It may very well be that you wake up every morning of your life, confident of God’s love for you. You have always felt close to a loving God. That from the time you have been a small child, you have never once doubted God, or wondered where God was or who God was or what God was up to in your life. If that’s the case, you can take a little nap for the next few minutes. Because you don’t need to hear what comes next. Or maybe you are a parent and all your children are perfect and have never given you any cause for concern and you have never spent even a moment of your life worrying about them. If that’s the case, you can think about what you’re going to do this afternoon because you don’t need to hear what comes next. Or maybe you are very busy all day long doing good in your family and in your work and for your friends. And you have never felt the least bit resentful that you are doing so much good for so many and nobody ever does anything nice for you. If that’s the case, you can write out your grocery shopping list now because you don’t need to listen for the next few minutes.
But if you have ever felt far from God, or worried about your kids, or if you have ever been resentful, then listen to this story about three men.
As you listen, maybe you will find yourself in the story. Maybe you’re more like the older son, or more like the younger son, or maybe you’re a parent yourself and you will know how God feels.
Read the dramatic reading.
Let’s say that there was a man who had two sons. The oldest son was a perfect kid. He got up in the morning without being nagged. He did his homework without fussing and got good grades. He spoke respectfully to his mother and father and did what they asked him to do without talking back. He had good, wholesome friends whom his parents were happy about and he married a young woman whom they loved. When he was an adult, he joined his father in the family business and worked beside him. He had good work habits, and when the time was right, he took over the business and did well with it.
His father loved him dearly and was proud of him, and counted on him, and in the way we all do, maybe he didn’t say that often enough.
The father’s second son was another story altogether. He gave his parents trouble almost from the day he was born. He was lazy, and made poor choices of friends, and sassed his parents and disobeyed them openly. He was rebellious and argumentative and made bad decisions and barely made it through high school. His father worried about him constantly and spent a whole lot of sleepless nights over his second son. He did everything he could to put his son on the right track. He tried gentle encouragement, and he tried tough love. In the end, he simply gave him over into the care of God because that’s all he could think to do.
And then came the worst day of all. The second son came to his father with a bold and crazy plan. He wanted to go off to another country and spend his inheritance and get rich quick. His father was heartsick of course, but talking didn’t work, and reasoning didn’t work, so after all that, the father wrote his son a huge check, and cried as he disappeared down the road.
A long time passed and the man continued working in his business alongside his older son, whom he loved and appreciated but maybe forgot to say so. He had a large number of loyal employees who all worked hard and the company did well. He never heard a word from his second son and had no idea where he was. But he never forgot that rebellious son of his. He prayed for him constantly and agonized over him, and worried over him, and longed to hear some word from him or see him again.
He developed a habit of looking out the window, that father did, watching for him. There was no reason he should think that he would ever see him come down the street again, but somehow it gave him comfort to watch.
In the meantime, the second son did about what we could have expected him to do. For a while he lived the good life, eating and drinking in fancy restaurants and staying in luxury hotels and flying all over world in search of one scheme after another that never came to anything. He made friends with people like himself who helped him spend his father’s money foolishly.
And when it was gone, so were his friends, and so was his fine lifestyle, and he felt lucky to find himself a job on a farm. He was hungry and cold and penniless and lonely and feeding pigs, of all things. And homesick. When he hit rock bottom, he came to his senses. He prepared a little speech for his father about how sorry he was, and about how he knew he wasn’t worthy to be a son any more after what he’d done, but he’d beg to come back home as one of his father’s day laborers. He practiced saying that speech a time or two and then he started out for home.
But on this day, too, his father was watching for him, and ran to meet him on the street, and hugged him and kissed him and sent everybody running in every direction for new clothes for him and all the makings for a proper barbeque party to celebrate his homecoming. He wouldn’t hear of any talk about being a day laborer and he couldn’t stop laughing and grinning and hugging his son and he called all his friends and neighbors and relatives to celebrate.
The older son (the hardworking faithful one) heard all the commotion and all the hugging and kissing and watched in the background while the Barbeque celebration was being prepared and he was understandably offended. He said to his father, “I’m your faithful son. I didn’t go off making bad friends and wasting your money. I’ve been here working hard and helping all along, and why didn’t you throw a party for me? And why couldn’t you have thanked me for my hard work and faithfulness all these years?”
And the father said to his faithful son, “of course I love you and everything that is mine is yours. But your brother has been lost to us, even almost dead to us, and we have to celebrate his homecoming.”
So maybe you’re more like the older son, faithful and hardworking, and always present and reliable. Then feel the love of God and the affirmation of God soak into your bones, and know the joy of living your life in constant companionship with God.
Or maybe you have a child or two of your own, and you’re more like the father. You know the anguish of one child who breaks your heart and wanders off. And you understand God’s great delight and even ecstasy when that one returns.
Or maybe you’re more like the younger son. You’ve been somewhere off here and there far from God and you’ve had lots of questions about God. You’ve been lonely for God and out of touch with God. And now you’re coming home – to feel the loving arms of God around you and hear the joyful welcome of the One who has longed for your return.
Because that’s how God is.