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Fathers

By Rev. Rhonda Pigott Thorndale

 

Luke 15:11-32

 

This Sunday, as it is Father’s Day, I decided to refer to the Holy as Father or Abba as we hear in the Scriptures, the term Jesus called him.  ABBA is the Aramaic word used by both Jesus and Paul to address God in a relationship of personal intimacy. Some people feel uncomfortable with both those names, and the God we now recognize beyond those boundaries. Thus, inclusive language was introduced. We all experience the Divine in different ways so please substitute whatever name you personally feel comfortable with.

 

“Fathers”…brings many images to mind:

‘Like father, like son,’ some say.

‘Like father, like daughter’ too, I’ve heard. 

But why? Must I be defined by someone else, someone ‘they’ think they know so that they can identify in me something that’s familiar, something they assume they now know of me? My build? My smile? My attitudes? My faith? My love?

 

Like father? Perhaps …

 

Do I want to be ‘Like father, like daughter’? Yes, sometimes, if being like him is about kindness, calmness, and dependability. I’d be happy with that, and He was a wonderful man. But do I want to be completely like him? I am my own person with my own gifts and faults.

 

So ‘Like father, like daughter or son’ is about taking the best, and learning from the worst; paying tribute to a source and thanking God for development; accepting the ‘nature’ I’ve inherited, and processing the ‘nurture’ I’ve received.

 

In my ancestral heritage it was common practice for the first-born son to be named after their father. Confusing at times… my brother did not follow that procedure breaking the generations of first sons being Donald but my cousin John can trace it back 9 generations and yes, his son and grand are John’s too. In that naming there comes an underlying expectation in following those who have gone before. Did you know that Iain also means John?

 

Names are important but so are titles. Some positive and some negative.

 

The two readings Penny shared with us contrast each other. The first remind us of our imperfect world and the second a parable about how life could be from the father’s perspective.  Raising children is not always an easy task, and at times a nightmare through no fault of the parents. While I was in Alberta, I had one of my nieces live with me for a couple of years, because of some of the negative activities she became involved in while living here, through no fault of her parents. A change of environment and lots of caring helped her finish high school and continue on to a rewarding career. I remember a wise person once told me, “You can give them roots but they need to try their own wings.”

 

I want to Paraphrase this familiar parable Jesus told…

 

There was a man who had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Dad,

I have a plan and I need money. So, give me my share of what you’ll leave me

when you’re gone.’ The father wasn’t happy about that, but he gave his younger son what he asked for.

 

A few days later the younger son took everything he owned and left home.

He went to a far away country, and spent everything his father gave

him. Then times got tough, and he had nothing left. So, he found a job with a

pig farmer, work no one else would do. He had to feed those pigs every day

but no one gave him anything to eat.

 

So, at last the younger son thought to himself, ‘My father’s hired hands all have

more than enough to eat, but here I am dying of hunger! I think I’ll go home and

talk to my father. “Dad” I’ll say, “I have done you wrong. I’m not worthy to be

called your son anymore. Treat me like one of your hired hands. Just give me a

job, please”’ And so, he set off for home.

 

But while he was still a distance from his father’s house, his father saw him. This

dad felt sorry for his son. And just so happy to see him again! The father ran, threw his arms around his son and kissed him. The son began the speech he’d been practising: ‘Dad, I have done you wrong. I’m not worthy to be called your son –’

 

But before the son could finish, the father said to his servants, ‘Go, bring out

the nicest jacket for him. Put a ring on his finger and new sandals on his feet.

And get the roast to barbecue. Tonight, we celebrate! For this son of mine,

who I thought was gone for good, is part of the family again: he was lost and

now he is found!’

 

And they began to party.

 

But now the story gets even more interesting! That young brother

had an older brother and he had something to say about all this.

 

The older brother was in the field when his younger brother returned.

When he came back to the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one

of the servants and asked what was going on.

“Sir, your brother has come home. Your father is throwing a big party because he is home, safe and sound.”

The older brother was really angry and refused to go to this celebration. So, his father came out and begged him to come in.

 

The older brother argued, “I don’t get it, Dad! For years I’ve done all the work for

you. I’ve never let you down. Yet, you have never given me a party with my

friends. But when this son of yours comes home, the one who has wasted all

the money you gave him, you treat him like royalty!”

 

His father responds. “Son, you are always with me. Everything I own

now is yours. But we need to celebrate today. Your brother was dead to us. But

now he has come back to life. He was lost and now he’s found.”

 

Now that young man didn’t exactly treat his dad with love, did he? He did all kinds of things parents warn children not to do! So, when he wanted to go home, he wondered if his dad would take him in and still love him. Even as adults, when we have done something wrong and things have fallen apart, we can be afraid nothing will ever go right again.

 

I wonder is that is why we are given this parable, to remind us that God’s love includes a second chance. As familiar as this parable is to many of us, in those dark times it’s sometimes hard to remember that God Spirit in and around us can always make a new beginning.

 

Being Father’s Day, I want to unpack it from what might be the father’s viewpoint. This father is not an ordinary father but an example of the Holy, who gives freedom of choice, unconditional love and acceptance. A symbol of divine generosity, who gives freely without expectation of return. When the prodigal son demands his inheritance, the father grants it without hesitation, demonstrating his trust in his son's autonomy.   We have human freedom, allowing us to make our own choices, even if they lead to failure, and learn from our mistakes.

 

When the son returns, the father's joy is unrestrained, he celebrates in his son’s return to wholeness. He is elated. He does not scold or lecture, but instead embraces his son, accepting the son as he is, without judgment or condition but with extravagant love. The father's motives are not driven by a desire to control or punish, but by a deep longing for relationship and reconciliation. This makes me wonder if this how God delights in our return to wholeness and our truest selves.

 

The older son feels resentful and unappreciated, but the father listens to his concerns and validates his feelings. The father explains that the celebration is not just about the prodigal son's return, but about the restoration of their relationship.

 

We see a God who is more interested in compassion than justice, more concerned with love than law. It is a reflection of the boundless grace of God. The father's welcome of both sons, despite their different journeys, reflecting inclusiveness, welcoming all people, regardless of their past or present.

 

So why does Jesus supposedly tell this story? Possibly to illustrate God's love and forgiveness… Jesus wants to show that God is like a loving Father who welcomes all unconditionally.

 

I can’t answer those thoughts for you, and you probably have thoughts of your own. I do however encourage you to ask the question why….

 

Personally, the story promotes forgiveness and understanding, essential for rebuilding trust and improving relationships. Showing a complexity of family relationships, validating the experiences of all who struggling with difficult relationships with their parents, children, grands, and greats.

 

I see the story of the prodigal son offering a message of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation, encouraging all to work towards healing and restoration in their relationships with their children and vice versa, especially on this Father’s Day.

 

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