Saint Andrew's Presbyterian Church


A great life wasted. The prodigal son.

INTRODUCTION: "Don't see a great night wasted." A few years ago the drinks firm Diageo sponsored a campaign to discourage young people from binge drinking and to promote the responsible use of alcohol. They launched an advertising campaign with television commercials and posters everywhere on hoardings and bus shelters. The slogan the advertisers chose was a gem. It was: "Don't see a great night wasted." The slogan is particularly effective because of the double meaning of the last word. As well as its normal meaning "wasted" is a slang expression for "drunk out of your mind." What a powerful message! Don't see a great night wasted. "A certain man had two sons and the younger of them said to his father, "Dad, I can't wait to get wasted. Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me so that I can get wasted as often as I want." And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance in riotous living."

What is it about young people that they want to get wasted? Why is youth a time for wasteful self-indulgence? Why are the young so irresponsible? Well, don't be too hard on them. Youth is a time of hope. The world is full of possibilities. Young people want to experiment. They want to try this and then they want to try that and afterwards they want to find other boundaries to burst through. Older and wiser people tell them that getting wasted is a dead end, but they need to find out for themselves. "Don't fence me in!" is their slogan. Somehow in the young this urge to explore is stronger than the common-sense caution of older people. George Best, the playboy footballer, summed up the pleasure-seeking of the years when he was at the height of success and popularity. "I spent a lot of money on birds, booze and fast cars," he said, "I spent a lot of money on birds, booze and fast cars - the rest I just squandered." Perhaps we who are wise in the way of the world might quote the Book of Proverbs. Doesn't Proverbs say that he who conquers his own spirit is greater than the taker of cities? But you can bet your bottom dollar that the author of Proverbs was not a teenager full of hormones, but a sage full of creaking joints and with a thinning head of grey hair. The tree of self is full of jumpy monkeys- especially when you are young and lively in body and mind. The younger son in the story takes the money due to him on his father's death. Without a thought for his father's feelings he sets off. He sets off to get wasted.

Now you don't have to be a professor of psychology to know that it will all end in tears for the young waster. It doesn't require a crystal ball for us to predict that this fool and his money will soon be parted. There's no fool like an old fool, they tell us but young fools are also rather tragic. "And when he had spent all," says the master story-teller. "And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land: and he began to be in want." "I told you so," say the grey heads with satisfaction. "It serves him right." He didn't care if his father lived or died so long as he could get his hands on the money and now that all the cash has been wasted, he has to get a job as a swineherd. Herding pigs! What kind of work is that for a Jewish boy? Just look at him among the swine! You can always tell a waster by the company he keeps! He had it coming. He certainly had it coming.

Now at this point you and I have to beware lest we misinterpret Jesus' story. We have to pay close attention to the actual wording of Luke chapter fifteen. You see, we Protestants love conversion stories. We love to hear about how reprobates saw the light and became responsible citizens. Protestant churches revere stories about dramatic conversions. It starts in the Bible with Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus. According to Acts chapter nine a bright from heaven light shone on him. He fell to the ground and he heard the voice of Jesus calling on him to change the direction of his life. According to Acts Paul was blinded for three days - such was the transforming power of his conversion. Protestants also revere the story of Martin Luther climbing those steps in Rome on his knees and hearing the Bible verse about how the just shall live by faith and then standing up and feeling forgiven. Protestants never tire of telling about John Wesley in the Bible Study group in London's Aldersgate Street. When the Preface of Luther' s commentary on Romans was read, Wesley felt his heart "strangely warmed." Indeed some Protestant churches include in their worship a time of personal testimony when church members tell the story of their conversion. Often the stories are dramatic. Someone might say, "I was a waster. I was drunk every night. I beat my wife and neglected my children. But now that I have seen the light, things are so very different." Now let's ask ourselves: "Is the story of the Prodigal a conversion story?" No, it is not! The young man among the pigs did not see the light. He did not get religion. He did not turn to God. No all Jesus says is that "he came to himself." It means that he came to his senses. It means that he sobered up. What else is there to do when you are stuck in the swine pasture with an empty purse and an empty belly and an empty heart? What drove him home to his father was not a desire to live a godly life, but hunger. Do you remember what Robert Frost said? "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." The waster goes home simply because he is hungry.

So the failed waster heads for home. He has plenty of time on the long trek to think of a plan. He has wasted the money. He has shown that he wants his father dead. There is no possibility of being forgiven and reinstated as a son. But his father's farm workers are well paid and well fed. Surely the old man will give him a job and a job means dinner of porridge and vegetables at least once a day. He rehearses his pious speech over and over again on the journey back. When he arrives things get confusing. The old fellow runs, yes runs to squeeze him half to death in a bear hug. The waster starts his prepared speech. "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." The pious speech is the only piece of obvious religion in the whole story and the father interrupts the speech before it is over. "This is no time for tedious speeches," says the father. "This is no time for religious posturing. This is no time for sermons!" The father even makes use of our slogan: "It's celebration time. It's party time. It's festivity time. Don't see a great night wasted!"

Mind you, not all the family appreciate the extravagance of throwing a party. "The elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing." Music and dancing! What a waste! When the elder son hears that his wastrel brother is has been given a robe for his back and shoes for his feet and his father's ring, he is furious. He refuses to consent to all this waste by joining the festivities. You know what Puritanism is, don't you? It is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. Again the father refuses to stand on his dignity. He wastes good party time by going out into the dark to plead with the heir to the farm. This is serious for the father. He lost one son, then he got him back. Now he has lost the other son. God forbid that he should spend more long hours praying for a reconciliation in the family. The young farmer is beside himself. "Lo these many years do serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou gavest me not a kid that I might make merry with my friends." All his emotions spill out in an eruption of rage. "As soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. My brother wasted a mountain of money and now, Dad, you are wasting more by making a fuss of him." The father refuses to match anger with anger. "Listen, Joe, this is your farm now. Nothing's wasted that can't be restored. The lad was lost and now he's found. He's back from the dead, Joe, from the dead. Come into the party; come and join the festivities; come and celebrate. Don't see a great night wasted!"

So, welcome to the community founded by Jesus Christ. It is the refuge of wasters. It is the place where wasters celebrate their rescue. It is always the church of the second chance, or maybe the third and fourth and fifth chance. Such is the mercy and compassion of the Father of our Lord. Every Sunday we welcome home wasters with a robe and shoes and a ring that shows they belong forever. Do you smell cooking? It is the fatted calf roasting on the spit. Can you smell it? Of course you can. Of course you can. Amen.

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