Commerce Presbyterian Church
March 6, 2016
[The framework for this sermon comes from the gifted storytelling of the Rev. Dr. Doc Hollingsworth, one time interim pastor of Commerce First Baptist Church, which he offered on Day1.org for the Sunday of March 6, 2016.
Rather than a single story-teller format, I adapted this to characters as the voices. There was very little acting, but participants read their lines in character.]
Listen to this beloved often referred to story in a contemporary new way in four acts.
Narrator: Act one: The Younger Son
Narrator: “The life of a farmer has its ups and downs, but the Father in this story has done well for himself...He has two sons. Let’s meet the first one.
Prodigal: You think I want to make my life as a farmer? It’s hard work. And I can’t take the monotony of it. It’s boring. It’s dirty. And a world is out there beyond this valley. I have to out of here. Leave home--hit the road.
Of course, i won’t make it far without money. I wonder if dad would give me mine early. I know it’s not usually done; usually a father must die for an inheritance to pass on; I hope he doesn’t take it too bad, I don’t want him dead, but I certainly want my freedom. I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask.
“Dad, give me my half of the inheritance, I want to leave.”
N: With a broken heart, the old man hands over the enormous check.
"Prodigal" does not mean "nasty" or "sinful," but "one who spends or gives lavishly, one who is foolishly extravagant." He moves far from home where nobody knows him, where he can be reckless without restraint.
Prodigal: “Free at last! I’ve got money in my pocket and big cities to visit! Wine, women, and song. Late nights in clubs and slow, slow mornings. This is living!”
Narrator: Spending like there's no tomorrow, he is having a ball. He is loving life ...for the most part. There are those days, he thinks of home. His brother, his father. The chores. He wonders about the new company he is keeping. Will they be there for him always like his dad was? He is loving life ...until the day, the music dies--famine. The market has crashed, jobs are scarce, the well had run dry.
Slide: Younger Son, 2
With jobs so hard to find, he ends up taking a minimum wage job slopping hogs. Once the life of the party now he is feeding pigs. No one seems to care. He comes from a religious tradition that won't have anything to do with pigs--ceremonially unclean; he is filthy. Hit rock bottom. Again he thinks of home.
Prodigal: What would people back home think? How did this happen to me? How could I have ended up like this? I’m feeding hogs and long to eat what they eat. The hired hands at Dad's place don’t eat like this--he gives them good bread." Could I ever go back?
Narrator: Living outside the promises of home, he realizes what a fool he has been. So, hungry and desperate--which is a great motivator to try to make things right--he takes the first, most feeble step back toward his father. At first, he is only concerned with his next meal, but then he goes to a deeper place:
He gets up, leaves the pigs behind, and begins to rehearse the words:
Prodigal: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."
Slide: The Father, 1
Narrator: Act 2: The Father
Narrator: Every morning the father takes his breakfast on the porch. It’s not uncommon for him to look up from his food down the long dirt road that leads to and from his place.
Father: I sure do wish my boy would come back. I didn’t like the way he left with clenched fist and full pockets to pursue his own way. But, there is no such thing as a forced love, I guess. I loved both my boys as best as I knew how. I don’t decide how they will love me back.
With the younger boy, I couldn’t force him to stay and I can’t force him to come back...but, I sure would like to see him again so we can get things right. Plus, I’m worried; he’s out waging war against the world on his own.
Narrator: He looks down the dirt road and his heart aches. He would trade all the cattle and barns and land if his son would just walk back down that road, back down the road of estrangement and turn it into a road of reconciliation.
He sits on the porch. The father always catches himself looking down the dirt road and hoping for return.
Until , one morning, over the top of his breakfast he sees a distant figure kicking up dust at the end of the long road that leads home.
SLIDE: the Father 2
The younger son was shuffling, head down, and rehearsing.
Prodigal: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you: I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."
"Father, I have sinned against...."
Narrator: And then the father saw who it was, it was not his face, but from the distance he saw the familiar gait. He gets up from the table, the chair falls over and he spills his coffee.
He leaps down the porch steps, and runs as if he were young again, down the road, as quickly as he can.
The prodigal son has his head down, still rehearsing:
Prodigal: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you...."
Narrator: When suddenly he looks toward the house, and sees the father running toward him. He stops in his tracks. Frozen by fear. Tears fill his eyes. He mumbles the words one more time under his breath….
Prodigal: "Father, I have sinned against...."
Narrator: the words get muffled into the chest of a crying, embracing dad.
Father: welcome home my dear boy....Welcome home! Let’s go up to the house!
Narrator: They walk the final stretch of the path leading home together. The father won’t let go of his boy, as he makes plans how to celebrate on the walk back...
Father: "Get him a brand new suit and a nice ring. Put new shoes on his feet. Get the best champagne from the cellar and put the best beef we have on the grill. Call everyone in. Let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! Let the celebration begin!"
Slide: Act three: The Older Son
Narrator: The party has started; music is playing. People stand around the porch talking and laughing. Glasses clink.
But, out beyond the house is the older son working, as he always does, in the field. He has been such a good son. A son who gets it. Who knows the meaning of hard work and sees the good in the fruits of the labor. He has kept the rules and knows one day his work will result in a nice reward for being so good.
The sun is going down, his work day has ended, and so he heads back to the house when he sees the unusual activity going on.
Older: “What is this that is going on? I wonder what has happened? Whatever it is it must be something really special.”
Narrator: A servant tells him the news of his younger brother’s return. He stops in his tracks. He is surprised by the anger that wells up inside him.
Older: “How is this possible? He dares come home after doing what he did? The nerve. How is it possible that my father responds like this? They are in there dancing and celebrating a guy who hurt dad more than anybody's ever hurt dad. He was not around to do chores. I was. He did not help build that fence, I did! He was out spending money, living large, and now they are throwing a party for HIM? He's lived a party and now they are throwing him another one. Is this what love is? It can’t be….
Narrator: Outside beyond the lights of the porch, no one gives him any attention.
Scene IV: The Father
Narrator: The father stepped out onto the porch, looked around. The sun’s gone down and he still hasn’t seen his older son. He’s hoping everything’s okay. The father had an idea he would find him out beyond the house, pouting.
The father walks down the porch steps, the same ones he leapt down earlier in the day. He started down the same dusty trail where his love had taken him earlier that day, until he finds his older boy
Father: "Son, your brother’s returned! It’s unbelievable! Come join the party!
Narrator: Something’s not right. They look at each other…..
Older: How could you, dad? 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you. I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him.'"
Narrator: The father looks intently, lovingly at his older boy. Tears swell in both eyes.
Father: "Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found."
Come on. Welcome your brother. Join the party. Come home..
Narrator: The author Frederick Buechner says, with parables and jokes both, if you have to have it explained, don't bother.
All: Come on. Welcome one another in love. Join the party. Come home...