June 5, 2022Luke 15.11-32, NRSV (The Story of a Man Who Had Two Sons)
The Prodigal Sermon by Bobby Phillips
Ever since I was young, probably around kindergarten, the talk of high school graduation was put into the back of my mind. It was always portrayed as this epic celebration and everything in life would be 100% perfect. But as I am sure most people have experienced, there are still things that give me uncertainty. I still have my summer to plan out with friends and family, but the most pressing thing is preparing to leave home for college.
When I began to inspect the story of the prodigal son I initially thought that the return home part of the story was the only thing that Jesus meant for us to learn from. However, the main thing that anyone, especially my age, is learning about the decision to leave. As we all know, at the beginning of the story the younger son decides to take his inheritance and move away from his family. As someone who is about to leave home for college this fall it feels all too similar. Granted, Jesus didn’t have college back in the day but he still knew the excitement that comes from leaving home at a young age.
Most people when they look at the younger brothers’ journey they see a story of absolute failure, which may be right. But I also think that the younger brother learned an extremely valuable life lesson dealing with failure and knowing that not everything you want to do has to be done alone.
We often find ourselves in positions where we either don’t know what is next or are hesitant to take a risk on something. Maybe it’s a job opportunity or a possible change in major at school, it could be deciding on a place to live, friends to make, or maybe even something as simple as deciding where to eat. I think many people will look at the story of the prodigal son and see a story that shows everything that can go wrong if we decide to take a risk and reach out of our comfort zone. However, I believe it is a story on how we should take those risks and know that there will always be someone there for us to come back to and ask for help. Maybe it could be your family, friends, or a church, as long as it’s somewhere you feel safe and comfortable.
I remember deciding with my friends to learn guitar and starting a band. When we first sat down and decided that we wanted to start a band none of us knew how to play any of the instruments that we know now. So naturally, as one does, we kept talking about how “We’re going to start a band” and “I can’t wait to see what shows we end up playing!” and keep talking like this for about a month and none of us actually getting our instruments. Finally, one day my friend Alex decided to go buy a guitar and I can vividly remember one of my other friends say as we get into the car “I feel like we’re kind of committed to this now.” The idea of learning how to play intimidated me, I thought to myself things like “Do I really want to spend the time practicing?” “What if all my friends are better than me and I can’t fill the role needed for the band?” I might not know the answer to the second question but I do know that deciding to commit to playing was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Nearly every Saturday my friends and I meet up and play music which is almost always the highlight of my week. Although I knew I might fail, my friends being there right beside me gave me the confidence to keep going.
Another risk that my family and I took was deciding to move churches about halfway through my 7th grade year. I remember overhearing my dad talking to Terri Ramsey about some random church called College Park and thinking to myself “Are we really about to do this?” Once we came here I felt nothing but acceptance from the church whether it be questions I had, things I needed help with, or simply just having the ability to be myself without being judged. This church has been so good for me and my family for all that it has provided us.
I remember fondly our youth mission trip to New York. I had already been here for about a year and a half so I knew everyone but still felt like I was finding my footing. On that trip Daniel Maas and I had been hanging out and talking about our Cross Country Season that was coming up. It was really exciting for me since I was talking to someone that was older and in high school. One night, the youth group decided to play a game at some park in downtown Manhattan, we were beginning to set up when Daniel looked at me and asked; “Would you want to go for a run?” I agreed and that night we ended up running 10 miles. I remember looking over the water towards the Statue of Liberty on my left and seeing the giant skyscrapers to my right. That run was definitely one of my favorite runs of all time and the fact that I was able to talk with Daniel kept my mind at ease and not pay attention to the fact that I was running such a long distance. On the way back on the subway I remember being absolutely exhausted yet extremely excited that I was able to complete the whole run without stopping and got to do it in one of the most famous cities in America. Having Daniel with me gave me the strength to keep going because trust me, I wouldn’t have done that by myself.
