Homily: March 6, 2016
March 6, 2016, YEAR C; Rev. Phil Boelter Vicar
Luke’s parable of the prodigal Son
is justly famous,
made more so by Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting.
In this beautiful scene
we see the Waiting Father,
Front and center,
with loving hands placed on his wayward son’s shoulders.
The young son has wandered far and wide
and wasted his inheritance.
He returns home penniless
with torn clothes and dirty feet.
Nevertheless, He feels the welcome of his Father’s love.
The Father calls for fresh clothes and shoes,
And has the fatted calf killed
In order to rejoice that his younger son
at long last has returned home.
But someone else is standing nearby-
the older brother.
He stares angrily at his younger sibling-
upset that the Father is welcoming his ne’ er do well brother home.
HE never left-
He’s been there faithfully serving his Father
while his younger brother
was out squandering his inheritance on loose living,
wine, women and song.
Sometimes it’s difficult to be compassionate with others
when they so clearly are in the wrong,
according to our understanding.
This is precisely the lesson for the older son-
To look and learn from his father’s kind example.
The parable gently urges us towards compassion.
Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate
Is the unwritten punch line here.
Where do we find ourselves in this scene?
Are we the lost younger son,
afraid and anxious about how the Father will respond
when we return home?
Are we the waiting Father,
Gently welcoming the wayward and the inconvenient?
Or are we more like the older son-
quick to judge with the eye and the mind,
Rather than be led by a compassionate heart.
But let’s take another look at this painting.
In Rembrant’s painting there is another group of people,
half hidden forms you can barely see in the background.
I call them the watching bystanders.
These are the people I most closely identify with.
For I myself was once on the outside looking in-
Feeling very much not a part of the scene.
This is where many people are today.
Some of us are spiritual
but definitely not religious.
We are a little skeptical, perhaps,
of anything that smacks of traditional religion.
We stay on the edges,
But still just on-lookers.
In demographic terms
These people are called the nones-
The women who dress up in distinctive clothes
And go around praying prayers and doing good deeds.
These are the people who,
When asked their religious affiliation
take their number 2 pencil and darken the circle marked
none of the above.
I myself spent a few years in this category after college.
Burnt out on religion
After attending Baylor,
my Southern Baptist alma mater-
I was also suspicious of my parent’s Lutheranism.
I questioned exactly how ANY religion
could make the world a better place.
My religion in those years
was brunch on Sunday
late mornings at a nice restaurant -
Then, a lazy afternoon with the Sunday paper-
capped off with a trip to beer bust
At the Ya’ll Come Back Saloon.
What brought me back to Christianity was this:
I met a man named Roger Prescott
Who was in charge of the Friends Peer Counselling Program
At Lutheran Social Services.
He was always the waiting Father for me….
Never asking too many questions,
Always ready with a helping hand for all who asked-
He was Mother Teresa in a sports shirt, khakis and topsiders.
Something within me responded to that compassion-
I eventually bbecame a peer counselor myself-
And in that process I ceased being a bystander.
I moved slowly,
Toward the heart of Compassion
Which is the heart and center of God.
Maybe that is a pathway for many of us also today.
Especially in this raucous election season
When the battle lines are being drawn between
The true believers and the liberals,
The poor and the rich,
The immigrant and the native…..
We, the bystanders,
Not the repentant sinners,
Not the religious zealots,
but the silent majority of the rest of us
WE need that touch of the Father’s compassion in our lives,
and we need to touch others with it.
The Dalai Lama said it well:
“We can reject everything else:
all received wisdom.
But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion....
This, then, is true religion,
In this sense,
there is no need for temple or church,
for mosque or synagogue,
no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine or dogma.
Our own heart, our own mind, is the temple.
The doctrine is compassion.
Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity,
no matter who or what they are:
ultimately these are all we need.”
This is the compassion of the Waiting Father,
For his younger son,
For his older son,
For the bystanders,
For us and for all.