Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Do You Know the Father's Heart?

Luke 15:1-3 and 11-32

 I don’t really have any hard data to back up this claim.  I’ve never seen a scientific analysis or anything.  But I think that if this is not Jesus’ best known parable, then I certainly think it is Jesus’ most beloved parable.  It’s a favorite because it’s a compelling story and a beautiful story about the love of God for lost sinners.

 You know the story.  There are some cultural elements to the story that help to flesh it out, but at the end of the day, it’s a story that just about anyone can hear, regardless of their culture or level of biblical knowledge, and they can still grasp the meaning of it.  

 On one hand we have the younger brother.  He finds life with the Father to be restrictive.  He thinks the grass is greener on the other side, as the saying goes.  He wants to cast off all restraint and live life only on his own terms.  In some way, he doubts the goodness and love of the Father.  

 A couple months ago, I preached about the story of Jesus turning water into wine.  When Jesus does that miracle, he not only turns the water into wine, he turns it into the best wine.  And I said to you that I think sometimes we question if Jesus will truly give us the best.  Will our life in him be better than it could be outside of him?  Are we missing out?  Are we not enjoying life as much as we could apart from Jesus?  Because I think that’s part of the thought process of at least some people who resist coming to Jesus.  “If I go to Jesus, I’m going to end up one of those kooky religious types, who never get to do anything fun.”

 I think that’s the younger son in the story.  He wants his share of the inheritance while the Father is still living, so he can do with it as he pleases.  In that culture, for a son to ask for his share of the inheritance was the equivalent of him saying, “I would be better off if you were already dead.”  

 Eventually, he figures out that life with the Father is not as bad as he thought it was.  And when we try to live life apart from God, we find out it is empty, and we long for something to fill us.  

 He makes the decision to return home.  But does he truly know the Father’s heart?  Not yet, because when he makes the decision to go home, he plans to go home

as a slave.  He can’t still think of himself as a son.  In a sense, even though he is going home, he is not really going home.  

 Some people think they can’t go home to God.  They think their sins are so heinous, so terrible, that “God wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”  We know our own sins better than anyone but God.  We can put on an appearance to other people, but it’s harder to fool ourselves.  We know all the worst thoughts we’ve had, all the things we’ve done that we hope no one will ever find out about.  We know our own sinful depravity, and it can be hard not to be overwhelmed with guilt about our failures and unworthiness, which is exactly what Satan wants.  

 I remember a story a seminary professor told me one time.  He was handing out invitations to some kind of special event at his church.  And he handed one to a woman who looked at it and handed it back and said, “You wouldn’t want me.”  He got to talking to her and it turned out the woman had been a Baptist of some very conservative variety.  She was being abused in her marriage, and she left her husband and got a divorce.  Her church threw her out.  She was excommunicated as an “adulterous woman.”  She got the message:  “God wants nothing to do with you.”  And she wouldn’t hear otherwise.  

 But Jesus’ parable makes it clear:  What God wants more than anything is for us to come home.  Not as slaves, but as children.  

 “What about holiness?  What about repentance?  What about turning from your sins?  Don’t those things mean anything?”  Yes, they certainly do.  We can’t really have peace with God unless we are on the journey to holiness of life.  But God wants us to walk that journey in relationship with him, not to get to him.  God does not want us to wait until our lives are all together before we come to him.  We are all a mess to one degree or another.  If God were to wait for us to sort ourselves out, we’d never come to him at all.

 And then there’s the older brother.  He stays with the Father.  But in spite of his proximity to the Father, he also does not know the Father’s heart.  He fails to appreciate the grace and mercy of the Father and to incorporate those things into his own life.  He has been obedient, at least for the most part, we assume.  But his obedience has become self-righteousness, a sense of entitlement, a feeling of deserving.  

 He is the Pharisees and the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees, as a movement, may have died out a long time ago.  But the Pharisees as a way of thinking are still alive and well in the Church today.  They are those who will not welcome others into the Body of Christ whose lives are not “all together.”  They are like that Baptist church who threw a member out for her “sin.”  

 Deep down, we’re all really the younger brother.  We’ve all strayed from home, we’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all tried to have our own way and found emptiness in it.  But that doesn’t stop some from acting like the older brother.  If you point fingers and whisper when “you know who” comes into church, then you are acting like the older brother.  If you refuse forgiveness, then you are acting like the older brother.  You might feel better about it.  But at the end of the day, you’re just fooling yourself.

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