Mom and Dad – just want you to know I do plan to make better choices than the prodigal son – but also I do see the value from learning from his story. Seeing someone fail and have a support system is reassuring since I know I have people to go to when I need it. We can never do anything completely on our own, and that’s ok, because living a life knowing is better than one wondering.
The Opener by Holden Biffle
Good morning, at first I was really nervous about doing this. However as I look out and see my college park family, friends, and actual family I can feel the encouragement and constant support you give me.
It is a little intimidating to be “the opener” – but to be honest – I spend most of my evenings now as the opener.
Since I can remember, I’ve played baseball, and for all of my career I have enjoyed pitching the most. The constant state of pressure of controlling the game and all of the eyes in the stadium being on me. It’s very nerve racking. Knowing that if I messed up it wouldn’t just affect my game but the entire team! This has always sat in the back of my mind when I was on the mound. Telling myself to not mess up and not let the team down. I had this problem up until recently.
This summer I have had the ability and honor to play for a collegiate summer ball team. Now some of you might laugh at the name, and I assure you my teammates are just as funny as the name suggests. The Carolina Disco Turkeys playing out of the Winston Salem Dash stadium is where you can find me for a large part of my summer. As I was surrounded by fans of the Disco Turkeys and live broadcasts for the first time I was loving every second of it. Having the ability to sign my very first autograph was something I will never forget.
Comparing it to the scripture I would say I am at the point where the prodigal son is partying and enjoying his new found freedoms. But just as in the story I had to crash somewhere it was just a little sooner than I expected.
My very first outing of the season didn’t quite go as planned. As I stepped up on the mound and the pressure hit me I crumbled under it. Ball after ball, turning into walk after walk I was not only falling behind in the game. But I was mentally falling behind as well.
Finally following some lucky plays made in the field behind me I was done with my first inning. I was more nervous about going back into the dugout more than anything. Whether it would be a silence from my teammates or a lecture from the coach I was hesitant to face all of my team members that I felt like I just let down. Just as the Son was scared to come back to his father.
However when I took my first step and looked towards the dugout I saw Coach Lewis already out and walking towards me with a smile. This helped my nerves calm down a ton! But what he said next instantly gave me this sense of relief or forgiveness and it will always stick with me. He said “whatever you do just make sure you are having fun. Baseball is supposed to be fun! This is summer ball you could have given up a hundred runs for all I care.” This felt like my prodigal son moment. The feeling that his pep talk had given me made me feel like I was the one sitting at the feast for the prodigal son’s return.
Throughout his return home, even when he felt that he had messed up, the prodigal son still returned home to a feast thrown by his father.
As I look into the near future and see college just right in reach I can’t help but find myself in fear of being the prodigal son. I should be after all. Starting in middle school all throughout High school, college was the end goal. I can not lie, The fear of now going into such a new place and messing up does scare me a ton. After all this is what I’ve been working for for so long.
However knowing that there is such a great community sitting hear listening to me talk now I feel like y’all will welcome me back with open arms and still view me as the same kid that walked in the doors for the first time in 8th grade. The one who was a little too competitive in the games, or also as Bobby’s friend.
This feeling of a welcome return is not only inspiring me for my next time I pitch for the Disco Turkeys, but as I step into the new scary and responsibility filled world of college, I will take this moment with me as I embark on this new journey. And I am grateful for the ways that the love of this community is supporting me, too.
Daniel and Bobby I have all the confidence that you will do amazing things in your journeys at App state and Guilford college. But when the pressure is on and you feel like you are stuck or hopeless please don’t be scared to be the prodigal son. There is nothing to be afraid of with such an amazing family, friends, and the best church community in the world. There will always be a place for you to return to.
Lessons from My Own Dad by Daniel Sasser
When my sister and I were in middle school, we really wanted a dog.
Our dad did not! Unfortunately for him, a friend who knew we wanted a dog offered us a puppy for free!! So against his own wishes, he agreed. Dad took us to Petco to get all the things our dog would need – a leash, dog bowls, a dog bed, food, treats – he really went all out for her. And then when we got home, she immediately peed on the couch.
I’m surprised he didn’t throw her out the window right then!
