My grandfather was a keen photographer. And in those days nearly 60 years ago, equipment and materials were expensive. So, he was delighted when he received a gift of an Agfa camera when he retired from his employers – the department store of Copland & Lye’s in Glasgow.
You can also imagine his distress when on his annual trip on the train to Lairg, he left the precious gift behind. My mother relates trying to think how the family could afford to replace it when it was handed in further up the line.
Well, this family anecdote hopefully illustrates the keen concerns that the parables of the lost sheep and coin evoke. However, the parable of the lost son is the more emotional, the more heart rendering and the more meaningful. Why? Well, it deals with a lost person, a lost relative and a lost son. And can we imagine any more heart gripping tale than that type of loss?
Nevertheless, if we are not directly involved in any modern version of this tale, we can feel slightly detached. For when we hear of a son or daughter going off the rails, we can be dispassionate. When the TV news reports the loss of someone possibly categorised as ‘a bad lot’, we can think quietly – no great loss. When the headlines castigate a newly convicted offender we rarely think that they are also a son and daughter, mother and father, wife or husband.
Perhaps then the first point of the parable is to remind about the parent mired in the distress of losing a child not to death but to a fate of their own making.
So, as we hear the anxious wait of the father waiting of prodigal son, we need imagine the agonised feels of parents dealing with problem children. With a new compassion inspired by our rethinking, let us be there to listen, to support and give affirmation in their tumult and uncertainty. Let us indeed just be there without judgement for them and them alone. For then we part of the God’s solution and not part of the world’s indifferent condemnation.
Now when we hear about the prodigal’s behaviour we are tempted to utter Captain Mainwaring’s immortal words – Stupid boy. For his tale of profligacy is so common as to be unremarkable. Yet Christ does remark on it. And he does so not from the outsiders point but from the viewpoint of a fallen angel. As result, we spy something of the human condition when in default. In fact, I often meet our own congregational members who are no longer Church hungry. And they invariably give a string of reasons for not joining us today. We ourselves know the feelings of guilt if we have not been along to a club, group or other activity we used to enjoy. Moreover, we also understand the embarrassment about going back. This sense then must be amplified in those who are estranged from their families. Put directly, they want to come home but don’t know how too. So, in this week ahead, let us pray for those who are split from a relationship that was once crucial. Let us bring to God’s attention those who have fallen out of our company. Let indeed actively seek to run towards those who need to come back with the welcome of the fatted calf. We might feel foolish in doing so – but be in no doubt, we will only be fools for God.
Now, I have been to church services which have included participants giving their testimony. These personal stories tend to have a common thread. For, rarely, will the individual say that before coming to faith they worked in an office, were keen members of their local bowling or golf club and mowed their lawn every Saturday. Instead, the witnesses always have lived a life of profligacy even debauchery prior to becoming Christian. My response to these tales have often been somewhat less than worthy. Since in my scepticism, I did not appreciate the genuine gratitude being expressed about the change Christ has made in the speaker’s life. More to the point, on such occasions, I have expressed a less than whole hearted thanks for a God who has outreached himself to catch me, hold me and uplift me. Therefore, my response has mirrored that of the elder son.
Let us then in this time of reflection, feel less like that older brother. Let us re-examine our own reasons for being grateful. Let us count our blessings and they say three simple words without reservation – gee pa ta!
Yet rather like the elder son, we can still feel that our loyalty has been taken for granted. Why should I give thanks for the fruits of my hard work and diligence?
An old legend tells how a man once stumbled upon a great red barn after wandering for days in a forest in the dark. He was seeking refuge from the howling winds of a storm. He entered the barn and his eyes grew accustomed to the dark. To his astonishment, he discovered that this was the barn where the devil kept his storehouse of seeds. They were the seeds that were sown in the hearts of humans. The man became curious and lit a match. He began exploring the piles of bins of seeds round him. He couldn’t help but notice that the greatest majority of them said, “Seeds of Discouragement.”
About that time one of the devil’s helpers arrived to pick up a load of seeds. The man asked him, “Why the abundance of discouragement seeds?” The helper laughed and replied, “Because they are so effective and they take root so quickly.” “Do they grow everywhere?” the man asked. At that moment the devil’s helper became very sullen. He glared at the man and in disgust he said, “No. They never seem to grow in the heart of a grateful person.”
Let us then give thanks for our parental God’s indulgence and his Son’s companionship. For then we will have the divine encouragement to place an arm around the one who searches for one lost and estranged. For then we can have the courage to go out and bring back the lost sheep and coin of this wholesome community. For then we will ourselves be fully reconciled as not a servant but child of the merciful Lord who quietly says during the party of reunion – you are always with me and all that I have is yours. So now come along, give thanks and celebrate! For what was lost is now found.