“Lavish Love: The Prodigal Father”
There comes a time in every young adult’s life when they make the big decision that it is time to strike out own your own. For some, it’s after high school, for others it might be after university, and for others it might be even later.
There are a number of reasons why we make this choice in our lives. One could be we’re ready to start our new career, a new life, maybe even in another part of the world. Another reason could be we’re ready to start a new life with someone else, by getting married, starting our own family. Or maybe we’re just tired of living by someone else’s rules and want to live by our own rules.
The reasons, and motives behind them are broad and unique to every person.
For the son in our reading today, he was unwilling to live in his father’s household any longer. He wanted to be out on his own. So he asked, well demanded really, that his father give him his part of the inheritance.
In other words, he decided he no longer wanted to be part of this family. To demand your inheritance before it is rightfully yours, which would be when your father dies, is disrespectful to your family.
This son was turning his back and going his own way. He rebelled against family norms and went off to live as he thought he should be living.
So what did he do?
He partied. He took all this money and spent it on wild nights. Living the life of luxury.
But it didn’t last.
He ran out of money. He ran out of friends. He ran out of couches to sleep on.
He had nothing left. To add to the misery, there was a famine.
He needed to work or else he’d die.
So he hires himself out to local farmers and takes care of their pigs.
Pigs! To the Jews in the audience this is offensive. Pigs are unclean and not to be associated with. Yet, this young man is forced to take care of them because he has no where else to go.
He comes to the realization that maybe home isn’t as bad as he thinks it might be. At least if he begs to his father he might be able to work at the family farm. He knows how his father treats his servants, so he knows he’ll at least have something to eat rather than considering stealing slop from the pigs.
So he does it. He heads for home, and on his way he is planning his speech he will give his father, hoping for some sort of mercy and a few scraps of food.
But his father sees him first, and before he can even begin to offer he well-rehearsed speech, his father has his arms around him and planning the party.
He’s come home, and the father is overjoyed.
There’s a third character in this story, the older brother.
The brother who has faithfully stood at his father’s side and done all he has been asked to do. The one who stayed, the one who honoured the family traditions and rules.
He’s a bit upset because his father is throwing a big party for his low-life brother who wasted away all his money on hookers and booze yet has never offered him any reward for being the faithful one. The one who has always been there when his father needed him, the one who listened to what he was told and always did it, no matter what he thought or felt about it.
Where are you in the story?
At different points of your life you might have been all three of them. There may have been times when you were the younger son, living life to its fullest, just not focusing on the right things.
You might have been the father, looking longingly for someone who has left you, wondering how they are, or if they will ever return. Are they even still alive?
You might also find yourself connecting to the older son. Why is that person getting all the attention? What about me over here, the one who has always been here? Remember me!?
We all run away from stuff at points in our lives. We just need a break, we can’t face it anymore, so we take our stuff and go somewhere else for a while.
We might also look at our families and see connections with the story. We might recognize some troubled members who reflect the young son, or even the older son who has a sense of entitlement over others.
It’s just the way we are.
We have ups and downs and we deal with them.
Sometimes we deal with them appropriately, other times we act out.
I said last week that when Jesus talks in parables there’s a place for us in the story and there is a place for God.
God, our Father, is also the father in the parable. We are his children.
We are the older son when we object to new people and new ideas. We feel we have a certain amount of entitlement because we have been here longer, we know how things work, and we have followed all the rules and practices we have been told we need to follow.
We are the younger son when we decide that God is no longer needed in some part of our life. We can do it alone, thank you very much, and we don’t need any help.
This is the worst thing for a church to consider.
Churches must be at home with God. Churches must be as close as they can be to the Father so they can receive proper instruction and guidance on how to be faithful to God’s family, God’s creation, all of God’s children.
What is a church but a collection of people.
People who are seeking to be close to the Father.
The question is, which of the sons are we?
Are we the son who has run away and lost our focus, our understanding, of what being in a relationship with our Father really means?
Are we the son who has stayed in the house, yet never understood what a gift we have just by being in the presence of our Father?
The son who ran away, he hit rock bottom. The very bottom. It was then when he realized what he was missing out on by being with his father. How his father treated everyone as members of his household. No matter what status they held, family, servant, friend, they all had a place in his home. He knew the only place he could find help was to go back to his father and beg forgiveness.
The son who stayed, he followed all the rules. He did everything he thought was right, yet never felt the love of his father. He just went through the motions. He never made the connection, realizing what the father really offered him.
The love the father showed his son when he came back home. He didn’t even listen to the son’s speech. The son started to speak, seeking forgiveness, but already the father was planning the celebration. Just coming home was enough. Just returning to his father’s love was enough.
So where are we?
Are we running away from God? Do we want to do it alone? Do we not see what a great gift we have inherited just by being in the home of our heavenly Father?
Or are we in the house, but just going through the motions? Are we so focused on just following what we think is the proper thing to do, we miss out on the relationship? Are we missing out on the beautiful, amazing grace that our heavenly Father so freely offers?
We are children of God. We have access to a bountiful, beautiful home. A home that is full of love, no matter what we do.
They call this parable the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Prodigal means lavish, extravagant, to the point of wastefulness. This is what the son did when he left his home. He lived a wasteful, extravagant life. But when he came home, he realized the extravagant love his father offers to him. How his father lavishes so much love on him upon his return.
When we look at our own children, we love them no matter what. We will do anything for them. But our love pales in comparison to the love of God for all His children.
So whether you are running away, finding your way back home, or maybe you never left, know the real benefit of being here.
The house of our Father is a house of love.
When we accept this love, when we realize how great a love it really is, and what it offers us, our Father, our heavenly Father, will rejoice in our return to Him.
When we turn from the sin in our lives, whether it be living extravagant lives focused on material things, or by simply following the rules and not paying attention to the need for relationships, our Father will welcome us home as his children.
We have a prodigal God. A God who lavishes love upon us, more love than we are often ready to receive. God wishes, our Father wishes, to share his extravagant home, his extravagant love with each and every one of us.
Thanks be to God, our heavenly Father. Amen.