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PARTY (sermon for Lent 4 – 2013) Video and Manuscript

This is the posting of the sermon preached on 3/9/2013 at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.

Typically the “Story of the Prodigal” refers to the younger son from Luke 15 – the boy who ran away to a far country to waste his life and resources in lavish, excessive, and extravagant living.  This sermon contends that the REAL prodigal in this story is the boy’s Papa, who spent everything to welcome the boy home…and everything to tell the elder son that he, too, had a place at the table – not because of his diligent good work, but because he was a son, loved by the father.

God in this story is Jesus’ own Papa…and this Papa God spent everything in Christ that all wandering children (both in the far country and just outside the front porch) know they are liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted.   You can view the sermon below…and read the manuscript below the video link.

You’ll need to turn the audio up to get everything.

Party (Lent 4 -2013) – Luke 15:1-32

Thomas Long tells a story about a time when he staying in a motel of a large city where he was surprised to find, posted to the elevator door, a handwritten note that read,   “Party Tonight! Room 210. 8:00 p.m. Everyone invited!”

Long could hardly think of who might throw such a party, or for what reason, but he imagined that at 8:00 p.m., room 210 would be filled by an unlikely assortment of people.  There would be…

…sales representatives seeking relief from the tedium of the road …a vacationing couple who had grown tired of sightseeing …a man stopping overnight during a long trip, looking for festivity …some wary motel employees, there due to professional obligation …teens who had slipped away from parents w/anxiously curiosity

Later Long noticed that the sign had been removed, replaced by a typewritten statement from the motel staff explaining that the original notice was a hoax, a practical joke. That made sense, but in a way it was too bad.

For a moment, people staying at the motel were intrigued by the thought that there just might be a party going on somewhere to which we were all invited-a party where it did not make much difference who we were when we walked in the door, or what motivated us to come; a party we could come to out of boredom, loneliness, curiosity, responsibility, eagerness to be in fellowship, or simply out of a desire to come and see what was happening. It was a party where it didn’t matter so much what got us in the door, as what would happen to us after we arrived. (Thomas Long, Shepherds and Bathrobes: Sermons for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, CSS Publishing, 1987).

I want you to consider with me for a few moments this morning that such a party does exist, that God is hosting that party, and that each of us (and the entire human race) are being sought out by God and are included in the invitation.

The biblical story begins with some griping and complaining.  The source of the ridicule are the Scribes and Pharisees, the object of their criticism is Jesus, and the reason for their scorn is that Jesus was too much of  party boy.  Listen to their words of derision:  “Jesus receives sinners and eats with them!”

Sarah Jackson Shelton writes that we might expect Jesus to back off and say, “But, I will redeem these whores and tax collectors with whom I party! I will make them straighten up, (be more moral and ethical), be more responsible, appear more middle-class like you and me.” Instead, Jesus tells them three stories which make it abundantly clear that God loves to party with sinners. (There’s a Party Goin’ On ‘Round Here, Sermon, March 18, 2007, Church of the Covenant, Published at Day1.Org)

Jesus starts by telling of a shepherd with a flock of 100 sheep.  One of those lamb goes missing, so the shepherd searches high and low until he find it, and when he finds it, he carries it home on his shoulders with great joy, inviting all his friends to a party of celebration.

Next up is a story about a women who has ten silver coins.  One of them ends up missing, so she light a lamp, gets out a broom, and cleans every nock and cranny of her house until she finally finds that coin.  When she does, she celebrates by inviting all of her friends to a big party.

Jesus is telling us that his Papa is like that shepherd who finds his lost sheep.  He is teaching us that God is like that woman who found her lost coin.  Jesus is teaching us that God loves to party and not puts God is more of a celebratory mood than when something loved and lost becomes found.  When that happen, God throws a party and all of heaven celebrates.

To knock the lesson home, Jesus tells one more story.  It is a story about a Prodigal Father who throws the most lavish and extravagant party imaginable when a lost and wandering son is brought home.

Traditionally this story has been called “The  Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but I would like to suggest that this is a misnomer.  What we really ought to call it is “The Parable of the Prodigal Father.”  You see, the word prodigal means lavish, or extravagant.  What this story is really about is lavish love of the Father—the extravagant grace of God who is always inviting us to come home – and when we finally find our way home and discover that we have been found by Divine grace, this same Father throws the biggest blowout celebratory party ever imaginable.

The parable begins, “A certain man had two sons.”  Here is a father who had two sons, whom he loved, cared for, and protected.  With them he had shared all the blessing of his household and the abundance of his wealth.

