Summary: The Church should be the place of celebration.
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
“God Doesn’t Play by Our Rules”
By: Kenneth Emerson Sauer,
Pastor of Parkview United Methodist Church
Newport News, VA
During a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated, what, if any, belief was unique to the Christian faith.
The debate went on for some time until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room.
“What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and heard in reply that his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
The people at the conference had to agree.
The idea of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct we have.
The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law---all of these offer a way to earn approval.
Only Christianity shows us that God’s love is unconditional!
We live in a world of ungrace.
God’s grace is often hard for us to fathom, and so Jesus talked to us about it often.
Author Phillip Yancey puts it very well in his book: What’s So Amazing About Grace?:
“I have meditated enough on Jesus’ stories of grace to let their meaning filter through,” writes Yancey.
“Still each time I confront their astonishing message I realize how thickly the veil of ungrace obscures my view of God.
A housewife jumping up and down in glee over the discovery of a lost coin is not what naturally comes to mind when I think of God. Yet that is the image Jesus insisted upon.
The story of the Prodigal Son, after all, appears in a string of three stories by Jesus—the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son—all of which seem to make the same point. Each underscores the loser’s sense of loss, tells of the thrill of discovery, and ends with a scene of jubilation.
Jesus says in effect, ‘Do you want to know what it feels like to be God? When one of those two-legged humans pays attention to Me, it feels like I just reclaimed My most valuable possession, which I had given up for lost.’”
In Luke, right before the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus says in verse 10: “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
And the church should be a place of rejoicing as well.
Let’s keep that in mind as we take a look at this parable this morning.
Chapter 15 begins with this: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
This is what prompts Jesus to tell three parables that highlight God’s extreme grace--the Pharisees’ extreme ungrace.
In essence, Jesus is saying, “You think you know God, but you do not. God doesn’t play by your rules. Here is what God is all about.”
In the parable, the father represents God the Father.
And this father had two sons.
One of these boys is called the ‘older’ and the other is called the ‘younger’.
The boys grow up living in a very nice home, a home in which there is everything in the world that the heart of humankind could want—love, joy, fellowship, comforts—but this younger boy does a strange thing.
He decides that he no longer wants to be a part of this home—he thinks the grass is greener somewhere else.
So the father allows him to exercise his freedom of choice/his freewill.
The father divides up his estate, and the boy leaves with his pockets full of money—which he did not earn.
Every bit of it came from his father.
And so the boy heads out for the far country.
And this boy found out what it was to have what the world calls a good time.
He went to all the nightclubs; he went to all the parties.
And when you have money, you can get fair-weather friends.
So, for a while he lived it up.
But there came a day when he reached in his pocket and there wasn’t anything left.
Not only was he broke, but he found that the country where he had thought the grass was greener…well…the grass was drying up.
“…there was a severe famine in that whole country...”
The young son doesn’t know what to do.
He shouldn’t have been afraid to go home, but he was.
Was he embarrassed?
Did he think that his father would not accept him?
Was he so steeped in the world of ungrace that he could not imagine any alternative?
Remember, God doesn’t play by our rules.
Who do we know who might feel too embarrassed to come back home…to return to church?