11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Social Justice…just wanted to see if anyone was going to get up and leave.
Happy pi day!
I told stories as a little boy. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that I lied a lot as a little boy, but is seems more comfortable to me to say that I told stories or I sometimes would stretch the truth. But it wasn’t just me. A friend of mine did his fair share of story telling as well. So we would go back and forth as young boys do, almost competing to see who could come up with the most exciting story. I don’t remember any of the stories that I told, but I do remember well one that he shared, which I will now share with you as an example. We were in the first grade and we were talking about BB guns. Of course neither of us had BB guns, but we were bragging about the BB guns that we were occasionally allowed to use. Then my friend told me about how his cousin got a new BB gun and he pumped it 100 times and it shot 100 BB’s. That’s pretty impressive! Not true, but impressive.
So this is the kind of thing that we did. We made up stories to try to impress one another, because, to be honest, the life of a 6-year-old isn’t that exciting! But then I also realized that many men don’t seem to grow out of this stretching the truth phase of their lives. Do you know what we call these men? Fishermen. Or maybe Congressmen.
Now I don’t remember any of the stories that I told as a little boy, but I do remember my parents’ response every time they believed that I was making a story up. They would always ask me, “Have I ever told you about The Boy Who Cried Wolf?”
The Boy Who Cried Wolf is a fictional story about a young shepherd boy that would tend the sheep just outside of town. And keeping sheep got to be pretty boring, especially for an energetic little boy. So one day that boy decided that he would run into the town yelling “Wolf, Wolf!” just to see the response of the people who thought that there was a wolf after the sheep. And when they grabbed their pitch forks and torches and headed off to the fields, the little boy was rolling on the ground laughing because he had tricked the people.
Well after doing this a number of times the town people began to doubt the little boy whenever he came into the town and cried “Wolf.” And one day, there was a wolf. So the boy went into the town crying “Wolf, wolf.” But the people just ignored him thinking that he was playing a joke on them again. Because of his history of lying to the people, the wolf was able to make off with the sheep that the boy was to be watching.
The point was clear: my parents were telling me that if I continued to tell stories that are not true, then nobody is going to believe me…ever. Even if there was a real emergency, people would doubt me because I was making up stories all of the time.
Now, are you ready for a bit of irony? The story of the Little Boy Who Cried Wolf is not a true story. This story did not really happen. It was made up. So the story that my parents told me to teach me to not make up stories…wait for it…pause for effect…was made up.
So what made my made-up stories different from my parents’ made-up stories? Well, my stories were intended to make myself look better. And essentially, I was lying. My parents’ stories were intended to teach me something. And even though my parents’ stories were not true, there was an element of truth behind them that the stories were meant to convey.
You see, sometimes stories can convey truth in a way that simply stating the truth cannot. My parents could have just told me, Kevin, don’t make up stories. And surely, they did! But that is not what had an effect on me. What really made an impact on me was the story. Or we can give a better name to it than just a story, we could call stories like The Boy Who Cried Wolf a parable.
My parents were in good company when they decided to use parables to help me better understand a deep truth, because this is exactly what Jesus did (were they following Jesus’ pedagogical approach?). And not only Jesus, but much of the Bible is filled with parables that teach a deep truth. Think of the prophet Nathan when he comes to King David and tells him about the man with many sheep that stole the sheep of the man that had only one. Did that really happen? No, it was a parable. Evidently sheep are important players in the biblical parables. So Jesus is using this device, the parable, to convey a deep level of truth to the Pharisees, the scribes, and anyone else that was listening.
Before our scripture we find Luke telling us that the tax collectors and the sinners were coming to Jesus, spending time with him, even eating with him. And the Pharisees have a really difficult time accepting this. Those people are sinners! If he is spending time with them, he must be a sinner as well!
So Jesus wants to convey a deep level of understanding to everyone within earshot. Sure, he could have just said, “God loves them and is excited that they are seeking to know God more.” But he doesn’t just say that. He tells them three parables.
The third parable is our main text for this morning, and it is a text that we are probably all pretty familiar with. We often call it “The Prodigal Son.” In this story there is a father who has two sons. The younger son one day asks his father for his share of the inheritance so that he can go off and see the world. He wants to climb the highest mountains, kiss the prettiest girls, sail on the biggest ships, and backpack across Europe (or something like that), and he wants his father to pay for it all.
Now we often miss what a huge insult this would have been to the father. After all that the father had given to the son, a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, the son was saying he wanted more. Imagine me going to my father and asking, no telling him, that I wanted my inheritance now. “Dad, I need you to sell the farm so I can have some spending money. I saw a pretty slick car that I think I need.” Ha! But the father grants his son’s request and the son goes off and is a poor steward of what he has been given. Even worse, he spends the money on things that he knows his father would disapprove of.
Then there is the other son. The older son does everything correctly. He stays at home, works hard for his father, he doesn’t ask his father to sell the farm and give him the money. Nope, he is going to wait until old pop is dead and gone before he seeks his share.
