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Fourth Sunday in Lent Mothering Sunday

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church Budapest, Hungary 27 March 2022 Fourth Sunday in Lent Mothering Sunday Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 “Your brother has come...” According to recent news reports, the Ukrainian authorities have promised to turn over any Russian prisoner-of-war, if only his mother will travel from her home in Russia to Ukraine to pick him up and take him back home with her. The clear message is that mothers, perhaps better than anyone, understand the futility and cost of war, a perverse and deadly game played alas throughout the centuries mostly by men; specifically older men in expensive suits and ornate suites sending younger men in uniform to their deaths in fields and trenches. No word on how many, if any, Russian mothers have taken up the Ukrainians on their offer and made their way across the battle lines to collect their hapless soldier sons. Still, while the Ukrainian offer is almost surely a kind of propaganda ploy, it is an idea worth thinking about this mid-Lent as we commemorate in the Church calendar Mothering Sunday. No one is quite sure of the origins of the day, by the way, although conjectures abound. It may, according to some experts, date back to late medieval times when devout Christians would apparently return to their baptismal, or mother, churches on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, though there is scant evidence in the historical record of this ever happening. The call to return home, to one’s origins, as the Ukrainian authorities surely know, is always strong. According to those who apparently have time on their hands to keep track of such things, mothers – or at least the word mother – are mentioned no fewer than two-hundred times in Scripture from Eve, the mother of us all, to Mary, the Mother of our Lord and so also the Mother of God, as the Council of Ephesus declared her to be. In theology, the Church itself is also often referred to as mother. And no matter our religion, we dare not forget that this lowly planet, floating in the middle of nowhere, has also long been called Mother Earth, for it gives and sustains life itself. It too is our home. Still, I suppose there is something nearly perverse in the Church assigning as our Gospel text this Sunday the quintessential story of fatherly love, the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son, a story in which all three main characters are in fact men: the Father and his younger and older Sons. Not a word here about mothers, much less daughters or sisters. Where are they, one is tempted to ask. To be fair, alternate Mothering Sunday readings are available for this day. But rightly or wrongly, I have chosen to retain the readings assigned for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Would the story of the Prodigal Son have been different, one wonders, if all the characters in it had indeed been women; a mother and her daughters, say? Good question. I leave the answer to your imagination. I, for one, suspect the story itself is universal in its scope. The Parable of the Prodigal Son – or daughter if you prefer -- touches all of us: fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and yes, even bachelor-uncles like me.

The name given the story, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is something of a misnomer, it seems to me. For, it is only tangentially about that wastrel, the good-for-nothing Prodigal Son, an immature and head-strong young man, if there ever was one, apparently tired of living under his father’s thumb and in the shadow of his older, more mature, brother. The Prodigal collects his inheritance, and off he goes; promptly, almost predictably, squandering “all his money on dissolute living,” as the text tells us. That means of course, if I need spell it out, he spent all he had on drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll. Still, having lost everything, the young man quickly enough comes to his senses – give him credit for that much at least. He returns to his home and Father, seeking forgiveness and acceptance. In fact, he has a plan for achieving that: He will work as a kind of servant, he intimates, and presumably earn again his father’s love. Some experts note, correctly I suppose, that the Prodigal does not have a true conversion experience. It is only his own pain and miseries which turn him around, not an understanding of the problems he has caused his Father and family. In any case, the point is that, however mixed his motives, the Prodigal Son is at least not afraid to admit his mistakes, to return home. His father, no doubt much more the central character of the Parable than the Prodigal Son, welcomes his Son home with open arms. His prodical Son’s work plan for winning back redemption, on the other hand, means nothing to this father, for he gives redemption and acceptance without reservation. No use trying to earn it. Without so much as addressing his Son directly, much less chastising him, he orders the servants to prepare a lavish meal and celebration. “This son of mine was dead,” he proclaims, “and is alive again.” He asks no explanation. He points no fingers and assigns no blame. He simply welcomes his Son home. The Elder Son, allow me to call him the Prodigy Son for he is indeed a prodigy of energy and industry, is the one the Father can rely on. He is the go-to guy. And, he knows it. He does everything...and everything right. And, he is quick to point it out to anyone who will listen. He manages the farm and property and works like a slave for his father. Not for him the orgies and riotous living of his younger brother. Yet tragically and ironically, in his self-pity he becomes even more alienated from his Father than his prodigal brother. Like his brother, he too labours under the false impression that he must work, and work hard, to win his Father’s love and approval. Just imagine his frustration to find that it simply is not so. He cannot fathom the fact that the Father can shower his love and affection on both his sons equally and without qualification and yet without in any way diminishing his love for one or the other. He may never have left home physically, but it turns out he has never even been home spiritually. Luckily for both sons of course, and for us as well, the Father has enough love for each of them, and all of us, and then some. “You are with me always,” he says to the older Son. “Everything I have is yours.” His sons cannot win his love for the simple reason that he gives it away, one might almost say wantonly, profligately. I suppose, come to think of it, we could call him the Profligate Father. God of course makes this same commitment and promise of unconditional love to each of us. So, whether we find ourselves this day in Budapest or Bristol or, God forbid, on battlefields in Ukraine, the God and Father, the God and Mother, of us all has seen us approaching from afar. And as he does in our Lord’s Parable, he again drops everything and welcomes us with open arms. For, in his presence, we too are again home at last. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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