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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Tuesday Lectionary Leanings: "Prodigal" Edition

Texts for Sunday can be found here .

How do you take a widely recognized, beloved (and sentimentalized) Bible story and make it "pop" in a way that makes the folks in the pew sit up and take notice?

That's the challenge of Sunday's Gospel lesson, as we revisit Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, his gracious and forgiving father and his bitter, resentful brother. (And, of course, the hapless fatted calf.) How do we approach this story in ways that will meaningfully connect with our people?

But wait -- there's more! We also, this Sunday, have an Epistle lesson that'll preach. It's another text that will be familiar to many hearers; that can become a kind of comforting Christian-y aural wallpaper; but what does it really mean to be a new creation in Christ? What does it mean to be an ambassador of God's reconciliation? How's that working for all of us, on any given day?

So much potential for sermons and general service-planning please, as always, share your ideas and inspirations with us!


  1. I have a bye this week (which means I can watch ACC basketball). Our divinity school student is preaching. I love the Luke text. I am the older son. i do everything right and the favorite brother who is a ne'er do well gets all the love. Henri Nouwen has a great book weaving together the parable and a painting (I've forgotten the painter) in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. I could probably preach 10 sermons on this passage. Amy Jill Levine had an interesting take. Brothers all through the OT. It is the younger who is "better" than the older. Think jacob/esau, David, others. So, the hearers would expect the younger to be the good son, but he's not. I'm sure I've forgotten a lot of what she was saying.

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  3. Joan, the painting is Rembrandt's return of the prodigal - one of my favourites.

    In the Uk we have the extra demand of Mothering Sunday - so my question is where is the mother in this story? I'm thinking of getting people to sit up and listen by retelling the story with the mother as the parent - the father in Jesus' story acts much more like a mother than a middle Eastern patriarch - the 'zing' is then that God acts like this - like a mother, or whoever we find easiest to imagine as the most amazing, loving parent God defies all our stereotypes of stern parent to fall on our necks in sheer delight when we come home.

    I have also sometimes retold the story pretty much as is up to the son returning and then had the father say 'actually, no I wont have you back as a servant - push off'. Because that's what he should do - reject the ne'er-do-well: but God's love never does what it should - because God operates by grace, not law.

  4. Using Garrision Keillor's adaptation of the story for a prodigal daughter as an inspiration, I did a playlet three years ago about the Prodigal Daughter. I'm happy to share it if anyone would like to have a copy. I'm not going to post it since it may have elements I unintentionally borrowed from Prairie Home Companion. Email me or leave a comment here to let me know (

  5. My last sermon on this passage is still being talked about. I tend to use visual demonstrations when possible. "What could they not forget," you might ask? I talked about the status of the father. How his running to the son would have been extremely undignified. How his love would have been so great that he was willing to lose his dignity to demonstrate it. And then I kicked off my shoes, hiked up my robe and ran down the aisle of the church. They remember that, they also remember it was about a demonstration of a great love.

  6. I'm going to do a teach-in about the use of the confession in our liturgy (Episcopal). That reconciliation is not about things being fair...this is not retributive justice...but rather getting "bread" we don't actually deserve. Also, an explanation of what reconciliation means in our tradition, why it's important and why we talk about it during Lent.

  7. Joy, I love what you're doing with this.

    I'm retelling the story through the one voice that is silent in this Scripture passage - the mother. What did she think? As a woman of her time, she didn't have the luxury of judging...she simply loved, was hurt, wondered what would happen, was grateful for the return, remembered how difficult her sons could be, even when they were little. Mothers like that love as God loves, wholly and holy, wanting their beloved children to do better, knowing that things don't always seem fair, but loving them through it all. The father was a wonderful person, too, but the mother - I imagine her unhappiness with her husband when he acceded to his son's request for the inheritance, her fear for her son's future, and her worry about what will happen next when the prodigal returns. We never hear what happens next, but we know it won't be all sweetness and light, but the love of God, like the love of a mother, endures and continues and enfolds.

  8. I'm playing with the idea of how we lose and find ourselves in our running away and returning. I expect to examine this from a number of angles, those left behind as well as the one who goes. But it's only Tuesday, so who knows? :-)

  9. Joy - The Sermon Brainwave podcast at Working Preacher had a good discussion of reconcilation this week. I'm not preaching any of these texts, but I listened anyway while knitting in the office yesterday. You might want to check it out if you haven't already.

    I'm on the "other" beloved and abused Lukan parable - - The Good Samaritan. This is my week on the theme of compassion. I swear I have preached on this before, but I can't for the life of me find the sermon. I even remember the title. Hopefully it's on the computer at home. I haven't checked that one yet. It would be from the old church, so it would be ripe for the picking! I'm hoping it fits my theme. PRAYING!

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  12. third time's a charm on the link html, right?? (if not, check out and scroll down to click on "sermons"...)

    We've spent all of Lent on this story from luke....two of the sermons are up here. The third, from the perspective of the older brother, may or may not appear this week but was also awesome.

    I'm doing 2 Corinthians this week, finishing up the series on Reconciliation. we'll see how that goes...

  13. We did Bibliodrama in Sunday School. Take the part of the father and of the other brother? What would you say to each other?

    We also did a sermon on "the day after." What was the father like AFTER the party?

  14. Hello Sisters.
    I decided to read all of Luke 15 because I think this is part three of the story... Lost and found... amazing grace...

