by Rev. Doug Gray
A young naval student was being put through the paces by an old sea captain. "What would you do if a sudden storm sprang up on the starboard?" "Throw out an anchor, sir," the student replied. "What would you do if another storm sprang up aft?"
"Throw out another anchor, sir." "And if another terrific storm sprang up forward, what would you do then?" asked the captain. "Throw out another anchor, sir." "Hold on," said the captain. "Where are you getting all those anchors from?" "From the same place you're getting your storms, sir." I think lots of us spend most of our lives moving from storm to storm, throwing out all the anchors we can. Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to move from storm to storm, or go through so many anchors? Our passage today talks about ways God gives us to anchor in His love, the path to the real, abundant life.
The first two characters—the two brothers—are both great examples of unhealthy approaches to life and relationships. Let’s start with the younger brother. He’s got issues, doesn’t he? What are some of the younger brother’s issues?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Very good! Yes, yes. The sneaky thing about some of the younger brother’s issues, is that he thinks he’s going to find himself in the far country. That’s why he goes through this, isn’t it? To find out who he is, to have the chance to live out his own life, to be in charge for a change, and leave his mark—to anchor his life in other things. Jesus says, “he squandered his property in dissolute living.” Bit by bit, the younger brother spends his wealth, but he’s really spending himself in living that slowly eats away at himself. We know this way of unhealthy living, because we have done it, haven’t we? Trying to find ourselves, we spend the wealth of our life—our treasure, time and talent—on getting more stuff, more pleasure, more technology, more success, thinking we will find who we are, only to find they only like us for what we spend, and when we run out of the money, time and energy, then they lose interest in us. We leave God to find ourselves, to make our life for ourselves, and discover that we are lost.
The older brother has issues too, doesn’t he? What are some of the older brother’s issues?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Yes, yes. The sneaky thing about older brother’s issues is that he loses himself without ever leaving the farm. He pays for his security every day, goes through the motions, that maintain a life that he secretly finds pointless. He’s the good son and does everything he’s supposed to, but instead of feeling good about what he’s doing, the older brother is so concerned about his own rights and what he has earned that he fails to grasp his father’s heart. We know this way of unhealthy living, because as Lloyd Ogilvie, the former Senate chaplain, wrote,
“Our rebellion is the same as the younger brother. ‘What’s mine is mine! I worked for it, preserved it, multiplied it, perfected it.’ That leads to bitter judgmentalism. The lost and broken are the way they are because they didn’t work as hard as we have. It’s their own fault…But the raw nerve in him was his need for his father’s approval and esteem. How could it be that a celebration who was so profligate? Had the world gone mad? Were there no standards? Had the father lost all his senses in sentimentality? What the elder brother was really saying was, ‘What about me? Don’t you admire my faithfulness? Have I worked all these years for nothing?’
By outward appearances, some of us stayed close to God, but inwardly we are far from understanding the grace of real life with God.
The irony of both these brothers is that they have tried to find their security by anchoring their lives in things outside of God. Both have internalized emotionally unhealthy messages described by Peter Scazzero,
• I am worthless
• I am not allowed to make mistakes.
• I must be approved of by certain people to feel okay.
• I don’t have the right to experience joy and pleasure.
• I don’t have the right to assert myself and say what I think and feel.
• I am valued based on my intelligence, wealth, and what I do, not for who I am.
Both brothers have ended up far from their father.
Which brings us to the third character of our story, the father. Lots of people call this parable, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but I think it’s the Parable of the Prodigal Father. Prodigal means “spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.” We usually think of the younger son spending his wealth recklessly, but the father is even more wastefully extravagant.
• We see the father’s wasteful extravagance as his younger son asks for his
inheritance before his father is dead! The father gives it.
• And the father lets his younger son go. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking
that must have been for this dad.
• Of course, the father’s wasteful love is still showing as he continues to look
for his younger son, so that while the son is still far off, he knows.
• In ancient society, as Aristotle says, “Great men don’t run.” But here’s
this prodigiously loving father, gathering up his robe to run with his paunch
bouncing and his ZZ Top-beard blowing in the wind.
• Imagine for a moment what it would be like to embrace a son covered in
the mire and muck of a pig sty. No hesitance, and even a kiss planted on the
unwashed young man.
• And before his younger son can finish his prepared speech, the father
interrupts, restoring the relationship—this is the homecoming, not of a slave,
but a son.
• And then the party! In every well-to-do household of Jesus’ time, among
the herd was a special calf, fattened up for a feast, but often used as a sacrifice
to God. Instead of the sacrifice, this time it’s going to be used for a party! They’ll
figure out how to pay for the sacrifice later.
Whatever you think about the younger son’s spendthrift habits, they are completely overshadowed by the wasteful extravagance of this loving and compassionate father.
Of course, we are meant to connect the father in our story with God. And of course, we are meant to find the gift of anchoring in God’s love. You see when we anchor ourselves in God’s extravagant love, we know in the depths of our being we are worthy because we are loved. We know at the core of who we are that we are worthwhile, because God was even willing to give His Son for us. Because God listens to us, cares about us, lavishes attention on us, we know we are worthy of other people’s time, caring and attention. In a world that doesn’t care if we exist, that values us for what we do, and will move on when we are gone, God cares about who we are, values us for who we are, and welcomes us home every time. The real, abundant life with God is marked by extravagant grace, so we have the chance to live out that same extravagant grace. The world will think we are nuts! God will know we have come to our senses.
Coming to ourselves. That is one of the emotionally healthy things the younger brother does in the far country. He takes a sober look at his life, realizes he’s blown it, and that he’s better off at home. In that brilliant ironic twist, the younger son goes to the far country to find himself, but not until he has spent all his substance, does he come to himself. Are you in a far country today? Have you spent all you are on what doesn’t matter? Are you running out of energy, resources and hope? Then won’t you come home? All you have to do is turn toward home, and the Father will come running! Or perhaps your heart is far from God’s this morning. Like the older son, you are tired of people getting a break who don’t deserve it. Do you spend your time irritated and frustrated with the people around you because nothing goes the way it should? Are you worried someone is going to get something they don’t deserve? Are you trying to be the good child, trying to do all the right things, trying to be all the right things, but secretly it’s eating you up on the inside? Won’t you come to the party? Won’t you come and rejoice in the love of the Father for you and me and all our returning sisters and brothers. The Father ran to embrace the younger son, but he won’t force us to come to the party. Even God’s own Son, Jesus, was not too high a price to pay so that we could find our way home into the Father’s embrace