Luke 15:11-32 “Prodigal Son”
This morning I want us to look at this story of a father and his two sons in a slightly different way. I know that the story is about three men. I can read it! But, I believe that the real issue in this parable of Jesus is not about what happens when three guys get together. This is about a much more universal idea. It is the idea of “coming home.” Do you agree?
Once there was a missionary in India who noticed that many people were gathered in the train station along the platforms. They seemed to be camped out there. Children were everywhere, but never seemed to get on any train. She surmised that they lived there. She approached one small boy and asked if he had a home. The boy responded that he did. . . .he just did not have a house! In other words, the train station was his home.
When you think about home, what comes to mind? Most likely you remember your childhood, a place and time that no longer exists but in memory. Surely, you remember people who were there at home who cared about you. Perhaps some of them have already passed to the Lord.
You all know that I have been around the world a few times. I went to school in Europe and was a missionary to Thailand with my wife. I even went to seminary in that other country called “Berkeley.” We used to call it “Bezerkely.” In all those times and in all those places, there was always once place where I felt as if I were at home. That was in the church. It made no difference what language was being prayed in. I felt at home in my Father’s house.
The question that comes up in Christ’s parable is “Why would anyone want to leave the Presence of the Father?” In the parable, we see that the younger son wanted his money from the inheritance that he would one day receive. He wanted to be rich. He wanted to live the so-called “good life.” He wanted to go “whole hog” on earthly and profane living. And, he ended up going whole hog indeed when his money ran out.
The bible tells us that the younger son “traveled” or “journeyed” to another country when he got the wealth from his father, but really the word in the Greek here tends to imply that he was driven to leave his father and go abroad. Likewise, we find ourselves sometimes driven to leave the Holy Presence of God. It is almost as if we have no choice in the matter.
The reality of the culture of the day was that this younger son had really no right to inherit as long as his older brother was alive. Only the eldest son inherited properties and titles. So, when the father gives the younger boy half of the inheritance, that would not come until both his father and his elder brother were no longer on this earth. This leads us to the conclusion that the younger son was in a way driven to escape his fate of living as the servant of his father and elder brother for the rest of his days. He was driven to live a more extravagant life than would have been his otherwise.
I wonder what makes people go away from God and choose the other path. Indeed the Bible’s Old Testament is filled with warnings about such situations: Proverbs 28:18-20, for instance, “One who walks in integrity will be safe, but whoever follows crooked ways will fall into the Pit (hell). Anyone who tills the land will have plenty of bread, but one who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. The faithful will abound with blessings, but one who is in a hurry to be rich will not go unpunished.” We all know what is going to happen when we start following worthless pursuits. We have been warned. But, off we go anyway!
I don’t want to spend really any time this morning talking about where the wrong paths lead. I think we all know. I could talk about the boys who were drinking alcohol and smoking behind the music building at the high school during class this last week, but I am not going to talk about them. I could talk about a lot of sins that I see all the time. You could add to the examples from your own lives from what you have witnessed. The point of the parable that Jesus tells is not that we sin—we all do, by the way. The point is that when we realize the sin, we confess that sin to the Father, and the Father accepts us back home once more.
You see, you can make a mess of your life, and you are still welcomed home to God. You can have sin in your life, come to this place, confess it, and be welcomed back to God! Even when you do not think that you can forgive yourself for what you may have done in your life, the forgiveness is waiting for you when you come home to God once more. Christ did not come to condemn, but to offer the world eternal salvation through the forgiveness of sin.
This is what we call the “Mercy of God.” Remember the story of the Prodigal Son how the father is not just sitting at home wondering about his lost youngest son. He is out on the road looking down the path that his child has gone waiting for his return. He goes out and greets his son with open arms. Look at verse 20: “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.”
This idea of mercy seems so “foreign” to us today. We tend to think always that one should get what one deserves. If one works hard, then one should be rewarded. If one does something criminal, then one should be punished. The idea that one gets what one does not deserve almost seems un-American, but it is a Christian idea. The concept of mercy is the heart of the story of the Prodigal Son and is the basis of our faith in Christ. We all know that we have sinned in our lives and that God could rightly punish us, but then we pray “Kyrie Eleison” (God have mercy). Lift the punishment from our souls.
I know that it was said many times in your life that this story in the bible is about forgiveness. Actually it is not. It is truly about mercy. You see, the younger son upon his return points out that he has sinned against heaven and before his father. He knows that he has screwed up. He asks to be punished. Then, the father applies the mercy by lifting the punishment—or applying a different kind of justice that says we get what we do not deserve.
Having talked about being at home with God and about God’s merciful acceptance of us, I want to close today with what happens in heaven when we return accepting God’s mercy. A celebration takes place.
I spoke earlier about how this church is like coming home; worship here is our celebration of that homecoming. In our Bible Studies and small group times, we get to work on our individual faith together in closeness with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but in the larger church setting, we cannot do that. We do not have the opportunity to share as we should in a large group like this. This is the time when we celebrate the feast together. We have returned. We have confessed. We have sought God’s mercy over our lives and have received that mercy! It is time to call all together and celebrate.
Remember in the Parable how the older brother did not want to celebrate his younger brother’s return. He was envious and jealous. The Father went out and begged for him also to return to the celebration. His younger brother was lost and is now found again. I think that we have a similar thing that happens in church. A sinner is saved, the saints in heaven are celebrating God’s glorious mercy over that soul, and we react in the church with a “Welcome to worship at Waimea United Church” (said in a low voice.) We are like the older brother sitting on the sidelines of the celebration, not really wanting to take part.
God’s mercy over our lives is what we come here this morning to celebrate. Let us not sit outside of the celebration.
Welcome home. Mercy be upon you. Celebrate this morning. Amen