Lost Sons, Welcoming Father
Text: Lk 15:11-32
Theme: God welcomes all his wayward children, and we are called to embody that welcome.
Image: Becoming the Father.
Need: Acting out God's love and acceptance.
Message: Act out God's love and acceptance.
Lost Sons, Welcoming Father
The Pharisees were getting somewhat used to seeing the unexpected in Jesus. They had seen him drive out demons, and heal countless people. They still could not get used to the fact that Jesus associated with all sorts of people. He would enter a prominent Pharisee's house and dine with him, but then he would also dine at the house of a tax-collector. They were getting sick of seeing this supposed rabbi constantly making himself unclean. Once when they were muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus told them three parables. He told them a story about the love a shepherd has for one of his lost sheep, and the way he rejoices when he finally finds it. He also told about the diligence with which a woman seeks for a lost coin, and the rejoicing she has when she finds it. He compares the rejoicing of those people to the rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. Then he tells them the parable we just read.
Page 1: Both sons turn away from the father.
In this parable there are two sons. Both of these sons turn their backs on their father and his love. The younger goes to his father one day and demands his portion of the inheritance. He implies that he is sick of waiting for his father to die. He wishes he were dead, because then he would get what was coming to him. His father does as he is asked, and divides his property between his two sons. The younger son has been looking forward to this day, he has been imagining himself as master of his own destiny for years. He finally has freedom.
One morning as the rooster crows in the bright morning sunshine. The elder son watches as his brother gathers all that he has and begins his journey. “That money has been burning a hole in his pocket for days. I doubt it will last him long, he says to one of the servants standing by. Whistling, his brother walks down the driveway, never looking back. As the days go by the elder son occasionally stops to think about what his brother might be doing. “No doubt he stays out all night partying, spending his money on Gucci sandals, and Armani cloaks.” He begins to resent his younger brother, and envies his freedom. He has done the dutiful thing by staying home. If only his father would recognise the sacrifice he has made to stay home, and give him a little something as a reward. After all, he deserves it. He has spent all this time taking care of his father's flocks and herds and he hasn't received anything in return.
Eventually, the younger son's choices begin to catch up with him. He has been spending his money frivolously and has not saved anything for tough times. When a famine does come in the land, he runs out of money. All his friends desert him and he goes about the land begging for a bite to eat. Finally he finds a citizen of the country who is willing to use him as a slave. He is sent into his fields to look after the pigs. Entering the pig sty he has to hold his nose to stop from gagging. The stench is almost unbearable, and he feels dizzy. Every morning he takes the slop and fills the pig troughs, and has to fight to keep down his meagre breakfast. Before long he gets used to the stink and is unable to smell it anymore. He even begins to crave the slop he feeds the pigs and is intoxicated by its scent. He can hardly keep himself from getting down on all fours and burying his face in the food. He has hit rock bottom, and decides that it is better to take his chances with his father's wrath than to starve to death, so he returns home.
When the elder son hears that his brother has come home, and that his father has thrown a feast for him, he is enraged, and refuses to go in. He is incensed that his father would welcome home his wayward son with all this gallantry, when he hasn't got so much as a goat to share with his friends. His brother does not deserve this kind of treatment, he does. “Why has my father not held a banquet in my honour? Why has my service not been recognised?” he asks himself.
Both of these sons have turned away from their father. The younger blatantly rebelled and left the safety of his father's home, effectively cursing his father and wishing he was dead. The older son developed a sense of entitlement to a reward which is his by inheritance. He thinks that there ought to be some reward for staying in the father's house, not realising that being his father's son is all the reward he needs. Both treat their inheritance with contempt. Neither is satisfied with the good gift they have been given.
Page 2: We turn our backs on our father.
We too have turned our backs on our heavenly father and have treated our inheritance with contempt. Whether we have dramatically turned away from God and gone off into the far country to live it up, or if we have stayed home and developed a sense of entitlement toward the free gift which has offered to us, we have turned out back on God.
I had two friends in college who were just like these brothers. John decided that the guided lifestyle of the Christian was too restrictive for him. He started to go out to parties and get drunk. He began sleeping all day so he could party all night. He grades began to slip. He started going out drinking on weekdays as well as weekends. He was searching for fun and fulfilment in all the wrong places. He received two warnings for being drunk on campus. Then the last day of classes, just before finals, John was caught for the third time. His RA found him slumped on the floor of the bathroom reeking of stale beer and cheap cigarettes given He received his third warning. This usually meant expulsion, but John was allowed to finish the year and receive credit for it, though he was not allowed back the next year.
Ben had been the good boy all his life. He worked hard in college and was getting good grades. He went to chapel every morning, attended worship twice on Sunday, and went to Praise night on Wednesday. He felt he had it all worked out. He followed the guidance given to him by his parents and teachers. Every decision he made was informed by scripture and he did all he could to do what he thought God expected of him. When Ben found out that John was being allowed to finish out the year he was enraged. He started a petition to have John booted from the school. "John should not be allowed to finish up. Why do we have the rules if no one enforces them? He was given too many chances to begin with, he should have been kicked out after the first offence. That is not how a Christian acts. I want him expelled!"
