We long for home. We long for a place where we belong, where we are secure, where we are accepted and loved. Millions and millions of dollars are spent by people who travel back to their homeland, the place where their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents came from. They want to discover their homeland, something of their identity. We sometimes have wonderful memories of where we grew up, and we go back to those places. Sometimes its fulfilling and sometimes it comes up short.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are upon us. Advertisements of homes full of warmth, comfort, and happiness are on our screens. This longing for home sells. It’s marketable. Many people have nice houses, good families, and other pleasant things but they still long for home.
This is our third sermon on what is popularly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A parable which is actually about two sons. A younger son who insults his father and family, leaves home and really goes to a bad place in life. And an older son who stays home, works for his father and also ends up in a different kind of bad place.
But this parable is even more so about a father, a prodigal father. This father represents our heavenly Father. This parable gives more attention to the father and his reaction than to the younger so-called prodigal son who returns.
And just like the father in the parable is looking for his son on the horizon, sees him, runs to him, embraces him and kisses him, and welcomes him home, so our heavenly Father longs for us to come home.
Genesis tells us that God made a home for us. In this place we knew God’s love and presence. There was no death or decay. We were in a whole relationship with God. But we wanted to live our own way, without God’s interference, and we turned from God. We lost our true home. “We have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings.”
Story after story in the Bible is of people far from home. Adam and Eve are driven from the Garden. Cain, their son, murders his brother Abel and wandered in the wilderness. Jacob has to leave home and lives in exile because of his conniving. David was hunted as a fugitive before becoming king. One of the major stories of the Old Testament is Israel being conquered by Babylon and forced to leave their home and live in exile.
Again and again in the Bible we read about people in exile and trying to come home.
Hebrews 11 talks about the faith of the people in the Old Testament and how they knew they were foreigners and strangers on this earth. This world was not their true home. It is not our true home either.
I love my home, my family, Utah, the beauty of so many places. But I also feel the tension of all the pain, death, and disaster in this world. Is the world becoming more dangerous? Less livable? Maybe. There are people in Ukraine, parts of Africa, our inner cities, even here in American Fork, who would have much to say about that. I have it good and my security can often lull me into believing this is my ultimate home. But it isn’t. I belong to God in Christ Jesus and faith is not always welcome here in this world.
God came in Christ to bring us home. (That’s a preview to Christmas!) It is ironic that the very one who is telling this parable about a lost son coming home, is the very God who is telling this story because the religiously strict people are upset that he is eating with sinners, the very ones who need to come home.
Jesus died because it takes more than stopping wars, eradicating disease, and ending political division to make things right. The human heart and human nature is full of self-centeredness, evil, and dishonesty. It needs grace. It needs healing. It needs to come to rest in the Father. It needs to come home.
At the end of the Bible it says a time will come when the home of God will be with people. It says,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and be their God; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…”
Jesus said he has gone away to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house.
It’s interesting how people coming to the end of life will speak of going home. On one level it may mean just being able to go to their own place of residence to die, but pastors, chaplains and others who understand the spiritual part of life know it also has a spiritual dimension. We are made for more than this. We are made for home and our home is with God.
It can be why people who search for home every where but God find only discontentment, frustration, or that nothing is ever quite right.
Home is not just a place. It’s a relationship. This is what the younger son wants. He imagines this can only happen by working for his father as a slave.
We imagine God is angry with us and we will have to work our way to him. We try to rebuild the relationship on our terms. We buy into the idea that being right with God depends on our efforts.
Notice how the father in the parable comes out to each son and expresses his love to each son. He does this to bring both in. God’s love initiates. He comes to us before we can even see it or respond. The father doesn’t wait for his younger son while he patiently taps his foot and grumbles to himself how this son better have a good explanation and is in for it. No, he is searching and waiting.
Remember Jesus told parables to tell us about what God is like, what is important to him, and how things work when God is in charge.
The youngest son went off to a distant land and totally wasted his inheritance on wild living. And when that was gone and he found himself feeding pigs while he himself was starving, he wanted to come home. His sins were a barrier between himself and his home, between himself and his father. The father knew this. Our Father knows this about us.
The son comes up with this idea that he might be able to come home, not as a son anymore, because surely that is now ruined, but as a hired hand. Where did he ever get the idea that his father would only want him as a hired hand? His sin has altered his whole relationship with his father. His wrongdoing has infected how he imagines his father sees him. No way will his father welcome him back on terms as a son. Instead of seeing his father as someone who loves him without condition, he sees his father as someone who will give him what he deserves as a wayward son. Maybe work his way back into some kind of good grace.
But this isn’t who the father is. This isn’t who our heavenly Father is. Again, the son’s bad record and history have shaped his perception of who the father is. It has turned the father into a wage master, a harsh judge. Our sin can make us think God is a wage master and judge who is angry with us and with whom we have to earn our peace.
