"-- The prodigal son doesn`t understand how much his Father loved him and how much his father had to give him. He basically says to his Dad, "You`re not dying fast enough for me, old man, -- give me my inheritance now so I can spend it on what I want." Then he goes to a far country " not just geographically, but in his heart as well " to a far country with the promise of adventure, freedom, and pleasure. Ever do that? Do you ever wander away from God in some part of your life and leave behind all that God has to offer you to go to a far country " away from him? I do it all the time. Things like: concern for my own comfort that keep me from following him; impatience with other people because I am so focused on my own agenda; just plain old ignoring God, not having enough time for him; an unhealthy obsession with success; a desire to please people more than I desire to please God. And I am a pastor - you all must really be struggling! In all kinds of ways I leave God to go to some far country, cash in everything God has to offer for what that far country promises and the result is always a disaster just like it was for the prodigal son. It took him just a short time to squander everything it had taken his father a lifetime to earn. Then there was a famine and he began to starve. That is always the result of our wandering away from God. We think it is going to satisfy us, but in the end we just starve.
-- And that is why Jesus tells this story. He tells this story to convince broken people who are running away from God that if they just turn around, which is what the word "repent" means, turn around and go back, they still have a place in their Father`s home, in spite of what they have done, or where they have been, or even what religious people might think of them. Jesus tells us this story so that when we are in those far countries, we will remember three very important things about the Father. The first is this:
1) The Father has good eyesight.
The text says: "while the prodigal son was yet at a distance his father saw him " and ran to him "" And what that implies is that every day this Father was scanning the horizon for a glimpse of his son. It is in God`s nature to search for what is lost. Before this story Jesus tells two other stories about a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep just to find the one lost one, and about a widow who searches all night for one lousy penny. At the end of those stories Jesus asks, "Isn`t this right for the shepherd and the widow to do this?" My answer is "No." It`s not cost effective; the labor costs alone outweigh
any potential gain. But the Father is different - he has good eyesight and he is always searching for what is lost, which is great news for us because so often we feel lost from God, but in those moments God is looking for us.
2) The Father is good, but he`s not fair.
I think the elder brother in this story has a legitimate complaint, don`t you? He`s been good " he`s stayed at home " he`s worked in the fields, and now his prodigal brother just waltzes home, and He gets the party " well, la ti da "isn`t that nice. IT`S NOT FAIR " and pastors often chastise the elder brother for not understanding grace. I think that is wrong. The problem with the elder son isn`t that he doesn`t understand grace - it is that he understands it perfectly. He understands that the grace of God is not fair, and that`s good news, because it means all kinds of people get forgiven that don`t deserve it " sinners " tax collectors " elder brothers " prodigals " you " me. The problem with the elder brother isn`t that he doesn`t understand grace. The problem with the elder brother is that he doesn`t think he NEEDS grace. Notice how he distances himself from his younger brother. He says to his father: "This son of yours who devoured your living with prostitutes." He doesn`t say "my brother." And who said anything about prostitutes. The text doesn`t say anything about it - guess it must have come out of the elder brother`s head - maybe what he would have done with the money. You see the elder brother needs the father`s grace just as much as the younger brother, but he would rather EARN his father`s approval through hard work rather than receive grace and that way he can feel superior to his younger brother. I understand that and perhaps you do too. I work hard to be virtuous, and I expect others to do the same.
3) The father is rich.
This parable is known as the story of the prodigal son, but the word prodigal doesn`t mean bad or runaway; it means wasteful " lavish " spendthrift " so as many commentators have pointed out, this isn`t the parable of the prodigal son at all, but of the prodigal father. This is the story of a father whose heart is extravagant " wasteful " lavish in the extreme " and willing to spend all his money to throw a party for his rebellious younger son. The younger son and the father have something in common - they are both lavish - one with money the other with grace.
-- This is a great illustration of God`s economy. God is lavish " wasteful " prodigal with his grace. God is not cost effective; that is not God`s economics. He lavishes his grace on people that don`t deserve it in spite of the fact that that grace was purchased by the sacrifice of his only son, who bore the penalty for our sins on the cross so that we could be welcomed home from all of those far countries where we go - that was an expensive Christmas present! You see God`s grace is free, but it`s not cheap. We belong to a spendthrift God who foolishly " lavishly " wastefully spends his grace on people like you and people like me who do not deserve it and cannot earn it and can never pay him back, all of that so he can say to us "welcome home my son " welcome home my daughter " I have missed you so much." The father is rich and he is prodigal with his grace.
-- This is a familiar sermon about a very familiar story, but the reason it is so familiar to me isn`t because I`ve read it 1, 000 times, but because it is so much about me and maybe about you, too. You see, I am a prodigal child. I am loving " yet capable of intense anger and at times even hatred. I am committed to integrity and being above board in all things " and yet, on occasion, I have told a white lie just to make myself look better. I am vulnerable and open " but only about what I want you to know and what I`ve prepared and packaged for your consumption. I am a very self-disciplined person with an incredible capacity for chocolate chip cookies. I deeply desire Godly behavior in my life " and yet struggle with deep desires that are not Godly and that I wrongly assumed would go away with age " or marriage " or experience " or even with being a pastor. I am giving " but profoundly selfish. I am full of faith " and utterly faithless almost every single day of my life. And it is this mess that God says he loves and that he welcomes home, not because I`ve earned it " or because of any virtue of my own " I don`t have any, but because of what Jesus Christ did for me on the cross to pay my debt and clean me up and make me whole. So what about you? What far country have you run away to? Maybe you have never told Jesus that you want him to be the leader of your life and forgiver of your sins " maybe this is the day to do it. If you have ever wondered what God is like this story tells you. Maybe you have been a Christian for a while, but have run away to some far country: workaholism " an addiction " some kind of sexual sin " adultery " materialism " or perhaps just simply ignoring God except for one hour a week. What happens to you when out of boredom or old patterns or sheer rebellion, you run away to that far country? Do you feel him there? Do you hear his voice searching for you " extending his invitation to you to return home?
-- The Father is rich and he longs to lavishly spend his extravagant grace on you and on me. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling, oh sinner come home.