Monday, November 28, 2011

"There was a man who had two sons."


               Many years ago, at the annual clergy conference of the Diocese of Oklahoma, I was introduced to a teacher of the New Testament named Brandon Scott.  Dr. Scott is a Roman Catholic layman who at the time taught at a Disciples of Christ seminary at Phillip’s University in Enid, Oklahoma.  His topic for us clergy that year was the parables of Jesus, and he used as a basis for his lectures his book Hear Then the Parable.  Throughout the two days of teaching on parables, Dr. Scott opened to me a new world of understanding of the life and times of Jesus and a means to begin what has become a lifetime exploration of the richness of these brief but intensely deep and moving stories by which our Lord invites his hearers, then and now, to come closer to the heart of God.

               Perhaps the most widely recognized parable of Jesus is known almost universally as the Prodigal Son.  Prodigal can mean wasteful, but it also means extravagant, as in “prodigious.”  The problem with titling this parable the Prodigal Son is that it points to the younger son only, and ignores the complete cast of characters.  Dr. Scott in his lectures and in his book reminds us that Jesus introduces the parable with these words, “There was a man who had two sons.”  We do well to remember that the story does not conclude with the return of the younger son.

               The two books we are using for this year’s Advent exploration and meditation are: The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming by Henri J. M. Nouwen and The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller.  Each author approaches the parable using his unique lens, and both challenge us to open our hearts to God’s welcome and prodigious love for absolutely all of us.  Each also calls us to repent of our close-mindedness toward both the Father’s generosity and the other brother’s refusal to be in relationship.

               As we of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth work toward becoming a more reconciling community, and especially as we live in the “in-between time” of separation and reunion, let us use both the parable of the man with two sons and these two books as meditation on our life in God’s grace and the possibility of reconciliation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stories of Homecoming

This Advent I want to invite you to join me in reading two books -- The Prodigal God, Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller, a Presbyterian; and The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen, a Roman Catholic.  Both deal with the parable of the man who had two sons, albeit from different lenses.

I will be re-reading both books. Please join me in reading one or both of these books during the next four weeks.  I will offer regular, but not daily, reflections on the themes and insights each author offers.  Both men are well respected pastors with a deep corpus of helpful writings for Christians seeking to deepen their spiritual journey.

I chose this theme for Advent as many in our diocese are preparing for a return from exile. Some have been away from their old church homes for three years now and hope to regain them soon. Others are in whole congregations which exiled themselves from the rest of us. We hope many of them will come home soon, too.

Please join the discussion in the Comments section.

Blessed reading and a joyous Advent to all.

The Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl
Provisional Bishop of Fort Worth

Suggestions on where to get the books:

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, by Timothy Keller
ISBN-10: 1594484023
ISBN-13: 9781594484025

Publisher: Riverhead Books
155 pages

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming, by Henri Nouwen

ISBN-10: 023252078X
ISBN-13: 978-0232520781
Publisher: Darton Longman and Todd (May 1994)
151 pages

For Episcopalians near Fort Worth, the Barnes and Noble store in University Park at 1612 S. University Drive, Fort Worth, has ordered several copies. Other Barnes and Noble stores will have them, but perhaps not as many copies.

Both also are available at The Keller book also is available in a Kindle and a Nook edition., an eBay company, has both books.