Luke 15:1-4, 11-32
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
One of the brighter spots of the pandemic was the show Ted Lasso. If you haven’t seen Ted Lasso, it is a comedy/drama about a character named Ted Lasso. He is a football coach at a small college when he accepts a job coaching an English Premier team, the soccer team AFC Richmond. The team’s owner essentially hires Ted to get back at her ex-husband. She believes that Ted will fail. The series focuses on redemption and personal growth and the idea that every one of us is on a journey. One of the background characters is a guy named Nate. Nate is what is known as a kit man, basically, he takes care of the equipment for the players. In the show, he is constantly being picked on by the players. They don’t appreciate what he does. Most of them don’t even know his name, and when they call him by the wrong name he doesn’t even correct them. He just shuffles around the locker room. As the series continues you discover Nate’s father is a bully. When Nate experiences some success his father doesn’t even acknowledge it. It is right in front of the father’s face, Nate’s photo is on the front cover of the sports section he is holding and an interview with him is being played in the background of the TV. Ted keeps showing up in Nate’s life, asking him his opinion, and in the show we see Nate bloom. But what we quickly realize is it is never enough. While Nate has bloomed because of Ted, he has not done his own internal work. He has not figured out how to be a better person. Father Richard Rohr once said, “You can tell a lot about someone by what they do with their pain… do they transform it, or do they transmit it”. 
Our text today is probably one of the most famous stories in the bible. This is the third parable in a series; it follows both the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the lost coin, where God is described both as a shepherd seeking out one lost sheep and a woman clearing out her house and sweeping to find one coin. The premise of these three stories is very clear from the opening chapter, men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and the religious scholars are not happy because Jesus is treating them as old friends. Their grumbling is what triggers these stories.
These texts are so famous because you can put yourself in the story. We can all identify with the characters. We at times have all probably been the youngest brother, who runs away making a series of bad decisions but comes back seeking grace. Maybe at times, we have been the father who offers grace even at the point of embarrassment. Maybe at times, we have been the oldest brother who is angered by the antics of his younger brother and struggles with his wounds.
Many scholars view this story through the honor and shame paradigm. The youngest son heaps shame on his family by asking for his inheritance, akin to asking his father to die. He heaps shame again on the family by returning to his hometown as a failure. The father runs to his son; at the very least, this was not done in this culture; at the most, it brought shame again to the family. The other son is so angry about his brother’s behavior that he refuses to participate in the party; his anger consumes him. He brings shame by disobeying his father. His father, again breaking cultural rules, pleads with his son. It makes you wonder if the responsible brother even knew what he was angry about. Have you ever experienced a grudge where you don’t remember what initially caused it?
This story is about forgiveness. Many people misunderstand forgiveness, they see forgiveness as some form of weakness, but that is not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is a reestablishment of our power over the situation. Forgiveness allows a problem no longer to have the same level of power over us that it once had. The implications of forgiveness are different for every situation. This may mean allowing someone back into your life or never allowing someone back in. This is what the responsible brother needs to learn. He needs to learn forgiveness. Maybe this younger brother has been a pain forever, but the responsible brother will keep reliving those moments and missing out on the joy — the joy of the family gathering, the joy of new opportunities, and the happiness his father is experiencing at the return of his son.
The other thing this parable reminds us of is how short life actually is. I recently read a piece in the Times called How Covid Stole Our Time and How We Can Get It Back by Tim Urban. He begins with a concept called Depressing Math. He made a little box for every week of life until the age of 90 and while it might feel countless it is just a few thousand. He then looked at a few activities he likes to do — in this case going to the American Museum of Natural History and going to the movies. He counted the number of times he has been to the Natural History Museum since moving to New York in 2009 at 3 times. He then realized that if he continues at that rate he will go 12 more times in his lifetime. Or the movies — he figured that would be hundreds of times, but when he added it up it was only 53. But where his depressing Math gets really interesting is when you apply it to relationships. As a parent, this was hard to read. He spent about 19 years seeing his parents every day of his life then he left for college and never moved back. Now he sees his parents about 10-15 days a year. If his parents live till he is the age of 60 he will have 350 days with his parents since moving out. Essentially, he will only physically interact with his parents 20 years out of his entire life. He went on to do the same equation with childhood friends, realizing that had only hung out a total of 10 days in the last decade. Depressing math is depressing, but it is also good news in the sense it can help us to prioritize what is important. These equations are not locked in. If you want more time with friends you can find another weekend. If you want more time with parents, or children, or grandchildren you dramatically increase that time with a little work. 
Our stories are not locked in, God is perpetually inviting us to the feast, God’s grace is bountiful, it is embarrassingly extravagant. No matter whom you identify with in this story, the one in need of grace, or the one needing forgiveness God is running to you at this moment.