Grace That Is Greater!
Grace That is Greater!
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Have you ever been lost? I couldn’t have been older than Greyson (4), but I managed to get lost in the JCPenney store that used to be in downtown West Point. One minute, I was with my mother and my grandmother, the next minute they were gone, and I couldn’t find them. So I hid in one of the display cases, until someone could find me. Now nearly 50 years later I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember the feeling… The sense of being lost, and needing to be found.
I’ve been lost in other ways to! Have you ever gotten turned around in a big city, were you were unfamiliar with the roads, and didn’t know your way around? Before the days of GPS, and the option to press the home button? I love GPS.
Sometimes when we’re lost we realize our lack of control, and our need for direction... right?
This morning our scripture is one of the best known and best loved parables in the whole of the Bible. It’s Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Wayward Son, or the Gracious/Merciful Father. It’s a story most of us can relate to… in someway… because with it’s various characters (and their roles in the story) it speaks to us in many different ways.
There’s no doubt that the story is about being lost, both spiritually and physically. But it’s also about faithfulness, and forgiveness - broken relationships and restoration through God‘s grace - it’s about freedom. I think it’s actually a microcosm of our lives in faith. We can actually see ourselves in every character in the story to some degree.
Of course, one of the first things that seems to stand out in this story, is the freedom that this father gives both of his sons. He gave them the freedom to go... the freedom to choose. They could choose the right way, or the wrong way in life. They had the freedom to choose their own direction, good or bad.
Of course, the younger son’s selfish and crude request, for his part of his inheritance… is probably one of the rudest things that we hear in the whole of scripture. Basically, the younger son was saying, “since you won’t die, just go ahead and give me my inheritance now!”
But the character of this father is revealed (on full display)… as he allows his sons to operate in their personal freedom.
Tammy and I have kinda been hooked on the Andy Griffith show as of late. There’s nothing else to watch on TV, so why not that? But one of the most popular episodes ever, is framed around a time when Opie shot and killed a mother bird. The chirping of the baby birds (along with his dad‘s concern) reminded Opie that now he’d have to take care of those little birds until they were able to take care of themselves. Of course, as Opie cared for those birds, he became attached. And in the final scene, when it was time for Opie to release the birds back into the wild… as they flew away, Opie said, “The cage sure seems empty, Pa.” To which Andy replied, “Yes, it does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full!”
The fact of the matter is, freedom can be costly! Sometimes it makes life as full as the trees. But other times it can confine like a cage. Because with freedom, we get to choose “yes” - or we can choose “no”.
The freedom that God gives us, the freedom to choose, the freedom of our own will, can be dangerous. Because it always costs something! The old saying is, “Freedom isn’t Free.” It can even be costly to God, because while God desires our “yes”, sometimes we choose “no”.
In our scripture for today, when the younger son said “no” to the father... and “yes” to a life in the far country of sin… it broke his father‘s heart. The father‘s dreams were shattered. But like those birds in Opie’s cage, the father let his son go. He set his son free, despite the heartache and pain it costs him.
And it’s the same way with God. Every time we say “no” to God, it breaks his heart, much the same way that the prodigal son broke his fathers heart. God sets us free to choose our own path… Allowing us to experience the wonderful gift of choice, and the horrible curse of our own free will.
Of course, the father’s actions in Jesus’ story mirror the grace of God… A grace that never shuts the door on anyone, even though they turn their back on him. The father’s actions here, illustrates God’s extravagant love and grace for us - when we finally come to our senses - and turn back to God.
I don’t know about you but I can’t help but imagine this father, waiting at the window… In the doorway, on the porch… Always looking, hoping, longing, praying for his son’s safety and return. I imagine the father looking up one day, and seeing his son coming down the driveway, and running out to meet him. In my mind’s eye, this father dropped everything he was doing… and ran. He ran to his son, throwing his arms around him before the boy could get any words of repentance or apology out of his mouth, the father embraced him, and welcomed him home. And then the father began calling everyone in his household to prepare for a party… Because this son who was lost had been found. The son who had been dead was now alive. He was home.
I came across the story sometime ago by Robert Fulghum… where he tells of meeting a young woman in an overseas airport. She was dressed up, neat in appearance. But next to her was a worn out backpack that showed signs of hard, long travel. It was obvious she had been out exploring the world. And now she was on her way home.
At first... he envied this young woman, but then he saw tears running down her face. Soon she was sobbing. It turned out the woman had traveled as far as her money could take her, and she had just enough money to buy the cheapest plane ticket home. She’d spent two days at the airport, waiting to fly standby, without anything substantial to eat, and with way too much pride to beg.
Finally, her plane was about to leave. But, it appeared she’d lost her ticket. She spent what seemed like hours searching through her things again and again trying to find that ticket, but with absolutely no luck.
Fulghum offered to take her to lunch, to help her talk to the airport authorities about her problem. And, then... when she agreed... and stood up, and turned around to pick up her bag… She suddenly let out a scream! It was her ticket. It had been right there the whole time, she had been sitting on it the whole time.
I imagine that’s similar to the joy that this father in Jesus’ parable felt. And that’s the same kind of joy that God feels when you and I repent and we come home.
The love of the father in this parable is a glimpse, of the kind of love that Christ has for us. A love that’s willing to run… a love that’s ready to rejoice… a love that’s ready to forgive, and celebrate, when we come to our senses… and come home...
The old life is gone, and a new life, begun.