The Story of the Father and His Lost Sons



A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

The Story of the Father and His Lost Sons

Luke 15:11-32

June 17, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.


I’ll never forget the day he left… Joe.  The day we saw him pull out of the driveway in his 1995 Toyota Tercel to head to the far country of Los Angeles, California. I remember wondering if that old clunker would make it 2500 miles and it didn’t. He had a breakdown somewhere past Texas.  Spent the night and a lot of money.  He was going with no job and only a dream. Sharon and I hugged him, wished him well… and for years now we have been praying for him. Los Angeles is a long way away. I have joked and wondered if he could have moved further away from home… only Alaska or Hawaii would be further in the US.  I share this not to tell you that Joseph is our prodigal son. He is not!  But to tell you that I have some empathy with the Father in this story.

I think about what it was like the day his youngest son walked out of his home and made his trip to the far country. How hard that was for his Dad. Even though, by all accounts, his son was not exactly a “good son”.

Just a few days earlier, he had asked his Dad for his part of the inheritance. Like asking for a trust fund. The Dad gives in and gives him his part of the property. The son sells it and uses the proceeds to finance his leaving of home He had dreamed of leaving home for a long time… to pursue what they call today, his odyssey years. He was looking forward to leaving that small town for the bright lights and adventure of the big city.  This youngest son seems to have no regard for his Father’s feelings. His actions reveal him to be selfish, narcissistic and self-centered. It is all about him. Even so, he is still his son.

That night at the dinner table, his place was empty. I imagine the older brother tried to comfort his Dad by saying,  “Dad, it will be easier now without him here. He was always using you… taking advantage of your love. He was lazy. He never helped around the house or the farm. I’m here for you. It will be easier.”

But I’m not sure the Dad saw it that way. In spite of it all, he loved his younger son.

Over the years the Father wondered why did he leave? Was it because he was living in the shadow of his older brother who made straight A’s… who was a hard worker… a good manager… everyone had him picked to take over the Dad’s small business one day. He had cast a long shadow for his younger brother. Everyone was proud of the older brother. They showed up at the Eagle Scout ceremony. They invited him to be a Rotarian and he was active in his community.

And how they loved him at church. They called him the good son.  He sang in the choir and became a member of the Session as a young adult. He went to the Bible studies.  Went on Mission trips. He was a person of faith and a model for others to follow. His father and mother were proud of him. Proud to call him the son. Anyone would be proud to call him their son.

Imagine growing up in the shadow of a brother like that!

Perhaps that’s why he left: he did what many sons would do in that situation: leave. Go out on his own. Leave all of that behind and start over. In a way he was giving a gift to his family. They would no longer have to live with a son who was ungrateful and such a disappointment. So he decided to leave. Make something of himself.

Maybe one day his Dad and Mom would be proud of him. So he took the money his Dad gave him and left.

That was the last time they heard from their son for years. Years passed and no word.

The father checked the mailbox. No word. He checked facebook… but he had been blocked. He kept looking down the driveway hoping to see his son come home… but day in day out… nothing.

It didn’t keep him from worrying. When the recession came … he wondered how his son was making a living. Being away from home did not keep him from wondering and worrying.

If he had known what had happened to his son, he would have been worried. Things had not gone well in the big city. Dreams went bust.  He squandered away his trust fund… was homeless on the streets. He moved from one homeless shelter to another… picking up a dirty job here and there. He had, as we like to say, hit rock bottom. He was lost indeed. Financially lost. Personally lost. Spiritually lost.

Lost and alone in the world. So desperate, he decided to swallow his pride and head home. He prepared a speech… was ready to take his medicine.

Along the way he was ready to hear the “lecture”.   He could imagine one of the servants meeting him on the edge of town and telling him, “Wait till your dad gets a hold of you!”

