Monday, March 15, 2010

The Beloved Story

The story of the prodigal son is a hard one to preach on.
Not because the theology is hard to understand, Or because it calls us to a radical realignment of how we understand God and ourselves.
But it is hard to preach on because it is so familiar to us all.
Every one of you has heard this story more than once in your life.
You have heard numerous sermons about it.
And I am willing to bet that all of you love this story of a wayward son being allowed back into the family fold.
Any radical ideas in the story itself have been taken away by our familiarity with it.
So this morning I am not trying to say anything new about this story.
It is what we all think it is.
This is a story about the extraordinary grace and forgiveness of God.
I want us to merely hear that important point again, and once again bask in the glow of this beloved story.

I think one of the reasons, why we love this story is because it is so accessible to us all.
We all have families.
We all have difficulty in those families.
In this story we see ourselves as the brother who runs away from home, takes our heritage and sells it on righteous living.
Or we are the good son the one who stays home works hard, and never asks for anything but the joy of serving.
We all too some degree or another know what it is like to play these roles in our lives.

If you are a parent you know what it is like to have your children disappoint you.
You have felt the sting of children wasting their opportunities to have a good time.
You know what it is like to stand in between two warring children as they fight for your attention, and fight with one another.

We love this story because it is a story about a dysfunctional family just like all of ours are at some point or another.

Once, I was helping this woman once whose children were fighting over her inheritance.
Not that she had much to leave.
But one of the kids thought that the sister was getting too much.
So he refused to have any type of relationship either with the Mother or his sister.
How dysfunctional is that?
How silly is it when families fight over money?
But it happens all the time.
In our own dysfunctional families we sometimes do fight over money, or who is loved more by mom and dad.
And it is happening in the story of the prodigal son.
What the Father is trying to get his sons to understand is that money is nothing, love is everything.
He is showing them that we should have extravagant love and grace for one another.

And that is also irrational.
No father in those times would act the way this father acts.
No father would let the youngest son sell half the family property.
It is crazy…consider how important land is to Jews.
The land is God’s promise to them.
And the son sells it, and for no reason other than to be able to go and have a great big party.
No father would then welcome back that son.
No father would run to meet their son.
Running in those days was seen as unmanly.
Furthermore no father would kiss their son and go on in such a way as this father does.
The neighbors would say, “It is all so dysfunctional and crazy”.

Perhaps no Father in our day and age would act this way either.
Right after I got my license my Dad would sit by the window and wait for me to get home if I was even five minutes late I would have to give up the car keys for the rest of the week.
He did not run out to greet me and thank me for disobeying him.
My paternal grandfather would not allow me to hug him after I turned a certain age.
“That is not what men do.” He told me “They shake hands.”
So here is this father acting very unmanly.
And well as much as we love this story we have to admit that the Father’s behavior is not exactly good parenting here.

And again with the older son the father acts irrationally.
Instead of just telling him that this is how it goes and that is the end of it.
He goes out to beg him to come into the party.
Again this is not the manliest way to handle this situation.
How about, “I am your father and you will do exactly what I say.”
That would be a better way.
Wouldn’t it?

But in the middle of this dysfunctional family is a sissy of a man unable to keep his kids in line.
Instead he is patient, loving, forgiving, slow to anger, willing to listen.
What he wants is simply for his family to be together and to rejoice in their love.

This is what God wants for us.
This is what God does for us God sits in the middle begging us to come into the party.
For those of you who feel that you have squandered your inheritance and wasted away your life in righteous living, God is running out to greet you and invite you back into the party.

In New York we used to have certain crowd of people hanging out at the church.
I would go out and talk to them.
I then would invite them to come to worship.
They would always say, “Pastor, we can’t go to church we are bad people.”
And I would always say, “Bad people are the exact people who should be in church.”
This is where we come to seek forgiveness, for second chances, for love.
There are no perfect people in this church only sinners seeking God’s forgiveness.

If you feel that your whole life you have done everything right.
That you have gone to church, studied God’s word, trust in the Lord with all your heart, tried to follow every commandment.
If that is you?
Then God is inviting you to the party too.
This is a party that is filled with people who are not perfect, who are sinners, who need forgiveness.
As long as you can accept that people are not as good as you, then you too can come to the party.

One time we had young people hanging out in the church parking lot playing ball, and one of the members told them to get off church property.
He came and told me the story.
I said, “Did you tell them that Jesus loves them.”
“No, why would I do that.”
That is what we are here for.
That is why God has given us his grace to reconcile others to God just as we are.

In God’s house there is a party.
And the question is; are you going to come to the party?
Or are you going to miss it because you are too dysfunctional to see the Father’s invitation.
Are you too caught up in your sin, or are you too caught up in your self-righteousness to come to the party.
God is willing to be the fool for us.
God is willing to go the extra mile.
God is willing to be talked about by the neighbors who say, “That father’s a fool for letting his children walk all over him.”
Are you ready to be welcomed?
Are you ready to have your sins forgiven?
Are you ready to forgive the sins of others?

If you are then rejoice this day because God is ready for us.
This beloved story reminds us that God is ready to forgive our sins, and beg us to come into the house.
The house that might be filled with a dysfunctional family, but one that is dysfunctional in love and grace.

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