Hey, at least I’m updating with something 😉
â€œWhither Dost Thou Wanderâ€
March 18, 2007, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings, and flew far to foreign fields and frittered his fortune feasting fabulously with faithless friends.
Fleeced by his fellows in folly, and facing famine, he found himself a feed-flinger in a filthy farm yard. Fairly famishing, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments.
“Fooey, my father’s flunkies fare far finer,” The frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure, and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family. Falling at his father’s feet, he forlornly fumbled “Father, I’ve flunked, and fruitlessly forfeited family fellowship favour.”
The far-sighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies to fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast. The fugitive’s fault-finding brother frowned on fickle forgiveness of former folderol. But the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Let flags be unfurled! Let fanfares flare!” Father’s forgiveness formed the foundation for the former fugitive’s future fortitude.
Phew! What a fantastically fun fable! I just had to share it here this morning! A little fun with the parable of the prodigal son!
â€œProne to wander, I can feel it, wander from the God I love…â€ Anyone recognize those words?
There are from the hymn Come, O Fount of Every Blessing. It’s said Robert Robinson the author of the hymn that contains these lyrics, had turned back to a sinful life just a couple years after being saved from a tempestuous life of sin. Like the prodigal son, Robinson found himself far off in a distant land, living vicariously in sin. One day he was traveling in a stagecoach with a woman engrossed in a book. She quoted the words â€œProne to wander I can feel it, wander from the God I love.â€ She asked him what he thought of these beautiful words. He burst into tears…
â€œMadam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”
We’ve all had times in our lives where we just seem to run away. It could be physically, like the prodigal son in our reading this morning. Where we just get the heck out of town. There are too many demands placed on us, so we flee, get out of there. But it could also be emotional running away. Our work may be too demanding on us, so we shut down and just fill the hours. Or our family may be driving us nuts, so we detach, stop communicating.
We yearn for the days when we felt loved, days where we felt important, we felt like what we said mattered. Sometimes we turn to destructive lifestyles. Putting distance between ourselves and those things which once brought us joy. And we get lost in ourselves and our sinful living. Not everyone goes this far, but it does happen regularly.
And it almost always happens at some point in our relationship with God. We feel disconnected from God… we feel like we don’t have anything to offer. We feel like we’re forgotten by God. So we wander.
In the story of the prodigal son, we see two sons who are missing the mark. The younger son demands his inheritance so he might leave the family. He treats his father as though he is dead, sells off the land he’s given and goes. He brings shame unto his father for raising such a disrespectful son.
So he gathers all he has and leaves for a distant country. Now we don’t know his intentions,
maybe he was planning on going out and partying, and having a â€œgood time.â€ Or… maybe he thought he could go out and make it big on his own. But once free, whatever he had in mind is gone, as he falls to the temptation of sin.
It reminds me of some of the people I saw in university. Free from high school and parental observation, studies become a distant priority… to partying. There weren’t too many, but there was always a couple where going out and drinking every night became a necessity. These were the students you usually didn’t see again after Christmas. It was usually for academic reasons, such as not going to class and failing everything, or they had spent all their money. Money often given to them by mommy and daddy to get them started on their first journey out into the real world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it…
So the younger son is out in the real world. Spending his money on â€œdissolute living.â€ Once out of cash, the young man does what he can to survive. Which end up to be feeding pigs. For a Jew, this doesn’t even register as a job, it’s more like torture. In Deuteronomy, Jews are instructed to have no association with pigs, ever. Yet here is this man, reduced to being a pig’s servant! He has to touch them, feed them, smell them. He even yearns to eat what they eat! Which is not appealing at all.
What happens next is sort of an â€œAha!â€ moment, but not quite one we might expect. He realizes he can be less miserable if he can manipulate his father into at least being a servant. He even practices his speech to the pigs! He’s still looking out more for himself than he does in repairing the damage he’s caused. So he begins the long walk home, which felt a lot longer than the walk that took him away from there, I’m sure! He left feeling like a champion, but now is returning as a failure. The father sees a lone figure staggering down the road. He probably often looks down the road, hoping, waiting. But this figure looks familiar… could it be? It is! And he runs to meet his son on the road. He meets the humbled son in his pig stinking, mud caked clothes and embraces him. It’s this moment that makes this parable a classic. The one everyone loves it for. The father’s forgiving embrace of a son who treated him as dead.
