There is something on Easter about home-coming: it is a time we gather with our parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents. It is a time we go to churches that feel like home where people have known us from the time we were knee-high to a grasshopper.
Isn’t that what Easter is about? God welcomes all of us back home, God provides a way that we can know that we can come home again?
So, with that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to re-post a sermon I preached some years ago at Diversity in Faith: A Christian Church for All People, a Progressive Christian Alliance church in Fayetteville, NC, on just that theme.
I hope it re-kindles in you a love for your heart’s true home.
I’m not just whistling Dixie here,
Your progressive redneck preacher,
REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE …
I want to focus on Jesus’ story in Luke 15, which is usually called “the story of the prodigal son”, which for those of who don’t speak King James means “son who lived extravagently or beyond his means” but I prefer to call “the story of the two lost boys”. If you would let’s read this story together.
Luke 15 (NIV)
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Let us pray. God help us to hear the words you have for us, to receive the message you have given us, to discover the life you have invited us to in your Scriptures today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
To illustrate what this text says, I want to ask you to watch a clip with me.
In this clip, Simba has lost his way. He has forgotten who he is — a son of the king of the jungle — and because of this is wandering without direction, often broken-hearted, with a sense something is missing from his life. Also because of this the jungle is suffering, needing a good king. The monkey prophet, for lack of a better term, gives him a vision of beyond, in which his father says “remember who you are”.
In a real way in this story Jesus pictures each of us as people who have lost are way and he reminds us to remember who we are.
Each of us are like one of the two sons in the story. Each of the two boys have forgotten who they are. I think they both have forgotten that first and foremost they are sons to their father and brothers to each other. They both find themselves viewing their relationship with their father as a chore, a duty, and begun to look at their father not as one who loves them but one who owes them. In doing so, they lose their rightful relationship with their father, and the peace and happiness their life is meant to have by forgetting who they are. This is a picture of how we forget who we are in God’s family and plan, and lose our sense of hope, purpose, and direction.
The younger son already feels there is a better life out there than being a child of his father. He disowns his dad and goes to the far country, believing there is more fun to be had there. When he asks for his inheritance now — that is the money and lands that are deeded to go to him when his father dies — he is saying essentially “I wish you were dead” to his dad, and making it clear that he wants what he can get from his dad, his relationship with him be damned. Then when his fun times sowing the wild oats are done and he is penniless, hungry, and starving, the younger son still doesn’t think of himself as a son, doesn’t think of his father as a father, but instead as a source of good things. He thinks he has no inheritance because his money has run out, not realizing that was never the father’s best to begin with. Because he has forgotten he is first and foremost a son of his father the young man really believes all he is the penniless beggar the world sees him as, all that defines him is his bad choices when in his father’s eyes, he is still a prince. The young man knows, without an inheritance, he has to do something. It might have been boring at dear old dad’s, he must have thought, but I could eat. Eating is really a better thing than partying to him now. So he goes back and believing he has burned his bridges to his father completely tries not to regain his father as a father but to gain him as a boss. Maybe, just maybe, he will hire me as one of his workers. He doesn’t even hope that there is still an inheritance for him, a place in his father’s house, a love waiting for him at home.
The older son too has forgotten who he is. When he sees his younger brother welcomed with open arms, a party thrown to celebrate him finding the place the father saved for his younger brother in the family despite his bad choices, the older becomes angry and jealous. Why haven’t you done this for me? he cries. I slave for you, do everything you say, and have all these years without flinching, and you never threw me a party. Notice that description: I slaved for you. Not I loved you. Not I rested in your love. Not I joyfully helped you out in OUR home together. The young man may not have physically run off into the father country, but in his heart he has. Though he went through the motions of being the good son, doing the right things, deep in his heart he must wished he had ran off like his younger brother. He thinks there is a better life away from his father’s house and perhaps kicks himself for not having taken it while he could. He doesn’t feel like the house he helps keep us is just as much his house as his father’s. He doesn’t see his father as a father, but as his boss. He doesn’t see himself as a son but as a hired hand even though he is as much in charge of the home as his dad.
In both cases the father says to his boys, essentially, remember who you are. You never were my servants. Your inheritance never was this land or money. It was being in my love. You don’t feel you have me because you have forgotten you are my sons. I have never forgotten who you are, never rejected you, and have always been willing to have you as my own. He says this to his younger son by doing something considered disgraceful in his day. Before the son can make his speech of apology and present his application for employment at his dad’s business, the father runs out, embraces him, throws his cloak on him, dresses him like a king, and announces a party. He treats him not like one who is disowned. Not like a criminal. And not like a servant. He treats his son as one he loves and has never stopped loving. He demonstrates by his actions that though his son had disowned him, he as the father never disowns his children. He is saying to the son, yes you blew your money but your money was never your true inheritance to begin with. Your true inheritance is my love. You are always my son, you are also welcome no matter how long you have been gone, no matter how long you have been away. And the fact that you are mine means you are loved, and like a king to me. All I have is still yours because I still love you. It never stopped being yours, you never stopped being mine.
