SERMON ~ September 11, 2022 ~ “Prodigal In the Key of ‘F’”

September 11, 2022 ~ Proper 19 Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:

Prodigal In the Key of ‘F’

“‘But my child,’ said the father, ‘you are with me always, and all that is mine, everything I have, is yours.’” — Luke 15:31.

What I am about to recite is something I did not write. Part of me says, “Gee, I wish I had written this.” However, since what I am about to say may live in infamy here, part of me is quite satisfied to attribute these words elsewhere.

This is The Prodigal Son (In the Key of F). It was written by Todd and Jedd Hafer and it’s from their book: Mischief From the Back Pew: and You Thought You Were Safe in Church. It is, I think, great fun.

The Prodigal Son (In the Key of F)— Feeling footloose, frisky, fancy-free, a frivolous, feather-brained fellow, Fred by name, forced a fond, fawning father to fork over a fair share of the family farthings. Then this flighty flibbertigibbet offered a felicitous farewell, not at all forced, and fled far afield to foreign fields.

He ferociously frittered away a fabulous fortune, famously feasting among faithless, fair-weather friends until, fleeced by those fun-loving fellows of folly, he found himself flinging feed in a festering, filthy farmyard. Flummoxed, famished, forlorn, filled with foreboding and finally facing famine, the frazzled fugitive found his faculties and returned to his father’s farm. (Slight pause.)

“Father, Father!” he forlornly fumbled, “I have flunked, flubbed, failed and frivolously forfeited family favor. Phooey on me! Let me be as one of your flunkies, for even a fruitless flunkie would fare far, far better than I fared. Fair enough?” (Slight pause.)

“Filial fidelity is fine,” the father philosophized, “but, folks, the fugitive is now found! Let fanfares flare! Let flags unfurl and flutter! Fetch the fatling, play that funky music and let’s have some fabulous fun!” (Slight pause.)

As fortune would have it, unfortunately, older brother Frank was unforgiving and fumed furiously. “Forsooth! Father, flee from this folly! Frankly, it’s unfair. That fool forfeited his fortune!”

“Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank, Frank,” the father confronted. “Do not fear and do not fester. I am your fan.”

“Your coffers are fairly filled to overflowing, with forty million farthings. But your phantom brother, Fred, is finally and fortuitously back in the fold. For many fortnights, I’ve fantasized about this fabulous and festive feast. So focus on the fun for Fred, not on the funds. So, to be forthright, Frankie, flake off.” (Slight pause.)

And so, a fathead, foolish fugitive found fulfillment. Furthermore, the father’s fond forgiveness formed a foundation for both the former fugitive’s future welfare and the fixations of the sibling fretter. Hence, do not forget: a faithful father loves forever. Well now— that is finally finished! [1] And if you think that was easy you’re wrong. (Slight pause.)

These words are from the work commonly called Luke: “‘But my child,’ said the father, ‘you are with me always, and all that is mine, everything I have, is yours.’” (Slight pause.)

Walt Kelly, the late cartoonist, is best known for the classic comic strip, Pogo. In one of the most famous lines ever in a comic strip, the character Pogo the Possum, gazing at garbage all over the ground in what should have been a pristine woodland ruefully says: “We have met the enemy and they is us.” (Slight pause.)

This reading from Luke is commonly referred to as the “Parables of the Lost.” At best that is ill named. These are the parables of the “Faithful Shepherd,” the “Diligent Housekeeper” and the “Loving Parent.” The purpose in renaming the stories is that might be heard in a very different way from the moniker with which they are so often labeled: the “Parables of the Lost.”

You see, we get so used to hearing the traditional names of these parables I think we often fail to listen to what the stories really say. We concentrate on what we think they say. That is exactly why I recited that updated parable in the key of ‘F,’ to help us listen in a different way.