    Be well all. I am conducting a memorial service for someone who has no pastor. But they requested a Woman Pastor because this lady had one once and she was this woman's favorite...
    that's a new one for me...after 31 years.

  15. Not sure of direction yet for this week. There is a baptism and the family tell me there will be lots of visitors, so about double the congregation. One thing that struck me this week is how both sons act out of their own interest – the younger in seeking pleasure and the now; the older in what would become his in the future. The father doesn’t act out of his own interest. He does the shameful, selling part of the property, running to meet the younger son on his return. One thing I read suggested that we could think about the church as the father, how can we encourage the whole family [of God’s people] to party together.
    Joy, love the reconciliation theme.
    Bobbie, someone asked for a woman minister – WOW!!!!!

  16. Glad the message about women pastors is spreading!

    I did a funeral a couple of weeks ago, after which one of the mourners said 'I'm a Catholic and you've almost converted me to the idea of women priests'. I choose to take this as a compliment - some days I'll take anything that even looks a BIT like a compliment!

    Keep the faith, sisters!

  17. Rev Sonja, I love that visual take. I'm going to store that away for another time! This Sunday, being Mothering Sunday in UK, I'm going off lectionary, using passage from Matthew about Jesus asking: Who is my mother, who are my brothers - to emphasise how all are included in Christ's family, all become brothers and sisters. I'm always very conscious of the pain for some when we focus on mothers so hoping to go more with all belonging and all having a place in God's family. We also have a baptism and it's all age worship so no need to write a sermon - yay - scope for fun:)

  18. I am a happy person because I am doing the family service, and I remembered today that I have a school chapel presentation on this topic that will work perfectly! It is a series of tableaus (sp?) by 2nd graders illustrating the story, all put together as a Keynote presentation :-)

    This will leave me free on Saturday to concentrate on the memorial service for a school mom who died, leaving behind a 9 y.o. son...

  19. Joy, I too love your take on this, and the tie in to the confession. Something good to think about.

  20. Bobbie, you remind me of the folks who used to call our church and say, "I'd like to talk to the Lady Father, actually..." My kids thought this was hysterically funny!

    The interesting point about the two sons here is that, in short, they're BOTH bums...neither one of them loves the father...and he loves them both, the dissolute one, the uptight self-righteous one, BOTH...

  21. Not preaching this week. We had a member in seminary and he will be preacing. Really did not wish to give up this Sunday, but he told me he had been working on a sermon on Prod. Son some time ago. I offered him this Sunday in order to give him some practice.
    He actually "has" the whole service as he will do an internship this summer, so I wanted him to get the practice.
    I am doing the children's moment because his "idea" was to send the kids out and let them reflect on the story in Children's Church. I told him I'd do it instead.
    Plus, I secretly love that part the most.

  22. Ah, Joan, I will be with you watching tournaments.
    Good thoughts, SB. :)
    Good luck to all of you as your prepare, ponder, preach this week

  23. I'm way behind getting started--but so far I've been writing about God as parent loving prodigals and the brother who thinks he's earned his way...and that we all of that. And might sing a song that Ella and I sing: I want to hug you, hold you, kiss you and love you...even when you're smelling like a pig...

    Ambassadors for Christ really speaks to me too and I'm being tempted to tell my own call story as my parish has not heard it.

  24. I almost forgot: i have calls to worship and prayers of confession for each of the three characters' perspectives, and one for the 2Cor5 reading, if anyone needs a jump start. just email me at work: teri at rclpc dot org and I'd be happy to share.

  25. I too am reading all of Luke 15. ANd then going to tell a Robert Fulghum story about playing hide and seek as my lead to to Get Found! Join the Party!!

    I want to do something about the elder brother too. Is he willing to get found as well?

  26. There is a chance that I will be called upon to give the sermon on Sunday...I am pondering the concepts of honor and shame in the Gospel lesson, because those are powerful forces in our rural community, ones that often keep people trapped in dysfunction.

  27. nice post. thanks.

  28. I'm a pastor who enjoys reading your website, even though I don't have a blog. I'm preaching on the parable, but I'm struggling because we have a situation in our church with a younger son and a lot of elder sons and daughters who are upset with him. It is painful, and I want to preach about the love of the father and the need for forgiveness, but I also don't want some folks to feel singled out. They are not yet ready to forgive—and I don't blame them. But I ache for them.

  29. I love the run down the aisle. It makes me think of a child simply throwing himself at someone he is surprised at seeing...for whatever reason. Yes, I can see God doing that! Wow!

    In a study group we played different parts..yes, the mother was a key person in this.

    And, we can imagine neighbours, friends, also were there as the party was waiting to happen. It made us really think of where we might be in our minds as these other people who were a part of this community.

    The basic story was Jesus reminding the people again .. in another real life happening, that God's love is beyond what we know. Beyond what is written, beyond anything you can dream of.

    It is so wide and expands as we live and know it, and we are called to spread it...and make it wider yet.

    The word 'Prodigal' has two meanings in itself...opposite ones.

    God's love is a prodigal love, needed for a prodigal time, our time, of wastefulness and greed.

    we are welcomed back to Love's...reality!

  30. rather late on the Tuesday response - I;ve blogged about the internal questions, and how I read the parable if it's an endtime celebration. It's much harder when it's a here and now process. here


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