(This message is based on Luke 15:11-31.)
Today is Father’s Day, and we are going to mark that occasion by reflecting on a story that Jesus told of a father with two sons. It is recorded in Luke 15:11-31, so if you like to turn there on your Bible app on your smartphone or in your Bible, please feel free to do so now.
The story, as I mentioned, is about a father and his two sons. But the younger of these two sons experienced such a dramatic change in his life that we could say that there are actually three sons in this story. There is the youngest son before his transformation, let’s call him version one, there is the youngest son after his transformation, let’s call him version two, and there is the oldest son.
And we can go further and say that every person in the world could be described as being one of these three sons. That is, you and I are either the youngest son – version 1, the youngest son – version 2, or the oldest son. And one of the questions that I am asking you to think about today is: Which son are you?
Are you the youngest son -version 1? Do you believe that the only person that you can really trust in is yourself? So you go your own way and you try to make your own life, but it never really turns out like you want. You long for an abundant life, but what you experience is spiritual poverty. You find yourself hungering for the things that others have, but no one will give you anything.
Or are you the oldest son? You work hard at being a good person who does good things in order to get the good stuff. And to some extent, your plan is working. You have property, prestige and position and you have earned it all. But your heart has become cold and hard. You value possessions more than you value people. You look down on your younger siblings who are not able to live right, like you do, and you judge them in your heart. And you wonder why no one ever throws a party in your honour.
There is another person in the story that Jesus told and that is the father. This is a father who loves both of his sons unconditionally. That father love shines through when the father agrees to his youngest son’s outrageous request and gives him his share of the family estate while his father is still alive, even though doing so would make the father an object of ridicule and shame in the local village. Father love again radiates forth when the father reaches out to his oldest son, pursuing his heart and inviting him into a real relationship of love, even though the father knows that his oldest son cares more about the father’s stuff than he cares about the father.
It is interesting to me that both the youngest son-version 1 and the oldest son have a father who truly loves them and who shows that love in tangible ways, and yet neither of these two sons is able to recognize or receive their father’s great love for them. It is as if both sons have a huge wall built up in their hearts between them and their father, a wall that prevents them from seeing their father’s love and receiving it. So here is another question for you to consider: Is there a wall in your heart between you and Father God?
Some of you have had bad experiences at the hands of your earthly father, or maybe you are disappointed in your earthly father because he fell short of what you expected of him. Or perhaps your wall is a wall of disbelief. You cannot believe that there could be a Father who would love with an infinite, unconditional love, or you cannot believe that this kind of love is for you. So you keep Father God at a distance because you think that he is like an earthly father and you need to protect and provide for yourself. But your heavenly Father is not like any earthly father. Your heavenly Father is not stern or condemning. He is not cold or emotionally distant. He is not callous, manipulative or abusive. And if you have experienced something terrible at the hands of your father, or maybe some other male authority figure, I am very sorry for all of those things. But those things are not from God. The walls in our hearts are built from our side, not God’s, and we are the only ones who can take them down.
For the youngest son, the wall in his heart did not come down until he hit rock bottom. Only then did he come to his senses. His life circumstances humbled him to the point where his pride and his belief in his own self-sufficiency were shattered and he realized that he had nothing to lose by going home. At this point, he knew that he deserved nothing but contempt and condemnation from his father but perhaps, if he confessed his sins, his father would give him a job as a hired hand.
And this is the very point where the youngest son-version 1 becomes open to receiving the love of his father. That love was always there for him, but somehow his own pride and self-centredness blinded him to that love and made him unable to receive it. Now, the wall in his heart has come down. Humiliated and hungry, the youngest son-version 1 heads for home.
The father has been watching and waiting for him all the time that he was gone. Each day he would go down the main road that runs through the village and stand at the outskirts of the village, looking off into the distance for the son who had wandered away.
Finally, one day, the father sees a familiar form approaching. Gathering up his cloak around his waist, the father runs towards his son. Oh, how the tongues wagged in the village over the father who humiliated again himself by publicly exposing his legs and running—because older men in that culture did not run—running towards his wayward son.
This father did not care about what other people thought of him. His reputation was of no value to him. He had no hidden agenda, no plans to preserve the family property or name. His sons were far more precious to him than anything else and there was nothing in his heart or mind but unconditional love for both of them. Before his youngest son could even blurt out his well-rehearsed confession, the father hugged and kissed him, restored him to his place in the family and called for a celebration to begin.
It was the father’s love that transformed the youngest son. Before, the son thought that he deserved his fair share. Now, he knew that he deserved nothing. Before, he thought that he was the answer to all his needs, and he ended up with nothing. Now, he started out with nothing, and he discovered that his father was the answer to all his needs. The father had not changed at all. He was always present and available. He was always generous and loving. He was always merciful and gracious. It was the youngest son who had changed.
It took hard times and humiliation to tear down the wall of the younger son. Nobody likes to experience hard times. Nobody likes to be humiliated. But if you are the youngest son-version 1 or the oldest son, what will it take to tear down the wall that exist in your heart between you and your heavenly Father? How hard do the times have to get before you will come to your senses? How much humiliation do you need to experience before you surrender and begin the journey back home?
You will always be a spiritual orphan, yearning for identity, affirmation, meaning and purpose until the wall in your heart comes down and you receive God as your Father. Your heavenly Father loves you and he has a beautiful plan for your life. He wants to give you a new identity as his beloved, forgiven child. He is inviting you to join with him in writing a new story of redemption, healing and hope for this world. He wants to show you how you can make a difference that will last forever.
Your Father sent his Son, Jesus, to show us his love. In John 3:16, we read, “For God so loved the word that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In Hebrews 1:3, we read that Jesus “…is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” So when we see Jesus, we see the Father. When Jesus was teaching about God, forgiving sinners, healing the sick and raising the dead, he was showing us the Father’s love for us and for all people. In John 3:17, Jesus tells us, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
So if you are version 1 of the youngest son, or if you are the oldest son, today is the day to tear down that wall and come home. Make today the greatest Father’s Day ever by opening up your heart to receive the love of your heavenly Father.
And if you are the youngest son-version 2, welcome home, welcome home! We have to celebrate because you were dead and now you are alive, you were lost and now you are found.
And brothers and sisters in Christ, there are billions of lost sons and daughters out in the world who have walls in their hearts that are keeping them from the Father who loves them so very, very much. Each one of these children is precious to Father God, each one is loved by Father God, and God the Father sent Jesus to save every one of these children when Jesus suffered and died on the cross. For some, the walls have started to come down and they are beginning to search for the Father love of God.
I am inviting you to watch for these precious daughters and sons and walk with them as they make their journey toward home. And when they get home, let’s celebrate. For, as Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)
Fellow children of the heavenly Father, the heart of Father God is yearning for his lost children to come home. Let us open our hearts to receive more and more of the Father’s love so that our hearts are also filled with love and are also yearning for God’s lost children to come home. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Father’s Day, June 19, 2016.)