Well please do grab a Bible and look up that passage we read earlier on from Luke 15 I'm sure that would be of help to you. But first, I'm going to pray...
"Father God. Thank you that you love us. Thank you that you reach out to us with your love letter the Bible. We pray now that you would help us understand what you want to say to us from it this morning. Amen"
A while ago I was cycling down the road when a car pulled out from a side street trying to turn right. It didn't make it as I went careering into the side of it. It was obvious that the woman driving had been in such a rush she simply hadn't seen me. But as I got up from my crumpled heap on the floor, she got out of the car and started laying into me: "Look at the damage you've done to the side of my car! I'll have to pay for it because you're uninsured! AND all because you were going too fast!" she ranted and raved.
I tried to point out to her that no matter how frantically I peddled I am not Bradley Wiggins so I couldn't possibly be breaking the speed limit, and that the throbbing in my knee and the dull ache in my shoulder were maybe just as concerning as the damage to her paintwork. I tried to smile and stay calm. BUT… I felt something bubbling up inside of me.
AND it was this: The wish for power! I wished for the power to convince this women of my point of view and the error of her ways. OR if I couldn't do that, I wanted the power to get my bike jump up and pin her to the ground. OR the power to make the dog in the boot of her go wild and to have him nip her legs. Or for the dog to just spontaneously explode – along with its owner!
Have you ever felt like that? Maybe you've not felt exactly like that! I'm not proud of it, but I'm pretty sure it's not just me! A lot of us would love to have that kind of power, not because we want the best for others, but because sometimes we want the worst them.
Yet let me tell you this: That is impossible for God. He wants your very best. God uses all his power to seek us out and set his love on us, and because of that… it's impossible for him to want the worst for us. You may have experienced things, or be in a situation where you find that hard to believe. You may know others for whom that doesn't seem to ring true. But let me assure you that it is.
AND the best way I can illustrate it to you this morning, is to unpack that Bible reading we had earlier on in the service from Luke chapter 15. And I'm going to throw out 2 challenges from it that I think are really relevant for all of us as we start this new church here today.
The first one, if I could put it like this, is that…
(1.) God Goes Crazy For Lost People!
I meet so many people who have got totally the wrong idea about what God or Christianity is like. They think that God is this angry God who sits in heaven just waiting to punish us when we tick him off.
- "Uh-oh. You swore! I'm gonna give you a cold!"
- "Oh and there's so and so losing their temper – again. I'm going to make her lose her job."
- AND good grief there is such and such drinking beer. I'm going to give him a terrible hangover and maybe worse!"
That is such a wrong picture of God! God is crazy about us! And by that I don't mean that God is literally crazy – it's that there is nothing that God wouldn't do for us. He would go to ludicrous lengths to see us reunited into a right relationship with him.
AND that's what this story Jesus tells in Luke 15 shows us about God. As like all Jesus' stories, it's a story from life that illustrates things about our spiritual lives. So Luke 15, verse 11: "Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons…"
The father stands for God. The sons stand for us. And looking at this story is a bit like looking in the mirror. Somewhere in this story you will see yourself, and where you stand with God. So enter stage left… the younger son – could he be you in disguise? Verse 11 again: "There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' And he divided his property between them."
The younger son is sick of life on the farm – he's bored, he feels restricted and he longs for his freedom. So he marches up to his dad and says: "Er… Dad, you know that life insurance policy you took out?" AND the Dad says "Yes." So he says: "Well I'd like my share now." And the Father says: "Well actually son, those things only mature when I'm dead." And the younger son says: "Yes, well that's it. You've got the point. I wish you were dead." You see this son is saying to his Father: "I want your money, but I don't want you anymore."
I'm the father of three children. Some of you may have met Lucy, Jamie & Kate and you know that I love them to pieces. AND it would devastate me if one of them were to come up to me and say, "Dad, the only thing I want from you is your cash!"
And yet embarrassingly for us, that's often how we treat God. Remember that Jesus is saying that the Father stands for God. The sons stand for us. And by nature, we all treat God like the younger son treats his Father. We want life and everything God's created for us – We take his gifts, but we ignore the giver. AND our slogan is there in verse 12: "Father, GIVE ME..." – you just give me what I want and stay out of my way.
That's what this younger son says to his Father. And amazingly the Father doesn't say "You are so grounded or get out of my house!" No the Father's response is even more startling than the request! He simply "divided his property between them."
He patiently endures the pain of rejection. AND he lets the son go even though he knows fine well that the lad is probably going to blow it all on drugs & birds & booze. WHICH is… exactly what happens! BUT the party leads to a pigsty. As he "squanders" not only his money, but he's "squandering" his life as well! We only get one life & he's wasting his! It is desperate!
And the end of verse 16 is really striking: "...he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything." He lived for pleasure and finds himself surrounded by people just like himself – they're not "givers" but "takers"! AND if you've ever experienced that then you know that it's an incredibly lonely experience, isn't it?
So the son decides to return, make a groveling apology and see if the Father will have him back as a cleaner, or gardener, or some kind of servant. He heads back to his Father rehearsing his lines: "I am no longer worthy to be called your son. I am so, so, sorry." AND what does his Father do? Does he stand on the porch going: "Oh, this better be good. This better be good." No... what happens, can we see? Verse 20: ""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."
