Luke 15:11-32 May 14, 2004
The Waiting Father – Becoming the Father
How many people have read the book “The Return of The Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen? This is one of my “must read” books for Christians – I even recommend it for non-Christians. If you haven’t read them yet, this summer, you should read “The Return of the Prodigal Son” & “What’s So Amazing About Grace” by Philip Yancey. We’ll have a little book discussion on the beach at family camp.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to looking at some things that impacted me from the book. I read the book years ago, but I think that these things are important for us to hear now.
Let’s start with the story
Story of the Lost Son
Jesus told them this story: "A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, `I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.
"A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him to feed his pigs. The boy became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
"When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, `At home even the hired men have food enough to spare, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man." ’
"So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. ’
"But his father said to the servants, `Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening in the pen. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.
"Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. `Your brother is back,’ he was told, `and your father has killed the calf we were fattening and has prepared a great feast. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
"The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, `All these years I’ve worked hard for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the finest calf we have.’
"His father said to him, `Look, dear son, you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’ "
Who are you in the story?
There are many different ways to read scriptures: one, for information, lessons to learn, life rules to live by, a new understanding of God or the world around us, or ourselves, another, for formation: to allow God to shape us through the story, to allow God’s word to wash us, to go to our core and renew us. One method of reading for formation is to enter the story and say Who am I most like in this story? Who’s story most parallels mine? Who am I in this story?
Who are you in the story?
At which point in the story do you most relate to them?
The younger son
At home: Ungrateful, grasping at “what’s coming to him”
In a far off land: Wild living
Back home: Reconciled
The Older Son
Working hard out of duty
Being the “good boy”
Feeling unappreciated – “you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.”
Jealous of the party boy
Resentful at God’s grace for others
Wooed by the father
Joining the party
Stung by the younger son’s rejection and demands
Afraid for his well-being
Longing for his return
Rejoicing at his return
Running to him with fear & joy
Giving joyful grace and forgiveness
Throwing a party
Inviting the older son to join in joy
“Father, you know me in and out, you know where I’m at. I confess I feel like the ___________ when he _________________. … What is your word for me today? …”
I want you to stay there with God, but I also want to push you further.
We need to know where we are with God, but we need to know where he is calling us to be as well.
One of the things that Nouwen’s book did for me when I read it a few years ago was to open my eyes not just to relating to the prodigal son, or the older brother, or even just relating to the father, but it was his second last chapter called “Becoming The Father” that opened my eyes and heart to the call on our lives to be the father. It isn’t enough to find our story, our past, and possibly our present in the characters of the sons or even the father, we need to find our future in the character of the father.
This is what Nouwen writes:
“Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father. No father or mother ever became father or mother without having been son or daughter, but every son and daughter has to consciously choose to step beyond their childhood and become father and mother for others. It is a hard and lonely step to take - especially in a period of history in which parenthood is so hard to live well - but it is a step that is essential for the fulfillment of the spiritual journey.”
He goes on to write…
“I am amazed at how long it has taken me to make the father the center of my attention. It was so easy to identify with the two sons. Their outer and inner waywardness is so understandable and so profoundly human that identification happens almost spontaneously as soon as the connections are pointed out. For a long time I had identified myself so fully with the younger son that it did not even occur to me that I might be more like the elder. But as soon as a friend said, " Aren’t you the elder son in the story?" it was hard to see anything else. Seemingly, we all participate to a greater or lesser degree in all the forms of human brokenness. Neither greed nor anger, neither lust nor resentment, neither frivolity nor jealousy are completely absent from anyone of us. Our human brokenness can be acted out in many ways, but there is no offense, crime, or war that does not have its seeds in our own hearts.”
“But what of the father? Why pay so much attention to the sons when it is the father who is in the center and when it is the father with whom I am to identify? Why talk so much about being like the sons when the real question is: Are you interested in being like the father? It feels somehow good to be able to say: "These sons are like me." It gives a sense of being understood. But how does it feel to say: "The father is like me"? Do I want to be like the father? Do I want to be not just the one who is being forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but the one who offers it as well?
Isn’t there a subtle pressure in both the Church and society to remain a dependent child? Hasn’t the Church in the past stressed obedience in a fashion that made it hard to claim spiritual fatherhood, and hasn’t our consumer society encouraged us to indulge in childish self-gratification? Who has truly challenged us to liberate ourselves from immature dependencies and to accept the burden of responsible adults? And aren’t we ourselves constantly trying to escape the fearful task of fatherhood?”
No matter where you see yourself in the story, the goal is to move to reconciliation with the father, yes, but it is to move through reconciliation to the call to become the father.
Often we apply Godliness to the holiness of God – to be a Godly person is to behave ourselves. But if this story is one of the most powerful pictures of God that we have, does it not say that to be Godly it to model ourselves after the father in the story?
The call to become the father is a call to many things
The father teach us how to relate to those around us
A call to responsibility
When we see a child who is on their own or misbehaving we ask, “who are his parents?” “who is responsible for this child?” Parenting carries with this new found sense that we are responsible for another human being. The call of the father is a call to responsibility for those around us.
Wildebeests vs yaks
At the Men’s conference in Hamilton that a bunch of went to a few years ago, one of the speakers was Miles McPherson. He spoke about watching a nature program on wildebeests in Africa. He went on and on about these lions attacking and eating these wildebeests. He said “wildebeests are like a whopper on four legs to a lion. They are so easy to kill, it is like the savanna is one big Burger King drive through, and wildebeests are on the menu. The reason that they are so easy to kill is that while they live in herds, there is no sense of community and responsibility for each other. The wildebeests could be mowing down on grass while just a few yards away the lions are taking down and eating one of the heard.
Miles compared this to the water buffalo & yaks who, when they are under attack, circle the wagons with the horns facing out, and all the children and weak ones are in the centre. They take responsibility for each other and they take responsibility together.
This is our calling as heirs of the Father – to take responsibility for those around us.
1Dear brothers and sisters, if another Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody. (NLT)
But it is more than just watching out for people when they are going wrong, it is doing all that the best fathers do – teaching each other what we know of God and how to serve him, teaching how to obey God. Philippians 2 tell us that we should have the same attitude that Jesus has, and Ephesians teaches a bit about his attitude toward us as his church using the image of husband and wife. Ephesians 5:25-30
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of his body.”
A father does not say “he’s not my kid.” He always says “they belong to me, their welfare is close to my heart.
A call to Compassion
The compassion that the father has for the prodigal – not allowing him to grovel
The compassion that he has for the older son – inviting him into the party, coaxing him to stay in this family.
You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
An active compassion – Jesus had compassion on the crowds and healed them, and fed the, and taught the forgiveness…
An extravagant compassion – listen to the context of Luke 6:36
"Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
Some might say the father is a fool to put up with these two sons – but he is a compassionate fool.
In this story, you may see yourself in one of the sons most powerfully, but you are called to become the father. Take responsibility for each other, be compassionate to each other
In the next few weeks we are going to go deeper into the call to become the father – don’t go camping next weekend! Come and lets together begin to become the father in the story.