"'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.'"
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Many thanks to all those who helped make our church retreat a huge success last weekend! One mom told me they weren't five minutes away from the camp when her kids asked, "When can we do this again?" If you were unable to go this year, we hope you can join us next time!
We spent the weekend considering God's radical hospitality-the hospitality that He showed us through Jesus' death on the cross and the hospitality the Lord now asks us to show to others. Speaker Dan Dupee pointed out that the Greek word usually translated "hospitality" could more literally be translated "loving the stranger." He talked about how Jesus himself used banquets to teach, to welcome, and to prepare his disciples for the Kingdom. The lavish banquet in Luke 14 formed the backdrop of the weekend, the story of the host who threw open the doors to the strangers when the original guests refused to come. Dan challenged us to ask what it would look like for our church to throw open the doors and invite our neighbors to the feast, the same banquet to which the Lord has invited us.
One banquet Dan highlighted was the one we will spend more time considering this Sunday - the welcome feast for the Prodigal Son. By all accounts, the Prodigal should never have been welcomed home. When he asked for his inheritance, he essentially declared that he wished his father was dead. After he blew through all his money, the destitute lad took the lowest job imaginable for a Jewish man - feeding pigs. He was so hungry he even looked longingly at the pig slop. In that lowest moment, he realized that even his father's hirelings were fed better than this. He plucked up his courage, practiced a speech, and decided to head home to bargain with his dad for the right to be his servant.
You well know the story-his dad had a completely different idea. He had watched the road probably for years. Suddenly, one day, he saw his son "a long way off," and he picked up his long robes, left his dignity behind, and ran for his son. His son didn't even have time to get out all of his practiced speech. His father instantly claimed him not as a slave but as a dearly beloved son, a son who was dead but now lived again. Now it was time to celebrate.
In the middle of the father's banquet, he almost loses another son. The older son hears the party and refuses to enter in. His brother may have been the rebellious law-breaker, but now we see that the older brother is the rebellious law-keeper. He has completely missed the grace of his father's heart for both of his sons. At the end of the story, we see the father leave the feast to now run to his older son. He will do anything to restore the relationship with his children.
At my seminary, there is a statue of the prodigal son story. When they first commissioned the statue, the artist asked Dean Greg Jones which part of the story he wanted for the statue. He said the question surprised him. He always pictured it as Rembrandt's the Return of the Prodigal - the father bestowing his love on the returned son. But the more the Dean thought about it, the more he realized that we need to learn the love the Father has for both sons.
One son squanders his father's money. The other keeps a score card. Both entirely miss their father's heart. Both need grace and forgiveness.
Which son do you relate to the most? Which do you tend to judge the most? (I'll admit, I really want to smack the older brother upside the head.)
The incredible thing to me is that our Heavenly Father's heart is full of compassion for both of these sons. As much as we may be quick to judge one or the other, the Father is quick to forgive and to restore.
As we consider what it means to love the strangers and welcome them into our church, our challenge will be to stick close to the Father's heart. We serve a God who is rich in mercy. He has shown us unbelievable grace. And now, we can love, because He loved us first.