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Summary: In part 1 of the series Return of the Prodigal, Dave examines what we can learn about the leaving of the younger son.

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The Younger Son Leaves

The Return of the Prodigal, prt. 1

Wildwind Community Church

David Flowers

February 13, 2011

Good to be back with you again. Great baptism and membership service last week, wasn’t it? Members of Wildwind, I want to remind you again to look carefully at those commitments you have made to this church. Our ministry is growing and things are going well, yet we are dealing with the very real challenges of building ownership. These first few years are going to be tight as we pursue projects that have been long-neglected and are simply going to have to be done. Take a look at what you are giving and how faithfully; look at where and how you are serving; look at your faithfulness in small group life. And of course continue pursuing a contemplative life with God – a life structured around peace and quietness and solitude and prayer. That is the community we wish to build together, and our members must be always moving forward in regard to that community. Non-members and those of you who have not been baptized, I want to remind you again that we are called to no work greater than the work of baptism – that is to say, bringing people into the fellowship of those who have been baptized into Christ. We invite all of you who have not been baptized to make this a high priority. And we invite those who have not yet become members of the church to attend Discovery, learn about the church, and step into this special bond with us. You do not have to and you will be completely loved whether you do or not. But we hope we can help you realize why it matters and why you are needed.

Today we introduce a new series called The Return of the Prodigal. Perhaps out of all Jesus’ parables, there are none more compelling than the parable of the prodigal son, found in the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke. In that chapter, Jesus tells stories about three lost things – a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. They are all powerful stories, but the parable of the prodigal son goes into the greatest detail. Because it does, there are more places where you can see yourself, and I can see myself.

You will have more than one teacher in this series. Allow me to introduce you to them. The first teacher will of course be Jesus. Jesus is the one who told the story of the prodigal son so naturally everything goes back to him. The second teacher will be the great painter Rembrandt. Toward the end of his life, Rembrandt painted a giant painting, inspired by Christ’s parable of the prodigal son, and the painting is called The Return of the Prodigal Son.

Our third teacher will be Henri H.M. Nouwen, a beloved spiritual writer, a priest, and a professor at Yale, who died in the mid-90’s. Inspired by Christ’s story, and by Rembrandt’s depiction of the story in his painting, Nouwen wrote a book called The Return of the Prodigal Son, and his influence will be very deeply felt in this series. The fourth teacher will be yours truly. My job in this series will be to package together the insights from the parable, the painting that was inspired by the parable, and the book that was inspired by the painting and the parable, and make them accessible to you, while adding a few challenges, thoughts, or conclusions of my own. And there is of course one more teacher, and that is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the bridge between a story in a book, a painting in a frame, a story about the painting about the story, and YOU! The Holy Spirit is the bridge between all of this material and the life you are living at this moment. You don’t need to be fixed. You don’t need to live according to my preaching. But you do need to keep turning inward in this series and asking, “God, what do you want? What are you saying? Where can I find you in my reactions to the sermon, to the parable, to the book, and to the painting?”

It is February. It is well and good in the month of February that we should preach and hear sermons about love. But we’re going to do something a bit different this month. Instead of hearing about the imperfect love of our spouses for us, or focusing on how imperfect our own love still is, I want to spend the month of February talking about God’s perfect love. And not only God’s perfect love but about you and I, who are the objects of that love. And how we each have left the Father, left the house of love, and squandered all that the Father has given us on pointless projects, pursuits, plans, and pleasures. We’ll look at the younger son’s choice to leave home, at his life away from the Father, at his choice to return home, and at both the Father’s response, and the elder son’s response, to the younger son’s homecoming. If the Holy Spirit is working in your life right now regarding God’s great love, if that is something that is tugging on your heart, you will come to understand God’s great love for you in a new way. You will understand how Christ is not only the Father in this story, but Christ is also the younger son, and Christ is also the elder son. You will probably identify strongly with either the younger son or the elder son (and this is good), but you will also learn how your call is ultimately a call to become the father – to become the one who forgives, who welcomes home, who loves without exception, and who lays healing hands upon all the prodigal sons and daughters of the world. If you are receptive, this story in Luke 15 will leap off the page and make a permanent impression in your mind, your heart, and your life.

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