Invitation – A Prodigal’s Party
Freeway is here! But before we dive in, if we are going to set of on a journey to freedom, let’s first consider the very idea of freedom. What is it? Here’s a few quotes to get us thinking. I’ll give you the quote and you try to guess who said it. Here we go! (answers at the bottom)
Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. (1)
Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature. (2)
Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth. (3)
Freedom is never given; it is won. (4)
Most of these folks don’t get close to what true freedom really is. But here are a few that come closer to what freedom really is…
Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom assumes responsibility and most people are afraid of that. (5)
Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes. (6)
Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you. (7)
These folks get a little closer to what freedom really is, but quotes only get us so far. So what is freedom?
The great church father Augustine taught that true freedom is not choice or lack of constraint but being what you are meant to be.
Let me explain that definition with an example:
A train is free only so long as it stays on its tracks; a train that jumps the tracks is “free” of the rails but no longer free in the most important sense of the word. It’s a wreck, a free wreck, but still a wreck that can go nowhere. The train may be free from the tracks, but it’s no longer truly free.
Humans were created in the image of God; true freedom then is not found in moving away from that but only in living it out. We become more free the closer we come to living as the image of God (And Jesus Christ shows us how). We become less free the farther away we drift from God’s image.
Freedom, then, is a kind of bondage. There’s the great paradox about freedom from a Christian perspective.
True freedom is found in not insisting on one’s own way, but in freely giving your way up by being a servant to God first and the people of God second.
Paul speaks about this freedom in Galatians 5 (we talked about this back in July).
You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but through love become slaves to one another. (Gal. 5:13)
First, Paul makes it clear that freedom is not something that is ours. He does not say “do not abuse YOUR freedom.” He says do not misuse the freedom to which God calls you. Freedom is not yours or mine. No, freedom is God’s (a place to which God calls us) and as such we should not abuse it.
Second, Paul speaks of “freedom as an opportunity”. That is, freedom can be used for good or bad. Freedom to do what you want, that is, to indulge yourself is not the freedom God has for you. That is the freedom the world may speak about. But it is not true freedom. In fact, you will find that freedom to do what you want is really about being a slave to your desires, a slave to the impulses planted in you by the world around you – from commercials that make you think you want something to the over-competitive society we live in compelling you to have to win, to be the best, to do more and more and more.
God’s freedom, is something altogether different. Think about it this way….
When it’s dry outside (completely unlike the current weather over these past few weeks)…but when it is dry, you have to water things….plants, gardens, even your car (just to get all the dust off). And when you water things, you typically turn on an outdoor faucet with a hose attached and a spray nozzle on its end. Then you drag the hose to wherever you need it, you point the spray nozzle, and press the trigger. But you know what usually happens right? Nothing comes out. So, you go and check the water to make sure you turned it on the right way. And you did. So why isn’t the water coming out?
And you realize it’s because you just drug the hose across the yard without paying attention to it all that much. And, of course, there’s a kink. There’s always a kink. So you trudge back following the hose looking for the kink until you find it.
And when you find it, you straighten it out (all of them, cause there usually is more than one) and then water that was there all along can finally get through the entire hose to quench whatever it was you were trying to water.
That’s what freedom is like. Our lives are almost always kinked up somewhere. Kinks can come from anywhere…..a job, a family member, a friend, a difficult situation, an inner struggle, a fear, a doubt, a failure, an unrealistic or burdensome expectation….kinks are all over the place. And freedom is about straightening out the kinks so God’s Grace can flow through our lives strengthening us, supporting us, forgiving us, empowering us.
God’s grace is always there—completely. There is no lack of grace. But there can be grace blockers within our lives — poor self-image, negative attitudes and habits, a painful past, hidden resentments, troublesome relationships.
Our “job” is to find these grace blockers in our lives with the help of the Holy Spirit, and work them out. And it’s a process to do so.
The process involves work within our self. It involves becoming aware of things we have hidden or never discovered. It involves discovering these hidden or never before understood things. It involves owning those things, taking responsibility for them, for our lives. It involves forgiveness…of others, yeah sometimes, but more importantly forgiving ourselves. It involves acceptance….of who we are, of our past and present, of our weaknesses and foibles, and of our capacity, our potential. And through each of these steps, we straighten out kinks. We open up our lives for grace and love to flow freely in and through us. That is, we become free…free to love ourselves and others, to be with God, and to serve others
Why are these steps so important? Well, because we typically do not know ourselves very well. Author Henri Nouwen has said this:
One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are.