The son begins his well rehearsed speech, but his father cuts him off by ordering clean clothes and planning the party. This son, whom the father assumed to be dead, has returned!
The other son catches wind of what’s going on, and becomes angry. So much so that he won’t join the festivities. He is now on the outside, after years of being close to his father. Now understandably, he might be upset. He’s been here all along, he’s done what his father has asked… and his father never killed a even a goat for him and his friends! My response is… you want some cheese with that whine?
The older son, has reaped the benefits of having a relationship with his father all along. The younger has strayed, and has returned! He was dead, and now is alive! Yet this older son cannot bring himself to share, he wants to keep what he has for himself. He can’t bring himself to share the spotlight with this low-life brother of his. What has HE done around here lately!?
This is a real life story. We see it every day don’t we? We see people who have tried to take on the world all by themselves, and end up with nothing. We see people who, when those who have fallen try to come back for help, just turn their backs and walk away. Taking their toys with them.
Are we so innocent here in the church? What would we do if one of these troubled kids from around the area, someone who’s a known troublemaker, probably been involved in drugs and violence, staggered into our church, drunk, maybe making noise and disrupting the service. What would we do?
Now what would Jesus do? What would God have us do? This kid might have grown up in this church, went to Sunday School here. But thought he was all grown up, so went out and got mixed up with the wrong crowd. Maybe after a Saturday night of drinking and partying, he’s hit rock bottom. Maybe he got into a big fight, and took a pretty good lickin’. So he’s come to the only place where he’s ever known love for help.
We’ve all been in one of these positions. We been the younger son, full of vim and vinegar, ready to take on the world. Or maybe we’ve been the older son, feeling infringed upon, because now we have to share what we feel we’re owed with someone we deem below us. Or maybe we’ve been the father. We’ve lost someone we love, longing for their return, and when they do come back, we’re overjoyed!
God’s been the father to us all. Whether we’ve turned away from the blessings he’s given us,
or whether we’ve been spoiled and not appreciative of the love he’s had for us. Thinking that God only has so much love to give, therefore I can’t share because God will love me less!
As we journey through Lent, traditionally it is a time of self-reflection, and certainly the readings we’ve had the last four weeks have hit on the theme. There’s no reason we can’t do this all year long, but Lent is a good time to start.
The story of the prodigal son has two lenses we can look through. There is the lens of the younger son, who has turned away from the love of God. He found himself alone and in trouble,
and turns around and comes home to a love that never stopped loving.
There is also the lens of the older son, who feels God’s love is subjective, limited. Because he has been faithful all this time, he feels he deserves more.
Both views are wrong and can be destructive. We can’t understand the world, we can’t resist the temptation of sin without God’s help. When we stop accepting God’s love, we lose direction, we sin. The love never stops being offered, we just turn away from it. In the older son, we learn God’s love is unconditional, limitless. Just as the father’s whole household, slaves and all, rejoiced in the sons return…When we come back to God, the heaven’s rejoice! It doesn’t mean God loves the faithful followers less, it means God’s forgiveness surpasses all sin. God loves us all!
Lent helps us continue to see parts of our lives where we are close to God,and parts of our lives where God is nowhere to be found. The hope of Lent is that in realizing these things about ourselves, we can learn more about who we are in our relationship to God. Are we always accepting God’s love and direction as we go through each day? Or are we saying God doesn’t have a place in this particular part of my life… I don’t need him here at work, I can do it myself.
Imagine what might happen if we looked to God everywhere. What if we prayed before heading into the office, or before meetings or whatever? Worst case scenario? Nothing…. nothing happens. That’s the worse that can happen. So what have we got to lose?
So when we wander, and we all do it in our lives somewhere… There are times in our lives when we just can’t see God anywhere. We feel hopeless… lost… alone… So when we wander to far away places, spiritual places apart from God… God sits… watching the road we walked away on, waiting for our return… with his arms open wide.