Luke 15:11-32 NIV, 1625
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
- We are working with what are the basics of our Christian belief – last week we looked at the great commandment that Jesus told – that we are to love God with all of our soul, body, mind and spirit and to love your neighbor as yourself. –A challenge to all of us.
- Today — Are we Worthy?
- Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
- But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
- There is an old saying: “The
old father sees a long way off, for dim eyes can see a long distance when the
son is the object.” So writes one of our
English Puritan ancestors, a guy named Edward Leigh, way back in the early
- Dim eyes can see a long distance when the beloved one, the one that reflects back those eyes’ own image, rises over the horizon.
- Grace is the center-point
around which all the rest of Christian faith revolves.
- Unfortunately, there are times and places when Christians have done a good job of obscuring that center, that core reality of God’s grace.
- We live in such a time where a large a percentage of people in our generation and our children’s generation view Christianity as judgmental, homophobic, self-righteous, and rigid.
- Many churches are more passionate about keeping up the facilities than about introducing the community to God’s grace.
- The world-famous theologian
and author C.S. Lewis—the author who gave us the Narnia stories—said that the
belief in grace was unique to Christianity.
- C S Lewis and colleagues put forth that trust in God’s unconditional love and acceptance of us as we are, offered God’s grace to human beings with no strings attached, and that that it’s unique among the world’s religions.
- This could be challenged, but I do think it’s fair to say that we Christians do hold grace at the center of our faith in a much more prominent way than anyone else.
- So, what is grace? Grace is that word we use to name the truth
that, in spite of our flaws, our failures, our brokenness, our misdeeds and
misgivings, or really anything else, God still loves us and stays in relationship
- In fact, God makes relationship with us, even when we reject God.
- That’s what the apostle Paul was testifying to in his letter to the Romans from In Romans 8 : That’s what grace is: unearned, undeserved, unmerited, even unexpected and as Paul wrote, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
- Of course, the truth is
that all of us do things day-in and day-out that try—whether intentionally or
not—to separate us from God’s love.
- We wander a long road to a far-off country like the prodigal son in this morning reading — far from the fullness of who we are as God intends us to be.
- For some of us, we might be
inclined to speak of as “sins” or moral wrongs—hatred, violence, prejudice,
exploitation of others.
- Other times, it’s the more sinister things like addictions, or self-doubt.
- Still others of us may think of ourselves as generally “good” people—upstanding citizens, wholesome and kind to neighbor and stranger alike.
- Grace means that God loves us and welcomes us, not because we are good, but because God is.
- At the Westminster Rescue Mission, many of the men – age 25 to 60+ constantly say that the do not understand how God can love them because of the way they have worked their lives – drug addiction, prostitutes, robberly and criminal activities and jail and prison. But the continued message to the men from the pastors and staff is that God does love you in spite of what you have done — because God is good!
- The old father in this
morning’s lesson sees a long way off. Waiting for his son to return.
- And I love the way the story captures the turning point for the younger son: “having finally come back to himself.” — that what threatens to separate us from God is that which separates us from our truest selves, from who we were created to be, in our fullness, by God
- There is so much that can
be said about this story.
- We could look at the younger son, how he wanted his rights without responsibility, and his freedom without relationship, and his future without waiting.
- We could look at the older brother, the one who refuses to join the party… we could even rightly ask about if—or, probably more accurately, when—we play the role of that older brother
- But for today, just dwell
with the father of these two.
- After all, another way we too often display our brokenness is in making everything all about us and not simply letting ‘God be God’.
- “Behind Jesus’ parable lies profound and overwhelming truth about God and God’s kingdom …
- It is just not about you or me, or my sin or your sin.
- It is about God and God’s life-giving love and mercy.”
- An example:
- Timothy Jones and his wife Samantha adopted an eight-year-old girl – we’ll call her Margaret – after her adoption was dissolved by another family. In other words, this child had been an orphan, then was adopted, but then was rejected and un-adopted. [i]
- Do you think this child
might have come with a little baggage?
