Luke 15:1-3, 15-31
Going out to seek them
Friends, in this last year at St Petri I have become more and more aware of a deep pain that exists among many people in our congregation. It is a pain that many feel about their own children and grandchildren, or extended family and friends. It is the pain of disunity, conflict with and disconnection from our congregation.
Many older people among us weep for their children who have given up on worshipping the Lord here (or anywhere). A lot of older people in our congregation feel this deep sense of loss, disconnection and regret as they watch their own children and their grandchildren live way outside the worshipping community in which they themselves find great life and belonging.
I also know that people around middle age also worry for their kids, their friends and people in their circle who have either given up on following Jesus or have never really known Jesus personally. Same for people of young adult and even teenage years.
With our regrets, our sadness and our longing, we have a good desire, a holy desire of the Lord to want them to simple come home. We have that strong mission heart desire to see all the prodigals come home and be with the One who created them in his own image and sent them his own Son to free them from the dead ends on offer in the world without faith in God’s grace.
We probably often catch ourselves praying that somehow, somewhere on some day the penny will drop for the prodigals we know, and faith will be ignited and freedom and peace will overflow in the lives of the prodigals, and we would be together in faith again….
Then we hear this wonderful parable about prodigals – two of them: Both sons, not just the first, as we heard last year for 6 weeks when we studied this parable in depth.
Yes, both sons are lost. They are lost to the Father because by their lack of faith in the Father’s goodness and love. Because they don’t believe they can bank on their Father’s love and goodness, they are trying to get the good things the Father can give them, without any real relationship to their Father.
One prodigal goes off in search of meaning and purpose in things and experiences. He is the self-discoverer type of prodigal we know. He is searching for truth in all kinds of places, from pleasure to possessions to popularity. Eat, pray, love. Truth is within and in what I experience and in what I think about what I experience – not in the Word of the Father and life in relationship to his family, the church.
This search for truth in self and experience starts off well. It feels like freedom. But eventually comes up completely empty. Self discover apart from the Lord and his people is a prison.
Then we reflect on the older brothers we are and we know. He is a little harder to reflect on because he is us – or at least, it is easy for us to be him!
The older brother is also lost to his Father because he also wants what the younger prodigal wants – life and health and peace and future without a living relationship with one who gives these things to people.
He is just going about it differently. Instead of self-discovery and being very, very bad morally, he is feathering his own needs and wants for life by being perfect.
He is keeping all the rules, doing what he is told, never causing an argument, always giving in, playing it safe, never showing any emotion, never getting too “real” about things, never rocking the boat, never taking a risk – all in the hope that his own perfect record will get him what he wants – future, life, health, peace and etc…..
So, here we are again – realising that whether we are being very, very bad, lost in self-discovery outside of God’s word and people, or whether we are trying to be very, very good, going through the motions to get what we think we need in church or outside of it, we are lost.
So, our kids, and grandkids and friends and associates are not the only ones lost! They are not the only prodigals. In a sense, we are all prodigals!
Friends, I learnt last year with you that this parable really should be renamed. It should be called the parable of the prodigal God – the big-hearted, prodigious God because this parable Jesus speaks is all about the Father and how he relates to prodigals.
At enormous cost to himself, in every way (financially, status in the community, respect of his friends, risk of further rejection from his children….), this Father goes out to meet both prodigals.
He goes out to the self-discovery boy and reinstates him before he can get his bumbling words out about his grand plan for self-salvation. The Father knows that this prodigal’s attempts to pay his Father back for his wrong will never work. The self-discovery prodigal will never be able to pay God back enough to get back in the good books.
At great cost and in sheer grace, the Father simply reinstates his lost prodigal.
And the more difficult to see older prodigal? Again, at great cost to himself, the Father goes out of the grand party he is throwing for the whole village to his angry prodigal to invite him into the joy of the feast he is missing out on because of his insistence on relying on his own pride and strength to get good things in life.
We never know if the older prodigal comes in and experiences the joy of belonging and celebrating being found by the Father, found by God. We are not meant to know. We are living the story now. Will we respond to the invite of our heavenly Father in his Son Jesus to come in to his community, his joy, his place, his gracious presence? Will we go out to the prodigals we know; at great cost to ourselves, will we search for them and invite them in?
For those in deep pain about the loss of their own kids and grand kids, the partner, their friends from the Lord’s community, the Church – we simply are called to be like this Father – a prodigal partner, friend, parent, child; prodigious and big-hearted in our going out to them all.
We simply have to keep “going out” to greet them and be with them. Lost things cannot find themselves. Lost Sheep, lost coins and lost people need someone to go and search for them, be with them, try to guide them home.
St Paul calls this the ministry of reconciliation that we all called to and all share. We are new people. We are Jesus’ people. He has given us the ministry of reconciling people to him. So, we don’t look at the past and the pain and the regret but simply see the prodigals with Jesus’ heart and calling and love. We go out, again and again…
We’re here because we were found by him through someone, somewhere, sometime. This is the only way that lost people will be found – as God’s people go looking, go searching, go loving, go inviting.
Going out to them costs us.
It costs us safety: it is much easier to stay inside the house and make the prodigal’s earn their way back in. It is much more humanly satisfying to put some hoops in their way so we can know for ourselves whether their return is genuine.
I costs us faith: There are no guarantees of a warm reception, a magic moment of “coming to senses” and turning back to the Lord. It can be a long process. It can be a very delicate process of not arguing, not judging, but just being there and giving and account of the hope and joy we have in Jesus when asked. Even then, our telling may not be the turning.
It costs us comfort: it is much more comfortable to stay inside and enjoy the party with friends. To go out to the prodigal means meeting them on their terms first and starting where they are at, before they become anything like us. This is uncomfortable because it means change and letting go of things held precious to some or many.
To live a lifestyle of going out to prodigals like this wonderful Father, costs us time and money. If it doesn’t hit us in the hip pocket and demand some of our time, then we are not going to out prodigals. We are staying inside the party and actually being more like the older son. Why?
Well, the older son should have been the one to go and search for his younger lost brother. Instead of watching him burn up his life or leaving him to his own devices (or vices), the older more mature, more connected one should have gone out to the younger prodigal on his Father’s behalf.
He didn’t. But Jesus did! He is the one telling this story! Jesus went out to get you and me and bring us home to our heavenly Father. He is our true older brother and we praise him with every fibre of our being for finding us, tending us, patching up our wounds, reinstating us and presenting us with his royal crown and family ring in the great banquet hall of the church.
We go out with Jesus. His Spirit goes before and behind and we draw on his power and authority to keep at it, even though we feel the pain of separation and we long for the day when the prodigals come home.
Can you believe that you are found?
Can you believe that you are to find?
Can you then see your church family, St Petri, as a community going out to seek, invite, love, reconcile the prodigals around here?
As you do, and as we pay the price of being prodigal parents, friends, partners and colleagues together, we will be a church for the prodigals – a place where the prodigals come home, one by one, in God’s time and way. Now that is what i am talking about.
Friends, may the Lord of the church convince us to keep paying the price of being true elder brothers in this community so we pay the price freely and willingly for the great benefit of seeing some of the prodigals come home to this church