The Prodigal Father – Worship @ Home Sunday, 28 February 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner
Based on an idea by Chris Howlett

Unknown artist

Song: Have you ever stopped to think

Have you ever stopped to think how God loves you?
It sounds quite incredible, and yet it’s true.
Nothing on this earth or in the heavens above
Is as sure and certain as God’s love.

O it’s as high as the sky and it’s as deep as the sea,
And it’s as wide as the world, God’s love for you and for me.
We can’t escape his love, or take ourselves out of his care,
So where could we hide from his love?
His love is everywhere.

Everything is changing in the world today,
There’s one thing reliable in every way,
Other things may alter but it’s clear and plain
That the love of God is just the same.

Wider than the human mind can realize,
His love is unlimited and never dies;
Though we don’t deserve it, every day it’s new;
That’s the love of God for me and you.

John Gowans

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

ELLC version

Bible Reading: Luke 15:11-32 NLT

Parable of the Lost Son

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 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.’

22 “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. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 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.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved 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. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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!’”

The Prodigal Father

At the funeral of a soldier in a Corps where we once served, we heard a story of this Godly family man that we hadn’t known, but which didn’t at all surprise us. As a parent to three lively sons, he took issues of discipline very seriously. Whenever they arose, he’d give the boys a verbal chastisement and send them to their respective rooms where they were expected to remain.

After a while, their father would take a drive out and it was this sound that began to stir the notes of joy and hope in the boy’s hearts whenever they heard this. It was because not long after his departure the father would be back, calling them downstairs again and gifting them each with a tub of ice cream! Yes, their father had given them a real telling off as of necessity, but he wanted always to remind them of his love for each of them. 

Our Bible passage for today tells a story that is very well-known. It’s usually called The Prodigal Son, but as Chris Howlett, from whom we have borrowed this sermon series, explains, “‘prodigal’ means extravagantly wasteful. Whilst the younger son is wasteful of his inheritance, it is the father in the story whose extravagance is on display as he celebrates his son’s return.

In Jesus’ day, the son could well have been killed for bringing shame onto the family, but the heart of God is revealed in the seemingly wasteful (graceful) actions of the father. We’re being invited to participate in the redemption celebration along with the elder son.”

Let us take a little glimpse of that Father heart of God by focusing on the father’s actions in this story.

“And so the father liquidated assets and divided them”

v.12b The Voice

It seems that there is no attempt on the father’s part to change his son’s mind. There’s no cross examining the boy about what he intends to do with the money, nor does the father tell him what he should do. Quietly the father gives the boy what he asks for, giving freely, without any conditions. We might wince at the audacity of the son asking for his inheritance ahead of time, but God encourages us to come to him and ask him for what we need. As James 4:2 tells us,

‘you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it’

NLT

For the one who has accepted the forgiveness of Jesus and placed their faith and trust in him is considered to be part of God’s family. Family members are usually happy to share resources and manpower freely, because of their relationship. God invites us to tell him what we want, and he will give it. In the book of Malachi, God calls his family, the Israelites, to remember those who fulfil a particular function in Priestly service. Their duties mean that they are not free to work and draw a wage. As well as keeping the Temple as it should be, they also need the means to care for their own families. So, the people were asked to set aside part of their income, a tithe, for this purpose. God reminded them that whatever they gave to him, they would in no way be impoverished.

In Malachi 3:10 we read the astonishing words

Feel free to test Me now in this. See whether or not I, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, will open the windows of heaven to you and pour a blessing down upon you until all needs are satisfied.

(The Voice Translation).

It is not possible to out give God; he is the eternal prodigal, extravagantly wasteful and graceful Father.

©Sweet Publishing from https://freebibleimags.org

Back in our story, the wondrously prodigal father was opening the windows on all his resources so to speak, to pour his grace gift into the lap of his youngest son, a loved and valued family member. It doesn’t take the boy long to decide that he is off, taking all the wealth he has been given with him. When it was all gone, he found himself in the poorest paid work feeding pigs. Only when he reached that low point could he recognise how well-off he had been at home, and further, how well off were the family’s servants. That was when he made the best decision he would ever make: to return home.

Did the father know such a day would come? Maybe he did, for we are told, “The father looked off in the distance and saw the young man returning. He felt compassion for his son and ran out to him, enfolded him in an embrace, and kissed him” (v.20). Had anyone but the father laid eyes on him first, he might never have reached his homestead, as Howlett reminded us earlier ‘the son could well have been killed for bringing shame onto the family.’ Because of the father’s vigilance, the son lived to see another day; for in the embrace of the father, no one dared lay a hand on the son. Since the father showed the community that he accepted his son, so the community could accept him also.

