Today we are beginning the “SONshine in the Summertime” series. And the reason that we are having this series as this time is that soon many of us will be going on vacation , perhaps at the beach or maybe to another country, and here at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, we want to encourage you to remember that God is with you when you go on holidays. Often, when we step away from our normal patterns, what can happen is that we forget about spending time with God in prayer and reading our Bible. We want to encourage you not to do that. But the other reason for this “SONshine in the Summertime” series is because you, as a follower of Jesus Christ, are going to have opportunities this summer to share with other people about Jesus, and we want to encourage you to watch for those opportunities and to be attentive to what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do. Imagine two children playing on a beach and one passes a beachball to another, and in the same way, that’s how easy it should be for us to share with others about Jesus.
Imagine for a moment that I play for you a guitar where every string is out of tune. To anyone who has an ear for music, it would be clearly evident that the guitar is out of tune. (It would probably also be evident that I do not have much musical talent, but that is another matter.) What if you indicated to me that my guitar was out of tune and I responded by saying, “What right do you have to tell me how to tune my guitar?” or “It doesn’t really matter how my guitar is tuned because all guitar tunings end up making the same melody anyway,” you would think that I was both a poor guitar player and deluded. My guitar would be out of tune whether I realized it or not. And just as a guitar can be out of tune, so also a human life can be out of tune. To show you what I mean I will share with you a story.
There once was a woman who had two daughters. This mother raised her children as a single parent and she was able to provide for them through the real estate business that she had built up over the years. The family home in North Vancouver, which had a beautiful view of city over the Burrard Inlet, was paid for in full. Eventually the little girls became adults, but all three of the women continued to live in the comfortable house on the hill in North Van.
One day, the youngest daughter came to her mother and said, “Mother, I want my share of your estate.” This came like a slap to the face for the older woman. All these years she had provided and cared for her two daughters and this was the response of her youngest. This was the same as if the young woman had wished that her mother was dead. But the mother loved her daughter more than she loved her wealth, so she sold her real estate business to raise the cash that the youngest daughter wanted. She also gave the family home to the oldest daughter because she loved her too and she wanted to try to be fair to her. The mother thought that she could live in the same house with her eldest daughter, but the eldest become very rigid and quarrelsome soon after the transfer of ownership papers were signed, so the mother moved into the basement suite of the house next door, and she provided for herself by working as a janitor in the office building where her old real estate business used to be.
The mother longed for her youngest daughter to come home. Every day she would stare at the city of Vancouver and wonder if her daughter was somewhere in that maze of streets and buildings. Was she making a six figure income and living in a high rise condo on the West End? Or was she turning tricks on Hastings and living in an alley where she eased the pain of the day with a needle in her arm? Her mother didn’t know. Sometimes she took a bus to the Downtown East Side and spent the day walking along the streets looking for her daughter, hoping that she would see her, but she never did. At the end of each day, as the sun was setting, this grieving mother would walk down the hill to the end of her street and watch and wait, hoping to see her daughter coming home.
The youngest daughter had spent her money on a condo that ended up leaking and on clubbing with friends that ended up leaving when the money was all gone. Eventually, she ended up living on welfare in a single residence housing unit on the East Side. She longed for the days when she had a clean, warm bed in nice home in a safe neighbourhood. She was getting tired of being accosted by mean mouthed men as she walked down the sidewalk. She grew weary of smelling the stench of vomit in the stairwell as she climbed the steps to her floor. Nobody really loved her here. Nobody really valued her here. To the people around her, she was just an object to be used and abused before being tossed into the gutter like an old cigarette butt. “This is insane,” she thought to herself one day. “The janitor at my mother’s office gets treated better than this. I will go home, tell my mother I am sorry, and ask her if I can work as her janitor.”
