Summary: The waiting father reaches deep into the reservoirs of love, extending compassion to his wayward son. So we also as parents must seek not to control but to guide and then be ready for forgiveness.
I shall not soon forget the image he presented, this father of the bride. He had smiled all through the vast and elaborate preparations for the wedding; his daughter was a kind of elegant princess, he knew it, she knew it, everybody knew it – and so the princess must have a grand occasion. Too many invitations were sent out for the wedding service to be accommodated in the little church where I was interim pastor, so we moved to the much larger Baptist church down the road a few miles. Too many people were coming for mere family or even a small catering business to take charge of the reception. It had to be held at a hotel dining room, where it in fact took over for the evening the entire dining facilities of the establishment; they closed their restaurant to the public and made it exclusively available to this bride. And daddy smiled through all of the planning, all of the fussing about which color scheme to use and what menu to serve.
But when we all arrived at the reception banquet we were all greeted by father, still smiling to be sure, but with the pickets of his jacket and the pockets of tuxedo trousers emptied, pulled out to their full extent ••• empty. Empty as a wino's bottle, empty as a politician's rhetoric, empty as my head on Monday morning ••• and he stood there and grinned like an ape and greeted several hundred guests, having reached into the pockets until they were now utterly, totally empty.
But you see, it is the task of fathers to do that. Fathers are generally the folks who are called on to reach into the pockets and to provide. Most of us grumble a little about it and do not make quite as much a display as my friend did because we do understand, however reluctantly, that that's a part of what being a father is all about. We reach into the pockets, we pay the bills, we provide.
Oh how the Lord does prepare me spiritually for my sermons! I planned this topic some while ago, but spent most of the week, as you know, trying to represent you at the Southern Baptist Convention, and so I left off completely preparing the message until I got home. Well, thank you, Lord, for the bill for twenty-seven hundred and forty-three dollars for room and board and tuition for my son's next semester. Honestly, that university is so efficient they get the bills for next semester out almost before they get out the grades for this semester. So believe me when I tell you that I know whereof I speak … a father's role is to reach into the pockets (or in my case, into the bank's pockets for a loan) and to provide.
And not only to provide, but to smile while doing it. Ouch. But you know what? That’s the way it’s meant to be. Reaching into the pockets with a smile on your face. That’s the way it’s meant to be, because our Father God is like that. Reaching deep down, emptying ourselves, that’s what we need to do, because that’s what our Father God does for us. And we can learn from Him just how to do it.
You know the Scripture as the story of the prodigal son. And so it is. We will deal with him next week. But theologian Helmut Thielicke tells us we might just as well call it the parable of the waiting father. After all, he says, it is the father who is the central character of the story; it is the father who sets the temper of the parable. And it is the father at the beginning and the end who is the one who determines the outcome. The parable of the prodigal son? Today at least, let's see it as the parable of the waiting father, the spending father, the reaching down into the pockets father.
May I refresh you on the outline of the story? Our Lord asks us to imagine a father with two sons, the younger of whom looks up over the eggs and grits one morning to say, “Dad, I’m splitting. I am now a man, a great big grown up man, and I want what is mine. I am leaving, I am going to where it is perpetually summertime and the livin' is easy. Give me my share of the cash.” And where you and I might have countered by raising an eyebrow and querying, "where do you get this mine stuff?”, the father that Jesus tells us of simply pays it out and waits, reaches into his pockets and waits.
You remember what happens; you remember how this son spent it all in what the scripture calls riotous living – always wondered exactly what was hiding behind that phrase – and when he had spent all – poignant phrase, always wondered what feelings were hiding behind that one – when he had spent all, begged to come home. And the story tells us of a waiting father, his pockets pulled all the way out, empty, totally empty, but running to meet and to embrace his son.