuring themself that there is a rescue for the heart and the soul.

[2] The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to you door

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here
Let me know the way

Many times I've been alone
And many times I've cried
Any way you'll never know
The many ways I've tried

But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long, long time ago
Don't leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door  -----POWERFUL ISN’T IT?

There were some difficult years for me as a young woman, going through a divorce, struggling to make ends meet, raise my children, keep the faith. I sometimes played this song over and over. The rising crescendos of the violins of the famous “wall of sound” that created this orchestrated piece reached a crashing climax as a tried to comfort myself in the misery that I called my life. It rocked me to my soul. Call me crazy, but I see God in these lyrics. 

 

The road in life is never straight. God is calling us to follow the winding road through pain, through wild times, through high times, through low times; sad times, glad times, sorrow and pain. And you can travel that road with faith. God will never leave you here. He will always want you to be on the path that leads to His door.

 

This parable of the Prodigal Son isn’t just about the struggle of the competitive, jealous brothers. Have you figured it out? The father in this story represents God.

 

That groveling, humbled son represents those have been spiritually lost but who wants forgiveness, people like you and like me.

The older brother, jealous of his returning brother represents the Jewish leaders who don’t like seeing Jesus fraternizing, let alone eating, with sinners.

 

But Jesus wants the Jewish leaders, those judgmental Pharisees and religion scholars, to see sinners as children whom God is eager to welcome home.

 

[3] Once again, Clapp writes, “God raised us up and called us home. It is not just about me, or my sin or your sin, or my deserts or your deserts. It is about God and God’s life-giving love and mercy. Every time God’s active, stretching, searching, healing love finds someone and calls that person back home, it doesn’t mean there is less for the rest of us. It means there is more.” 

The lyrics continue:

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here
Let me know the way

God is the door to our joy.  All you have to do is follow Jesus and He’ll show you the way. 

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door

God’s door is always open. The light is always on for us. Calling all sinners come home!

Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Rodney Clapp, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2, p. 120

[2] Songwriters: John Lennon / Paul Mccartney, Long and Winding Road lyrics © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

 

[3] Rodney Clapp, Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2, p. 120

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