Text Of A Sermon On The Prodigal Son
Preached on Jan. 31, 2010
By Father Andrew Harrison
The theme of the second of the pre-Lenten Sundays is about returning home. The Prodigal Son went into a far country and squandered his inheritance on riotous living with prostitutes. Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book on Great Lent suggests the far country is a symbol of the human condition in relation to God. It is the feeling of exile, of being estranged; the feeling that God has left my life or I have left God. It is the feeling of being on the outside looking in with the doors shut. It is living a different lifestyle and realizing there is something wrong, something missing.
I can remember a time in my own life as a young adult sitting on a bar stool when I had this feeling. According to Fr. Alexander, anyone who has never had this feeling will never understand Christianity. In the parable, the prodigal Son came to himself. He had a desire to return to his father. For me, I questioned the direction I was heading. I often wondered where these feelings came from.
In today’s Epistle reading St. Paul tells us we are temples of the Holy Spirit within the Body of Christ. When we were baptized and Chrismated, our bodies became glued (stuck) to Christ. Now our bodies no longer belong to us. “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” St. Paul said that we were purchased like a slave with a high price. That price was Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. It is for this reason that St, Paul condemns all sins of immorality. Immorality is any sexual act committed outside of a marriage between a man and a woman of legal age. All acts like pre-marital sex, sex between two men or women, adultery, prostitution, incest, and bestiality are considered sins of immorality. These acts are called pornia in Greek. It is from this word we get Pornography. Whether it is in partying, or participating in internet fantasy in the privacy of one’s own home, that feeling of estrangement is present because our bodies belong to the Lord. Our bodies are speaking to us, warning us.
St. John Chrysostom compared immorality with other sins. In one of his sermons, he said that when you steal money, cheat someone, or lie, you don’t feel like you need a bath. However, bathing is the first thing you think of when you commit elicit sex. Your conscience reminds you of your shame. Eventually, if you continue to commit such acts, your conscience will no longer operate. You will kill it with your continued immoral behavior. Then there is no more guilt or shame.
It is interesting that our language reflects this guilt and shame in the use of four letter words. Sex between married partners is called “making love”. Outside of marriage it is described as being used, violated, in trouble, or taken advantage of. It is a curse word which has to be bleeped out.
The desire to return to God is called repentance. We usually associate repentance with confession. Confession is not pleading guilty as in a court with our guilt absolved in a plea bargain. It is the feeling that we have lost our spiritual identity; that we are away from our real home, or our real life. It is a desire to return, to go back and recover something that has been lost. It is the time to return from self-imposed exile. As the prodigal son said, “I shall return to my compassionate father.”
There is a hymn we sing at the beginning of lent called “By the Water of Babylon.” It comes from Psalm 137. It was written when the Israelites were held captive, in slavery. For us it means we are enslaved, living in the foreign land of an ungodly lifestyle. We see it in our addictions: (slavery) to sexual immorality, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, gambling, greed and any other activity we know is wrong. We need to be freed and return to our heavenly Father. Great lent is the time of return. It is our pilgrimage to our Father’s house. Our Father is waiting with the ring, the robe, and the feast.