But here is another twist. When the younger son realizes the mistakes that he has made and makes an effort to come back to his father, he is warmly welcomed by his dad. The younger son doesn’t even have the opportunity to say that he is sorry before his father has him wrapped up in a bear hug, restoring him to his rightful place in the family. In fact, the father seems to have been there waiting on the son, watching for him, anticipating his return. He longed for his son to come back to him.
Jesus could have just told the scribes and the Pharisees, “God loves the tax collectors and sinners and is excited that they are seeking to know God more.” But how much more powerful is the parable of the Prodigal Son than just saying that God loves all people, even tax collectors and sinners! And this parable is multidimensional as well because it shows the scribes and Pharisees that they are acting like the selfish older brother who rather than celebrating his brother’s return complains about all of the attention that the other brother is getting. There is a deep, deep truth being revealed through this parable.
However, as powerful as a parable can be, they are often not enough. As I read through the story of the Prodigal Son, I find myself a little disappointed in the father. I associate the father with God, which I don’t think is too much of a hermeneutical stretch. But the thing that disappoints me about the father is that he sits back and he waits. The father waits for the son to come home. Yes, he seems to be watching intently. Yes, he is filled with joy when the son comes home. But the father just stayed at home and did nothing to bring the son back home to him.
My parents had a couple of parables that they told me as I was growing up. Each one broadened my understanding of the person that they wanted me to grow up to be. They told me about The Little Engine that Could, which taught me about self-confidence. They told me about The Tortoise and the Hare, which taught me about perseverance, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, which taught me to find a good tailor. I mean humility…it taught me humility. Maybe your parents told you parables as well; stories that were not necessarily true, but helped to illustrate truth. So why would my parents tell me multiple parables growing up? Because one parable is rarely enough to capture the full essence of the truth.
I love the parable of the Prodigal Son, but we need to remember that it is only one of three parables in Luke chapter 15. We also have the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Jesus tells these parables, one after another, to build upon one another to help his hearers better understand the love of God. The story of the Prodigal Son is an excellent way to show the forgiveness of God and the way God celebrates when his children return to him. But the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin show God’s relentless pursuit of his people. The Prodigal Son teaches us that God allows us to make our own decisions and to stray away from him, but the other two parables teach us that God will do everything possible, short of forcing us, to bring us back to him.
So we can see how these three parables work together to reveal who God is. Now some people have pointed out that in the story of the lost sheep, the man leaves the other 99 to find the one and that doesn’t make sense. Why would God desert 99 of his children to search for one? But when we read this along with the parable of the prodigal son, we see that the father also stays home with the older son. One story can reveal a lot about God, but because God is bigger than our understanding, the two stories together show that God never leaves those that stay with him while he is relentlessly pursuing those who have strayed away.
So how does God pursue those who have wandered away? He does something radical, he does something special, he does something that nobody would have expected. He eats with them; he spends time with them. John 3:16 tells us that God so loved the world that he sent his only son. Where did God send his only son? Into the world that God so loved. This is relentless pursuit of those who have strayed! God is seeking to gather all people back under his loving wing, so he comes into this world in the form of Jesus Christ. And in God’s relentless pursuit of those that had wandered, he didn’t stand on a box and preach “Turn or burn!” Yes, he did use strong rhetoric like that when speaking to the religious authorities. But in God’s relentless pursuit of those who had wandered, he said, “I’m coming to your house today.” Let’s spend some time together. I want to get to know you better. I want to show you the full extent of my love. I want to show you the full extent of my grace and my forgiveness for you.
Throughout the Bible, we see this ongoing, relentless pursuit by God of those who have wandered away. Each time God allows them to wander and each time God pursues them. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t get angry or disappointed when the people wander. Surely he does. Look at the Old Testament. Time and time again Israel wanders away from God, and the Bible tells us of God’s disappointment. God threatens to cut off Israel. But instead, God pursues them. He doesn’t just wait for them to come back to him. He often sends a prophet to speak to them. And the people come back. God welcomes them back like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son.
This isn’t the only way that God relentlessly pursues those who have wandered, but it has been my observation that oftentimes God uses other people in his pursuit of us. And those people often don’t even realize the way that God is using them. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, God uses the Father’s workers in his relentless pursuit of the younger son. And I think he is using the younger son in his pursuit of the older son.
I see God working all the time through other people. Through a friendly nod in the park, someone holding the door for me as I carry a baby into a store, through a sermon, through a song on the radio. God is working through other people in his relentless pursuit of us. He is calling us, “Come home.”
I like this God. I want to know more about this God. I want to follow and serve this God. We have all wandered away from God at some point in our lives. But I am thankful for a God that has pursued us all relentlessly and welcomed us all back home by killing the fatted calf. I want to continue to seek after this God, because this God seeks after us.
“Seeking God” is my title for today. And I chose that as a title because “seeking” can be both a verb and an adjective. We are seeking God all the while God is seeking us. That is the way we use it as a verb. But seeking also describes God. Because God is seeking us, God is a seeking God. I know that is a bit confusing, but I believe that it is true. If you really want to understand that truth, maybe I can tell you a story or three.