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Lost But Still Loved

Today we heard in our Gospel Reading (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32) the familiar parable of the Lost Son or Prodigal Son. It's a story that I really can't do justice to in 15 minutes, so today I hope to touch on some points and offer some thoughts that will spur you on to further reflection, study, and perhaps discussion with others.

Now today I particularly want to focus some attention on an aspect of the story that the Bible is silent on, but nevertheless an aspect of life many experience. The issue I want to explore is what the father and mother must have gone through in deciding to give their younger son his inheritance, and what they must have been feeling as his son left the family to spread his wings, so to speak.

Now I can imagine that the parents decision was not a spur of the moment reaction. I can imagine there were many discussions, even arguments, about the sons desire to want to go out on his own.

We also don't know how long it was between the time the son left and when he returned home. And I wonder what the whole family must have been feeling during this time of uncertainty?

I'm sure many of us can remember a time or two when we were perhaps teenagers and we just knew we had all the wisdom the world had to offer. We were discovering our independence and we were ready to take on the world declaring, "Look out world, ready or not here I come."

And with this new found attitude, and sense of confidence, an arrogance developed manifesting itself in words like, "I can make my own decisions," "I won't get hurt," "You just don't trust me," "I know what I'm doing," and so on and so forth.

Or perhaps you've experienced this story as the parent whose child has determined they're reading to spread their wings and leave the nest for bigger and better things.

Any of this hit home?

I know as the father of 3 teenage boys, this new sense of self-awareness, infinite wisdom, and phrases like "come on dad why not," just oozes from my house, offering Susan and I challenge after challenge. And I'm sure this isn't new to many of you.

So, as we return to Jesus' parable we have this father, and I would assume mother as well, who have this son who decides it's time to go out to do his own thing. I can't imagine the father and mother simply saying, "ok, have fun." And as I mentioned earlier, being a good Jewish family, there must have been conversation, and probably heated arguments about this kids desire to leave the family and move on. But, eventually the father agrees to his son's wishes and grants him his inheritance.

We don't know why the father gave him his inheritance, perhaps he was worn out from all the arguments, or perhaps he knew his son needed to learn the hard way about life, and what truly awaits him. Many families find themselves in the same situation today, do they not? We hear of countless stories of teenagers dropping out of school, or deciding it's time to leave home as soon as they turn 18 years old, feeling that age determines when one is ready to start a new life, rather than maturity, or proper preparation. We have kids who rebel against the norms for the sake of rebelling boldly proclaiming they know a better way, and the reasons go on and on.

Now as parents, grandparents, Aunts and Uncles etc. we want the very best for our children, so we try to provide guidance and wisdom to our children, which as we all know isn't necessarily received with unbridled enthusiasm.

I find that many young people are so focused on self and what's happening today that they fail to see the longer-term ramifications of their decisions. And this is where the experience and wisdom of older individuals can play such an important role, and it's where the tension between older adults and children often times begins.

Now some young folks will receive the wisdom offered by older adults and others insist on doing their own thing because quote, "they know better." So as parents we are often times entangled in the web of do I put my foot down and hold my ground, or do I just give in and let the chips fall where they may? And certainly there is no absolute answer for this question, it's pretty complex actually, because we need to consider things like: Age of the child What it is they want to do What are our values Will they get hurt: physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally How does my child learn - And lets face it some learn the hard way. Any of you tend to learn the hard way?

I sense from our Gospel reading that the prodigal son was one that learns the hard way. So, as the story goes, his parents send him off.

Now like us, if our child decided to leave the family against our better judgment, I have to believe the father and mother in our Gospel were in great pain. I'm sure they must have worried, I'm sure they prayed for their son's safety, I'm sure they prayed for the son to see the errors of his way, before he got hurt or hurt someone else, and I'm sure a day didn't go by when tears weren't shed as the image of their lost son remained vivid in their minds.

You know these folks didn't have e-mail, cell phones, or any other means of quick communication so they could keep tabs on their son. Can you imagine not knowing what's going on? And to top it off we don't know how long the son was gone, could have been months or maybe even years.

So what are we to do when faced with a similar situation with our own kids, or kids we know and love from our extended family?

Often times when we're faced with a teenager wanting to leave home for what we view are inappropriate or unhealthy reasons some of the thoughts we encounter and begin to ponder are: Where did I go wrong, what did I do that's creating this problem. How can I have four children and 3 seem to be on the right track and the one has essentially made a sharp right turn. What do I do, let them leave, or stand fast. If they leave what am I to do. What will I do if they get hurt How can I keep tabs on what they're doing

As parents we all want what's best for our children, just like God wants what's best for us. So my first suggestion is when faced with a situation like this we ought to seek the guidance of God, and we ought to seek the guidance of someone we respect who's not in the middle of the situation, so they can offer objective alternatives based on a given situation.