The son begins the speech he’d been mulling over and over in his mind. But all the speech the father hears is all that he needs to hear: “Father, I have done a terrible wrong in God’s sight and in your sight too. I have forfeited any right to be treated as your son” (v.21). The boy swept away from his home in swaggering pride, but has now returned home a humble, repentant man. In his letter to the Christian Church, James tells us that

‘God gives us more grace when we turn away from our own interests. That’s why Scripture says, God opposes the proud, but He pours out grace on the humble’

James 4:6 The Voice

In taking the steps that he took to return home and in acknowledging his folly, the son confessed his need of the father. God delights to respond to such inclinations and confessions still. Just like the father in the story, God confers the title of son or daughter on the man or woman, boy or girl who humbly seeks his face and asks for his forgiveness, and he swings into action as God would much rather that people know his love. 

‘“Quick! Bring the best robe we have and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Go get the fattest calf and butcher it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate because my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and has been found.” So they had this huge party.’

(v.22-24)

The father’s acceptance of his son was full and complete, grace upon grace, and he was received into the family home with all the rights and privileges of a son, not the servant he thought he might become. Clearly, even the son did not know his father all that well – a prodigal, extravagantly wasteful father who wanted his son to know that he was loved.

This is the Father heart of God; he is intent on redeeming his people, restoring them to the family fold, lavishing his love upon them. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians,

But now, because of Jesus the Anointed and His sacrifice… God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King.’

(Ephesians 2:13 The Voice)

But not everyone was happy about the joyous celebration nor could comprehend the father’s grace as a wonderful thing. “The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with to join the celebration” (v.28). The extravagantly loving father, whilst jubilant about his youngest son’s return, grieves for the presence of his beloved firstborn. And just as the father went out earlier to embrace the repentant younger son, so now he came out to embrace the petulant older son, keen as ever that he should know his love for him.

©Sweet Publishing from https://freebibleimags.org

Yet his eldest son, who had faithfully worked by his father’s side, could not understand. The man who had known his father’s presence and grace daily became a boy once more, peevishly airing grievances which could have been talked about and rectified long before, if only the son had been honest and asked. Grace had stared him in the face, had surrounded his environment, but had never been received and enjoyed.

How the father ached to see that his dear firstborn had evidently been impervious to his love, as we hear in his response: “My son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours. Isn’t it right to join in the celebration and be happy? This is your brother we’re talking about. He was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found again!” (v.31-32)

Was the son moved by the tenderness of the father’s words for him? Did the love that surely shone from his father’s face as he addressed him release the catch on his elected cell of cold duty and loneliness? We shall never know the answers to those questions, and I don’t think we were meant to. However, it is a story meant to make us think about our answers and responses as to where we might see ourselves in this story.

What are the attitudes of our hearts concerning God’s prodigal, extravagant, wasteful, gracious love for every living person, who is also our brother or sister and whom Jesus came to redeem? Can we choose to dance to the tune of God’s heartbeat and join the celebration party? Or will we choose to withdraw into cheerless cells of self-imposed misery? You know where God would rather place you, right in the centre of knowing and receiving God’s unconditional love, which has to be the sweetest thing you have ever tasted. 

Song: O love that wilt not let me go

O love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

George Matheson

Prayer

Our loving Heavenly Father, this story from the Bible thrills us, challenges us and haunts us by turns. How wonderful it is to be on the receiving end of such unconditional, prodigal, wasteful, extravagant, graceful love!

How disconcerting it is for us to feel the elder brother’s misery and know that our own attitude towards others is sometimes nearer to the older brothers’ than to yours. Father forgive us please.

We long to be fully formed in your likeness and love, so that we may help inaugurate your transforming love in ever-increasing waves in our families, in our communities and in our world.

We do love you Lord and want to share life with you in honest conversation and in living, so that we follow your lead, and are ready to join in the celebration party whenever a redeemed brother or sister comes home to you. In the precious name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Song: Teach me to dance

Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart,
Teach me to move in the power of Your Spirit,
Teach me to walk in the light of Your presence,
Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.
Teach me to love with Your heart of compassion,
Teach me to trust in the word of Your promise,
Teach me to hope in the day of Your coming,
Teach me to dance to the beat of Your heart.

You wrote the rhythm of life,
Created heaven and earth;
In You is joy without measure.
So, like a child in Your sight,
I dance to see Your delight,
For I was made for Your pleasure,
Pleasure.

Let all my movements express
A heart that loves to say ‘yes’,
A will that leaps to obey You.
Let all my energy blaze
To see the joy in Your face;
Let my whole being praise You,
Praise You.

Graham Kendrick & Steve Thompson.
© 1993 Make Way Music.

Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

About prophetable

My wife Elizabeth and I were commissioned as Officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in 1997, and have served in appointments in England and Scotland. Since July 2016 I have been working in The Salvation Army's Scotland Office as combined parliamentary and ecumenical representative.
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