REALISE service St Cuthbert’s 12/1/03
No matter what the cost to him, God is willing to welcome us home. How do we respond to grace like that?
How did you get on for Christmas presents? In my family it’s always pretty predictable. I don’t really see my aunts and uncles all year but I feel like I really know them J Shall I tell you why? – I can always predict what they are going to buy me for Christmas. torches and socks.
Christmas presents you didn’t expect?
A friend gave me a card and when I opened it it had a £50 note in it. I wasn’t expecting this at all and I felt very special. £50 that I didn’t expect – it made me feel fantastic. Don’t worry this isn’t an appeal by me to get you all to send me cash through the post J. Surprises like that are great.
What other good surprises are there? I think surprise parties are one of the best.
The story from the Bible was about a party.
Often when people hear the word Jesus they immediately think “boring”. I wish I could take them to some of the parties that Jesus went to and talked about.
Star rating for this party it would do incredibly well.
It tells us there was music and dancing, and a big feast. But what really made this party was that it was totally unexpected
It was a returning home party. A homecoming party for a child who had run away. And it happened completely out of the blue.
Ever since the boy had run away, his dad had lain awake at night waiting for him to return, desperately hoping for him to come back, but wondering if he ever would. It was the greatest surprise ever, when his son turned up unexpectedly one evening.
Also a surprise for the runaway. He’d hated his dad and disowned his family. The way he’d treated them, he deserved to get the door slammed shut in his face. There would be no love lost between them. The best he could hope for would be to rely on pity, not on love. But against all his expectations, his dad welcomes him home with open arms, and throws a wild party to celebrate – surprise parties are always the best- this was the best surprise ever!
Surprises like this are what the Bible calls “Grace”.
Grace is getting something really valuable totally unexpected – in fact when you expect the opposite.
- Getting £50 when you expected socks.
- Having a homecoming party thrown for you when you expected the door slammed in your face.
Most of life we don’t encounter grace. We get paid what we deserve or less than we deserve. Job in Sainsbury’s – duty manager would wait at the door and check our timesheets. On other jobs I’d always got paid for tea breaks, but I remember my first night there him crossing out the time I’d added on for tea breaks before he signed it. I only got paid for what I’d worked.
Talk Amazing Grace. grace does amaze us, grace does surprise us.
Some people have the idea that God is like that manager at Sainsbury’s – paying us grudgingly for what we do – counting up how much we deserve.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
God is first of all grace. Loving us no matter what.
And that’s really lucky for us! Because if God was like that manager- if God only paid us for what we deserved, none of us would be worthy of anything from him, because we’ve all fallen short of his standards.
I’m going to illustrate that now by showing a clip from the start of Les Miserables, where a released convict is looking for somewhere to
The Bishop showed Jean Valjean amazing grace. He gave him the opposite of what he deserved. Valjean stole the silver, but the bishop, rather than having him sent down, assures the police that it was a gift. The rest of the film is about how this changes Valjean’s life.
God loves us so much that he is willing to give us the opposite of what we deserve. We deserve to have the door slammed in our face. But he welcomes us home with open arms.
That’s the point of the story Jesus told that we had read for us. The story of a loving father who showed what grace really means, and what it really costs.
The question is how do we respond to that grace. The two sons in the story react in different ways.ow do we react to
! YOUNGER SON
I’m sure all of us have felt like the younger son at some point. Life at home is boring, we want to be ready for the next adventure. The younger son like all of us was excited by what the world had to offer. He wanted to make the most of life, enjoy it, break out of the small and secure world that he lived in.
And so he made the decision to leave home. But this wasn’t your normal leaving home and fond goodbyes. He was sick of the place. He demanded that his father give him his inheritance – basically the money that he would have inherited from his dad when he died– effectively this was saying to his dad, “I wish you were dead”, “I can’t stand the sight of you”. Even at this point the father shows his grace, by giving him the inheritance – letting him make that choice, even though he knows it is wrong.
God’s like that with us. He loves us, and because of that he doesn’t force us to do certain things. He gives us the choice to reject him.
So he left home. And life at first was fun, but then things started to go wrong. His money ran out, a famine came and he realised he had no real friends. No one who would help him.
He ended up getting the worst job imaginable – looking after pigs. A mate of mine used to work on a farm, and he found it incredibly hard work, getting up at the crack of dawn, whatever the weather. But that wasn’t half the problem with this job. Now pigs are pretty dirty animals, yeah? Well Jews saw them as spiritually dirty – as a Jew you wouldn’t be caught dead eating pork or even going near pigs. So by Jewish standards, the guy really had hit rock bottom.
He’d lost everything
- his home and family
- all his material possessions
- his pride - pigs
- his grand plans for life.
Have you ever felt like that?
- that everything is gone and there is no one to turn to
- that you’ve wasted your chance
Jesus told this story to encourage YOU!
Because it’s then, at his lowest point, that the guy remembers home. He remembers how he was well fed and looked after, he remembers the love of his Father, that he had ignored at the time.
But he knows he’s blown it. It’s his fault- he’s walked away from home – his father will never take him back.
Except that’s not how it ends, grace wins the day. Imagine the amazement that the son feels as he returns home to find that his father still loves him more than he could ever imagine. His Dad comes running to him. His dad can’t wait a moment longer to see him. He throws his arms around him and announces that the party is about to start.
v22 “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”
This picture captures that moment beautifully. The loving father embraces his dishevelled, wayward, smelly son. The same son who ran away and told him he hated him. All the father can do is love the son he has so desperately wanted to see return home.
Grace is amazing – and that is what God offers to every person here tonight.
A chance to be forgiven everything that has gone before.
A chance to be lost in his loving embrace.
A chance to be welcomed home.
No matter how far you think you’ve strayed or run away from God – he still longs for you to return, and to join the best party ever.
! OLDER SON
Now we turn our thoughts to the older son who’d stayed at home all the time. His reaction is certainly not full of grace. When he heard that his brother, he became angry.
Because grace isn’t always welcome. Sometimes people can’t accept grace.
I remember going out with a group of friends for lunch, and my mate Andy, said he’d treat us and pay the bill.
I asked him if he was sure and he said yes. So I thanked him.
But my friend kept on arguing with him saying no!, she was going to pay for her meal, couldn’t accept – it went on for about 5 minutes – him saying he would pay and her refusing to let him.
This carried on until Andy explained about grace.
“Just as God shows us grace, so I want to show you grace by treating you to this. I don’t expect anything in return.”
And with that she finally gave in!
The older son couldn’t accept that his father showed grace.
He was working on the Sainsbury’s duty manager mould.
His brother didn’t deserve anything, but he’d been slaving for years.
He didn’t get the whole grace thing. He wouldn’t join the party.
And I think we’re sometimes like that. We try to earn God’s favour. We’re jealous when other people seem more blessed than us. But the reality is that God extends his grace to all of us. The older son was loved just as much aas the younger, but he couldn’t accept it.
So grace is amazing, it exceeds all our expectations.
The question is how do we respond to that grace
We’ve all run away like the son.
When we look at our lives there are lots of things that we are ashamed of.
And maybe you’re here tonight and you think that what you’ve done is unforgivable.
But the great news is that although we don’t deserve to be welcomed back by God, God is grace and he welcomes us home.
The question is, do you want to accept that grace?
Will you be like the older son who could not accept that a relationship with God is a free gift?
Will you be like the younger son who fell on his knees before the father?
Jesus doesn’t tell us the end of the story. Does the older brother finally accept the grace of his father. Does the younger son now stay at home. Where would you fit if you were there?