Then a day came when the younger of the two boys came to his father with a request—actually it was a demand.   “Father,” he said, “give me my share of the estate.”   Translation:  “Dad, let’s just pretend you’re dead!  Give me my inheritance and I’ll hit the road.  I think I can do better on my own.”

The father relented, and within hours the boy was gone, heading in the direction of “the far country” in search of fame, fortune, and adventure.  Along the way he found all the companionship that money could buy.  He enjoyed all the excitement and titillation that cash could afford.  What was missing, however, was an awareness that he was loved.  Love is not a commodity that can be bought and sold—it is a gift that is freely given.

So there he is, in a far away land, squandering on reckless and wild living.   Eventually his funds were depleted and so was the affection of the young man’s newfound friends.  He found himself alone, in a foreign land, without resources.  To support himself he found a job caring for pigs – with the payment being that he was allowed to share in eating the pig slop with the pigs.

While he was at work in the pigsty eating pig-slop, the young man “came to his senses.”  A parishioner in a prior church was a pig farmer.  Let me tell you that the scent of the pigs on hot summer day could cause anyone to “come to their senses.”

Still, this statement is not making reference to the smell of pigs in the summer.  The boy is remembering his father’s love.  He is remembering the safety and protection of his father’s household.   He did not “come to his senses” independent of his father’s goodness.   No, he came to his senses within the context of his father’s generosity, kindness, and grace.  The lost boy, who had ran off into the far country, spending all his life’s resources on wild and reckless living, came to his sense because he never was lost to the love of his father.  When all of his resources were depleted and there was nothing to eat than the slop of a nasty, smelly pig, this boy realized that his father’s house was a place where he was liked, loved, accepted, included, and adopted.

The boy heads home.  “The servants in my father’s house live better than this,” he says to himself.  “I will go back, confess my sins, and hope that my father will hire me on as one of his servants.”  So, with nothing left in hand and a life that is tattered and worn, the younger boy heads home.

Now here’s a thought I want you to consider about as we continue with this story.  I want you to realize that the boy had stopped loving his father; that he had ran away from home; that he had squandered his inheritance, and that he THOUGHT that his only hope was that his father might hire him on as a servant.

He still didn’t fully realize that abundance of his father’s love.  The boy’s lostness was an attitude of his own heart and a creation of a faulty line of reasoning.  He simply didn’t realize that his father still liked him, loved him, accepted, and included him.  Even in the far country, even in reckless and rebellious living, even in the pigsty, the boy was always and forever included in his father’s love and affection.  He was lost because he did not realize that he had been found.  The father’s love remained constant. It was the father’s love that brought him to his senses in the pigsty.

It was the father’s love that ran to greet the boy when he appeared over the ridge.  In that culture it was considered undignified for an old man run like that.   The father was not worried about his honor, his dignity, or his reputation.  He didn’t care what people thought.  The father broke all the rules of tradition by running to his son.

Next the father kissed his son!

The cultural demands was that the son In this culture a son was permitted to kiss his father’s hand—expressing respect his respect and submission.

We don’t see the father holding out his hand for the boy to kiss.  We see a father running to his son—embracing him and kissing him.  By this act he is saying, “You are my precious child and I love you with all my heart!”

Then the father gave the son a ring the family signet ring.

This is the family seal of approval.   With this ring the boy could make financial arrangements, approve contracts, conduct family business.  It would be like giving the son the father’s gold card.  By this the father was confirming to the boy that he was FAMILY.

The father gave the boy the best rob!  This was worn on special days, on days of festive celebration.  This was the father wrapping his son in his very life, just as the Bible teachers that Father God wraps us up in the life and righteousness of Jesus.

Paul writes, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God!” 2 Cor. 5:21

Next the father gave the boy a new pair of shoes.  Slaves never wore shoes.  Sons could never go without shoes.

Then there was the party.  It was the biggest blowout that side of the Jordon River.  There was singing, dancing, drinking, and eating.  It wasn’t a Baptist after worship social event.

“Kill the fatted calf…the one being saved for a special occasion.  This is the most special occasion of all.  My son has come home.”

Notice that the father never checked the boys motives before order the party to begin.

The boy had a speech prepare—remember it?  The motive of the speech was simply that the SON AS HUNGRY AND THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO DIE!

The father didn’t care about the boy’s motivation, rational, understanding, commitment, or dedication to the father’s will and way.  All that meant nothing to the father.  All that matter was that the who had been wandering in the far country had finally come to his senses and come back to his home.

The son did not initiate.  He only responded.  Even his response was broken and messy.  His faith was insufficient, but his father’s love was not.

There is another son.  He remains at home, tends to the family farm, all out of a sense of obligation and duty.  He is doing what he think he must do in order to satisfy what he believes are the requirements and expectations of his father.

