Remember the Lost and found box? Every once in a while you'd stop on your way to lunch, gym or library to see if perhaps you had lost anything...or perhaps to see what other people had lost and if it was neat or cool, maybe of some value or something. Then every so often the the lady who worked the front desk at school would lay everything out in the hallway, like in the spring, or right before school was let out for the summer, to see if anyone recognized the multiply hats, gloves, scarfs, or that one sock or shoe that's been in the lost in found since day one of the school year. It was funny or at least amusing to see all that missed matched stuff just laying out for all to see, but then you'd realize, at lest I would, how disturbing it was to see all that stuff just disappear and the thought that maybe it's owner just disappeared would enter my head just long enough to get spooked and then I'd hurry off to where I was suppose to be to as to not be scolded by Mr. La Plant (my elementary school principal) There is nothing more freighting for a parent than a lost child, even the thought of losing a child is enough to send most of us parents into a fret and solicit a few tears even.
All of us parents know the feeling of losing track of a child...at lest temporarily. You've all gone to the store, got caught up in pricing, looking, matching enough to momentarily take your focus of your child and thats just enough time for them to get distracted as well and wonder off...though never to far. My kids are young enough still that I make the ride in the cart at Wal-Mart, but my oldest son Gabe is a bit to old for that, but fortunately I have never lost him in a store...yet. Amanda and I get nervous though when we can't see them outside in the summer, our when they run down the beach looking for shells, but nothing compares to the time our oldest son was lost by the school district we lived in in Oklahoma. It sounds crazy, but the school sent Gabe home on the wrong bus!!! He was only in Kindergarten and had to ride the bus to a child care center for after school care. Amanda was working full-time and I was gone 2-3 nights a week at Seminary in Oklahoma City. One day the director called me while I was just arriving home...like just entering the city limit. It was close to 3:30pm and the center didn't close till 6 so I assumed one of the boys was sick and I needed to come get them. I answered the phone and got the biggest surprise of my life, the director said, "Do you have Gabe? He didn't arrive here on the bus as usual." I said, "What!!??" Immediately my mind went to that place where no parents mind ought to ever have to venture, that place where the worst case scenario happens. After a brief conversation I hung up the phone and called the school. Now the conversation I had with the school administer is not one that I can detail in church and so I'll say this, it was not pleasant:). I was worried sick!!! I called Amanda at work in Tulsa and she left immediately. I was not sure where to go next, do I go to the school, do I go home, to the day care, to the church to pray? I stopped, took a deep breath and prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me." And as I finished that prayer I heard in my heart...."Go home." I went home and there setting on bench on the parsonage porch was Gabe, in his jacket, with his backpack on, his little legs dangly of the bench as he moved them back and forth. I felt so relieved, as if all the worries in the world had been taken of my sholders. I was never more happy to see my little boy than I was that day. It makes me appreciate more that every day I get to see him and his brothers is a blessed day. Now after all was said and done it was discovered that a substitute teacher, who was unaware of Gabe's situation sent him on the bus that took him to his home. Gabe says he told the bus driver that he was not suppose to go home, but to day care. The Bus driver obviously did not believe Gabe knew what he was talking about and made him get off the bus. We lived in a "bad" part of town so the doors where locked and Gabe did the right thing and sat down and waited for us to come home. Needless to say that bus driver no longer has his job, unfortunately it took the threat of a law suit to make the school system act, but he was fired...thankfully.
As scary as that was and as scary as moments like that can be for us parents we all live with the truth that eventually they want to get lost...or they want us to get lost and have no problem telling us to do so. They grow up, they want to start riding their bikes around the block, they they want to start staying over night at friends houses, but it doesn't stop there. They want to go off by themselves at the mall, or the football game. They want their drivers license and then a car or permission to drive ours to places that are miles away from our home. And then...then after all we've done for them, they want to leave us all together!!! They move out, go to college, join the Marines, get a job in another city, another state, another region of the country....another country all together!!!! And us parents are left still worrying about where are kids are. We never stop worrying about our kids, my mother to this day still tells me about nightmares that she has about us kids being hurt or lost and there is nothing she can do about it and I'm the youngest at 32. My sisters are 44 and 38 and she still worries about "us kids ;)". That old saying, "out of sight, out of mind." not true when it comes to our kids.