Indeed, when we read Luke 15 carefully, nothing could be much clearer than these are not the ‘Parables of the Lost.’ To say they are the ‘Parables of the Lost’ is to miss the point. And one of the things I think we miss in the in the story of so called ‘Prodigal Son,’ one of the points being made therein, is the parable can be seen to be about the making poor choices.

I think it’s also evident that this story feels as if it was drawn from the life experience of family dynamics, a life experience with which most folks can identify. In real life dynamics often contain people who make poor choices. And relatives cannot often change those choices. So, those choices are simply lived with.

In this case the son who is footloose, frisky, fancy-free, frivolous and feather-brained clearly makes some very poor choices. Then the same son starts making good choices. In a reversal, the son who has made some good choices at the start suddenly becomes unforgiving, fumes furiously and makes some very poor choices.

Even though his coffers are fairly filled to overflowing, something his father has given him, he blames his father because this petulant son has not used what was his all along. Perhaps his real problem is he never claimed it for himself— also a very poor choice. (Slight pause.)

Well, what’s the lesson here? Many times, when these two siblings look in a mirror, they have met the enemy. They are their own worst enemy because they make poor choices. (Slight pause.)

So, do people make poor choices? Yes, people make poor choices all the time. And what can we do with that?

We can react in the way the loving parent reacted. We can offer acceptance. We can offer forgiveness. But there is a final attribute here, I think one not often noticed. I believe it to be the most important attribute the father exhibits.

The Prodigal Son (In the Key of F) says this (quote): “the faithful father loves forever.” And what makes that love so steadfast is (quote): “For many fortnights, I’ve fantasized about this fabulous, festive feast.” In short, the father never gives up hope— never gives up hope.

Hope, you see, has two important qualities. Hope, real hope, is not some pie-in-the-sky good-will-happen in a sweet by-and-by dream world. Hope deals with reality. Equally, hope, real hope, is not and does not mean imposing an agenda on others.

All of which is to say perseverance is the prime attribute of hope. Hope comes alive when perseverance is involved. Perseverance, persistence— that’s working with someone as they work on something or even as they do not work on something. It means working with someone until they understand how to, for themselves, make good choices. That is the real definition of hope. (Slight pause.)

I, personally, know this truth: there are times we feel despair. Surely, as the father waited for the son, those times must have presented themselves. And surely, persistence is not an easy road. And surely those times when one’s patience is tested are the very times we need to rely on God. (Slight pause.)

There is a hymn I know— Let Us Hope When Hope Seems Hopeless. Once verse reads: “Like a child outgrowing childhood / setting childhood things away / we will learn to live in freedom / in the light of God’s new day. / Now we see as in a mirror. / Then we shall see face to face / understand how love’s compassion / blossoms through amazing Grace.” (Slight pause.)

Again, hope— real hope— is found in perseverance, in patience and perhaps, just perhaps, waiting on God’s time and on God’s grace. Further, and I need to be a realist about this, persistent hope is certainly not the only response we can have in the world in which we live, a world filled with brokenness. But hope, real hope, persistent hope is a very, very, very wise response. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Benediction. This, then, is an précis of what the pastor said before the blessing: “Earlier I spoke about hearing Scripture in different ways, new ways. We need to listen to and to read Scripture not just in new ways to help us hear and read it afresh. We need to listen and to read Scripture with First Century eyes and ears, not Twenty-first Century eyes and ears. There is no better way to confuse what’s in Scripture than to listen to and read it with Twenty-first Century eyes and ears.”

BENEDICTION: O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our striving for justice and truth, to confront one another in love, and to work together with mutual patience, acceptance and respect. Send us out, sure in Your grace and Your peace with surpasses understanding, to live faithfully. And so may Yahweh, God, bless and keep us. May the face of Yahweh, God, shine upon us and be gracious to us. May the continence of Yahweh, God, be present to us and give us peace. Amen.

[1] Excerpt from Todd & Jedd Hafer’s Mischief From the Back Pew: and you thought you were safe in church, ©2003, Bethany House Publishers

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