Summary: Funeral message for Michael Keys, age 36, whose parents requested a message from the parable of the Prodigal Son
In my study there hangs a reproduction of a sixteenth century map. My son gave it to me several years ago. He knows that I have always liked maps. I like to look at maps, study maps, even sketch maps myself. There is something fulfilling about seeing how things are laid out, how streets and buildings and hills and waterways relate to one another. I just find maps fascinating. I even at one time collected postage stamps that pictured maps. I have a collection of several hundred stamps from various countries, and all of them show maps of one kind or another. I am fascinated with maps.
And of course one reason for that fascination is that maps suggest exciting and interesting places that I have never seen. When I look at a map, I can at least imagine what it must be like in the streets of Paris or in the savannah of South Africa. By looking at the map, I can estimate how much time it might take to cross central Asia on the Trans-Siberian railway or how cold it might be at Little America in the Antarctic. I probably will never actually go to those places; but I am curious about them, and, with the help of a map, I can imagine what it would be like to go there.
All of us, I would guess, dream about distant countries. Those far-away places with the strange-sounding names. All of us dream about going somewhere distant, somewhere different. We dream about this not just because we would like to travel; we dream about it because we want a measure of excitement in our lives, we want to be something more than what we are now, and we suppose that out there, somewhere there is something more fulfilling than what we have here. We suppose that the distant country is a better country. You know the old saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; well, I am saying that it is greener still on the other side of the world. Or at least I think it is!
The Keys family has suggested that I bring today’s message out of the wonderful Biblical story about a young man who sought a distant country. I am so pleased that, in the midst of your sorrow, you had the instinct – and I believe it was the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit – to ask for this. It is very seldom that anyone asks me to preach on a particular passage; but your hearts knew what you needed to focus on, and I am honored to respond.
You knew that your son, Michael, longed for a distant country. You knew that sometimes Michael would pursue things out of his reach and unlike what he knew at home. You were aware that in Michael’s life there were some issues about reaching for things that are a bit out there. And so you saw something in Jesus’ parable that would speak to you of Michael.
But I believe also that you saw in that same parable something that would speak to you of God, that would tell you again what God is prepared to for those who want the distant country and its pleasures. I believe that you saw that in the loving embrace of God there was more for Michael and more for you than living in a distant country. You saw that there was also the possibility of a better country. You saw a map there; a map that would, if used, lead us not just to a distant place but to a better place.
Let me invite us all this morning to trace with our fingers the map to the distant country and also – praise God – also the map to the better country.
In this wonderful parable that Jesus told – we know it as the parable of the prodigal son, but one theologian has said that it would be better to call it the parable of the waiting father – in this wonderful parable, there is a clear-cut road map to the distant country, where life, we think, will be more pleasant than it is here at home. The young man in Jesus’ story wanted something. It says that he wanted the money that he believed was his by rights. It says that he wanted to have a good time. It says that he wanted to gather friends and spend money and go somewhere and be somebody. I think it really says that he wanted to go and find himself. He wanted to find his own identity. He was tired of being somebody else’s son, living up to somebody else’s expectations, doing what somebody else wanted him to do. He went to a distant country to find himself.