...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
It seems cliché to say grace is an amazing gift. But it is. In fact, it’s one of Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. “The Buddhist has an eight-fold path, the Hindu has karma, The Jew has the covenant, and the Muslim a code of law – each offering a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional" (Yancey) To many that seems scandalous to say the least.
Jesus taught us to see grace everywhere. Even though he barely used the word, Jesus describe its power in parables. Today’s reading from Luke we get three perfect examples one parable. The first is a lost sheep, followed by a lost coin, and then the well-known lost Prodigal child.
Charles Dickens described the parable of the Prodigal as “the greatest short story ever written.” But instead of reading Luke’s account, I want to share my excerpts from Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Yancey tells a story of a young teenage girl from rural Michigan. Her parents are Uber religious, and very conservative. Their way of life clashes with her wild spirit. They argue constantly, always trying to change her to fit their ideals. One night, the girl decides she’s had enough. She executes a plan that she has played out hundreds of times in her head. She runs away.
Her second night in Detroit she meets a guy in a fancy car. He tells her how cool she looks, sets her up in a hotel and cares to her needs. He teaches her how to make money just being herself. She learns men will pay extra for someone like her. For a while she feels important and empowered. But time changes her. The streets make her tough, and hard around the edges. When signs of her addiction begin to show, she is no longer valued the same way.
The guy in the fancy car leaves her where he found her. She scrapes up whatever she can for a room, a meal or just a quick fix. But it’s never enough. In her time of need the world abandons her like it has with so many others. Then one night as she’s crouched over a metal grate trying to stay warm, she thinks of her dog asleep in her parent’s house. She begins to sob, longing for home.
The next morning, she leaves a message on her parents answering machine, “Mom. Dad. I’m catching a bus up your way. It gets in at midnight tomorrow. If you’re there, great. If not, I’ll understand.”
That journey home took longer than she anticipated. But when she saw the sign that read, “Travers City – 15 miles” her stomach began to twist. Looking at the nicotine stains on her dirty fingers her plan didn’t seem so good anymore. What if her parents were on vacation and never got the message? What if they moved on, or worst, what if they had written her off as dead? And if they did show up, would they even recognize her?
The bus pulled into the station. She wanted to stay on the bus, but she had nowhere else to go. She was broke and broken. So, she shuffled her way inside, blinded by the bright overhead lights. It took a moment for her to focus on all the people in funny hats jumping and waving and blowing noise makers. It was her brother, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and her parents. A big sign behind them read welcome home!
From out of the crowd her father ran to greet her with the biggest hug. She stuttered to say something, anything. But her father quickly said, “Hush child, we have no time for that. You’ll be late for your party. A banquet is waiting for you at home.”
Even though I edited this story down quite a bit, it still chokes me up. Because like the prodigal in Jesus’ parable, this young child was not able to express her apology that she’d rehearsed on that the long journey home. Why? Because the love of the father wouldn’t have it. She was back in his arms and that was all that mattered.
Grace is the key that unlocks the front door to God’s house. Only we’re not the ones doing the unlocking.
As Jesus tells the story, “when he was yet a great way off,” his father saw him and runs to embrace his hungry, tired, broken child. The father can’t help himself! His heart races as he throws the door open and bolts across the field to cover his child with kisses and to restore him to his rightful place in the family.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what God looks like, there is no better picture than the one Jesus gives us. Yet his parables aren’t about how we see God. Instead they are about how God sees us. Gushing with pity and unrestrained tenderness, the father’s embrace of his son symbolizes God’s steadfast love for you and me. Once in God’s arms there is no casting up of sins, no shame or guilt – all is forgotten. God “kisses the past into forgetfulness.”
This is what makes God’s grace so scandalous to the world. No one deserves it, or earns it, or buys it. It’s given to us through Jesus Christ, so that anyone who follow him will find their way back to the open doors and the welcoming arms of God’s love and care. Yancey writes, “Jesus is pretty clear that there is nothing that can disqualify us from God’s love. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Grace does not depend on what we do for God but on what God willingly does for us. God is willing to become vulnerable on so many levels, just to retrieve, recover, and return us to our rightful place in the family. And when we come home God rejoices! No matter how badly we’ve mess up.
Lent is a time for self-reflection; to search your heart and find who you really are – God’s beloved child. As you fast from the things that cause you to run away from God’s love, don’t forget to feast – to rejoice and to celebrate – because God loves you no matter what.
God is calling you home. As we move towards the cross and Easter celebration, let us not lose sight of the fact that we belong to God’s family…called to follow Jesus… to the cross, through the resurrection, and into the arms of God. By seeing and doing what Jesus does with God’s grace, we learn the way back to God and can teach others to do the same. That is our mission as a church and as a people.
In closing I’d like to leave you with these words from Henri Nouwen who wrote, “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted. No, God rejoices because one of his children that was lost has been found.”
As the manifestation of God’s perfect love, Jesus lived out God’s heart perfectly – taking the brokenness in the world and blessing it. How might we do the same? Jesus comes to us and loves us where we are, just so we can return to where we first came, and where we always belong. At home with the one who loves us, no matter what. It might sound like a cliché but …Grace is amazing.
Let us pray:
Merciful Lord, how blessed is your name. May we never lose sight of the power of your love and grace to transform us and returns us back into your heart. May way we share your grace with one another in the name of the one who gave it first to us. Amen.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. Zondervan: 1963, pp. 281-89.
Yancy, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? Zondervan: 1997, pp. 45-53.
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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