I also suggest we stop blaming ourselves for everything our teenagers do. Yes, there are some things we ought to take responsibility for because of the way we raised them or treated them, but at some point our children have to make their own decisions, and it's times like these that they become accountable for what it is there about to do, or not do.

God has given us the ability to reason and the ability to choose, and we as parents, at some point, have limited influence on our children's choices. As our children become older, moving into their teenage years especially and beyond, our influence on their decisions as parents diminishes. At some point whether we like what our children are doing or not, they're going to do it, so like the mother and father of the prodigal son, the issue becomes what do we do next? For this answer we need to turn back to our Gospel reading, because it's here the gospel is clear about our next steps.

Now the prodigal son, after blowing his entire inheritance, was trying to figure out what to do next. Remembering the love his family showed him while growing up, he decided to go home, just hoping he would be received, at least as a servant, if not as a son. He wasn't going home to get more money, he was going home because he learned the hard way that life isn't about "sowing ones wild oats," it's about love, it's about respecting ones-self and the wisdom of others, it's about following the will of God. So he returned to what he knew was love, his family.

How would each of us react if our child were to announce that they're leaving to go live with someone whom they just met for example, becasue they know this is the person they want to live with for the rest of they're life. Not an uncommon story by the way. How would you respond?

Lets say after 3 months the relationship falls apart, you know they were living an improper life, a life you completely disagree with, they're hurt, embarrassed, and they call one day to ask, can I come home? How would you respond?

If you're not going through something like this you might may be quick to answer yes, but I suggest many would not come to that answer so quickly. If the leaving from home was a traumatic, anger-filled and emotionally hurtful experience, saying yes right away might have its difficulties, because healing relationships and restoring wholeness isn't always easy.

We also, may wonder what will happen if the child returns home. Will they up and leave again when the opportunity is right, thus taking advantage of our graciousness, what's the motive of the child wanting to come home? Not all motives are pure as we know. So I think you see what I mean, the problem itself is often times complex, as is the process of coming to an answer.

So lets turn to our Gospel reading again. In our Gospel the son genuinely knew he was wrong in what he did, confessed he had sinned and asked for forgiveness. His, father then graciously received him, knew his son learned a valuable lesson, and had returned home with repentant heart. And I suspect many of us would respond in similar fashion if our child returned home with a repentant heart.

Notice also that the prodigal's son father never affirmed the son's inappropriate actions, yet he never stopped loving him. And this is a key point not to be missed.

We may not approve of what our children do, or have done, but we should not stop loving them. Love is not an affirmation of what was done, love is the action that leads to healing and wholeness of relationship. And we have the greatest example of all to fall back on. God doesn't approve of many of the things we do, yet he never stops loving us, and is always there for us to return home, if we return with a repentant heart.

In our parable the father's response is contrasted with the older brother's. The father forgave because he was filled with love. The older son refused to forgive because he was bitter over what he saw was the injustice of the whole situation.

In his bitterness and anger the older son was rendered just as lost to the father's love as the son who left, the path to being lost was different, but both were lost nonetheless. Being lost doesn't mean someone has necessarily physically moved. Being lost can happen through social rejection or isolation, spiritual wandering and doubt, and through feeling unappreciated or unloved.

If we don't have a forgiving and reconciling heart, if we don't seek to restore wholeness to broken relationships, the weight of carrying around bitterness and anger can just fester like an open sore. Without this healing even our relationship with God is not as whole as it could be because we are not completely free from the bondage of bitterness and anger. So as God forgives us, we too are to forgive others.

It's sad when you see folks who have this need for healing and reconciliation, but refuse to forgive, or refuse to ask for forgiveness out of stubbornness and pride. When I see friends going through situations like that of the older son in our parable, who insist on remaining bitter and angry, it is sad, because the anger and bitterness affects every aspect of their life.

I know folks who have gone to their grave bitter and angry because they refuse to forgive, they refuse to be reconciled to the ones they once loved, thus setting both free. They viewed forgiveness as a weakness or as affirmation of a person's wrong doing, and they insisted on remaining "strong" even to their grave. It's tough to watch, so I know it has to be very difficult to experience.

You know it takes great courage to forgive; it takes great courage to say I'm sorry, but as children of God we ought to seek the strength that comes from the love of God, and the courage that comes from God's wisdom to welcome the lost home, or perhaps to return home ourselves.

At some point in life we all will experience some sense of being lost, but thanks be to God for always loving us even when we're lost and for welcoming us back when we return home.

Amen

Read other messages by Pastor Wade