Luke 15:1-3, 11-32. March 27
Prayer: God of embrace you are always running towards us. Send us out to our neigbours to the familiar and unfamiliar with this same love. Amen
Sometimes we can confuse our thoughts about God with the reality of God. We can easily confuse our anger, which seeks vengeance without mercy, with the anger of our God, who may seek vengeance but is always merciful. When we have been wronged, we want restitution. When we do wrongs God seeks reconciliation for us. Our God offers forgiveness, pardon and everlasting joy.
There is evidence of the Creator: the birds are fed, flowers are clothed, rainfalls on the just and the unjust, the sun rises and sets. Our thoughts are our thoughts. God's thoughts are God's. And there is a great chasm between them.
At our council meetings we discuss losses we have experienced. There are a variety of losses we shared with one another, losses by death, loss of health, loss of employment, losses that come through moving from our community, and financial profit and loss. People's ability to cope came with the willingness to share their loss, pain and to gain strength through relationships.
We sing praises to God who may be high and lifted up, but it is the same God who stoops to offer mercy and abundant pardon. It takes faith to return home and be strengthened through community relationships.
We hear the most familiar parable of all times. The prodigal son returns home to his father. We know the system of thought that says if we work and get good grades, we will get into the best colleges and get our degrees and earn big dollars. If we brush our teeth and floss them each day we will have good teeth and gums. If we please our employers, we can get a raise. And the list could goes on and on.
But God takes that system and turns it upside-down and inside-out. Jesus hands and arms of grace spread out to encompass the whole world. God says, "You cannot earn this. I'm giving it to you. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice because God loves you this much!" The cross is a symbol of victory, of God's power, of hope and salvation, of love -- for you and for me. How beautiful is the sight of the one with open arms and hands welcoming us home?
As parents we celebrate when our children entered college and university and we hoped for their accomplishments. But we also hear stories of well-played prodigal characters after leaving home. The student who found extravagant fun who drank, took drugs, skipped classes, had rowdy parties in the dorm room -- the whole thing of an extravagant lifestyle.
Long before I became a minister I visited a college campus and the chaplain said once in a while, I'd drop a note to let the student know that I was still around, that I cared and that God cared too. I met a student who got into serious academic trouble after three months at college and her lifestyle was as low as it could get.
The chaplain said that one day a rap came on my office door, and I opened it to find my friend with tears streaming down her face. I'll never forget her words to me as she rushed into my arms: "I've come home."
The one son said; give me my share. There was an extravagant amount of resources. The father was generous as could be and he loved both sons unconditionally. The father kept his faith in God. He grieved the loss of this estranged son and he lived in hope of his return home. Saint Paul writes: “Faith is the substance of things hope for and the evidence of things not seen.”
The embrace that followed is the arms of grace, the arms of God, encircling both father and son. The college student knew she was home where love, grace and forgiveness are waiting for everyone who returns to a safe space.
At HLUC each worship service is the celebration of everlasting joy, thanking God for those arms and hands of grace. God’s arms welcome you and me many times when we have been lost and hurting, broken and downtrodden. 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." It is reassuring to be renewed with God’s grace.
This is such a familiar story yet each time we are to bring good news. We are to learn something new and be touched by the spirit. Often we highlight issues such as sibling rivalry, greed, entitlement, poor choices, broken relationships, death, lost and more.
Today let us look at this parable through different lens. Jesus offers us a preview of living in hope and embracing Easter. It is a preview into new life, new beginning, rebirth, growth and endless possibilities with faith in God. Ponder the Father’s generosity, his faith and living in hope. Have you noticed that both sons were honourable? The Father does not seek vengeance and judgement. Aren’t you glad that God does not play fair? God will shower blessings, offer grace and welcome home whoever returns to God. God loves all!
The preview gives us a bit of Advent as the father waits in anticipation for the arrival of his son. The preparation and waiting are important for the foretaste of the heavenly banquet that follows the arrival of this son. He was lost but now found, dead but alive, returned to stay for eternity. There is no shortage of resources only an abundance of everything and this my friends is the mystery of God among us. God’s generosity is revealed.
As we reflect on our current wilderness journey this parable is about Lent too. After a long pandemic and dreary winter we count the losses. But we are reminded that we are never lost from the presence of God. Like the one son who returned to the same home and found that he has changed. He bowed in humility, emptied himself before God and was touched by the Spirit who prays for us. Hope grows where miracles blossoms with the fruit of the Spirit.
The older son is also invited to the feast. He is graciously loved and cared for by the father. The parable does not tell us the ending of the story. Our lives continue writing the ending of this story of every time and season. The mystery of God’s love and grace is for you, me and the world. Faith is a life-long journey and through the Pentecost Spirit we are empowered to new life and saving lives. Amen