Nearing the end of our Wednesday Fellowship, we were about to read the story most often called “The Prodigal Son” that is found in the 15th chapter of Luke. Chris startled me speaking up from the back row. “Pastor, just tell us the story.” When I share the Good News of Christ’s love, I often use this parable that Jesus told. People have heard me reference that, so she wanted to hear me tell it that way.
I thought for a second and told the sad tale of the selfish son who could not wait for his Dad to die to claim his inheritance. He took his wealth and went off to celebrate, foolishly thinking that the best life was in the bright lights of a never-ending party. It was all ‘wine, women, and song’ until the day when the money ran out.
His friends disappeared when he could no longer buy drinks and make them laugh, as ‘friends’ of that nature always do. If the only friends we have are those we find in our times of laughter, those we gather at a party, we will find ourselves alone, sooner or later, when sorrow comes. Know this – it will come. He was desperate and ended up in a pig sty; a Jewish boy feeding hogs. (Jesus had a sense of irony and humor.) He was so broke he considered eating some of the pigs’ food. And then it hit him. “I can go back home but Dad won’t let me be a son. I betrayed him, rebelled, broke his heart, spent his treasure. But, maybe if I am contrite, he will let me work on the farm. After all, even his farmhands live better than I do.”
After preparing his speech: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” (Luke 15:18-19, NIV) -he headed for home.
That morning his Dad was where he often was those days, remembering a lost son. Then he saw a figure a long way down the road. “That looks like my son,” He thought as he stared. Watching intently, he saw it really was the wayward son. (This the part that always stirs me so deeply that tears slide down my cheeks, even as they did in the telling last Wednesday evening.) The old man got up and did something he did not do often – he ran! This is how Jesus told it! “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.” (Luke 15:20, NIV)
The young man was confused. Kisses? An embrace? He was convinced that Dad would roar at him, reject him, and throw him out – but he found amazing love. “Bring this kid some clean clothes. Put him back on the family roster with the privileges of an heir. And, invite the neighbors to a celebration,” the old man said.
And so we learn of just how much our Father in Heaven loves us. We find it hard to believe sometimes. We know our own rebellion. We know how we judge others and convince ourselves that He is like us; hard, unforgiving, intent on ‘justice.’ But, He is not those things! He is love beyond imagining. Oh yes, that young man had regrets and scars from his time of indulgence. Forgiveness does not erase all the consequences of the past, but he was home again; accepted and loved.
I need to tell that story and hear that story often. Everything I do in my pastoral work comes down to this: God’s love for broken, wayward, often desperate, people who are captives of sin, confused by grace; who need to come home. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17, NLT)
Here is the word from the Word. Hear it again, like the first time.
“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him.
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NLT)