Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father.
But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebra
Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”
There are so many things that could be said about this well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son. I could give a review of the inheritance laws and customs in those times, the proper role and expected behavior of first and second sons, the obligations of a father, the kinds of things the son might have wasted his inheritance upon, and even some comments about the care and feeding of pigs. But I’m going to skip that today, except to comment that you know the younger son really hit the bottom of the bottom when all he could do to survive was feed pigs, because to obedient Jews pigs were the most unclean creature on the face of the planet. When Luke says the son envied the pigs for the food they had to eat, well that’s as low as that young man could go.
I sincerely hope that none of us have gone as low as we can go. If you are that low, or have ever been that low, I hope that you pay very close attention to the story because it really tells you all you need to know about God, our God who amazes us, surprises us, and astounds us by lifting us up at the exact moment we thought that all was lost, at the exact moment that we thought God would turn away from us, at the exact moment that we were absolutely certain that we were beyond help or redemption, or at the exact moment that our spiritual tank gauge reached “E for empty”.
You may find it hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s in that exact moment that God comes running towards us, filled with compassion, just like the father in the story. That father who had every reason to turn his back on his son, who had every reason to give the stern “I told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen, and now look at you” lecture, who had every reason to say all of the things that parents say when their children make a mess of things. Maybe you’ve said such things to your children, maybe you’ve been the daughter or son who had to listen to words like that. It’s in unexpected moments like this that God comes running to you, filled with compassion and love. You may find it hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve experienced it myself. It’s true.
Long ago, Paul the Apostle described to his friend Timothy how it was that his life was turned around: “The Lord poured oiut his abundant grace on me” (I Tim 1:14) For Paul grace was an amazing awareness of God’s forgiveness, offered even to the worst people in this world.
There were many who grumbled when Jesus sat at the table with tax collectors and other sinners. But grace is the explosive under-standing that God’s forgiveness cannot be limited by our prejudices, and that the people whom we would discard as irretreivably lost may be the special subjects of God’s concern and love.
Grace is not only the relief and confort we feel when God comes running with the robe, ring, sandals and a feast, it’s also the joy that God feels when the seemingly unreachable are reached and the seemingly unfindable are found. Grace is not just erasing the mistakes, Grace frees us so that we can live.
Laura and Robin have prepared a feast for us after the service. Enjoy our family of faith. Enjoy delicious goodies. And if you never received a feast after turning your life around at some low point, this feast is for you!