Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Risky Business

Sunday 1st August 2021
9th After Trinity

Sung Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

One of my favourite films in my youth was “Risky Business” 

Starring Tom Cruise, it tells the story of a high school student living in an affluent suburb of Chicago 

Like his Father, he is hoping to go to Princeton but is tempted to savour some freedom before he leaves school 

His parents decide to go away on holiday and have a chat with him before they go 

Concluding with the immortal lines “we trust you”, no sooner have they left, than his best friend leads him astray 

On the first night, he raids his parents drink cupboard and takes his father’s car on a joy ride 

Matters go from bad to worse  

After hiring some call girls, he fails to settle his account, so one of his “new” friends takes an expensive ornament belonging to his Mother  

As the situation deteriorates further, he, again, takes his father’s car out for spin,  

This time it ends up in the drink 

Unable to pay for the repairs, an ingenious plan is hatched to put everything right before his parents return home 

And I won’t spoil the rest of film for you 

Whilst this is just an entertaining story-line 

Imagine, for a moment, if this situation was closer to home? 

Whilst you are away, your child decides to hold a party, advertised on social media, which results in your home being trashed 

They then decide to borrow your bank card and proceed to run up enormous debts – which you then have to pay 

Rather than face the music, they decide to go travelling instead 

Where even more debts are incurred –  

You hear nothing, but can see from Facebook they are living the high life 

Then out of the blue, the phone rings – it is your son or daughter  

“Hi Mother and Father, I’m back” 

Put yourself in the place of the parents for a moment and ask yourself what you would say or do? 
 

Would it be? 

[frostily] we will pick you up from the station and speak later? 

or/ 

After a dressing down at home, draw up a repayment plan spread over several years 

or say/ 

We are so thrilled to have you back. We will pick you up and, by the way, we are holding a party in your honour? 

The wonderful thing about parables is that we will all have mentally, put ourselves into the situation I have just described 

But I can be fairly confident that none of you would have gone for option three 

But that is the challenge we face this morning and the challenge is immense 

This parable is very powerful because, first and foremost, it plays with our sense of justice  

We can feel the injustice in the story and tend to identify with those who have been “wronged” 

First with the Father who has divested himself of some of his estate  

And then the elder son who, by contrast, has behaved impeccably  

As he says “I have worked like a slave for you and I have never disobeyed your command” 

But rather than reward his dutiful son, his father, instead, clothes the prodigal – in the finest raiment 

And then kills the fatted calf 

But by setting this parable in this context, it magnifies the main point of the parable which is about God’s love 

God’s love is not just for the righteous – but for everybody, both good and bad 

And those who deserve it least receive the greater share  

Furthermore, God is prepared to suffer anything and everything  

Despite the insults and disgrace heaped upon him, it is the Father who rushes out to meet his son  

Martin Luther once said that if the Bible only consisted of the parable of the prodigal son, it would be enough 

Martin Luther King later said – nearly five hundred years later,  

“The greatness of our God is that he…is a forgiving father, whose heart was filled with unutterable joy when the prodigal son returned home.” 

But there is another part of this story which can sometimes divide opinion  

And that is the extent to which the prodigal son deserves the love that is bestowed on him by his Father 

At first blush, he doesn’t deserve any at all 

Profligate, immoral and utterly selfish, he elicits little sympathy  

Some however, believe that he is deserving of God’s love because of his so called “change of heart”  

He throws himself on his Father’s mercy –  

As he says 

I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” 

The word in Greek is “metanoia” which means a change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion 

In other words, he was rewarded with his Father’s love because he repented 

But I take issue with this interpretation because, whilst the prodigal son may have repented, it was not voluntary 

He had no choice – and was forced into it  

Indeed, repentance would defeat the parable because the Father’s love is unconditional  

It can be nothing else 

And so returning to my film, it is perhaps much more than the “teenage comedy” which I enjoyed in my youth 

Like the affluent young man in the film, we too are given freedom by God  

“I trust you” he says before he sets us on our path in the world 

But we too make an unholy mess of all the freedoms that are bestowed upon us  

Metaphorically “trashing the car” 

And whilst we may or may not make amends, we are all ultimately in the same place 

Like the prodigal son, we are all forced to throw ourselves on the mercy of God because we too are all left helpless 

But whether we repent or not – God will always rush out to meet us 

Life is a “risky business” but we are all so lucky to be his prodigals