He already knows what his Dad is going to say:

“Look at you. Good Jewish boy. You smell like a pig. I tell you what you’re going to do. I’m going to put you in your back bedroom and you’re going to sit on the edge of the bed, and you’re going to think about it. I knew you would mess up. You sit right here and think about what you have done… to me, your mother and your brother. And when you are ready to get out of that bedroom and straighten up your life, you come out of there and tell me how sorry you are you’ve wasted your whole inheritance… and hurt a lot of people.”

Yeah, he knew the lecture. So on the way home the Son prepares his own speech:

“Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you. I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.”  Beg for mercy.

He was ready to make his speech. He was not ready for what happened.

As he came to the edge of town, he sees his Dad…  his Dad is running toward him… his old man is out of breath… he hugs him… he kisses him… when the son starts his speech, the father interrupts-… He won’t even let him finish his well-rehearsed speech.His Dad calls out to the servants… Go, get these rags off of him… get him clean clothes, dress shoes, put the family ring on his finger and get ready for a party. A real party! Invite the friends… get the band (not a DJ but a live band)… we are going to celebrate.  And celebrate they did.

Except the older brother. He is not at the party. Do you know where he was? Working. Working for his Dad. He is too busy working to even notice there was a party until he heads home for the day and hears music and sees some dancing.

He asks one of the servants what is going on. He said, haven’t you heard… your brother came home. Your father ordered a feast… filet mignon for everyone….because he is home safe and sound.

And the older brother said, “That’s great. I’m so glad my brother is home. Why didn’t you come get me so I could give my brother a hug? Get a plate ready for me. I’m ready to celebrate!”   No. That is not what he said.

Instead he said something like this: “He what? Dad threw a party for the rascal? I can understand letting him back in, but after what he did he ought to come through the back door and eat in the kitchen for a while. He ought to be put on probation, a trial period, maybe work off some of the money he took from the old man. That boy ought to learn a lesson or two. But a party? Where is the lesson in that?”

This older brother wants nothing to do with a party. Or his younger brother.  He wants nothing to do with forgiveness or reconciliation or any of that soft hearted stuff.

In fact, the older brother is lost to his anger… his sense of right and wrong… the grudges he held against his younger brother did not disappear over time. And his resentment is growing against his Dad. It wasn’t fair. Just wasn’t fair.  It’s not the way the story is supposed to go.

One time when Fred Craddock preached on this parable, a member of the congregation had listened to the sermon and said he didn’t care for what he heard.

Craddock asked, “Why?”

The man said, “Well, I guess I don’t like that story.”

Craddock asked, “What is it you don’t like about it?

He said. “It is not morally responsible.”

Craddock asked, What do you mean by that?”

“Forgiving that boy,’ said the man. “It’s not morally responsible!”

Craddock asked, “Well, what would you have done?”

The man said, I think when came home he should have been arrested.”

Craddock asked the man,, “What would you have given the prodigal?”

The man said, “Six years.”

That would have been the attitude of a lot of Jesus’ listeners that day. Let’s be honest: It is still the attitude of  many Jesus’ own followers even today. Maybe some of us here in this sanctuary today.

These reactions echo the sentiment of the older brother who also turns out to be lost. Understanding the lostness of the older brother is as important to our understanding this story as is the younger.

Jesus also wants us to consider the lostness of the older brother. The one who is lost and doesn’t know it. He is lost, lost, lost, lost, lost.

But, lest we forget, he is also loved, loved, loved, loved as well.  The father leaves the party … and it is a hard conversation. He tries to talk to his son… but the son is too angry to listen.

But the father listens to the anger and the hurt… maybe years of his own resentment of having to be the “good son”… Do you know how hard it is to be the good son?

To try to earn your Father’s love and respect?

And in a tender moment he wants his older son to understand… that he is loved as well… not for what he did but for who he is: his child.  And he so desires for him to celebrate the homecoming of his brother… almost as if to say, the party won’t be complete without him.

