February 7, 2009
Luke 15:1-2, 11-32
1Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
… 11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]'
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.
25"Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'
28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'
31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "
a. Luke 15:8 Greek ten drachmas, each worth about a day's wages
b. Luke 15:21 Some early manuscripts son. Make me like one of your hired men.
The Feast of the Father
Today's message brings to an end a series of messages we have been hearing based upon Jesus parable of the Prodigal Son; that is, the parable of the lost sons. Last week I combined a couple themes so that we could finish today with a very appropriate message about "the feast of the father"; a reflection as to the meaning of the party the father is throwing in Jesus’ parable, but also a feast to which we have been invited as we celebrate the Lord's Supper together.
In order to take on this topic I am going to ask you to engage your memories by inviting you to think about "home". What does “home” mean to you?
"Home" has been on Anna Blair's mind ever since she went to the hospital couple weeks ago. "Home" for Anna is her house on Northbridge Rd. in Mendon. In contrast to the hospital beds and dividing curtains of institutional rooms, Anna’s "home" is a familiar place, a warm living room and a cool bedroom just to her liking. It's a place where Anna finds the kinds of food she likes to eat; the foods she can tolerate. It is a place where her television set is familiar, and large enough to see from across the room.
In short, "home" is a familiar and comfortable place; a shelter amid life’s storms. "I just want to go home!" Anna says, at least three or four times every time I have seen her at the nursing home. “Home” is a place we all yearn to be.
But what is home for you? More so than your current residence, I want your imaginations to go wild. Perhaps your mind can take you all the way back to your childhood home, or even a grandparents’ home; a home that is warm and safe, a place where you are loved and accepted.
Before I go on, let me knowledge that some of you may have to really stretch your imaginations. Maybe you don’t have memories of a warm and safe place where you are loved and accepted. While few of us grew up under ideal conditions, some grew up in situations defined by poverty or stress, with verbal or even physical abuse. To imagine “home” as an ideal place may require more effort for some than others.
I guess what I'm asking for everyone to do this morning is to imagine their “ideal home". This is your opportunity to dream deeply and to imagine sincerely a "home" where everything not only feels right, but is right.
I believe that yearning is seen every time a holiday like Christmas comes around. And though we know that Christmas is all about Jesus birth in a manger in Bethlehem, do we not continue to be slaves to the traditions with which we've grown up. For some of us Christmas would not be Christmas without a smorgasbord of food on the table including rice pudding and linginberries, meatballs and potatos korv (Swedish favorites)? For others Christmas would not be Christmas without their traditional foods which betraying our family histories. In many ways are we not trying to "go back home" every time we pull out those old family recipes, and dig out decorations from the basement or attic at Christmas or on St. Patrick's Day or for the Thanksgiving Feast?
Can you imagine a place and a time where everything is right; where you are secure in who you are, and secure in your setting; a place where your favorite foods are laid before you, and you get to sit next to your favorite people. Can you imagine "home"? Can you feel it now? Can you envision it so strongly that you realize it is exactly what you most deeply yearn for right now; a place and a time where everything is right and secure and safe and satisfying?
This morning is my joy to tell you that this is exactly what our Heavenly Father wants to give to us; in fact, it is the banquet into which the father welcomes his prodigal son, the banquet into which he begged his faithful elder son to enter.
In order to appreciate this truth we need to stand far away from this parable in order to recognize that it not only tells us a story about a father and his two sons but that it is the message of the Bible; for it combines the story of the human condition, the revelation of the divine solution, and the celebration of a new communion.
The Human Condition
In a world where the name of the game is "blame the other person", or as a New York psychologist once dubbed my generation, the "head bashing generation" whose philosophy is “do unto others before they do unto you”, the very concept of taking responsibility for our sin seems almost foreign. And yet, if we take some of the earliest descriptions of the human condition passed down to us through the book of Genesis, we find the very same nature; we find Adam blaming Eve for his sin.
When God said to Adam, who was by now hiding in shame following his sin; aware now of his nakedness:
11 …. "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"
12 The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."
How quick human beings "throw each other under the bus" in order to not blame ourselves. But as the Scripture boldly proclaims the truth, and Christians who take their Bible very seriously accept, we are all broken and responsible for our own sin.
