On Wednesday evening I offered encouragement from the book of Revelation.
I spoke of how the Apostle John, the writer of that book, wrote the book of Revelation in order to encourage the believers to stay strong in their faith.
In worship Natalie gave testimony to the importance of keeping the faith.
This morning I would like to encourage you with one of the most beloved parables in the Bible.
In fact, some refer to this story as the best short story in world.
It is, of course, the parable of the prodigal son.
The word prodigal here refers to living life recklessly.
It can even refer to throwing one’s life away.
That is why we call this parable the story of the prodigal son.
A son goes to his father and says, “Father give me my share of my inheritance.”
At that time, as it would be today, is was a severe cultural offence for a son to ask his father for his share of the inheritance.
It was like saying I wish you were dead so I could have your money.
Surprisingly, the father does not put up any kind of an argument here.
He does get defensive or angry at his son.
Instead he actually grants his son his request.
Now what does the son do?
The son leaves and he wastes his inheritance.
The son is left with nothing and to make matters worse a severe famine hits the country.
Now what does this son do?
He looks for work and the only work he can find is to feed pigs.
For us this might not seem so bad.
But for the Jewish people pigs were seen as being unclean. Pigs were not to be eaten.
Here in the parable even the unclean pigs had more to eat then the son did.
This is when the son has an epiphany.
He realizes that his father’s workers fare much better than his situation.
So he decides to humble himself and go to his father.
He will apologize and ask God and his father for forgiveness.
Before the son even gets close to his father, when he is still far off in the distance his father sees him and he is filled with compassion.
Have you ever thought about what it means to show true compassion to someone?
Growing up I can recall my father talking about compassion quite a bit in his sermons and in his teachings about God.
One thing that he would always say is that compassion is a strong feeling that you feel deeply in your body.
The feeling is so intense that it compels you to take some kind of action on behalf of someone who is suffering.
In his compassion the father runs to his son and embraces his son.
At this point you would think that this would be the ending of the parable but it goes on.
The father is so happy to have his son back that the father throws this extravagant party.
Here the prized calf is killed and there is this grand party.
This story may seem unusual to us today.
If you are looking at this story for instruction and guidance on parenting you will not find it here.
This is not a parable on how we should parent our children or even in how we should deal with other people.
This is a parable about God.
Even though we can glean much wisdom from this parable and even though we can learn a lot from the three main characters in this story: the father, the son, and the elder son – I think that this parable is really a parable about God.
It is the story of how God freely gives to us even when we do not deserve it and how God’s grace is richer and deeper than what we can ever image or comprehend.
We are at the half way point now in Lent.
Lent is a journey.
It is a journey of finding our way back to God.
This point of Lent may get difficult for you.
It might be tempting to give up the spiritual disciplines of Lent, fasting, prayer, and acts of charity.
I know for myself this is the point in Lent when it gets difficult for me.
One of my Lent disciplines as a pastor is to write two sermons each week instead of one.
I sometimes find it challenging to come up with one sermon during the week and during Lent I write two sermons each week.
Maybe you feel the same way with the disciplines of Lent.
Maybe you are taking on an extra spiritual practice or finding time in your week to attend the soup dinner and Lenten service or doing an extra volunteer job, or giving more money away.
Whatever it is that you are doing during Lent –
This is the point of Lent when we need to look to God for strength, endurance, and courage to continue journeying through Lent.
As we journey together remember that God takes the journey of Lent with us and remember that we walk this journey of Lent together.
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday are such significant points in the church year that we need these forty days prior to Holy Week in order to take in the great significance of what happened to Jesus.
God’s super abounding, extravagant love was poured out for us in Jesus.
In Jesus’ death and resurrection he broke the bonds of death and hell so that we might have life.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”
This new life begins here and now and continues even beyond the grave.
In Psalm thirty-two we hear:
“Happy are they whose sins are forgiven and whose sin is put away!”
Yes, this is what it is all about. God will love us back into God’s kingdom when we, like the prodigal son, stop running, turn around, and come back to the Lord. Amen.