In the case of the older son, the father reminds his oldest who he is when he says “‘My son,you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” The father says in effect to his son, you have forgotten who you are. You always had everything that was mine — my goats, my oxen, my sheep — to do with as you asked, but you never asked because you never realized that you always have something better — me, a loving father — with you. A loving father won’t give you a stone when you ask for bread, or a live rattlesnake when you ask for cheeseburgers. I would have given you better than you asked, if you just had asked me. You never realized you have had it all this whole time. You have never gone without my love and care. You didn’t realize that though I appreciate your hard work, I never asked it or required it for you to be my son. Just simply being mine made it all yours. Just simply being my son made you accepted and loved. Son, remember who you are and know it all is yours, always will be yours, and has always been yours.
This love God offers us is beautifully pictured in the words of this country music song:
In our own lives we are like these boys. Too often we forget who we are. 1 Peter 1 tells us
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Here we read that when Jesus rose again we were born again. I had a teacher in the seminary I went to in California who, when talking about this verse, told us that when he was asked by people “when were you born again?” would answer “two thousand years ago, one Easter”. The reason? Because according to this verse, when Jesus rose again it is like in that moment God the mothering Holy Spirit gave birth to all of us — every person who has ever lived — a second time. In Easter God claimed each and every person who has ever lived as God’s very own children — and friend, that includes you, whether you believe it yet or not. We all were born again then as God’s very own children, totally loved, totally forgiven, and totally accepted. How can that be? Because from God’s side it was finished already then: every sin every person had ever committed already was forgiven, paid in full, by Jesus’ work on the cross, and every person could enter the loving embrace of God the Father, Son, and Spirit as God’s very own. This is why Jesus cried at his last breath on the cross of Good Friday saying “It is finished” and why when Jesus appeared on Easter morning He didn’t say “keep working hard at it, and you might just find a little peace” but instead “peace be with you”. That peace was already there, is already there, remains constantly there, for us because each of us are already claimed by God as God’s own. The question is not “Will God accept you? Will God accept me?” but will we believe we are already completely, utterly embraced for all time by the arms of our Loving Father, by the sheltering wings of God’s mothering Holy Spirit, by the arms outstretched to us by Christ on the cross?
I can’t speak for you but for me there was a long stretch of my life in which I lived as if Easter hadn’t come, when I lived as if I had not been born as a child of the Father, claimed already as God’s own, by Jesus’ resurrection. A pastor friend of mine once shared how she had lived as if there was no point in trying to relate to God, doing things she isn’t proud of like the son who went astray did, never thinking God could ever accept her. Even though it made her miserable, she stayed in it because she never thought God would accept her. Then one day through the whispering wind of the mothering Holy Spirit the Father’s voice echoed to her “My daughter, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. You never stopped being my child, even when you had gone astray. Daughter of mine I know you seemed dead but you are alive again; you were lost and now are found in me.” God in effect said to her “Remember who you are — a daughter of mine”.
For me I grew up in the treadmill of religion, never believing I could do or say enough to earn God’s favor. I was like the son at home. Although I had the walls of the homestead around me, the fields of the father all about me through the Scriptures, and songs, and stories of faith I grew up in, I didn’t get what they meant. I thought of a God as a boss to be appeased by hard work, forgetting that from that first Easter on, even before I was a twinkle in my earthly parents’ eyes, God the Mothering Spirit had claimed me as Her own, saying “My son” to me. Then one moment I realized while hearing the story of the cross sung one more time, playing on a tinny little radio speaker, that it wasn’t God pushing me to do all this religious work. It was me, my own inability to realize and believe God already fully accepted and embraced me. God had already spoken from the cross crying out through the lips of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ “IT IS FINISHED”. Hearing that Gospel song on the CD player helped me realize as Peter says, on Easter I already had been claimed as God’s own child. I already had been accepted. Why was I trying to earn what was already mine? The Father, Son, and Spirit’s voice was saying “My son, you have always been with me, and everything I have is already yours”.
Friends when you feel as if you are worthless, as if you have fallen too far and done too much, remember who you are. You are of infinite worth — a child of the resurrection, born again by Easter’s morning light, embraced forever by the Heartbeat of all Creation who we know as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When it feels as if you are all alone and darkness like a crashing storm falls in sheets around you, remember who you are. You are the child of the Father, the sister of the Savior (or brother in my case), you are the spark lit by the flame of life Herself God the Holy Spirit … and they are saying to you in your darkest hours “My daughter, you are always with me, … my son, everything I have is yours…”
In closing I want to do two things.