Now, while many people are not cognizant of their sin, and need to hear that they are living in ways displeasing to a Holy God, I believe that all people everywhere are cognizant that something is wrong with their life because something is missing.
We are not, as some people might like to imagine, whole and complete beings in and of ourselves. We are not, as many believe, able to become whole and complete by our own power. For me, one of the most basic evidences of God is that humanity has never discovered an atheistic culture. In other words, while individuals in a culture may claim not to believe in a God, every culture that has ever existed, every culture that currently exists and every culture we has ever known about, has shown evidence of belief in a higher power.
There is within all people, as Augustine is so remembered to have said, an emptiness that is just not filled, until we find God. It is a natural yearning.. a craving. Augustine's actual quote is;
Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet
until it rests in Thee.
We were created by God to walk with God in the Garden of Eden; that original place of shalom: a place and a time where everything is right and secure and safe and satisfying for every living thing. And yet, something is wrong because we do not feel “at home” right now.
Jesus parable of the lost sons is a story of epic proportion, for it describes the reality of the human condition; of sin that sent us away from the home which had been provided for us by God, and to a foreign land to suffer the consequences of our sin; the brokenness of body and soul, sufferings of flesh and all of creation. It is a place where that yearning we all feel; that sense of "not been at home", is not anyone's fault but ours. We are responsible, and the problem is we do not have the ability to solve that problem. Our own mental, physical, spiritual powers cannot change the human condition. We all fall short of the glory of God.
As in the story of the prodigal son, the best we can do is "come to our senses" and repentantly draw near to our Heavenly Father with words of remorse and apology on our lips. That is the only thing we can do: repent.
The Divine Solution
Jesus parable of the lost sons is a story of epic proportion, which not only describes the human condition, but also describes the divine solution for our dilemma.
The good news of the Gospel we get to share with the world is that while we are limited in what we can do, God is not.
While there is nothing that human beings can do on their own to be welcomed home, God's love which created us in the first place, reaches out in grace to re-create and redeem us. It is only by God's grace that we are born again. As Jesus told Nicodemus:
…. "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying,
'You must be born again.'
And while God’s redemptive love is initially manifested in Jesus parable as the father embraces his son, clothes him and gives him a family ring, the greatest symbol of God's redemption is found in the banquet the father puts on for everyone to celebrate.
After all, what is a reunion without food?
Even in our own culture today, can you ever imagine gathering for a high school or college reunion without food or beverage being available? The issue is never hunger as much as it is the way that food and drink celebrates and affirms relationship.
As you may remember, when the older brother complained to his father about his generous response to the younger brother’s return home, the father simply stated "we had to celebrate". This imperative is understood in the context of Old Testament history;
where meals ratified covenants (agreements) between participant,
where meals celebrated victories,
where meals marked all special family occasions and transitions
such as births, weddings, funerals. And,
where a meal may actually be an opportunity for peace, where enemies are assured safety while talking honestly while sharing food.
If you were to ask a Jew of Jesus day what was the greatest event in the salvation history of God's people to that point, they would have told you the Passover, an event first marked by a meal, and now for centuries celebrated around a meal that gathers family and friends to celebrate their identity in God, along with their love and support for one another.
I hope that all who have children in the home still know the joy of gathering from meals. Unfortunately we have come far from the biblical days were family meals were prolonged affairs, even until bedtime. In a world filled with breakfast lunch and dinner options on-the-go away from family and friends in conversation, fewer and fewer of us today view the evening meal as the center of family life in both a symbol and an opportunity for intimacy.
But it still can be, if we turn off the world in tune into one another.
My guess is, if we do so, we will begin to realize that it is at meal time we feel most at home. In a meal your body is getting what it needs; the pleasure and nourishment from food and rest. But also, in the company of a loving family, meal time can get your heart what it needs; laughter, friendship and support. Am I wrong, or am I correct in understanding what I stated earlier; that our deep desire to keep traditions going; such as traditional foods at Christmas and Thanksgiving, family recipes and decorations passed down for generations is really about trying to "come home"? Isn't it all about trying to re-create something that made us feel warm and comfortable, loved and safe? Why else do you think traditions are so hard to break?
