The number is a reference to (one estimate of) the number of parables in Jesus ministry. The team at the Crescent Church in Belfast’s University area had chosen it as a title for a series of five Sunday evenings looking at five of the parables that appear in Luke’s gospel. I was asked to speak on the story of the two lost sons in Luke 15, though under the heading “Turning Point” – this was part 4 in the series and was meant to serve as a turning point, but we also looked at three turning points in the story.
- When the younger son decided to leave.
- When the younger son decided to come home.
- (An unresolved, potential turning point) – when the older brother has to decide what to do.
They had decided to try a couple of experiments with the evening service format. The first was that tea and coffee were served in the foyer – those who know the church know that the foyer is a decent size – on the way in; the first fifteen minutes was given over to this. The service itself was shortened to 45 minutes, with a few songs and announcements followed by half an hour or so for the message. At the end of the service, there was an optional “Backstory” event. People were invited to head to the (very well appointed) coffee bar area at the back of the church for some discussion related to the message (and to drink more tea and coffee). A good idea, allowing especially younger people the chance to engage more with what is going on.
One of the fascinating parts of the evening was the row of Japanese students – spending a month studying in Northern Ireland – who had come along for what was probably their first experience in a Christian church: the Crescent Church is home to a family with strong links to Japan. I also met a Chinese, a Polish lady and a German.
For what it’s worth, here are the four discussion questions we used in the after-meeting (feel free to comment on any or all of them).
- Why do you think most people refer to this story as The Story of the Prodigal Son? What changes when we leave out the older brother?
- How do you think the religious people would have reacted to Jesus’ story?
- Do you think that older brothers find it more difficult to accept grace than younger brothers? Why or why not?
- Do you see yourself more as a younger brother or an older brother?