October 2012

I’m now a few weeks removed from having preached the series at Liberty’s revival on the Prodigals & Prophets. One of the details of the parable continues to stick out in my mind and blow me away. With all the love and forgiveness that the father lavishes on his lost son who has returned, the one that stands out to me as the most puzzling, at least at such an early stage is the command given by the father to the servants that they put “sandals on his feet.” I find myself asking, “Really, Jesus? A father who puts sandals back on the son’s feet? Don’t you realize that opens up the door for being hurt again, perhaps even worse than the first time? After all, he’s been in a few rough parts of the world that we wouldn’t dare dream of here in the safety of this farm. Sure, let’s put a robe on him, give him a ring, and have a nice barbecue, but you really want to trust him enough to give him a way back out again?”

In preparation for the sermon on the centrality of the father in the parable, my mind raced back to the class I took in college on the 8th century prophets (Amos, Isaiah, Hosea, & Micah were the prophets whose ministries were during the 8th century BC). With all the things that I forgot from that 8:00 am class, two things I remember: 1. the time the professor started to ramble in his prayer one day and began praying for aliens; and 2. the gut-wrenching, tear-jerking analysis of Hosea 11. Now, Hosea’s story certainly has some interesting twists and turns, many of which are not analogous to a parent-child relationship but to a spousal relationship. Nonetheless, chapter 11 portrays the compassion of a heartbroken parent whose children have lost their way, were “bent on turning away from” God, and yet though showing tremendous disappointment, admits an unwillingness to give up on these children. “My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” What moves a parent to have such compassion?

Hosea 11 showcases the “covenant faithfulness” of God: that God remembers his faithfulness. This isn’t meant to imply that God had “forgotten” it, but that the ultimate character of God is remaining true in faithful love to God’s people. God remembers, among other things that, “Yet it was I who taught them to walk.” Examine what happens in the message of Hosea, the parable of the returning son, and a modern rendition…

God’s children had used their pedagogy to walk away. The younger son received the inheritance and walked away with it. A rebellious teenage daughter is taught how to drive and is given the keys to her parents’ car and decides to leave town with it.

God’s children had lost their way and were scattered without a home and without hope. The younger son wasted half the family fortune and found himself desiring to eat pig slop. The daughter runs out of gas, finds some ways to remedy that and get by for a while,  but eventually runs out of options and gives up the car to keep the collateral from being herself.

God doesn’t give up…

They return. He comes home. She hitches a ride back.

View of the feet from Rembrandt’s painting of ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’. (Photo credit: snailskin.blogspot.com)

“They will walk after the LORD…” (Hosea 11:10); “put sandals on his feet” (Luke 15:22); “Here’s a key to our new car”

Really, God? You’re willing to trust them? him? her?

“We are accustomed to finding a catch in every promise, but Jesus’ stories of extravagant grace include no catch, no loophole disqualifying us from God’s love…I imagined God as a distant thundering figure who prefers fear and respect to love. Jesus tells instead of a father publicly humiliating himself by rushing out to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune.” – Philip Yancey

“Behold with wonder and pleasure the gracious reception they find from Divine, injured goodness!” – John Wesley

“Yep. Sandals. They’re my children. My children, like me, are free.”

One of the most popular shows on Food Network is Iron Chef America. On each episode an esteemed chef in some exotic or specialty restaurant somewhere in America challenges one of the “iron chefs” to a cook-off, in which the challenger and the iron chef each build a 5-course meal around a “secret ingredient,” which has to be present in each of the dishes. This can get really interesting when chefs have to decide whether they want to push the envelope on coming up with something creative for a dessert when the secret ingredient is something that is not generally associated with a dish that would round off the meal nicely. Anybody in the mood for some lobster ice cream? No, thanks.

But often times, one of the chefs will dedicate one of the courses to promote a variety of ways a single item can be prepared and served on the same plate. Hence, the judges for the competition may be served, “Tuna: Three Ways” when the secret ingredient is tuna.

An example of yellow fin tuna prepared “three ways”; photo credit: tuvoweb.com

As the parable of the father and his two sons (see Luke 15:11-32) has been unfolding this week in revival at Liberty UMC, and in particular how the elder son shows his unwillingness to forgive and embrace his returning younger brother, I began to consider the various ways in which we tend to serve up our forgiveness to those on whom we’re called to show mercy. In the heat of the moment when someone has wronged me and I’m particularly peeved about it, here is the course I am tempted to serve up called, “Forgiveness: Three Ways”…

The first way I’ve prepared it is with a hint of sourness that will remind you that forgiveness isn’t always a sweet thing. When you bite into it, you’ll be reminded of the fact that I told you so. I told you that if you went down that road, you’d get hurt, but you didn’t listen, so now you get to taste some of the taste I’ve gotten to enjoy these last few years. So yes, I forgive you, but admit that I was right! Enjoy!

The second way I’ve cooked up this dish is perhaps something you’re used to hearing and may sound a little bitter, but I really don’t care. It’s the “I’ll forgive you, but only because I have to” method. I do want to let you know that even though I am required to love you and forgive you, I don’t have to like it or like you, for that matter. Cheers!

The final way I’ve prepared forgiveness is packed with a little extra kick that you don’t realize is there until a few bites later. I call it the warning of what’s to come if you try to hurt me again. I like to live by the phrase “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, I don’t want to be shamed, so I’ll let you know that I’m not gonna put up with any nonsense again. Bon appetit!

Now contrast that course with this one…

“I saw you and was moved with compassion. I ran to you, hugged you, and kissed you. Then you said to me, ‘I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve…’ But I said to others, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this person was dead and has come back to life! This person was lost and is found!’ And we began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24, reworded)

Rembrandt’s oil painting is more well known than this one, but this drawing was also done by Rembrandt, with pen & brush and is another wonderful portrait of the loving embrace of the father with his returning son. Photo credit: wikipedia.org