But at best, our own traditions can only take us so far home. Comfort foods, old family recipes and dinners together can only convey so much. We eventually must face a brokenness that only God can heal.
And God uses the language of a great feast to describe how he will bring us home someday. As He spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:
6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.
And as our Lord Jesus once said:
Many will come from the East and the West, and will take their place
at the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Because of what Jesus, the true elder brother did; the one who came from heaven to earth and was willing to pay whatever price to find us and to bring us back home; because of what Jesus did, God will someday make this world "home" again. And it will be a homecoming unlike any other homecoming you have ever been able to create by your own power or efforts, or imagination.
Jesus came to take us back to our original home, to that shalom for which all humanity yearns where everything is right and good:
our relationships with one another,
our relationship with God,
our relationship with this ecosystem called Earth,
As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:
19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
By God's grace; by the sacrifice of Jesus, one day we will all come home. All we need to do is that which we can actually do: repent of our sin.
Jesus is going to wipe away, death, suffering, and tears. We will be given bodies that run but never weary. And by God's power, not only will we be fully free, but the world will likewise be free from the impact that our sins have had upon it.
This is the divine solution to the human dilemma. This is the gospel we get to share with the world, the promises of God proclaimed in his word.
3. The New Communion
Finally, today we get to celebrate this gospel in a tangible way and at a very appropriate place; the table of our Lord. Again, as in Jesus parable, the banquet that has been set before us is the greatest symbol of God's redemption; His welcoming us back despite our sin.
Many years ago when I was ministering at First Covenant in Omaha, a young adult came up to me after being with us for about two months with an astute observation.
He said, "Pastor Bruce, do Covenanters do anything without eating together?" Perhaps some of you have the same question! He went on to say, "I'm just noticing that I've gained a few pounds since I started attending this church, and what I think I need more than another meal together is for us to go for a walk together."
Just in case you haven't noticed it yet, Covenanters do like to eat together because we are a relational people. A little exercise would be a good thing for all of us as well, but I don't think we will ever worship without having coffee and refreshments afterwards. I don’t suspect that we will give up desserts before we gather for an Annual Meeting. Soupfests, potlucks and occasional fund-raising suppers will continue to define our identity with one another. But I would suggest to you, that this is more of a good thing that a bad thing. I would suggest to you that a church family that does not eat together is not really a family. I say that in light of what banquets and meals signify in the Scriptures. After all didn't this parable, that we've been looking at for five weeks, begin with the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law complaining that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners?
Having grown up in the Covenant Church I long ago took note that Covenanters seem to favor the gospel of Luke more so than Matthew or Mark, the two other synoptic Gospels. But, I never understood why until I recently discovered that the Gospel of Luke describes eating, drinking and banqueting 32 times in its 24 chapters!
When telling the biblical story, or more specifically the story of Jesus, you cannot do justice without mentioning the role that food plays in affirming relationships. For by eating together Jesus affirms us, and declares his love for us and his friendship toward us. As with his baptism, when Jesus identified with sinners, by inviting us to his table Jesus is identifying with those He has saved. And what we partake of today is a glorious reminder that because of Jesus broken body and his shed blood we live in a new communion with God and a new communion with one another; a holy fellowship in Christ.
As we remember every time we share Holy Communion, the bread is Jesus body was broken for each one of us because of our sin. We are reminded that the cup which we drink is the cup of the new covenant; the new agreement between God and humanity, that if we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus, we will be saved from our sin and we will live in a restored, renewed, and re-born relationship with God and one another.
As we gather now at the Lord’s table, remember that:
This new communion we share is only possible because Jesus left His home in heaven so that we might discover our true home with Him, a “home” we get a taste of when we live together as the Church.
And remember too that this new communion we share is only possible because Jesus experienced what the human race deserved. His crucifixion outside the gates of Jerusalem took on our exile and rejection, so that we can be brought home to a place of acceptance and love.
So let us gather at the feast of this new communion, imagining the banquet that awaits us in heaven. Let us approach our Father with repentant hearts, but also with hearts filled with joy, for God is welcoming us home. AMEN
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (r).
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.