First of all, I want to share with you all a handout to take home and study and meditate on. This is a little writeup I got online about how God looks at you. This is who the Bible says YOU ARE as a child born anew, claimed as God’s own, on Easter. Meditate it and pray on it. For some of you I hope this is something you already knew and need a reminder about. If you do it will bolster the faith you already have. For others, you may not know where you stand with God. That’s ok. But know this — God knows where you stand and it is in God’s embrace. I challenge you to meditate on this because this is how God already looks at you because of what Jesus has done. Whether you believe it or not, God is already saying to you “you are my child, you have always been with me and I am always with you, and everything I have is yours”. The question isn’t if it is true, but if you will believe it for yourself and enjoy the blessings it brings. Sometimes we have to live in a far country for awhile to realize we were never meant to live as if we were anything but God’s own but remember even while the son was living with the pigs, he was still the father’s beloved son. So even if now you can’t yet believe it, you are still loved infinitely by God. And when you are willing to take the first stumbling steps of faith, place that tiny bit of trust in God, you will discover God rising up to meet you just as that lost son found his father doing.
So take these and meditate on them, and pray for God to show you who you are in God’s eyes. And as you see yourself that way, live like it.
The second thing I want to point out as I close is that Jesus’ point in telling this story wasn’t actually to simply remind us who we are, ones loved and embraced by God. No, while that is important, if you go to the top of the chapter here, you will find Jesus tells this story in answer to a complaint. Notice:
1 Now the tax collectors and [the so-called] sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The “Pharisees and the teachers of the law” were the religious folks of Jesus’ day. They looked at the people Jesus reached out to and did as the older son of the parable did, they scoffed. They said “those people aren’t living a good enough life, being good enough people. They don’t deserve love from anybody, let alone God. Who do you think you are, Jesus, to welcome outcasts, to welcome worldly people, to welcome people without religion at all, and let them think God is not angry with them?”
Jesus’ point is not just to remind those religious people — and us — who we are and who they are. It is also to remind us who OTHERS ARE. Jesus is reminding us that every person we come in contact with — the strung out addict, the adulterer whose broken their marriage, the person with more piercing on their body than they have skin to pierce, the flamboyant gay man, the most racist bigoted homophobe, the Bible thumper, the illegal immigrant we call names — all alike are God’s children. Jesus is reminding us that we need to see others for who they REALLY are, not who they world says they are. We need to remember each person we encounter is of infinite worth to God, fully loved, fully accepted, and fully embraced by God just as they are, even if they aren’t living like they are God’s kids — or if the way they live out being God’s child doesn’t look like what we assume God’s child will look like .
My challenge to you then is also, in addition to taking time to remind yourself each day through this meditation who you are, is for you to also remind yourself who other people are with this, particularly those who shake up your status quo, those who are rejected and pushed to the fringes, those who simply get on your nerves, and especially those you’d rather slap some sense into than embrace like a brother or sister.
It may that if you learn to live as if they are your sisters or brothers, if you learn to see them as God’s own children and treat them that way, that by your example they may begin to discover who they really are, return from whatever far country they have gone to, and begin to live the full joy-filled life they are made to have. Sometimes remember people need to see love lived out by someone their eyes can see before they can believe God who they don’t yet see loves them.
Or, more surprising yet, for many of them you may find that as you open your eyes to see them as God sees them, you might find perhaps their differences aren’t so bad after all. That who they love, or how they dress, or whatever is making them an outcast isn’t them being far off from the father at all. It may just be another way of being God’s child. You might find that it is not they but you who are wandering toward the far country but you, because you are letting your own ideas about what it means to be a child of the mothering fathering God. It might be that if you see them as God sees them, that the one you think so far from God might become your teacher for that moment who helps point you even deeper into God’s embrace.
Who Am I in God’s Eyes?
I am accepted…
I am God’s child ~ John 1:12
As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ ~ John 15:15
I have been justified ~ Romans 5:1
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit ~ 1 Corin. 6:17
I have been bought with a price, and I belong to God ~ 1 Corin. 6:19-20
I am a member of Christ’s body ~ 1 Corin. 12:27
I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child ~ Ephesians 1:3-8
I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins ~ Colossians 1:13-14
I am complete in Christ ~ Colossians 2:9-10
I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ ~ Hebrews 4:14-16
I am secure…
I am free from condemnation ~ Romans 8:1-2
I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances ~ Romans 8:28
I am free from any condemnation brought against me, and I cannot be separated from the love of God ~ Romans 8:31-39
I have been established, anointed, and sealed by God ~ 2 Corin. 1:21-22
I am hidden with Christ in God ~ Colossians 3:1-4
I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me ~ Philippians 1:6
I am a citizen of Heaven ~ Philippians 3:20
I have not been given the spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
I am born of God, and the evil one cannot touch me ~ 1 John 5:18
I am significant…
I am the branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life ~ John 15:5
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit ~ John 15:16
I am God’s temple ~ 1 Corin. 3:16
I am a minister of reconciliation for God ~ 2 Corin.5:17-21
I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm ~ Ephesians 2:6
I am God’s workmanship ~ Ephesians 2:10
I may approach God with freedom and confidence ~ Ephesians 3:12
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me ~ Philippians 4:13