Make no mistake, the Father loves his older son as well who is lost. In a way, he is waiting for his older son to come home… spiritually speaking… to come home to grace… and know the joy of forgiveness …

Jesus tells the story because he wants us to know that God loves us like that. Jesus sees we are all lost- maybe lost to our goodness… maybe lost to our wandering- either way we are lost… and our only hope is to discover the gracious love of God for all of us… and I mean, all of us. This is a story of the revolutionary, radical love of God. Which is good news for everyone… everyone! This is the parable not so much of prodigal sons as the Loving Father!

A southern Baptist preacher Will Campbell taught me  this truth and practiced it in a radical way. He lived in a time of polarization, division and racial tension. Marches. Sound familiar. But it was the 1960s. I love Will Campbell because he was so unlike any southern Baptist minister I ever knew growing up in the south.

He grew up in Mississippi and was ordained at 17 years old in a rural Baptist church… he went to Yale Divinity school and then returned home to be very, very active in the civil rights movement. He was friends with the giants of the movement like King and John Lewis. He marched. He was a campus minister at the University of Mississippi. He was committed to justice for all. He put those thoughts and prayers into action.

And then, in 1967, he came to a realization that chilled him to his bones as a Christian. One day he realized that he had begun to hate his enemies. Specifically, he hated the Klu Klux Klan. He said, “After twenty years my ministry had become, without my realizing it, a ministry of liberal sophistication…”

While he was succeeding at becoming a good liberal, he was failing to follow his calling. He believed God loved no one more than the least, the last and the lost.

Who was more lost than the Klan? It troubled him that in their angry faces he recognized the friends, family and neighbors of the past.

So he began to reach out to various Klan members and reached out to them for prayer.  He met with them to hear their stories, to sing and pray. He never changed his positions on racial equality and justice… and people on the left and right criticized him for his actions. Sounds like what happened to Jesus.  Many in the civil rights movement distanced themselves from him. He received hate mail.

When he was challenged, he would pull out a worn copy of the Bible… “here,” he would say, thumping his finger on a passage from 2 Corinthians 5: “Reconciliation!” he would say, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. No longer holding men’s misdeeds against them.”  He would pause.  “It’s a hard idea to accept, and that’s why the gospel is a whole lot more drastic than most folks have ever dreamed.”

One night he headed down to Granite Quarry, NC (near Charlotte) to meet with Bob Jones, the Grand Dragon of the KKK who had been arrested, tried and convicted and on the following day  would be going to jail for many years. He had grown up Lutheran.

He sat in the living room with family and friends – everyone telling stories, and drinking and trying to stay upbeat…. Around 2am, Will asked if he could lead a communion service. “Well, yes,” Jones said, “Let’s have communion”

So they gathered in a circle and passed around the bread and the cup. Will picked up his guitar and said, “I’m gonna sing a song that to me is the essence of the Christiian faith. It was a country song popular at the time, called, “Anna, I’m Taking you Home”

It was a song about a wayward woman and the way in which her man forgave her.

Before he sang the song he said this:

“Lord, old Brother Bob here is going off to jail for a while.

And we’re gonna ask you to kind of keep an eye on him.

And on us.

Lord, you know he’s not a saint.

And you also know that we shore ain’t.


But the book tells us that’s why you died.

So that God and sinners could be reconciled.

And we’re gonna drink to that, and if it is all the same

We’ll sing a song in Jesus’ name.


Then the song:

Anna, take off that tight-fitting dress.

Take those cheap-looking shoes from your feet.

Wash that powder and paint from your face.

For Anna, I’m taking you home.


Turn off that scarlet light in your window

That tells the world what kind of girl you’ve become

I’m taking you back, where there’s folks who love you

Anna, I’m taking you home.”


Jesus reminds us that God’s deepest desire is to find lost souls and to bring us home… not only to bring us home, but to welcome us with a party… where love and joy abounds.

The party is already taking place. He wants us to come. Won’t we come?  It’s a great party. Let’s go! We’ll have a great time! Amen.