We named her Lucy, and for some reason I insisted her middle name be snowflake. There were many times that my dad got up in the middle of the night only and stepped in dog pee in his socks. You could hear him cussing quietly to himself. She often ate our toys – I remember a time she ate one of my drumsticks. How was I supposed to play the drums with just one drumstick? She loves our grandma more than us because she gives her a lot the scrap food – and she barks at every dog that passes by even though she’s actually a complete scaredy cat.
My dad really didn’t want a dog – even though she did eventually grow on him – but the thought of Ruby and I loving this dog mattered more to him.
I think of my own dad when I read the story of the Prodigal Son that we are talking about today.
In the story of the two sons, the father promises them both half of his possessions. Then, one day the younger of the two sons goes to his father and asks that he be given half of his father’s possessions immediately. His father agrees, and after giving his younger son what he promised him, the younger son takes it all up a few days later. He packs up all he had received and leaves his home and family behind. He moves to a far away country where he wastes it on substances and riotous living. After using all his money, a famine hit the country he was in, and she became stuck there. And during this, he began to feel hungry but lacked any money to buy food, he couldn’t even buy ramen. So he begins to work for a member of that country as his servant, but he seems never to get enough food. But it is at this point, that he remembers how his father’s workers were given more food than he is given now, so he decides to go home to work for his father rather than be his son. After traveling back home, he’s ready to offer his labor to his father, but his father spots him in the distance and welcomes him back with open arms. He then dresses him in nice clothes and orders a cow to be slaughtered and a party thrown for his son, and what a rager it was. Later the older son confronts his father about how unfair it is that his younger son left, wasted all he demanded from his father, and then returned home and was given a large party. While he, the older son, had always stayed by him but had never been given a party. His father responds – everything I have is yours, but your brother who strayed from the path, has returned and that is always something to celebrate.
At first, when I look at this story, I see a father who seems to be both an enabler and who has favoritism towards his younger son. After getting what he wants, he leaves his family behind, wastes everything, and only bothers going home because he selfishly thinks his situation will be better. But when I consider this story through the lens of my own dad, then it is about loving those who stray away and return, and a father showing that he will always welcome his children back with open arms.
As many of you know, my father died about two years ago from lymphoma. He was a hard worker who had an amazing gift for teaching and putting up with kids, but on the other hand he was a smart ass who never really grew out of it. This combination of traits made him beloved and annoying. After his death, I felt lost, and my faith in God wavered. But, of course, after you lose someone, hearing someone say it’s all part of gods plan doesn’t help. It was hard to lose him, and everyone in my family seemed to be hurting, so it was naturally hard to believe that God would let such a terrible thing happen. I don’t think god chooses who is taken away from us, we all owe god a death, and sometimes it’s far too early. And even now, I still don’t believe in God as much as I used to, and I don’t think I ever will. But knowing that Jesus told a story like this about a loving father helps.
My father was a man who cared so much about my sister and me. Every year we would go to Carowinds and would ride this one ride called the scrambler together. It was fun to try to squish the person on the outside! It was special to us that he was a teacher and that now and then when someone would hear our last name, they would ask “are you Mr. Sasser’s kids?”, and I would respond “why does he owe you money?”. Most of the time they would say that he was their teacher. He was definitely one of the favorite math teachers. He always hosted a spring fling every year, which was a sort of get-together for the whole family. He taught my sister and me to always have a good sense of humor and to laugh at ourselves often. He gave us a love for country music. He taught us the importance of standing up for ourselves, for each other, and for other people. And he gave us a love for College Park.
Even though my faith has wavered, my love of this place never has. Many of you were also his friends. This church has helped me with my mental health and the mourning process. I love the youth group here, and I know that even as I head off to college and eventually find my career, i know I will always be welcomed back here with open arms.
I think that is the point of this story – to know a place where no matter what you do, you’ll be welcomed back with love and understanding. That is what my family has been for me, that is what College Park and this youth group have been for me, and I try to believe that one day – maybe in the next life – there is a place like that waiting where this prodigal son will return to the open arms of his father.