We keep forgetting who we are and whose we are. And there’s not a lot in this world around us that is helping us remember who we are. It’s a lot like what the son experiences in one of Jesus mode beveled parables.
Check out the front cover of your bulletin….it s picture of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son. And reflect on this image as I read the story….
There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time. (Luke 15:11-24)
Like the prodigal son…..we run away, we make poor decisions, we get greedy, we find ourselves in a mess…..and we realize we don’t even know who we are anymore. The prodigal sure had forgotten. He had forgotten he was his father’s son…that he was loved beyond measure…that he was part of something bigger than himself!
You know, I pass a church in coats everyday I come to Dunn. And on their marquee sign they have had a message for a few weeks. And it bothers me…a lot! It says this:
There’s no better day than today to enter into God’s family.
Sounds nice at first right….come on in and join God’s family.
Here the thing: you don’t become part of a family by choice; you are born into a family. You have always been part of God’s family. The question is: do you find yourself today being a prodigal member of that family? Have you gotten sidetracked? Have you stopped asking deep questions about yourself, about life, about existence, about things beyond what you can see, hear, taste, and touch? Have you run away? Have you forgotten that your life is about more than you? Have you forgotten (or maybe never really embraced) that you are part of a family bigger than you could ever imagine whose mother and father is the one we call God, who loves you more than you ever thought possible?
Contrary to that church sign, you do not magically become part of God’s family by saying an A-B-C prayer or getting baptized. You already are part of God’s family!
So, stop running and come home. The good news is that God is just like the prodigal’s father. Arms open ready for us to remember who we are, come to our senses and come home.
In fact, “God wants to help us. If we hand over our insecurities, let go of our moralistic religion, and bravely admit our secrets, he will heal our hearts and give each of us new life.”
God doesn’t add conditions to his love. She doesn’t ask us to clean up the sloppy mess in our lives. God isn’t blasting us with condemnations and judgement. He isn’t telling you to go pick a switch from the thorny bush outside so he can whip you. God isn’t guarded, suspicious or ashamed about us. She does not condescendingly pat us on the head and say it’ll be okay.
No, God is our gracious Father, our loving Mother, who is waiting for us to jump in his arms and let her be our source of love and identity. Yes, that’s right, God is waiting…patiently, relentlessly, fervently, longing for us to come home…yesterday, today and tomorrow. God was, is, and will be waiting for you…
- No matter how much you may feel unworthy
- No matter how much you may feel like you’ve messed up, screwed up
- No matter how much you struggle to believe
- No matter how much the religious Pharisees of our world today have beaten you over the head with bibles, with cliche moralistic interpretations of scripture, with sermons that say get saved today while you are with us but the hard spiritual journey of tomorrow, well you are on your own for that
- No matter how much you have struggled with the people in Christ’s church
- No matter how long you’ve tried to follow Jesus, way of love on your own, without the help and support and nurture of caring and compassionate people
- No matter how strong your faith, how much you believe the lie you tell yourself that you have it all figured out
- No matter where you are…even if you feel like the son in that prodigal story….poor, empty, lost, distraught….barely getting by, eating pig slop, and dreading tomorrow.
God is waiting for you right now…with open arms….with love and grace and mercy….with a party ready to be set in motion. You are more loved than you can possibly know.
You see God has this special favor for know-it-all prodigals, lost sheep, used-up prostitutes, cunning thieves, rebellious liars, forgotten souls, wounded hearts, struggling minds, burnt out peasants, victims, outcasts, mistake prone everyday common folks. In other words, people just like you and me.
Today, I am reminding you of your invitation to stop running. Stop running from life. Stop running from someone or something that is weighing you down. Stop running from those thoughts in your head. Stop running from this community of people called church that love you, people that want grace for you just as much as they want it for themselves. Stop running from your spiritual life. Stop running.
Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been and whatever your story may be, you can always come home. Grace awaits. God awaits. There’s is a party and God is throwing it for you and me. It has everything to do with your physical, spiritual, emotional life all wrapped up together. In fact, it’s the only thing that can really help you make wholistic sense of this journey we are all on. Join the party. Freedom awaits you!
- Abraham Lincoln
- Benjamin Franklin
- John F Kennedy
- A. Philip Randolph
- Sigmund Freud
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Jean-Paul Sartre