My sermon from today. The first of a three part series on “Two Brothers and Their Father.”
Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 31:3 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.”
Turn with me this morning to the 15th chapter of Luke, we will be starting with verse 11. This will be part 1 of a three-part sermon. Christ gave this story along with many others in response to the questioned asked of Him in Luke 5:30, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners.” In fact almost all of the book of Luke from verse 30 of chapter 5 until the end of chapter 19 is Luke’s attempt to answer this question by using the parables and teachings of Jesus to explain, why Christ ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners.
In fact, in Jewish culture there was no more intimate setting than to be invited to eat a meal with someone. The Pharisees and Scribes, priests and rulers would not even consider an invitation to sit at the table with lowly people such as tax collectors, harlots and other such sinners.
When Christ said, “Love your enemies,” He was implying, invite them over for a meal or go get them a cup of cold water to drink. Because to show such kindness toward another showed that you truly care for that individual, no matter what may have happened in the past.
Luke chapter 15 starting in verse 11. “Then he said: ‘a certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me,” So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after the young son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.’”
Have you ever wondered what the word prodigal means. From Webster’s 1828 dictionary comes this explanation. Given to extravagant expenditures; expending money or other things without necessity; profuse, lavish; wasteful; not frugal or economical; as a prodigal man; the prodigal son. A man may be prodigal of his strength, of his health, of his life or blood, as well as of his money.
In-other words that we might use to describe this son are wasteful, reckless, and extravagant and perhaps the word that describes it best of all is uncontrolled.
Our scripture reading today from Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have drawn you with an everlasting love.”
The truth of matter is from the time each of us is conceived, until we draw our last breath the Holy Spirit is present whispering in our ear. No matter the circumstances of our birth, whether we were planned or we were an accident, and might I say, even if your parents did not plan on you being born, God knew you before you were born and planned on you being born and you being here on this earth is not an accident. And because God planned on you he gave each of us special gifts and abilities. He gave to each of us the riches of His kingdom.
As a parent there is joy in seeing your children grow up, spread their wings and leave the nest to become productive citizens and eventually have families of their own.
But as many of us know, what starts off as an innocent child, full of promise is not what we see as they grow older. Perhaps this has happened, not just to your kids, but perhaps this describes your life as well.
The Bible says, And not many days after the young son gather all together, journeyed to a far country and their wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
The heading in many Bibles for this story is “The Return of the Lost Son.” Implicit in the “return” is a leaving. Returning is a homecoming after a home-leaving, a coming back after have gone away. The father who welcomes his son home is so glad because this son “Was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” The immense joy in welcoming back the lost son hides the immense sorrow that has gone on before. Both for the Son and for the Father. Looking at the tender and joy-filled return, I have to dare to taste the sorrowful events that preceded it. Only when I have the courage to explore in depth what it means to leave home, can I come to a true understanding of the return.
To understand deeply the mystery of compassion, I have to look honestly at the reality that evokes it. The fact is that, long before turning and returning, the son left. He said to his father, “Let me have the share of the estate that will come to me.” Then he got together everything he has received and left.
Luke tells it all so simply and so matter-of-factly that it is difficult for us to realize fully what is happening here in this unheard-of event. The request was hurtful, offensive, and in radical contradiction of the most honored tradition of its time. In reality the request by the younger son was an admission on his part that he wished his father to be dead, he wants his father to die.
You see the son not only asked for the division of the inheritance but also for the right to dispose of his part. In the tradition of the time this story was told by Christ, even if such an arrangement had been made for the son to receive his inheritance, he would not be allowed to dispose of it as long as the father was living. In fact, the father could draw off that inheritance at any time until his death.
The implication of the request and the actions of the younger son are “Father, I cannot wait for you to die.”
