Scripture: Luke 15
*Audio can be found at the bottom of the page*
“We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” – Luke 15:32
There is something reassuring about old familiar stories: they are like the old family recipe that has been passed down for generations – warm cookies, cake with that special family ingredient. They are comfortable, they often bring warm memories to mind.
Our story from the Gospel of Luke this morning is one of those stories – it is a story that most people know just by the title it’s been given: the parable of the prodigal son. Even if you couldn’t remember all the details before we heard it this morning, you know the general idea. Perhaps when you heard the story you were imagining Rembrandt’s famous picture of the Prodigal Son returning to his father – the love and affection of the Father pouring out for his lost son.
Whenever, we hear a familiar story like this one, it is easy for us to start thinking about where we fit in. Perhaps we feel like we have been the prodigal son, walking away from God and found ourselves returning to him. Or maybe we identify more with the other brother who is angry and unwilling to celebrate the joyous return of his irresponsible brother. Or maybe there are times when we take our lesson from the father of the story – teaching us to lavish forgiveness and blessings upon those in our life (our children, our friends, whoever!) who have wandered away from us.
This is all well and good because it is important for us to find relevance in the Bible, otherwise we wouldn’t pay much attention, but as we read and hear these stories we need to remember that they reveal more about God then give us ways to live our lives – especially with a parable like this which doesn’t end with Jesus telling his hearers to ‘Go and do likewise’ as he tends to do when he is making a point about how we live our lives.
In fact, the parable of the prodigal son loses some of its meaning when we divorce it from the two parables that precede it: the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the lost sheep.
Jesus tells all three parables in response to some Pharisees scoffing at him eating with tax collectors and sinners, scoffing at the intimacy and fellowship with people that they had written off as outside the grace and love of God.
These aren’t stories to teach us a lesson about our life – Jesus tells three stories, around the very same premise because he is trying to make a point, he is trying to impress upon his hearers, and upon us the importance of the message.
Maybe if we hear it three times we’ll actually get it.
In the first parable a shepherd leaves his flock to seek out one wayward sheep, rejoicing when it is found, throwing an elaborate party with his friends over the return.
In the second, a woman who has ten silver coins loses one and goes through an intense and thorough search of her home until she finds it, rejoicing and calling her friends to a party to celebrate the recovery of her treasure.
And finally in the parable we heard this morning we have the story of the father who loses his son – a son who is a down right jerk, essentially telling his Father to die by asking for his inheritance early and then wasting all his father’s hard earned property on debauchery ending up in a foreign country, working in a job feeding pigs that made him unclean in the eyes of the Jewish community, cut off from his family and his people – dead for all intents and purposes.
When the son came to himself he returned to his father, a man who should have rightfully despised him, rightfully cut him off from the family and left him for dead. But instead the father throws all social convention to the wind, he runs with reckless abandon to embrace his son, he freely gives him the marks of sonship again (the best robe, sandals and a family signet ring) and throws him the biggest party and invites everyone to celebrate with him at the return of his lost son.
And finally the father isn’t able to rest when his other son can’t rejoice, he wants everyone to rejoice over the return of the lost, everyone is welcome and the Father spares nothing.
Jesus’ message to the Pharisees isn’t about their need to forgive their wayward children, or be better shepherds or take better care of their money. All three of the parables reveal the very heart of God, they reveal how God’s heart breaks for the lost and broken – even someone that is as lost and broken as the utter jerk of the son in the parable.
Jesus reminds the Pharisees and he reminds us that no one is too lost, no one is too far gone from God’s heart. No amount of sin and disobedience hardens God’s heart, but instead God’s heart breaks for everyone who is lost, and has wandered away from God’s love, even those who we might think are too far gone.
Jesus also reminds the Pharisees and reminds us that God’s heart also sings with a joy that fills the whole cosmos when the something that is lost, something as serious as the son thought dead, but also the silliest sheep or a precious coin is found again. God’s joy knows no limits; everyone that is lost is equally precious in the eyes of God, equally worthy of joy and celebration.
During Lent, we prepare our hearts and lives for the reality that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, all of our sin and disobedience no matter how big or small has been dealt with. The obstacle has been removed, we have been found, we have been welcomed back into the household of our God.
During Lent we prepare our hearts and our lives for the Good News that no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, and no matter what we or anyone else thinks of us – God invites us, ALL of us, to be his children once again, to experience the abundant and everlasting life that he longs to share with us and has prepared for us forever in his kingdom.
During Lent we prepare our hearts and our lives, for Jesus’ challenge to our prejudice and exclusion of those that we don’t think are worthy of God’s love, worthy of a place in God’s Church and God’s Kingdom. Like his challenge to the Pharisees, Jesus challenges us to see God’s heart open to all that are lost and broken, everyone who is hurting, everyone who is feels unworthy, everyone who has made bad decisions and done some bad things in their life, everyone even if they might be different from you.
Our parable today reminds us that God rejoices extravagantly for each one of our returns to him; the heavens resound when each one of us chooses life, over the death of sin and the brokenness of the world.
If you feel unlovable; if you feel like you are on the outside looking in, if you feel aren’t welcomed, in your community, or even here in this church – I want to tell you that God rejoices that you are here, God rejoices that you have come to worship, that you have come to know and follow Jesus. God rejoices to welcome you as his daughter or son.
On the other hand, if you or I are unloving, unwelcoming, refusing to share the love of God with someone who is different from us, then Jesus’ words in the parable this morning should shatter our conceptions of God, should shatter our conceptions of who God welcomes, and who we in turn are invited to share our table with.
No matter who you are, you are welcome at Jesus’ table; no matter what you’ve done you are welcome to join Jesus for his family dinner; here as we break the bread and drink wine together we are given a taste of our inheritance as children of God, and each one of us is equal in the eyes of God – equally worthy of love, of grace, of life and belonging.
It is God who is truly prodigal in this grand story of creation, sparing no expense on our behalf, giving everything so that we all might be his children. May we embrace this prodigal God and his Son Jesus, and may his life and his ways slowly transform our own today and forevermore.
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