This reaction was shared with others who led a small campaign against John's continuance. They could not see why he was being treated so well, why he had been given special treatment, while they had always had to follow the rules. When I asked him why he was so upset, Ben replied, "Why should he get special treatment when I get none?" Many of us are like these sons too. We may go off the deep end and do things which are dramatically against God's will in a search for love and acceptance. Or we may resent those who have been given a second chance because we never had the rules bent for us. We say we do everything that the Lord requires of us, and as a result we deserve any special treatment he is handing out. We forget, however, that our inheritance is a free gift of God. We do not deserve it. We think we are entitled to comfort and happiness in life and in church. We turn our back on and walk away from him.
Page 3: The father goes out to both sons.
Both sons in the parable turned their backs on their father, but he did not leave them out in the cold. He was waiting for them when they returned and he went out to meet them. Have a look at verse 20, “Buy 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.” The father must have been waiting for him to see him come from a distance. He was sitting on the porch swing gazing off into the horizon, unresponsive to anything that goes on around him, barely willing to leave his post to get something to eat. The servants have begun to mumble amongst themselves, “I think he's gone crazy! He hasn't left the deck since his son left.” Then one sunny summer afternoon the father sees someone stumbling down the street. The heat of the day is unbearable and the heat waves are playing tricks on his vision. All he can see is a dark spot shimmering above the road. It is obvious that the traveller's hair has not been cut in months, his cloak is torn and filthy, and the neighbourhood kids are giving him a wide berth. Suddenly, he recognises the traveller. It is his son! This is the boy whom he had yearned for for years on end! His son has returned. How does he react to this situation? Does he cross his arms on his chest tap his foot stare at the boy and wait for him to approach and explain his change of circumstance? Does he scowl at disgust at the sight of the decay which is present in his son? No!! The Father picks up the loose ends of his cloak, and high tails it toward his son; his dirty, smelly, unclean, son. He is oblivious to all the jeering and nasty looks which his neighbours are giving him. He is going to be the scandal of the town for weeks now, an upstanding Middle Eastern man does not run, let alone to welcome his wayward son. None of this concerns the father, however, as he focusses on the one thing that matters to him his returning son. He pushes his way through the crowd and embraces his son. He summons the nearest servant, "Get my son cleaned up and prepare a feast. Let us celebrate because my son was lost, but now is found."
When the elder son comes in from the field and refuses to go to the party his father comes out to meet him. The guests are extremely puzzled and start to whisper amongst themselves, "No one leaves their own party. This is extremely rude." The father once again ignores the gearing of his neighbours to go to his son. He goes outside and begs his son to come into the party. "Come in, and be happy. All that I have is yours. Do not think that you need something else. Celebrate and be glad for your brother was dead, and is alive. He was lost, and now is found."
The father ignores custom and etiquette to welcome both of his wayward sons. He does not wait for them to come to him, or leave them out in the cold. He puts his reputation on the line and does what would be unthinkable in that culture. He goes out to them, and shows them both mercy and grace. He went out to meet both of them. Even though the younger son had squandered his inheritance, the father restored him to full rights as a child. Even though the older son had shamed him by refusing to go to the banquet, the father went out to him and begged him to go inside. The father invites both sons back into proper fellowship with him. He is waiting for the older son to return from the fields, just as he was waiting for the younger son to return from the far country.
Page 4: God welcomes us as well.
God is waiting for us as well. God comes out to us in our sinful condition and brings us back to him. John realised that what he had been doing was wrong. He was forced to come to grips with the consequences of his chosen lifestyle, and he saw how ugly and rotten it was. After being allowed to stay for the duration of the year, he confessed his sin to God. What did God do? Did he shake his head and say, "Look it, you got yourself into this mess, there's nothing I can do for you now." NO! God ran to him, and embraced him. Even though he was full of the stench and rot of sin, God kissed him. He provided John with the warmth and securitv of the robe of salvation. John again felt the acceptance of God, and rededicated his life to Christ. God gave him the sandals of the free man. John was no longer a slave to sin. He was no longer trapped into thinking he was missing something. God showed him the true vision of a fulfilling life, a loving relationship with the Father. God turned his life around and provided him with all the promises which he had rejected. He empowered John to change his lifestyle and to begin to live again.
That summer Ben heard a sermon on the parable of the lost sheep. God convicted him of his attitude of entitlement and showed Ben how happy he was that John had turned his life around. God met Ben in that sanctuary and showed him how much he loved him, and reminded him of all that he had through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He had been accepted as God's child. All which God had had been given to Ben. God had kept him in relationship with him. He had saved him from the hurt, loss, and despair which comes from living a lifestyle like John's.
God has accepted all of us as his children. He has promised us an inheritance with Jesus Christ. All that he has, he has given to us. When we are covered in the stench and rot of sin, he embraces us. When we think that we are entitled to something we are not, he welcomes us in anyway. When we feel like there is nothing left for us, that we are unworthy of anything, he provides us with the most precious and gracious gift of all, a renewed relationship with him. Whether we are coming back to God from the far country, or from the fields where he has us working, he is standing there waiting for us. He has come out of the house to die on the cross. He has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts to invite us back into fellowship with him, and he welcomes us with open arms.
Let us Pray
Heavenly Father, we are deeply grateful that you have come down from your heavenly home to welcome us sinners back into it. We realise that we are all sinners. We have turned our backs on you by demanding something we don't deserve. We realise that we have not always been as welcoming to repentant sinners as we ought. Lord, help us to see the good in people who may have fallen away from you. Give us the same joy that you have when a sinner repents. We ask this is Jesus name. Amen.