When he finds out about the party, the older son gets angry.  Now the older brother had a point, didn’t he?  He was saying to his father:  “It’s just not fair.  This son of yours has done everything wrong.  Now he’s come home and what do you do?  You kill the fatted calve.  You give him the ring, the rob, the sandals, the clothes, the works.  You don’t tell him to go to his room.  You don’t put him on restriction.  You don’t him a lecture.  You don’t lay the law down.  You don’t tell him to straighten up and fly right.  You don’t even try to make him feel guilty by telling him how many times you and our mother wept wondering where he was and if he was safe.”

When you think about it, the older brother had a point.  It does seem unfair.  The older boy had always followed the father’s instructions.  He had always obeyed the rules of the house.  Meanwhile, the younger boy said no to all of the father’s yeses, and yes to everything the father had said was a no-no.

Then when the younger son came home what did this father do?  He threw a party.  The older brother had a point. “I’ve done everything right, but you’ve never had a party of me!”

The older son is standing outside the party, outside the celebration, outside the awareness that his father loved him with the same kind of passion.  “My son, all I have has always been yours.”  It’s as if he is saying, “My son, I like you, love you, I accept you and include you.  You are mine!”

While all this is true, if the older son does not realize it, he will find himself lost in a hell of his own creation, even though he is surrounded and accepted by God’s amazing love.  Hear his father pleading.  “Come into the party.  It’s not just for this brother of yours.  It is also your party.”

Do you see why I claim the father as the true prodigal? This father is extravagant in his love for his children.  His love reaches out into the heart of the younger son, bringing him home from the lost country.  His love reaches out into the lonely darkness of the older brothers holier-than-thou ways and begs him, “Come in. Come in to the party.”

William Willimon points out that this father is just like Jesus’ Papa, for Jesus Father (like the entire Trinity) is dreadfully wasteful.  This Father sent his son, Jesus Christ, that we might all be claimed for the Kingdom of God. (William Willimon, “When God’s Story is Your Story,” Pulpit Resource, March 26, 1995)

Think of who is telling this story in the first place. It is Jesus himself, who told this story for those who prided themselves with the notion that they might be able to earn their way into heaven.  Of course these type of people would be upset with Jesus for this story…for this story tells us that Jesus, his Papa, and the Holy Spirit, openly liked, loved, included, accepted, and adopted a; those these religious folks thought was a total waste of time.  Folks like tax collectors, prostitutes, beggars, and the incurably ill.

The party that God is throwing is just as much for these “sinners” as it is for the “super-religious” scribes and Pharisees!  Here’s the good news:  God is so much a prodigal, so wasteful and extravagant, so lavish and excessive in his love, that he is just as and accepting to outcasts and derelicts who have wasted their lives as he is to the most decent and respectable.  Jesus Papa accepts us all.  Jesus himself accepts us all.

Here’s what  Henri Nouwen writes in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son”:

…Jesus became the prodigal son for our sake. He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father’s home. All of this he did, not as a rebellious son but as the obedient son, sent out to bring home all the lost children of God…Jesus is the prodigal son of the prodigal Father who gave away everything the Father had entrusted to him so that… we (all) could…become like him and return with him to his Father’s house.

So will you be one of those returning to the Father’s embrace?

The party’s already begun.  What we do not know is if the older brother went inside to the party after his father’s approach.  He was welcomed at the party.  He was welcomed into the father’s embrace.  It was made clear that he was like, loved, accepted, and included at the father’s celebration.

What we do not know is how the elder brother responded to the father’s plea.  Did he good inside and join the party, or did he stay outside living in his self-imposed hell?  Jesus doesn’t tell us.   Jesus leaves the story open ended so that we can finish it for ourselves.

And you search for your ending to this story…please remember that the prodigal in the story is God.  God is the Father who is throwing the party.  God is the Father whose love reaches out to connect…both in the faraway country, as well as right outside his own front porch.  God is the Father who ran to embrace the younger boy, assuring him of acceptance and a place at the family table.  God is the Father who speaks to the older son, inviting him to the party that is thrown for him as well, saying:  “My son, you are always with me. All I have is yours.”

God is also the Father who welcomes you.  This Father is willing to waste everything He’s got – to sacrifice it all – in order to bring us all to the party.  Far country wanderers are welcome.  So are the stay-at-home do-gooders.  The extravagant grace and excessively generous love of the prodigal Father reaches to include you right.

The music is playing.   Listen, can you hear all the laughter?  People are just starting to hit the dance floor.  The fatted calf is season just right and there is plenty of food for everyone.  This party is for you – it is for all of us.

You’re not just going to keep standing out there, are you?  Come on in.  You really are welcome,.  There are some amazing things for us to celebrate!

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