Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Have Returned

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons.  The 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.  A 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.  When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.  He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.  But 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!  I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’
So 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.  Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But 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.  And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.  He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’  Then he became angry and refused to go in.  His father came out and began to plead with him.  But 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.  But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’  Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But 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.’”      Luke 15:11 - 32 (NRSV)
A story that appeared in an Associated Press release caught my attention.  A man's automobile had been stolen.  The authorities were on a massive, urgent manhunt to find the thief.  They were not as concerned with the vehicle as they were with its cargo.  The owner had left a loaf of bread laced with arsenic on the front seat, intending to do some pest control at his house.  The authorities were afraid that a car thief might also get hungry.
To so many people, God appears like the authorities, trying to spoil the good times; always chasing after you.  In reality, He is coming after us -- but it is with the purpose of warning us of the arsenic effects of sin. 
Our text this morning is about a broken family, separated and scattered by sin's choices, conditions and consequences.   Each of us has played "The Prodigal" in life.  God's Word declares:  "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"  (Rom 3:23 KJV).  We will look at the result of this family's devastation, and then note the joy that repentance and returning can bring. 

The Joy of Restored Favor 

There is a definite progression that the young man followed:
He recognized his sin    When he came to his senses….Luke 11.17  
There comes a time in everyone's life when we recognize our plight.  The young man had to get just as far down as a good Jewish boy could get.  He was way past eating non-kosher foods.  He was even wishing to eat what the bacon ate.  Sin will take you just as far as is necessary for you to wake up.
He repented of his sin   I will …..Luke 11.18-19 
Recognizing sin in your life is much like seeing the cancer spots.  It notifies you that something is wrong.  However, to be forgiven by God (note the Prodigal said he'd sinned against heaven) you must repent of sin.  Repentance means genuine sorrow for sin, and a sincere desire to turn from it.   An actor met his ex-wife in the crowded restaurant.  Said she:  "You dirty, low-down good for nothing skunk; where is that alimony payment?"  The actor looked at the faces turning to their animated discussion, and quipped, "Quite right, my dear.  Tell me, what else did you tell him?"  The actor had the words; he didn't have repentance in his heart though.  Like the little girl in Sunday School said, "It means being sorry enough to admit it and quit it!"
He returned to his Father  So he got up and went…Luke 11.20a
A cartoon depicted little George Washington with his father standing near the destroyed cherry tree.  The father is saying, "All right, so you admit it!  You always admit it!  The question is, when are you going to stop doing it?"  Genuine repentance and returning to the father means taking steps in that direction.  It means a decision. 
When you decide to follow the Lord, genuine repentance and returning will be like Patrick Reynolds.  Mr. Reynolds signed on to help the American Lung Association's anti-smoking campaign.  He just happens to be the grandson of R. J. Reynolds, founder of the tobacco company.  He wants to "Make up for the damage my family has done."
The Prodigal found real joy in returning.  I believe there is in our city, and perhaps around the world, a genuine desire, a pigpen-felt longing to leave sin and separation for a return to the Father.  Young people are turning to the Lord.  Middle and Senior adults are returning to the Lord.  Many are finding the joy of restored favor of the Father.  

The Joy of a Reunited Family

The watching and weeping of the Father  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;    
The father in this parable is THE Father of heaven.  Like the "authority" seeking the thief who possessed the stolen arsenic bread, the Father is seeking those who have been kicked around by sin long enough.  It does not indicate that the father in the story cared if the pain his son was experiencing was self-inflicted, deserved or not; it simply says he saw him from a good distance.  That means he was watching and weeping for his wandering son.
The welcoming of the Father  ...he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him….Luke 15:24
Being welcomed means more than being tolerated.  People join churches all the time.  Those who are welcomed are treated like the son returning from the pigsty.  There is celebration and joy.  What parent, finding a long lost, wearied and beaten child at his own door, would not kill the fattened calf, put new clothes out and begin the celebration?  Kisses, hugs!  A son who was counted dead has been resurrected. 
When someone comes with repentance and returning, the angels in heaven sing.  We ought to welcome them on behalf of the Father.  He is the one who has invited us to reunite His family.

The Joy of Rebuked Falseness

Being rebuked doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun.  It isn't!  There have been times when my wife has brought something to my attention, and I have done my best "selective hearing" routine.  After waiting a judicious and spiritual amount of time, she will remind me.  It is a rebuke.  I don't like it, but usually she is right (please don't tell her I said that!) and it is something I need to correct. 
The process may be distasteful – especially admitting you're wrong.  However, the total effect leads to much joy.  It is the only way a family can be reunited.
Notice the false things in the Father's rebuke of the "good son" that led to joy for the father and both sons...
Anger is False    Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.  'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'   "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  Luke 15:27-28 (NIV)
Anger is an attempt to punish someone for a perceived wrong.  In this case, the son was angry with the father.  That is like church people getting angry before God, and punishing anyone around.  That is a false pride, and falseness of character.  God did not create us to be angry with Him or each other. 
Notice how the father pleaded with the "good" son?  C. S. Lewis tells of his own experience, "digging-in his heels" against surrendering to the will of God.  He tried to live as an intellectual, above-all-that-religion-stuff.  He refused to attend worship because he was afraid he might be convinced of God's existence, and therefore God's prior claim on his life.  In the fall of 1929 he finally gave in, admitting God was God; he knelt and prayed to receive the Lord.  Lewis counted himself worse than the Prodigal, who at least came walking home on his own two legs, of his own volition.  C.S. Lewis, self-admittedly, was like the "good son," and only came into the kingdom kicking, struggling -- resentful, and checking every direction for the slightest way out.  This is the kind of anger that is false, and is joyfully wonderful to be rebuked from.  It is the kind of anger that only God's love will rebuke.  The Father pleads with all angry people to leave their anger, and be reconciled.  That's where the joy comes in!
Arrogance is False  But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.   But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'  "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'"  Luke 15:29-32
It is true that the "good son" worked hard in his father's fields.  It is a revelation of his true attitude towards his father when he says that he had been "slaving" for him.  It is a revelation of his attitude of rejection of his brother when he calls him his father's son, not his brother.  The Father draws him back in – assuring him of his heir-ship, brotherhood, the father's love.  Once again, the Father's love is the best and only rebuke for this kind of arrogance.
There is one thing that is common to all three characters in this story:  brokenness.  Each had his heart broken.  The Prodigal Son's heart was broken by his own sinfulness.  The "Good Son" was broken over the father's rebuke.  The Father's heart broke for both the Prodigal's self-destructiveness, and the Good Son's anger and arrogance.  The family wasn't separated over theology, methods of farming or the Father's indulgence.  They were separated because of a lack of love on the part of the Father's children.  The Father's love was enough for all three of them. 
One other reality – Love replaces brokenness with joy.  Once you've been broken and spilled out, you will know you have never experienced a greater fragrance of joy.  When King David sinned against God, his people, and himself, he felt broken.  He had played the prodigal.  He had played the good son.  He had experienced the rebuke of the Father in the prophet Nathan's public humiliation.  David was broken.  And he prayed:   
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the
bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.  Psalm 51:8 (KJV)
Have you been broken?  Are you a prodigal -- a good son?  Has God rebuked you for anger or arrogance?  Return, beloved. 
·        Know the joy of God's favor restored on you. 
·        Know the joy of having truth in your life to replace anger. 
·        Know the joy of God's family reunited -- both here, and throughout all eternity in heaven. 
Sing with the millions on high, "I have returned."

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