The son’s leaving is therefore a much more offensive act than it seems at first reading. It is a heartless rejection of the home in which the son was born and nurtured and a break with the most precious tradition carefully upheld by the larger community of which he was a part. When Luke writes, “and left for a distance country,” he indicates much more than the desire of a young man to see more of the world. He speaks about a drastic cutting loose from the way of living, thinking and acting that has been handed down to him from generation to generation as a sacred legacy. More than disrespect, it is a betrayal of the treasured values of family and community. The “distant country” is the world in which everything considered holy at home is disregarded.
This explanation is significant to us, not only because it provides us with an accurate understanding of the parable in its historical context, but also and most of all because it summons us to recognize the young son in myself. At first it seemed hard to discover in my own life’s journey such a defiant rebellion. Rejecting the values of, my own heritage is not part of the way I think of myself. But when we look carefully at the many more or less subtle way we have preferred the distant country to the home close by, the young son quickly emerges. I am speaking here about a spiritual leaving home not a physically leaving of home.
More than any other story in the Gospel, this parable of the prodigal son expresses the boundlessness of God’s compassionate love. And when I place myself in the story under the light of divine love, it become painfully clear that leaving home is much closer to my spiritual experience than I might have thought.
Leaving home is much more than an historical event bound to a time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an enteral embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hand and hidden in their shadows. Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has “Fashioned me in secret, molded me in the depths of His love and knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and I search far and wide to find one.
Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that say: “You are my Beloved, on you my favorite” The same voice that gave life to the first Adam and spoke to Jesus, the second Adam is the same voice that speaks to all the children of God and sets them free to live in the midst of a dark world while remaining in the light. The Bible makes it clear that the voice heard by Jesus beside the Jordan river and upon mount Tabor can also be heard by me. And this is where home is.
But the son who wishes his father dead lives his life in search of a home. He spends his time, money, talents and his health in pursuit of the home he had without knowing it until he feels rejected, alone, unloved, rejected by friends and family until he finds himself at rock bottom with nowhere to turn or no one left to trust in.
I have seen people who have turned to drugs, prostitution, spiritualism and the occult all looking for that place called home. And I have seen people so riddled by guilt over the sins they have committed or they perceived to have committed that they flee from the one place they can find rest and happiness and that is home with their Father.
And because of sin, some have such a distorted view of family and meaning of what a family is that they cannot comprehend that there is any love in the home of the father. They too flee looking for and longing to find that place they can call home.
Yet all the time as they travel about looking for home in a dark, dark world the Father is looking and searching for them.
As long as I keep running about asking: “Do you love me? Do you really love me?” I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with “ifs.” The world will say, “Yes I love you If you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I will love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much.” There are endless “ifs” hidden in the world’s love. These “ifs” enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is always conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the world – trying, failing, and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because of what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.
“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lost-ness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Out addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment; the accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addiction condemns us to a futile quest in “a distant country,” leaving us to face and endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up. It is from there that God declares, I have drawn you with an everlasting love. The type of love that we in our addicted, degraded condition cannot comprehend, but a love that is ever present, every persistent in its calling us to come home. To the true home of the father, the father that never stopped loving us.
14 “But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in the that land and he began to be in want.” When he had expended all of his resources in prodigal living having nothing left he offered himself up to be used as the citizen of the land should see fit and in verse as it says in verse 15, “then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.”
For a child of Israel there was nothing more degrading or morally bankrupt that having to associate with things that were considered common or unclean. Feeding swine was the equivalent of performing or falling to lowest level possible. To be so degraded that you no longer were considered one of the children. Feeding the swine is the equivalent of now carrying out the business of this citizen which is to say the younger son has now become enslaved to sin.
16 “And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.”
The world offers no nourishment to feed the soul and the younger son was starving to death from spiritual hunger yet no one offered him food to eat. No one considered him of any worth that they would offer even a morsel of truth for the hungry, homesick boy to satisfy the hunger that burns within each of the children of the Father.
But the heavenly Father uses the circumstances of our life to create in us a desire for something better. Although sickness and death and suffering are a result of sin, the father can use these circumstances to awaken us to the fact that there might be something better.