“Well, then why do we pray this prayer of confession every week, pastor?” Isn’t this just us groveling back to a God who is angry at me and I am supposed to say I am sorry so that he won’t be mad at me?
Our prayer of confession is not to shame us or make us feel bad about ourselves. We confess to come home again. Because we wander away in all kinds of ways day by day, week by week, month by month. Confession is a gift to humble us and for us to be honest about what we are. But it is always done in the circle and confidence of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
And of course, it always is followed by a promise of grace. That is what our Assurance of God’s Grace is, because we are always welcomed home by our Father.
Our failings do not change God’s attitude about us. Our sin has been paid for on a cross. What sin does is change our attitude about God. It blinds us, distorts our vision, and makes us see God as against us and not for us.
God’s not angry at us because of our wrongdoing. Rather, because of our wrongdoing we see God as angry with us.
In some ways Jesus tells this parable to help us regain a right vision of the Father. Because there’s nothing we can do to make the Father love us more and there’s nothing we have done to make him love us less. Whatever marks are on our life doesn’t change God’s view of us. But it can mess up how we see ourself and particularly in relationship to God.
The painting in the slide we have been using for this sermon series is a famous painting of the son coming home to the father by Rembrandt. The late Catholic priest and writer on the Christian faith, Henri Nouwen, wrote an entire book about Jesus’ parable and this painting. It is called “The Return of The Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.”
In it Nouwen asks if we realize how God tries to find us, know us, and love us? “The question is not ‘How am I to find God?’ but ‘How am I to let myself be found by him?’” And how are we to let him know us and love us? God is looking into the distance for us, trying to find us, and longing to bring us home. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is the third of three parables in Luke 15. In each one the emphasis is on God’s initiative. God is the shepherd looking for his sheep. He is the woman looking for her coin, searching everywhere until she has found it. He is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs to meet them, embraces, and begs them to come inside.
Henri Nouwen wrote,
“It might sound strange, but God wants to find me as much as, if not more than, I want to find God. Yes, God needs me as much as I need God. God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn’t move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their aberrant behavior, beg for forgiveness, and promise to do better. To the contrary, he leaves the house, ignoring this dignity by running toward them, pays no heed to apologies and promises of change, and brings them to the table richly prepared for them.”
“…I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but instead, as the one who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding. When I look through God’s eyes at my lost self and discover God’s joy at my coming home, then my life may become less anguished and more trusting.”
The younger son doesn’t do anything to receive the father’s acceptance and welcome. He doesn’t do any work. He isn’t even given the chance to prove his sincerity. The lost son returns to his father and finds he is welcomed home. He is a family member again. The father’s acceptance of him is total. This is God’s grace.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The cross is more than a payment for our wrongdoings. It shows us how far our prodigal God will go to show the immense love he has for us. It is a fierce love. It is a love that never ends. It is a prodigal love in that it is excessive, wasted on people like us who can be so stubborn, so rebellious, so finicky, so inconsistent, so ungrateful, so apathetic. Yet, God spent his love on us and keeps spending.
We may have wasted parts of our lives or most of our lives. Or we may have, like the older brother, been trying to work for our Father’s love. Doesn’t matter. God loves you.
Whether that moves your heart or means nothing to you, God loves you.
Whether you are in this church today or won’t come for a few weeks because you have better things to do, God loves you.
Whether you have had a lifelong relationship with God or aren’t sure about God, God loves you. The question becomes, just like it came to both of the sons, how will I respond to that love? How will we respond to the prodigal love of God?
Our God is a heavenly Father waiting on the porch for us to come home. Maybe you’ve never don’t it before. You’ve been to church. You’ve always had a notion God is around. You’ve been Christianish. But you’ve never come home. You’ve never placed your life in God’s hands. You’ve never said, “You are my God and I am going to walk with you for the rest of my life. I am going to trust you in all the good and the bad, in my best moments and my worst moments.”
Still far off from our heavenly Father? You can always come home.
Prayer: Father, if there is someone in this room who needs to, wants to make amends with you, but has felt they aren’t welcome, I pray your Spirit would lead them home. Thank you that you have made us your children. Thank you for your prodigal, excessive love wasted on fallen people like us. Thank you that you welcome us from wherever we have wandered, or even if we haven’t gone very far at all. Amen.
 Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, p.108  Ibid, 109  Revelation 21:3-4  John 14:2  Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, 82-83  Pastor Jason Micheli, On Unnatural Death and Suffering the Last Flickers, 2.26. 2020, found at https://mbird.com/suffering/death/if-jesus-paid-it-all-whats-with-all-the-ashes/  Pp.106-07  John 3:17  See http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/lent-4-c-the-prodigal-god/