Monday Lenten Luncheon
Vine Street UMC*
March 25, 2019
How much do you love your children?
Have you still loved them even when they have done things that hurt you?
So why do we have such a hard time believing that God might still love us after all of the things that we have done to hurt him?
If your church follows the lectionary, one of the passages of scripture that we encounter every year during the season of Lent is a parable of Jesus that we often describe as the story of the prodigal son, or more accurately, the story of the loving father. In that story, we find a picture of two entirely disagreeable sons who both resemble people with whom we are familiar in both the ancient and the modern church. But we also gain a better understanding of just how much God loves us.
We begin with the story that we find in Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.
15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:
11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“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.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Most of us who are here today have heard a dozen or more sermons about this parable. We know that the younger son’s demand for his inheritance was an enormous insult to his father and practically equivalent to saying, “I wish that you were dead because all that I care about is your money.” We know that the older brother behaved exactly as the Pharisees of the ancient world reacted to Jesus’ ministry to the tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and other outsiders and exactly like the grumpy old men and women of today’s world who grumble at exactly the same kind of ministry. How dare we hold a Bible study in a bar, or our church have a float in a gay pride parade, or open our homes to pregnant teenagers? How dare we be like Jesus?
But you’ve probably heard all those things.
What I want to look at today is the father of those two sons. We all know that the father in this parable is the part that is played by God, right? So, I want to look at how the father reacted when his younger son wished him dead, took a third of all that he owned, left him for a foreign country, never wrote or sent a telegram or an email, and was totally estranged for what was probably several years.
What our scripture tells us is that, “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him.”
I would suggest that the father didn’t see his son by accident, but that this was a deliberate act. Despite the insults, despite the abandonment, despite the hurt, despite the years that he had been gone, the father was in the habit of keeping watch on the road. The father watched, and hoped, that one day his beloved son would come home and return to his father and to his family.
But if that doesn’t give you the “feels,” the next part should.
Our scripture says that the father “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
But our twenty first century, Western, North American and European culture and attitudes have dimmed and dulled the impact of that sentence. So that father ran.
You see, in Eastern culture, both in the ancient world and in many places still today, men simply do. Not. Run. Ever.
Children run. Young men might, occasionally run. But mature, grown, men do not run. And the more responsible and respectable that you become, the less you might ever even consider the possibility of running.
I recall reading a story by Tom Clancy or another writer of books in that genre, in which a South Korean general was inspecting an installation on the Demilitarized Zone. All day long he moved at nothing faster than a dignified walk. And suddenly one of the soldiers saw him running, and it seemed strange to him because he’d never seen a South Korean officer, especially not a general, run unless something was on fire.
That is the kind of world in which the father lived. In addition, the men of Jesus’ era wore robes and in order to run, or to do battle, those robes had to be gathered up. We have heard scripture use phrases like “gird your loins” or “gather your robes” because in order to be physically active, the hem of your robe had to be gathered and pulled up to your waist so that your legs were unimpaired and freed so that you could move. But outside of combat and firefighting, respectable men simply didn’t do that.
Running was undignified and possibly even humiliating.
For a grown man to run was to act like a child.
But that is exactly what Jesus said that the father did.
The father ran.
He didn’t care about propriety. He didn’t care about maturity. He didn’t care about looking foolish or being embarrassed. He didn’t care that others might make fun of him. He didn’t care about respectability.
He only cared about his child.
Despite the hurt, the insults, the pain, and the abandonment he only cared about the love that he had for his son, and the joy that he felt to have him back in his family.
We all know that we’ve made mistakes.
We all know that we have sinned against God. We know that we have hurt him, insulted him, and even abandoned him. We know that we are surrounded by people who have done what we have done, and some of them have done worse things than we have done. They are… we are, sinners.
But God doesn’t care.
God wants us back and is willing to forgive us for the things that we have done whenever we are ready to ask for forgiveness and return home.
Never forget that we worship the God… who ran.
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.