Fourth Sunday in Lent – Sunday, March 31, 2019

March 31, 2019  

Luke 15:11-32

People read the story of the Prodigal Son and want to ask: who am I in this story?
Am I the prodigal son? Am I the other son? Am I the father, the one that has to deal with these two children?

Let’s not do that just yet.
Let’s ask about God.
Where is God in this story? Is God the prodigal son, leaving us to explore the wonders of the world? Is God the other son, the one we tend to not notice because he does what is expected of him? Or is God our divine parent, loving us through our life journeys?
The answer is obvious, God is our divine parent. But I say that knowing God is so much more.

If we were to reach down into the deepest places of our lives, if we were to reach down into the most profound and intimate experiences of love we know or have known or want to know…
If we were to reach down in and grab those experiences or those hopes of love and lift those experiences or hopes out of ourselves, naming them as most profound, most intimate, deepest, most incredibly true…
And then we were to take God’s love and compare God’s love FOR US to the truest loves we know or have known or hope to know…

We could only say of God’s love: it is more.

God’s love is more.

Which, in the context of this story, puts “words to both the wonder and the horror of the world” (Buechner, Telling the Truth, Harper and Row 1977, p. 21).
God’s love is more: that’s the wonder.
We treat God’s love with casual regard: that’s the horror.

Have you ever, like the prodigal son, removed yourself from the comfort and the blessedness of God’s love?
You might answer the question as I would, by saying “No.” We know, we cannot remove ourselves from the comfort and blessedness of God’s love. God is always there, loving us. We cannot just tell God to “go away.” That’s not the way it works.
But we can distance ourselves. We can be indifferent to all that God offers us.
We can become detached.

I learned to throw “skippers” when I was a little girl. My dad taught me how to choose the smoothest, flattest stone. He taught me how to hold it in my hand, and then how to angle my arm as I tossed the stone across the top of the water. I got to be pretty good at skipping rocks. By the time I moved to California I was able to challenge a seminary friend to a competition: who could skip the largest stone. As we stood on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, I remember us tossing bigger and bigger stones. Finally, I picked up a flat brick. I held it in my hand and tossed it at an angle and it skipped across the surface of the ocean. I won!

Imagine skipping a brick.

Just so—our human inclination towards God.
Just so—how we incline ourselves towards God.
We skip across the surface of that relationship, sometimes touching, sometimes making a splash. Mostly there’s air. How often do we let ourselves just sink into God’s love for us?

God does not choose this detachment.
We do.
Seriously, this is our prayer: O My God! I’ve got bills to pay and a kitchen floor to fix and trim to finish putting up on the windows and now there is a yard to clean up and a deck to power-wash and another deck to stain and dishes to do and a freezer to defrost and sermons to write and a staff that keeps changing on me and people to visit…

I’m keeping myself busy. Too busy. How about you?
What will it take for us to realize we need God, we want God, and we have God if we would just slow down and sink into the most incredible love we will ever know?

Alan Culpepper wrote in his commentary on this story:

No other image has come closer to describing the character of God than the waiting father, peering down the road longing for the son’s return, then springing to his feet and running to meet him.”

(The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9, p. 302).

Again and again and again—God receives us.
Again and again and again—God forgives us our sin.
Again and again and again—God welcomes us back into a relationship that was never really gone.

God receives us, God forgives us, God welcomes us home because God loves us.
And, God’s love is more.