This morning’s question is one that needs to be asked right out of the gate. And I want you to think long and hard on this. Ready?
“Are you a sinner?” If you try to deny it, then you are.
Perhaps we should rephrase the question to ask, "How good are you at sinning?"
On a scale from 1-10 where do you fall? Did you sin more when you were young? Or have you gotten better with age?
I will admit I was once a really great sinner. Now, I am only so-so. Yet no matter how good I was at sinning, God was always better at forgiving. This is not to say that God loves it when we sin. In fact, the Bible clearly states...he doesn’t. But God also knows we are broken people. And in spite of all our brokenness...God still loves us.
Go figure. Of all the gods in our world today, our Father, who art in heaven, is the only one who loves us more than we love him. Last week we learned how the kingdom of Heaven is all about God's grace and love. This week we see how they are magnified in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Even if you are unchurched, you have probably heard this story, or at least a version of it. Thousands upon thousands of films and books have drawn from its characters in every conceivable way. This parable is still relevant today, as it was back when Jesus first told it.
On one hand, we are all sinners, in need of the Father’s grace and love. But the parable loses something profound about God when we reduce it to a story of mere redemption. On the other hand, I like how G.K. Chesterton describes it as, “the furious love of God.” In essence, God’s love for us is so intense, and all-consuming that it knows no limits, and has no boundaries. God’s love for us will go to any lengths, and take any risks, to pursue us.
I believe it's worth exploring the historical context behind this parable to give us a full sense of the Father’s furious love. You see, there’s a lot going on that we might over look with our 21st Century lenses. For example, there were many ancient Jewish laws and customs are not as tolerant like the ones we have today.
Here we have a son who wants his portion of the inheritance. To us, it doesn’t sound so crazy. It's like a kid asking for his college money. But instead of buying books, he buys beer...and lots of it. To a 1st century Jew, such a request was equivalent to saying…, “I hate you, I want you dead.” Again, it doesn't sound so harsh. Some of us parents have heard these words before, perhaps some of us as teenagers have even shouted them once or twice. But this is no “Sticks and stones may break my bones, and names will never hurt me.”
Jesus’ listeners knew that uttering such seething words...to your father no less...carried a death sentence. Teenagers beware! Such words were so blasphemous and dishonorable that they could get you stoned to death. Still, the Father gives his child what he wants. The father loves him so much that he will take on the shame and embarrassment, and even the financial hit to his wealth.
Now we know how the story plays out. He blows through his inheritance. And is forced to take a job at a pig farm…which is not the best job for a good Jewish boy in any century. When he can no longer stand the life that has made for him self, the son begins his long, repenting journey home.
Now remember, he is a wanted man. Coming home is risky. He has a target on his back. Anyone who saw him, be it family or a slave, had the legal right to kill him on the spot. If we forget about this crucial part to Jesus’ parable then what comes next is nothing more than a nice gesture between two people. The father sees his son from a long way off and has compassion for him. Knowing his son’s life is in real danger, the father runs with real purpose.
He does not run just to welcome his son home, he runs to save his son’s life. And when he reaches him,...he embraces him. He not only embraces his son...but begins to kiss his filthy, smelly, unclean face. The father loves his son with such conviction that nothing will stop him from showing it. This son, who had just squandered half of his family's fortune, receives the furious love of his father.
We are all sinners. Some better than others. Yet God runs after each one of us. God embraces us. And kisses us...And welcomes us home. There are no solemn lectures or heaps of guilt. No shame or punishment. Instead Jesus says…”they began to celebrate.” In a time when society was fueled by honor and shame, this parable was so counter-cultural that Jesus has to add the jealous brother into the mix just to make it believable.
In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace, Phillip Yancy writes, “We are so accustomed to finding a catch in every promise. But Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, and no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love. Each has at its core an ending too good to be true, or so good that it must be true.”
If you have ever experienced God’s grace, you know that it often feels too good to be true. And if you haven’t experienced, then what are you waiting for? Christ invites us to be embraced and kissed by God, even in our dirtiest, smelliest, sin stained moments. We can chose to carry a cross of guilt and shame. Or give our cross over to the one who gave up his life so we could be washed clean.
Through Christ, God has given us new cloaks of righteousness and new shoes to help us walk in faith and love. Through Christ we are given new rings that show the world we belong to God's family. A beloved child of God. This is what The Father has intended it for us since the beginning.
There was never a time when God was not love. That love was made manifest in Christ who came running after us, to save us from death. God takes the first step towards us. His furious love and endless grace chases after us, regardless of who we are and what we’ve done. To know God’s love and to trust in it allows us to abide in God’s presence at all times. In other words, God’s love welcomes us home. Because God's love is home.
Sadly, there are those who have bad memories of their fathers. Therefore they fear God, or push God away. They have a distorted image of the Holy Father. To them God is angry or absent or even abusive. Because of this...they distance themselves from God. They walk away from following the path of Christ. And soon no longer feel the spirit breathing in them. They wake up one day, lost and alone, in a foreign land. Spiritually broke.
As one great sinner once sang, "We can run all we want, but not go anywhere." We can run away. And try to make it on our own. Or we can jump into the furious love of God, who saves us, and who embraces us, and rejoices over us because one of his children who was lost has been found. Yes, we are all sinners. And no matter how good we are at sinning, God will always be better at forgiving.
And if you ask me, this alone is reason enough to celebrate every day as the Father’s Day.
Yancy, Philip. What's So Amazing About Grace? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.