This is a story about acceptance. About belonging. About being loved, just as you are.
Being accepted and loved even though you are imperfect and your life is a hot mess. And we’re talking about the younger son, right? It seems clear he is the black sheep here, right?
But really, he’s pretty relatable. Basically, he just wanted to get the most out of life…He wanted to see everything, try everything…and not waste his life playing it safe. And so he took risks — to live his life to the fullest — seeking adventure…excitement….fun. And we get that, don’t we? Life is short. And we don’t want to miss out. And we are constantly surrounded by endless encouragement to “go for it”…to “live your best life”..and ”follow your bliss”…because ”You only live once”. And basically, that’s all the younger son was after. Like many teens and young adults…he was more than ready to get away from home and take a grab at the brass ring. And I’m sure he thought his parents didn’t know anything about the real world…they didn’t understand…they were too conventional…too old-fashioned. So he asked for his inheritance early…basically saying…”gee, wish you were dead, dad…but since you’re not…can I just get my share and leave now?” But he probably didn’t even realize that’s how it sounded….he just wanted to live. And his father gave it to him anyway. He gave it to his ungrateful son and let him go, knowing he couldn’t keep him from following the path he was on. He could not make his son something he was not.
But eventually, the kid’s money ran out… unfortunately, like many people, he didn’t have wise advisers or make good investments…and the high life only lasted so long. And then,on top of that, there was a famine where he was living, which means.the economy tanked for everyone. And at that point, when his latest new experience ended up being slopping pigs and living in filth….suddenly, fuddy duddy daddy didn’t look so bad. And he has an “aha” moment. He realizes he messed up….that he took his dad for granted. He didn’t realize that part of living life to the fullest was about relationships that mattered. He knows he’s burned his bridges. But he decides to go home anyway. Not to be a son…he already blew that gig …but to simply ask for forgiveness and ask his dad if maybe he could just have a job.
His life is a hot mess. He’s made so many bad decisions and bad choices…not necessarily maliciously, but just stupidly. He got caught up in things…lost sight of what mattered. He hurt people. And he goes home…expecting judgment…expecting anger….only to have his dad run to meet him before he even gets to the house. He comes home…to be met with embraces and tears and celebration.. He is accepted. He belongs. He is loved.
Jesus tells this story after the Pharisees complain about the people Jesus is hanging around with — tax collectors, sinners, the dregs of society. And Jesus tells this story because this is how Jesus understands God’s family…it is a place where everyone belongs. Not just the “good people”…but all people. The good, the bad, and the ugly. This is not the way many people have experienced their own family….but Jesus says that in God’s family, there is always someone looking for you…and welcoming you home. In God’s family, God runs to meet you…and you are embraced and beloved…just as you are. You don’t ever lose your place in God’s family….you always belong. Whatever road you’ve taken. You come as you are…and you are loved.
That’s true for the younger son. There’s grace for him. But it’s also true for the older son.
It turns out the older son, who seemed so good…was just as lost as his brother. But, even though he is self-righteous and resentful. Even though he thinks he is better than his brother and more deserving. Even though he can’t forgive his brother or his father. …he also is beloved. The older son is accepted, just as he is. And do you notice? His father seeks him out too…and gently reminds him that he, too…has always been treasured. Has always belonged.
Yes, the older brother needs grace as well. He’s just as much of a hot mess as his brother, when it comes down to it. And that’s the point, isn’t it? We all need grace. That’s why we are here. Here…where everyone is accepted…where we come as we are…with all our warts…and are seen, loved, forgiven, celebrated.
Martin Luther’s last words before he died were…”we are beggars all”. That’s not exactly a comfortable image for most of us. We don’t want to be beggars. I mean, let’s be honest, none of us aspires to be one of the folks on the street corners with their cardboard signs. We pride ourselves on having it more together than that. Maybe because our addictions haven’t undone us yet. But in truth, many of us like to think we are self-reliant. It’s that older son in us. But the church…this church…is a place where we get to…or maybe have to …acknowledge the honest truth about ourselves. That we do not have it all together. That we mess up and hurt others…that we are afraid and angry and feel hopeless…that we are anxious and worried and petty and resentful…and we need God’s grace. Basically, the truth is…we’re all here with our cardboard signs on God’s street corner…and not a one of us is self-reliant and has it all together. And Jesus runs to meet us. To be with us. To welcome us. To accept us.
We are all beggars in need of grace every single day. Every single day, we need to be reminded of God’s love. Every single day we need to be reminded that we are accepted. That we are enough. Every single day…we need to know that God is running to meet us, throwing his arms around us, cardboard sign and all. Every single day, we need to know that God seeks us out with understanding and tenderness even when we are caught up in self-righteous resentment. Every single day we need grace, not judgment…but grace. And that is what this church ….this body of Christ is here to do. To welcome one another home….arms wide open…as Jesus welcomes us. Amen.