The daughter hopped on a bus and headed over to North Van. Along the way, she practiced the words she would say, how she would admit that she had been selfish and self-centred and then ask for her mother’s forgiveness. She got off the bus at the bus stop near the family home and, after a few steps, she looked up to see a woman staring at her. A spark of recognition flashed across her mother’s face, and then the mother who had always loved her daughter began running towards her, shrieking and wailing with joy with no thought about what people viewing this spectacle might think.
Before the daughter could get her planned words of confession out, her mother wrapped her arms around her, squeezed her in a loving hug and said, “Welcome home!” They laughed and cried, they hugged and kiss. And then the mother did something that was totally unexpected. She took a step back and undid the latch of the pendant that was around her neck. She placed it around the neck of her daughter and fastened the clasp. “There,” she said, “you should have this.”
“But, Mom,” her daughter protested, “that pendant belonged to your Grandma! It is your most prized possession!”
“My dear,” the mother replied, “that pendant was a gift. But now I have received a far greater gift. You have come home. And you are worth more to me than a million such pendants. I want to give that pendant to you. Welcome home, my daughter! I am going to make your favourite meal and invite all of my friends and yours and we are going to have a party because you have come home. I love you!”
“I love you too, Mom!” her daughter replied.
Soon after the eldest daughter came home from work, the doorbell rang. She opened the door and there was her mother, radiant with joy. “You have to come over to my place to celebrate. Your sister has come home!”
Instantly, venomous anger surged within the eldest daughter’s chest. “Why should I celebrate the return of my sister! The only reason she has come home is because she has already spent all of her money on drugs and she has come to get some more. She is a hooker and a thief and I am not going to have anything to do with her.”
The mother paused and looked at the ground before continuing. Returning her gaze to her eldest daughter, the mother said, “My daughter, everything I have is yours. But we have to celebrate because this sister of yours was dead and she is alive again! She was lost but now she is found!”
This story, of course, is not my own. It is Jesus’ story and you can find it in Luke 15. And he told it to the people who first heard it, and to us, to show that any human heart that does not love lost people is not in tune with the heart of God. Our lack of love could be because of a sense of entitlement, that is, we think that God owes us good things because of who we are or what we have done. Our lack of love could be because we are living in rebellion against God, so we don’t really care about Him or the people He cares about. Our lack of love could be because of fear. Our fear usually comes from a failure to see ourselves in the light of the Gospel. In other words, we cannot really believe that, because of Jesus, God the Father unconditionally accepts us as His children, so then we cannot really believe that God the Father unconditionally loves us as His children. Without God’s love in our lives, we live with fear in our hearts.
Entitlement, rebellion and fear are all off-key with God’s truth. The truth is that God does not owe us anything good. All we deserve from God is His wrath and eternal punishment for our sin. The truth is, if we continue in our rebellion, it will lead to our own personal destruction and end in pain and suffering for others. If entitlement or rebellion is your major key, it is time to wake up and see how out of tune with God your life has become. Have a change of heart and mind and come home to the Father who has always loved you and is waiting expectantly for your return. If you are tuned to the F sharp of fear, open your eyes to see what God says in His Word about who you really are. In 1 John 3 we read these words from The Message:
What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.
2-3 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. (1 John 3:1-2)
The truth is, Jesus lived, died and rose again to pay the price in full for you to be fully accepted into the family of God. The truth is, you are a beloved, forgiven child of God. Do you deserve it? No. Did you earn it? No. Jesus has given it all to you as a totally free gift and it is yours because He loves you. There is nothing that can ever pull you away from the free-flowing love God has for you as His child. Nothing, not wealth or poverty, not health or disease, not war or peace, not work or unemployment, not marriage, divorce or singleness, not even death will be able to separate you from the love that God has for you through Jesus Christ.
As you live the life that you have in Jesus, he will help you to watch for opportunities build relationships with people who do not believe in him. The Holy Spirit will prompt you regarding what to say or what to do. All you have to do is step into those moments that God has prepared in advance for you to do. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on June 22, 2014.)