The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - March 6, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 15:1-3
Sermon Title: The Prodigal Son

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I bought a couple lottery tickets, I admit it.  Now I know that my chances of winner were miniscule.  I have a better chance of getting hit by lightning twice, or being eaten by a shark, or many other things, but still what the heck.  And of course I thought about what I could do with all the money.  I could buy a nice little cabin on a lake someplace.  I would buy a tractor, with a backhoe.  It is fun to dig holes.  Of course I would give a lot away.  Wouldn’t it be cool to tell a church that you want to double their endowment?  Probably give some to Eden Seminary, where I went to school.  I imagine that I would continue to work, I do enjoy what I do, but maybe I would do more volunteer work and less work where I would be paid. 

     And after paying taxes, giving away some of it, and buying a few things the rest would probably go into the bank, or investments or something like that.  I would want to make sure my family is taken care of.  That is a natural thing to do, leave it for your kids.  And that was what this father did.  He took his land, his livestock, and divided it between his two sons.  One son sold the farm, or at least his part, took all the money and ran off for a wild time.  Does not really say what he did, so we have to use our imagination.  But sounds like he had a heck of a time.  But then he ran out of money.  Famine hit the land and he got a job feeding the pigs.  But it got even worse, the pigs were getting better food than he was.  So he decides to go home to the farm.  

     He was not expecting much, just being able to eat.  And his father welcomes him in, kills the fatted calf, gives him a ring, has a huge party.  

     And then there was the other brother.  I have to admit that I relate to the other brother.  I want to be like the father.  I want to be the one who shows unwavering love.  The one who says “I don’t care what you did, you were gone, now you are home, and we are going to celebrate.”  But no, I think, unfortunately I am like the other brother.  

     When I was in seminary I had to go through Psychological testing.  It is required by most associations in the United Church of Christ before they will ordain you.  There are different tests, some are written, some are oral.  When I went through it, a few, I was told, were based off patients who were institutionalized.  Here are actions that you may perform, which may have some correlation to possible mental illness that may affect your chosen profession.  I was going through my CPE, by Clinical Pastoral Education, when I took these and talked with my CPE advisor about them.  He told me that when he went through them, many years before I did, they had questions like “Do you like flowers?”  “Do you like having cut flowers around you?”   “Do you like ribbons and bows?”  So he answered yes to questions such as that.  The tests confirmed that was not normal, may like men more than women, which was, at one time considered a mental illness, and therefore may not be suited for ministry.  When he was my advisor, he was happily married, had several kids, and his parents owned a florist shop.  Of course he liked flowers, and ribbons and bows.  He liked having them around because growing up his parents always had fresh flowers all over the house.  

     So when I went in for the test I was analyzing every question, but decided that I wanted to be honest and see what it said.  Have you ever shoplifted?  No.  Do you use illegal drugs regularly?  No.  Do you drink alcohol every day or almost every day?  No. No. No.  But I wanted to justify my answers.  I have tried drugs; can I get half a point?  I had a beer 3 nights ago with dinner, is that worth anything?  And it did get very personal.  But still many of the answers were “No.”  I did say that I liked flowers, just to see what would happen.

     After a few weeks you go back in and the results are reviewed with you.  That particular test said that I was either really a good person, or a compulsive liar.  Of course compared to institutionalized people, I wonder how many others get the same result.  I believe they have now updated that test to be more representative of the general population.  But I know that I answered the questions honestly, So maybe I am a good person, at least in the view of that test.  

     And looking back, I tried to be good growing up.  Some of my friends had parties where I knew that there would be drinking and drugs.  I was not really into that, so would skip the party to do something that I would enjoy, or would go but not partake in certain activities.  Didn’t condemn others, just didn’t really interest me.  I was active in my church youth group, and would do things with them.  I was in Boy Scouts, we went camping one weekend every month, plus bigger trips in the summer.  My Junior year in High School I worked at McDonalds, I don’t recommend that, but I could make money.  I would work a Friday night or Saturday.  8 hours at $3.75 an hour was $30.  When I was a Senior in High School I could work at the Church camp on weekends, and got paid about $70 for Friday night through Sunday afternoon, which was pretty good for a High School kid back then.  

     Now I am not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but at least try to be a good person and do the right thing.  And I do get upset when people don’t follow the rules.  Not the small rules, I am all about coloring outside the lines.  But the big things, drunk driving, violent crimes, crimes against children, murder, and even things like breaking and entering, and robbery.  And I want a God that will act as a judge.  Hopefully God will look at me and say “Well, he tried.”  But I don’t want my God to look at someone who spent the last 40 years of his life in jail and say “Yeah, he also tried.”  No I want my God to condemn that person, they did something bad to be in jail for that long, so why should they end up in the same place that I do.  

     And I hate that part of myself.  Deep, deep in my heart, I know that God loves all of us.  I know that God forgives us, over and over and over again.  But I am the other brother, too proud to go in and celebrate, too proud to be of that party, too jealous to be included.  

     And you are here this morning.  You have taken the time this morning to come to church.  There are plenty of other things we all could be doing.  My son went camping, and should be arriving back in town around this time.  Sure, I could pick him up, hear about his camping trip.  I don’t know what sporting events are happening, too late for football, too early for professional baseball, and March Madness starts in about a week, but something has to be happening today.  If you follow politics, we can hear the results of all the primaries over the past few days, and what the experts say that will mean.  We could sleep in, have an extra cup of coffee, maybe lay in bed and read.  As a group we could probably come up with 100 other things you could be doing right now.  But you chose to give up any of those options to be here.  To worship God, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, to celebrate a baptism.  Welcome to the feeling of being the other brother.  If we know that God will forgive anything we do, why do we bother?

     Then the father said to him, ‘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.’”

     It is not always easy to be the other brother, the one who stays home and takes care of Dad.  The one who gives up some personal time on Sunday to be in church.  The one who obeys laws, and tries to do the right thing.  And it is not easy to celebrate when the other brother comes home.  

     As much as we feel inside like the big brother, we know that this father acted in the way that God acts.  God’s love for us is not based on what we do, but what we believe.  This does not mean that we should run off and do things knowing that we will be forgiven, there is that whole Jesus thing about loving your neighbor as yourself, but we all slip at times.  We say something that we should not have said, or we don’t say something that we should have said.   We are far from perfect, but we ask for forgiveness, and we know that God freely forgives.  God waits for us, and when we come home to God, we learn that God was above keeping score of our rights and wrongs.  We are forgiven, we are welcomed and we are loved.  

     I know that I will never win the lottery, I know that I will never be the kind of person that I hope to be, but I know that God loves me, and loves each of us, as a parent loves a child.