‘…this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found’ (Luke 15:32 NRSV).
At a Sunday service I attended recently the pastor preached on the parable of the waiting father (Luke 15:1,2, 11-32). He challenged us to identify with the characters in the story: the Pharisees who grumbled that Jesus was too friendly with sinners; the younger son who demanded his inheritance and then blew it, returning home feeling sorry for himself; the father who patiently waited for his wastrel son to come home, running down the road when he saw him coming; and the older brother who raged against his father’s apparent injustice, feeling hard done by. We found something of ourselves in all of them, particularly the Pharisees and the two sons.
The faith God creates in our hearts … is among the most UNREMARKED and yet most REMARKABLE GIFTS given to us.
Soon after the sermon we all gathered at the altar of God’s grace. We knew we didn’t deserve our place there. God’s word had revealed our persistent sin, stubborn impropriety and pride. We had listened as the younger son prematurely demanded his inheritance as a right. We saw that we too demanded more from God than we had a right to and were impatient to get it. We had listened as his older brother worked at keeping up appearances but drastically failed the test of love because he was jealous and bitter. We saw that we also demanded a better deal of God, and the paucity of our love. But thankfully, through God’s word, we also heard of the father, waiting patiently for both his errant sons, and we saw that somehow, inexplicably, God loved us nevertheless. He had called us to the feast of his one and only Son. God had shown us that we were the ones who had been lost and been found, and, knowing that, we became bold enough to come to God’s table to receive the bread of life. No-one was better than another; we were all sinners in need of the healing touch of our Saviour. This miracle of God’s love takes place in Christian churches around the world, including congregations of the LCA.
The faith God creates in our hearts through his word and the sacraments of grace is among the most unremarked and yet most remarkable gifts given to us in the church.
It always fascinates me that Jesus left this story unfinished. We don’t know if the older brother went into the feast, won over by his father’s mercy. We don’t know if the brothers were ever reconciled. We are left wondering if they broke their father’s heart again with their errant ways. Jesus leaves space for us to imagine what happens next.
Our stories are also unfinished. That leaves room for grace. How will this parable play itself out for you? Will you come home to your father? Will you accept his invitation to the banquet? Will you take the plunge and associate with the sinners who come to God’s altar? The choice is yours.
God has done everything he can, and he waits for you, wherever you are, wherever you have been. He waits to run down the road to greet you as you come home again. That’s the miracle of his love.