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The Heart of the Home

Sermon preached at RBC on Luke 15, as part of the Coming Back Home series.

Our reading for today describes a jarring change in a household. In this case it is a House Divided and there is a theme of loss running like a small sad stream in the opening part of the text. Jesus uses one of history’s great opening lines:


There was a man who had two sons.”


The context of the story is vital. We read a little earlier in Luke 15:


Jesus became increasingly popular among notorious sinners- tax collectors and other social outcasts. The Pharisees and religious scholars noticed this. “This man welcomes immoral people and enjoys their company over a meal.”


It seems that Jesus was going to the wrong people’s houses. Instead of addressing the matter directly, Jesus tells them some stories. One is about an immoral son.


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In this home, there is deep division.


The youngest son decides one day it’s time for him to leave.

Even worse, he says he wants his inheritance.

Now.


The request is almost unprecedented in the ancient world. This son is basically cutting all ties and saying that he wants his father dead. This is the story of an immoral person, that would have made Jesus’ listeners uncomfortable.

Someone who was robbing the village of wealth.


Even worse

Once he leaves home

He scatters

The money around

on wild living.”

He finds himself herding pigs

Completely cut off from his culture, faith and tradition.


Unclean.

A failure.

The Book of Proverbs says:


Whoever follows God’s teaching is a wise child, but the one who spends time with gluttons and drunks disgraces their parents.”


In the eyes of almost everyone this younger son is exactly the kind of person the Pharisees and Scribes were complaining about Jesus eating with.


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Having hit rock bottom in a time of famine

The youngest son has a moment of self-reflection, a light goes on:


“What am I doing here? Back home, my father’s hired servants have plenty of food. Why am I here starving to death? I’ll get up and return to my father, and I’ll say, ‘Father, I have done wrong—wrong against God and against you. I have forfeited any right to be treated like your son, but I’m wondering if you’d treat me as one of your hired servants?’”


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So, what is this story really about?

How does it speak to us and our faith?


In his wonderful book The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming, the Catholic writer Henri Nouwen says this:


Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one. Home is the center of my being, where I can hear the voice that says, “You are my beloved. On you my favour rests.” When I hear that voice, I know that I am home with God and have nothing to fear.


Our spiritual home,

Our true home,

Is with God.


Coming Back Home, means Coming back to God.


And for all of us, I suspect, there will be times when we feel right at home spiritually and other times where we, like the youngest son in this story, find ourselves a long way from home. In a place of spiritual isolation.


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When we are away from God, the path back can always be found through honest confession and repentance. Through coming clean and admitting that we are not perfect. Just like the son in this story. It’s coming to the realisation, that we need to be honest with God, that we need to change.


In the words of Taylor Swift:


Hi I’m the problem, it’s me

At tea time everybody agrees

I’ll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror.


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So . . .

Broke and broken

The son

Begins the long trek home.

He has no idea what will happen next.


And it’s here that Jesus weaves his literary magic.

It’s here that we discover

The Beating Heart of God.


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So the younger son got up and returned to his father. The father looked off in the distance and saw the young man returning. He felt compassion for his son and ran out to him, enfolded him in an embrace, and kissed him.


The son said, “Father, I have done a terrible wrong in God’s sight and in your sight too. I have forfeited any right to be treated as your son.”


But the father turned to his servants and said, “Quick! Bring the best robe we have and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Go get the fattest calf and butcher it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate because my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and has been found.” So they had this huge party.

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Now there’s no record of Jesus having any children, so how does he know this kind of parental love and acceptance? This kind of sheer relief that the lost one has returned home? How does he inject such pathos and feeling into this story?

I wonder if Jesus knows all of this because he’s been through something similar.

He remembers back to an earlier episode. We read this in Luke 2:


When Jesus was 12, He made the journey to Jerusalem with his parents. They spent several days there, participating in the whole celebration. When His parents left for home, Jesus stayed in Jerusalem, but Joseph and Mary were not aware. After they had already travelled a full day’s journey toward home, they began searching for Him among their friends and relatives. When no one had seen the boy, Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched for Him.

After three days of separation, they finally found Him—sitting among a group of religious teachers in the temple—asking them questions, listening to their answers. Everyone was surprised and impressed that a 12-year-old boy could have such deep understanding and could answer questions with such wisdom.


His parents, of course, had a different reaction.


One of the most understated phrases in the whole of the Scriptures!


Jesus here is perhaps drawing from a story from his home, his childhood to make an important point, a vital point:


That God is like this father in the story.

This is fundamental to his nature and his character.

And that God, like Mary and Joseph, he celebrates when his kids come back.


Jesus is saying that while we as humans cast judgment all the time and write people off, God is always on the lookout for giving anyone a second chance. The text says that the father felt compassion for his son, or literally that his heart was moved. The word in the Greek is the sense that you get when your child darts across a busy road or jumps off a sand dune or MCs a speech night!


God is not frosty or distant, but relational and near.


This is his nature.

It is who he is.


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Two weeks ago, there was a cricket dismissal that has even been discussed by Prime Ministers. Of course, perhaps what mattered most, was missed in the furore. Ben Stokes.


When Johnny Bairstow was dismissed, the English Captain Ben Stokes decided to hit out. On that immortal ground, Lords, Stokes left an indelible image. It was as though he flicked a switch. You could literally see the exact moment he decides to hit fours and sixes. Watching this I text a mate in Singapore:


Here he goes.


It’s like watching Black Caviar down the straight at Flemington. Pure poetry.


It is utterly spellbinding.


Stokes swings the bat like an axe. Gideon Haigh writes that Stokes has a profound oaken strength. He has computed the dimensions of the ground, the way the hill at Lord’s leans, the direction of the wind. He has near perfect clarity. Everything is in alignment.


Shot after shot fires the shiny red Dukes ball long over the boundary line.

The crowd watch as though they are inspecting birds or planes leaving the ground. In the centre of the green field, Stokes looks like a knight from the Middle Ages.


Every now and then the camera zooms in on his face.

His eyes are focussed. He says nothing, just keeps batting.


When he is finally dismissed for 155 a commentator says a single word:


Magical.


Steve Smith rushes to tap Stokes’ broad back. It’s like Mozart recognising Beethoven.


Watching the innings back, I think,

This is who he is.

This is exactly what Ben Stokes was born to do.

It is the core of his character and nature.


Here in his parable of coming back home, Jesus ushers us into the centre of God’s nature as well. The very core of his being.

He speaks of the defining characteristic of God.


God is love.

God shows:

The kind of love that goes looking for us when we are lost and lonely.

The kind of love that makes a place for us when we make mistakes.

The kind of love that gives us second and third and seventy-seven chances.


Love that over time changes us,

takes the edges of our harsh judgments of others,

Love that always welcomes us home.


Reflecting on this passage and this great artwork by Rembrandt, Henri Nouwen says this:


For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.”


This story rattles our human need to always be in control.


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As we reflect on who God is, I am going to play one of Darrell’s Hidden Gems of really good Christian music. It’s about this passage and it is called Arms Wide Open.


And next week, we’ll take one more trip into the heart of this Palestinian home, as we talk about the Older brother in the Story and Life’s Loose Endings.

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