Our passage this morning joins us with a fellow parent who is worried sick regarding the whereabouts of his youngest son. We've all read this story, we've all heard sermons preached on this story, read devotionals about this story, sat through bible studies and sunday school lessons about this story, but still we remain fascinated by the story of the prodigal son. The audience that Jesus was teaching would have been appalled right away by the disrespect of the the son towards his father. They would have seen this as an evil act up there with the worst possible sins. By asking for his inheritance early he was pretty much saying, "I wish you were dead." Now most of you parents have heard that come out of the mouths of your children, especially those of you who are raising or have raised a teenaged girl and it's not the nicest thing they've ever said, but truthfully it's probably not the worst either. To these people...it was! There was nothing more insulting than to wish death on your father. We've got to remember that this was a day when children stayed home, even adult children (13-33 where adult children) would stay and help take care of the farm, care for mother or father as they aged, even with a wife and children of their own they were expected to stay, be a good son and help. Girls went off and became the property of their husbands and helped in his family. Needless to say this event, had it actually happened this way in Jesus time, would have been the most scandalous of news...even more scandalous than the Romney campaign!
Often whats lost in all this scandal is the older boy, the one that did what he was expected to. The one who stayed, who helped father, who supported the family...he's often lost in all this, at least as we read it from a western perspective, but really the treatment of the older son would have just added to the scandal! Rev. Tim Keller, a Presbyterian Minister in New York State writes in his book, "The Prodigal God", that the two brothers really symbolize two basic ways people try to make life work. One way is social conformity, which is the way of the older brother, i.e doing what your suppose to do based on societal norms. The second way is self discovery, which is of course the way of the prodigal son. He left home to do his own thing on his own, to try and live life differently than what was expected. Farming, marrying, having babies, taking care of dear old mom and dad at the end of there life just didn't work for him, so he left to do it his way. As Americans we like that, we identify with the prodigal son more for that. Our ideology of rugged self individualism causes us to somehow relate to and even sympathize with the prodigal son. After all who of us has not set out as a young man or women with great plans only to have those plans dashed by failure. More and more young people are returning home to live with ma and pa after college, military service and failed plans to "make life work." It's not always their fault, we live in tough times, so it happens, but in away we get the prodigal sons desire and we understand what it's like to come home after failing at life. So we remain fasinated with the prodigal son, empathetic with his lose never realizing just how evil his actions were.
As scandalous as the younger sons behavior was to Jesus' audience, it pales at the response and reaction of the father. The fathers willingness to forgive, his willingness to welcome his son home after he treated him like garbage was as scandalous as it gets. How dare he ever even speak to the child, he ought to have declared him dead to the community and never to be spoken of again!!And we know how that feels, to have a relative or close friend disrespect us, be so obnoxious or say something so hurtful that you'd never for give them, but instead of all that the father longs for his sons return and like many of you, not a day would go by where he wasn't sick with worry until he saw him again. In Jesus day the acts of the prodigal son were unforgivable, but the father embraced the scandal of forgiveness and reconciled with his son and this is God's response to you...to us. Forgiveness when we don't deserve it.
Many of you remember the fatal shooting of 10 Amish children in 2006. A man armed with a gun drove his milk truck onto the property of several Amish families, walked into the school, separated the boys from the girls and shot, one by one each little girl ages 6-13. He then turned the gun on himself and shot himself in the head. It's sad, it's appalling, it's scandal. After all he was a father himself who was married and had always lived in the Lancaster, PA community. I'll tell you whats appalling, what's scandalous is the response of the Amish community he accosted. After the Amish buried their own children they attended the funeral of the man who had caused all this suffering and publicly forgave the him. Not only that, but they were there for the mother and children he had widowed and orphaned and hugged and cried and mourned with them during and after the funeral. The Amish community then established a fund to support the children and mother so that they would not lose their home, go hungry or be without. After all this the widow of the man issued a statement that ought to haunt our hearts every day. She said, "Your love for our family has provided the healing we so desperately needed. Your forgiveness has changed our world." Wow....forgiveness changing the world. Yes it can and it has. Not long after her words where published a Boston Globe reporter named Jeff Jacoby wrote an article about the happening and said, "Hatred is not always wrong and forgiveness is not always right." I disagree and our passage this morning does too. The forgiveness of theses people towards this man shocked a nation, it was scandalous and the forgiveness of the father towards an evil and selfish son shocked an audience, it was scandalous. The forgiveness of an Almighty God, just and right in every way towards an evil, sinful and disgraceful world shocked the universe...it was scandalous. Will you embrace the scandal of forgiveness?
Have a blessed Lent,