Blink and you might just miss how outrageous this is. Older men never ran in those days. It was considered beneath you, shameful, embarrassing. In this culture a Father running was about as unlikely and undignified as seeing the Queen break into a jog. Have you ever seen the Queen out jogging? No me neither! BUT this Father doesn't care what the neighbours think. He doesn't care about what the papers might say! He throws his dignity out of the window over his lost son returning – AND He runs… to his son & throws his arms around him & kisses him – and the word for kiss here is continuous – it means "he kissed him and kissed him and kissed him." He literally smothers him in kisses, which was of course deeply embarrassing when it was your mum dropping you off at school when you were a kid… BUT if this is how God welcomes you back into the fold then you can really see just how crazy he goes over lost people!
What we're being taught here by Jesus is that this is what God's like. He's like a Father waiting, watching day in and day out for your return. AND when you do it's not punishments and frowns and a finger jabbing that you receive. No! God greets us with extravagant, abundant, outrageous excitement!
I don't know about you, but after all the things I've thought and done and said over the years - I know that all I deserve from God is his censure and condemnation. But the amazing thing is that although we might have forgotten God, or not thought about him for days on end - he never forgets us. He's a loving God who longs to forgive. And he goes to unbelievable lengths to do that. As this is where Jesus writes himself into the story as God made forgiveness and a way back to him possible when he sent his Son into the world to pay for our sins on the cross. He sacrificed his dignity and ran out to meet us in continuous kisses when he sent Jesus to die the death that we deserved. So that all we need to do is come to our senses and return to God in humble repentance, and it's not conditions or criticisms that will greet us, but an overwhelming celebration of love.
And this is what this lost son gets doesn't he? In fact the Father's love is so overwhelming that the son can barely even get his lines out in verse 21:
"'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you... But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to celebrate."
So here's the challenge: Come home! God is calling you to come home! He would do anything to have you return home to him. AND maybe this new church is an opportunity for you to come week by week to discover more about what God has done for you… and what he wants to do for you. We really want this church to be place where God is our dad as he welcomes us into his house, throws a robe of blessing on us, puts a ring on our finger and says "you were lost, now you're found… come let's celebrate that!" So come home to God.
BUT God doesn't just go crazy for lost people. Here's the second challenge:
(2.) God Wants Us To Go Crazy For Lost People Too!
There are two sons in this story, aren't there? And it's my suspicion this morning that many of us are more like the elder son than the younger one. At first glance he seems to be a different kettle of fish to the younger son. He's a fine upstanding moralist. He's the dutiful child. He joined the family firm and is working hard.
He's not like his brother for a minute... BUT he's nothing like his Father either! The younger son returns. The father's glad, the brother's angry. The Father greets him with open arms, the brother with clenched fists. The father says "my son", the brother says "this son of yours" – as he's not even willing to be part of the same gene pool as him!
AND let's be honest. If this was happing in your family, you'd be a little ticked off too? If you're the older son you're thinking Daisy the cow is being fattened for your Barmitzpha, or your graduation or something like that. BUT now all of a sudden Daisy's dead. She's on the spit roast just because lame-o brother came back.
Having the younger son back is going to cost the brother big time and he is not willing to pay the price is he? Verse 28:
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
I'd say that. You'd say that. "It's not fair! I've been doing this and he's been doing that. It's not fair!"
BUT once again if you blink you will miss the outrageousness of what the older son is doing here. In our culture it seems like he's just asserting his rights. BUT in Jesus culture he was insulting his Father. He refuses to go into the biggest public event the Father's ever put on. He remains outside the door, publicly declaring by his absence: "My Father is an Idiot! He has got it all wrong." In fact, he doesn't even have the decency to address him as "Father" – he just says to him "Look!" in verse 29 – "Look here you old fool!"
You see, without ever leaving home the older brother has found himself as far away from his Father as ever his younger brother was in the pigsty. AND YET ...the Father treats the elder son with just as much love and generosity as he did the younger one.
"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.'"
The Father basically says, "Despite how you've publicly insulted me, I still want you with me at the feast. I am not going to bin your brother, and I don't want to bin you either. I challenge you to swallow your pride and love your brother like I have loved you."
Now remember, Jesus is telling this story to show us what God is like. If you could pop a DVD in and look and see the character of God – this is what you'd see. AND what we see is that God wants your very best. God could want the worst for his sons and daughters who insult him and rebel against him. But instead he wants the very best. He wants younger sons to come home, but he also wants the elder sons to share his feelings for the lost.
Like the elder son in the story God doesn't want us to work for him, he wants us to work with him – AND reach out and bring lost people back. He wants us to use all the resources he has given us – the family inheritance if you like – to bring lost people back into the family without thinking about the cost. He wants us to give time and money and reputation and ambition for something worth far more than any of that – lost people coming home. 'Cos in God's eyes – that's the most precious thing in all the world.
So here's the challenge again: Will you be a part of God's efforts to reach lost people? Are you so amazed by the price God paid to get you back that you won't think twice about the cost of helping others return?
That's what we want to be about here at St Joseph's. So if you're already at home with the Father and you'd call yourself a Christian – God is calling you to work with him to reach out to others with crazy love! Just like the younger son, so many of our friends are living in a pigsty. Some of them you'd never know it. They look so together on the outside, but on the inside it's all just falling apart.
Wouldn't it be great for folks to come home to the Father? To feel the incredible richness of his loving embrace. To be ushered into the party. It's costly yes. But so worth it. Not just for those who return. But for those reaching out to them. 'Cos just like the older son we have the chance to share in the Father's happiness.
Let's pray: Father God, We thank you for this insight into the love you have for each one of us. We confess that there are ways that we have run from you or served you begrudgingly which leave us far from you. Please forgive us through the precious blood of Jesus and bring us home. AND we pray for ourselves not merely as individuals, but we pray for ourselves as a church that we would like you reach out to and love and welcome prodigals, rather than be the cause of their running away in the first place. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.