- Yeah, she was a difficult child.
- Timothy says that her
previous family had never quite integrated Margaret into their family.
- For example, whenever they vacationed at Disney World, they took their biological children with them, but they left her with a family friend.
- Quite naturally, Margaret concluded that she must have done something terribly wrong to be banned from the yearly vacation to the Magic Kingdom.
- And so, by the time Margaret was adopted by the Jones family, she had seen dozens of pictures of Disney World with the smiling faces of her adopted siblings, and she had heard their stories about the parades and rides, but she had always been left on the outside of the Magic Kingdom.
- Tim says that once he found
out about this history, he made plans to take her to Disney World.
- Just what any good parent would do – and they expected Margaret to be excited and to feel their acceptance and love as they planned their vacation.
- However, it didn’t work out that way.
- They were not prepared for Margaret’s disruptive behavior in
the weeks leading up to the trip.
- She began to steal food instead of simply asking for a snack.
- She lied when it would have been easier to tell the truth.
- She whispered insults that were crafted to hurt her older sister as deeply as possible.
- A week before the trip, her tantrums had gotten so out of
control, that Tim took her aside to ask what was up.
- “I know what you’re going to do,” she stated flatly. “You’re not going to take me to Disney World, are you?”
- Suddenly her downward spiral started to make some sense.
- She had concluded that she was not good enough for the Magic Kingdom, and she’d learned that she couldn’t earn her way in — she had tried and failed that test several times before with her previous family that un-adopted her.
- So, she was behaving in a way that would guarantee the results she expected, that would affirm what she believed she was worthless.
- Let’s pause here with this story:
- I wonder if you’ve ever sabotaged your own happiness or
- Maybe you thought you weren’t good enough and that once they saw the “real you” that they would walk away, so you torpedoed the relationship before you could be hurt.
- Maybe you were just starting to make it in your career, but the old voices of “you’re a failure, you’ll never amount to anything”, and “who do you think you are, anyway?” brought you back to your old reality – so why bother?
- Do you feel regret or guilt for things you’ve done?
- Of course.
- But we often confuse guilt with shame, and they are not the
- The difference between guilt and shame is the difference between “I did something bad” and “I am bad”.
- It’s the difference between “I made a mistake”, and “I am a mistake”.
- Guilt allows me to apologize if I hurt you, or to evaluate my performance versus whom I am striving to be.
- But shame colors
- Shame lives deep in our secret self, from where it is all-encompassing and always destructive.
- Shame is a soul-eating emotion. (Carl Jung)
- Back to the story of Margarete
- Eight-year-old Margaret was being the person that rejection and shame had taught her to be, and so was sabotaging her dream vacation.
- Tim confesses that when he sat her down, he was tempted by the natural response, “If you don’t start behaving better, you’re right, we won’t take you.”
- That’s what she expected.
- But, by God’s grace he caught himself and instead asked her,
“Is this trip something we’re doing as a family?”
- She nodded.
- “Are you part of this family?”
- She nodded again.
- “Then you’re going with us. Sure, there may be some consequences to help you remember what’s right and what’s wrong — but you’re part of our family, and we’re not leaving you behind.”
- Did everything magically change after that conversation?
- She pretty much spiraled out of control at every hotel and rest stop during their road trip to Orlando.
- But she still got the thrills of the rides and of posing for pictures with Cinderella and Mickey Mouse.
- In their hotel room that first evening, a very different
- She was exhausted and a little weepy, but her month-long rebellion had faded.
- After she dropped into bed, Tim said their bedtime prayer and asked, “So how was your first day at Disney World?”
- She closed her eyes and snuggled down.
- After a few moments, she said, “Daddy, I finally got to go to Disney World. But it wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.”
- “It wasn’t because I was good; it’s because I’m yours.”
- That’s the message of unmerited outrageous grace.
- Thanks be to God!
- [i] By Jeremy Bourma