And when he had sunk as low as he thought he could go the circumstances of his life woke him up. Verse 17, But when he came to himself he said, “how many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare and I perish with hunger!” 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”
20 And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
And while he was a great way off, the father saw him, had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
May I remind us all here this morning, this is the son who had requested of his father that his portion of the inheritance be given to him. Basically a request that told the father that I wish you were dead, no longer a part of my life in any way. I want your inheritance but I want you dead. A son that then foolishly threw the riches of his father away and soon found himself a slave to sin, unloved by one and all. This started him on his way back to his father.
What the father does is the true definition of grace. The father did not scowled him, he didn’t enhance the guilt the son already felt. He didn’t preach to the son. He didn’t point out all the faults the son had committed over the years. In fact, he didn’t even let the son finish speaking before the Father restored the son to the same place the son had before he had left.
Let’s read it again starting in verse 20. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. There is certainly no preaching or guilt trip involved in this tearful reunion. 21 “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in our sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”
Notice what happens in verse 22, The father cuts him off, not even allowing him to finish his well prepared speech. Instead the Father issues the orders to reinstate the younger son to his former place in the home. Watch what happens. 22 But the father said to his servants, Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 and bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and alive again; he was lost and is found and they began to be merry.
The father will allow no contemptuous eye to ridicule his son so he commands the servant to dress him and give him a ring and shoes. To begin the father cast his own mantle about the youth for the purpose of hiding his rags and sparing him the embarrassment of being seen in his tattered garments even by the servants of the household. Then he commanded a robe, a royal robe to brought for the son.
So it is when we return to Christ, he puts his shield of protection around us and then cloths us with his righteousness.
The story states that a ring was given to the son, a way of further signifying that the son was restored to his former place in the household. In Bible times a son would receive a ring as a signet signifying that they were part of a household and able to carry on business for the household. So the ring shows the son was restored to his former position
And now sandals were brought and put upon his feet, further indication that the father received the repentant prodigal as a son not as a servant because a servant typically would not have worn sandals.
The father not only provided for the needs of his son, but honored him, and in so doing gave evidence of the love and joy that filled his own heart.
Verse 24 sums it up 24 “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found and they began to be merry.”
Sin is separation from God and God is the giver and sustainer of life. If one separates himself from the sustainer of life by living a life of sin and in search of a new home, they are destined to everlasting death. Christ in the story makes sure we understand that one who was destined for death is not alive and assured of everlasting life in the world made new.
For those of us here that have perhaps prostituted ourselves to sin. Who daily live with the guilt of sin believing that sins committed are so great that it cannot possibly be forgiven need only look upon this story of the younger son who foolishly asked for his inheritance, wishing with all his heart that his father would just die.
Yet the Father held no grudge, require no great public display of repentance, but instead ran to meet his son. He restored him to his former position, with no questions asked, no preaching no guilt ridden speech. No making to feel less than human or to be just a lowly servant. No the Father forgave unconditionally. No questions asked.
So it is with our heavenly father when we daily come before him asking for forgiveness. There is no condemnation on His part. He freely forgives and forgets. He restores us to the place in his kingdom that we once had though we scarcely deserve.
God say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness I have drawn you.” Because I have loved you with this everlasting love, I will meet you where you are. I will put my arms around you and protect you. I will not make fun of you or ridicule you, instead I will shield you with my arms and I will place the robe of my righteousness on your tattered and bruised body. I will treat you better than a servant by giving you sandals and prove you are mine by giving you the signet ring that allows you to carry on my business to a fallen world. Once again, giving you the position you once held in my household.
But he is not done for now the father says We will have a party together to celebrate you are my beloved son, my honored guest and when we finally return to our home we too will be invited to sit at the table as all heaven rejoices.
All this to explain to the scribes and Pharisees, why He eats and drinks with sinner.
Part II will be of the second son, the other brother.
Picture is of Rembrandts portrayal of the Return of the Prodigal Son.