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April 3, 2014, 11:18 AM

A Case for Forgiveness

“Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”  Luke 15:22-24

The story of the prodigal son begins with the Pharisees and scribes grumbling that Jesus couldn’t be a man of God, because he eats with sinners and tax collectors.  So Jesus tells a story that ends with a feast to celebrate the return of the prodigal, who is the ultimate sinner. And the feast is being thrown by his father, who had the least reason to welcome him home.  Neither the Pharisees nor the older brother in the parable would expect the sinner to be forgiven, let alone feasted.  Even the prodigal son himself – and the sinners with whom Jesus ate – would have been shocked and surprised at the unconditional love and acceptance that was shown them.

Some time ago, I led a weekend retreat at Silver Lake for the women’s fellowship of another local church.  For our first evening together, we were talking about things that get in the way of our prayer life. Several of the women talked about their own sense of inadequacy or unworthiness to bother God with their problems.  They said things like, “I’m sure God is fed up with my requests” and “I’ve screwed up so many times, God is sick of hearing from me.”  They sounded like the prodigal son in the story who tells his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 

I went to bed that first night troubled that these hard-working good women, who were doing their best to be good employees, wives, and mothers felt unworthy of God’s forgiveness – unworthy of God’s love.  I woke up the next morning still troubled about it.  In my morning meditation an image of the sun came to me. The sun radiates light and heat, always, no matter what.  The sun doesn’t pick and choose who it shines on, the sun just radiates.  It could be a cloudy day or we might stand under a tree and be shaded from the suns radiance; but the sun never stops shining. It never asks whether you are worthy of the light and warmth.  All you need to do is put down the parasol you are holding over your head to receive the full radiance of the sun.

Jesus says in the gospel of John that God is love – not that God loves – but that God IS love.  In the same way that you can’t be unworthy of the sun’s light; you can’t be unworthy of God’s love.  It just is.  We, on the other hand, can hold onto beliefs and attitudes – judgments, regrets and resentments – that block the radiance of God’s love in our lives.  But once we put those down, we discover that love has been there all along and will always be there. The prodigal’s father never stopped loving him.  He would probably say that there was never anything to forgive.

I love this story and I have preached on it a bunch of times.  I have asked the congregation who is the happiest character in this story?  I don’t think it is the prodigal – he has still lost everything and no doubt regrets it and probably feels shame.  It certainly isn’t the older brother whose judgment and resentment are keeping him away from the party.  The happiest person in this story is the one who loves the most and has forgiven the most.

Ultimately, it is our own judgments, regrets, and resentments that we need to let go of in order to be blessed by God’s love – in order to enjoy the feast of  forgiveness, the communion with God at Christ’s table.  That is why we pass the peace on communion Sunday.  It is an opportunity to bless and let go, to forgive and reconcile, that we might come unburdened to the feast – that the full radiance of God’s love might flow to and through us, and we might recognize ourselves as worthy to be called God’s children.

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