“The Joy in the Story”
Luke 15: 11-31
February 21, 2016
Introduction: Close your eyes, picture a time in your life that is very special to you. Who do you see there? What is the occasion? Why is the moment special? Would you like to be in that place and time again now?
Perhaps that special moment is a time in your childhood? Or perhaps it is a graduation or marriage? Perhaps it is a career/job that you really wanted? Perhaps it is a very special relationship? Maybe it is the time when Jesus became real to you and his Spirit came to reside in your heart and help you with this journey through life and all the other special days? You may open your eyes now.
Ill. A couple of months ago I was out with the rock and mineral club that I am a part of, to look at the remains of a collection that a man was trying to sell for a lady whose husband had died. Nothing special about that and the collection wasn’t anything really special but it was a nice day to get out.
What made the day special turned out to be the man who was handling the sale of the collection. When I got there a member of the club introduced me to “Joe.” I looked at Joe and said “Hi.” and then went into the room to take a look at what was being offered for sale. Something seemed a bit strange about Joe. Kind of “I know you from somewhere” moment. After a few moments of looking around I came back out of the room to talk to club members as they were arriving for the sale. Joe and I got to talking and it turned out that he was from Maryland near where my wife, Vivian grew up in Union Bridge. We compared some more notes and it turned out that he knew Vivian’s whole family, including Vivian. With a little more conversation we discovered that we knew each other as well. You see Joe had been a church of the Brethren pastor at one time and served as a camp counselor the first time I went to Camp Wood Brook(which was sold to make way for a reservoir and to purchase the current camp, Shepherds Spring in the Middle Atlantic District). Joe and his wife, Lois were the Bible Study leaders during that eventful week that changed the course of my life.
Looking back 44 years ago now, I have very fond memories of that week and of the people that were there and vivid memories of the place at Camp Woodbrook where Jesus came alive in my heart and life. Joe and Lois Quessenberry went on to leave the Church of the Brethren and join the Assemblies of God denomination. The reconnecting after all these years was a God moment for me and for Vivian. We have had a couple of phone conversations with Joe and Lois since that encounter. What a blessing!
Today is all about spiritual appreciation. Today is all about the moment when we were dead and lost and how we came to new life in Jesus Christ and were found again, and the joy in our lives, in heaven where the angles celebrate when one sinner turns to Christ Jesus, and in the lives of those who know us best.
Those moments in our lives where the living God has broken into our journeys through life and impacted us for kingdom purposes and indeed for all eternity. Changing us and making us vessels to share the good news of God’s extreme love for all people and the joy that the good news brings!
I.) My son, my daughter, who was dead
A.) Nothing grieves us more than to loose someone dear to us in death.
1. I suggested in last Sunday’s message that because of the lack of modern communications at the time Jesus told this parable, the son leaving home was as much as saying that he is dead to his family and community.
2. He us cut off from the community, from his home, from the place he belongs and is a part of.
3. If you have ever left home for any reason you know what that feels like to some extent.
Ill. I think of all the immigrants to this country down through the ages and how they left familiar surroundings to make a new start in a new land with new people and customs.
There is an old saying that goes something like this, “once you have left home you can never go back again.” We tried that once in my family of origin. My parents had grown up in western New York state and had talked about moving back to that area. We lived in Buffalo NY for about a year. What we discovered was that the family and friends that my parents had known and shared life with years before, had moved on with their lives since those earlier days and really didn’t have space in their lives for us. Going home and fitting back in is difficult if not almost impossible. Lots of things have happened and life has gone on without you. The frame of reference is gone and forgotten.
B.) My son, my daughter, is alive!
1. There is an exception to every rule of course.
2. The son who has taken his share of the inheritance and left home has returned.
3. The father in a miraculous effort restores the son to his place in the family.
Ill. To illustrate what I was saying earlier, the older brother, who perhaps didn’t like the younger brother to begin with(sibling rivalry), is unwilling to restore his brother in the family and community – he is still dead to him!
4. The father acknowledges that his son was dead because of his absence, but is return says that he is alive!
II.) My son, my daughter, was lost
A.) Mistakes were made.
1. Starting with the mistake of leaving home to begin with, we can see that can’t we?
2. When we read the story, we see the mistakes right away.
3. How could anyone ask for their inheritance while their father is still alive?
4. That just isn’t done, is it?
5. The point is that his being lost started long before he ever left home!
6. It started in his heart and we can only guess at the influences, such as the dislike of his older brother, that may have pushed him to the point of leaving, or friends who painted a rosy picture of life on your own perhaps.
7. He has moved away from all that he has known and held dear.
B.) He is found!
1. Conditions were right, he reached a point of desperation, of making a new decision, he would return to his home.
2. He returns to that place where he belongs, that place that is familiar to him, that place where he is safe.
3. Home, how sweet that word sounds to most of us, home.
4. However for some people home may not be a nice and happy place full of wonderful memories, and it may be a place they don’t want to return to.
5. The home in this story however, is a place where the son can find safety and be happy again.
Ill. Down through the years of ministry there have been many times when God, our heavenly Father, has received us back, welcomed us home again, so to speak.
One such time occurred during a Lay Witness Mission at the Summit COB many years ago now, while we were there. The weekend that the Lay Witness Mission happened was concluded with a time of sharing appreciation for the people in the Church family that had impacted faith journeys. It was a very special and meaningful time of deepening our spiritual bond to each other, or growing in relationship to God and to each other! It impacted that life of the congregation and it was special because God in that moment broke into our presence and ministered healing where there was brokeness and celebration where his love was poured out! From what I read in Summits news letter it continues to impact the congregation more than 20 years latter.
Other occasions include many weeks of counseling at Camp Brethren Woods in the Shenadoah District, and of course Camp Eder. It happens when we return home, when we allow for the in-breaking of God into our journey. God, the heavenly Father, wants and waits for us to turn to him. Whether it is at a special place or event or perhaps in the still, small, quiet moments of our lives. The welcome is always available when we come to ourselves and return home.
Conclusion to message: I want to invite you to close your eyes yet again this morning for just a moment. I want you to think of a time in your life when you felt dead. Things were not going well and you wanted out or felt excluded. How did it turn around for you and who was there? When did you feel alive again?
With your eyes still closed think of a time when you felt lost, when was that and how did you find your way home again?
Perhaps for some of you within the sound of my voice you are in that place of being dead or lost even now. God, our heavenly father, waits and watches, is encouraging you right now, is waiting and willing to risk everything to bring you back to life and help you find your way home again to his loving presence. Amen.