Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Sermon for July 14, 2019
Texts: Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:11-32
Sermon: "Love That Will Not Let You Go"
The familiar title of the wondrous parable Jesus tells in our lesson this morning is "the prodigal son," that is, the "wasteful" son. He wastes a family inheritance in self-indulgent acts.
How we hear the parable will depend upon how the characters intersect with our own experiences and memories.
The story of the two sons centers on God's abundant love and grace. In fact, another way to think of the word "prodigal" is "extravagant." The story is about God's extravagant love, the love that will not let you go, love that will run to grab you when you have been gone and have found your way home; love that will throw a party to celebrate your change of heart. It is love that finds God covering you with holy kisses.
The story of the two sons is about sin and forgiveness. It is about extravagant waste and about extravagant reconciliation. It is about greed and jealousy and self-righteousness. It is about family dynamics -- anyone's family, a church family, or God's family, the family of humankind.
The beautiful old song from George Matheson and Albert Lister Peace, dating from the 1880s, says this:
"O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee. I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be."
The younger son in the parable became a weary soul indeed. He learned how it feels to want to give back his love to God so that God might make him whole again -- richer and fuller life and love.
The younger son found himself in deep trouble, then deep despair. He made poor choices. He was alone, hungry, unsure that he would ever be whole again.
The younger son left his family, taking with him the inheritance he had requested and received from his father. He took it and spent it foolishly.
He thought such a life would fulfill his yearnings, make him happy, set him free to be his own person in the world. But now he knew differently. Now he knew that it was all for nothing. The emptiness overwhelmed him -- his empty, meaningless life.
As Jesus tells the parable, we read that the younger son "came to himself." Something deep within him yearned for what he knew he had squandered -- a life lived among those who would share food with him and care for him.
But it is clear as we read the story that he did not expect the extravagant love and forgiveness of his father. He hoped only for mercy. He hoped only that perhaps he could work in his father's fields with the other hired hands.
The father had never given up on his son. Every day he kept watch, hoping to see the younger son walking toward home. One day it happened. And when his father saw his son, he did not wait on the steps for him to arrive; no, he ran as fast as he could to meet him, embrace him, and show his love for him.
The neighbors would see, too. They would see the father uniting with the son. They would recognize that the father welcomed back the son who had dishonored the family. The father called for a party, the best food; and he called for fine clothes, a ring, and shoes to fit this returning son who had been lost. All neighbors in the village would behold the father's love, forgiveness, and reconciliation
Consider with me now the life of Jesus alongside this story.
Consider how through the Body of Christ Jesus calls us to continue the healing, grace, and good-news message to the lost. That message and those miracles of grace passed to his disciples and now to us as we pray that we might continue the ministry of Christ.
We find in this story ways that God calls us to be his church.
Jesus clearly teaches that those who follow him will:
*Have open arms to welcome all who come looking for God, who hope to find love and grace and a place where they will be accepted as God's own.
*Will celebrate joyfully when even one person turns from a life that has been alienated from God to a life that wants to return to God.
*Will gladly see that those who yearn to be baptized in the name of Christ will be given the opportunity to put on those fresh garments of Christ and to be made new in his name.
The father in the parable had not one son but two sons to sin against him. The older son rejects the father's decision to rejoice over the return of the younger son. The older son is bitter, jealous, and self-righteous.
The father, it seems, has another lost son. The older son cannot forgive his brother's sin and falls into deeper sin himself because of it.
Jesus leaves open the ending of the parable. Will the brother relent? Will he, like the younger brother, "come to himself" and turn back to his father?
The church today can hear this excellent story Jesus tells and find many words of encouragement about welcoming all people into Christ's flock; the church can hear a story of warning, also, about becoming judgmental and self-righteousness as the older son had become.
What are we to do with the story of the two sons? What are we to think about their roles in their family, in God's family? Some who hear this parable will find both brothers difficult to love. We might want to condemn both brothers.
What must the audience around Jesus have heard that day? "Sinners" and "tax collectors" followed Jesus and hung onto every word. Jesus gave them hope for a new life, belief that they could be forgiven the ways they might have hurt other people in their villages.
Pharisees and scribes skulked on the edge of the crowd and grumbled about the stories Jesus told. They found fault with Jesus, especially the radical forgiveness he preached -- forgiveness that required only that "turning" to God in repentance. The Pharisees and scribes challenged Jesus relentlessly.
The two sons warrant our careful attention as the church, the Body of Christ. The two sons touch our hearts, our memories, and our souls. Perhaps the story even prompts our promise to God and to one another that we will not try to replace God as judge in either case. Instead, we will take the story as Jesus gave it -- a parable that surprises and stirs our imagination and a story that stretches our faith.
It is a story for the church. It is a story about how God loves us and how we are to love God in return. It is a story about how God envisions his church to welcome all and to rejoice in the grace so extravagantly given through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We rejoice for the return of the younger son and all the sons and daughters of our own time who find their way home after being alienated from God's family; and we pray for forgiveness and reconciliation to mend hearts in families that have grown apart.
We give thanks for God's gift of forgiveness, mercy, and new life.
And we invite the entire community around us to come and celebrate all the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, given again and again as we find him in Scripture and listen to his voice.
God does not want to let you go. God will search for you and find you if you drift away. And when you return home to him, God will run with outstretched arms to welcome you.
"O love that will not let me go," we may sing. "I rest my weary soul in Thee."
Now to the One, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.