Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
“It is Time to Come Back!”
I want to start with something funny. I heard about this man who was out hunting. He sees a bear and shoots at it. But, he misses and suddenly slips and falls down the mountainside. His leg is caught in a bear trap, and the bear is coming right towards him. He cries out, “Lord, I know I’ve done some bad things in my life, but I promise to repent now if you make this bear a Christian!” The bear skids to a halt, drops to his knees, clasps his paws together, and says, “O Lord, I thank you for the food I am about to receive!”
I wonder how often you pray to God and receive an answer to your prayers. We have to realize it is God’s answer to our prayers at certain times, not the answer we were looking for. Sometimes we don’t recognize that we got an answer to our prayers. If we don’t realize it, we may perhaps, feel like we’ve lost our concentration on God. However, it might come to light later on with an “aha moment” like “aha, it was God’s answer.” We are going through the Lenten season. It is the third Sunday in Lent. I hope we can come closer to God and concentrate on God more during Lent. Today, I want to talk about how “it is time to come back!” It is time to come back to church. It is time to come back to God!
I want to share a story about a lady. I met her when I was a chaplain in a hospital. She was in her mid-fifties and single. She just received a diagnosis of cervical cancer and decided not to receive the chemotherapy. Her nurse asked me to visit her and encourage her because she was depressed. When I visited her with a prayer shawl, she lied on her bed toward the window. I came closer to her and sat on a chair near her bed. I put the’ prayer shawl’ on her bed near her head and talked to her: “I’m Chaplain Jenny. I brought this prayer shawl for you.” But she didn’t say anything. I continued to say. “I hope this prayer shawl represents how God loves you and how many people are praying for you. When you see this prayer shawl, remember that someone prays for you. You are not alone. As much as this shawl has knitted stitches, someone thinks of you and prays for you.” The next day, her nurse called me and said she wanted me to revisit her. I revisited her. As soon as I came into her room, she asked me, “Are you Chaplain Jenny?” I said, “Yes, I am.” She said she thought she had a dream and met a chaplain named Jenny in her dream. But, as soon as she saw the prayer shawl, she realized that it was not a dream.
She was a famous designer, but she hadn’t seen her family since graduating from college. She was emotionally wounded by the broken relationship with her family. She thought she got sick because of her sins related to her family and God. She believed God punished her, and she decided not to receive the therapy. I talked with her, “God is love.” And I encouraged her to contact her family members, saying, “As God waits for you, your family may be waiting for you. It is time to return to your family and God. God is the Healer and the Reconciler.” We prayed together, and she promised to contact her family. A few days later, when I revisited her, she said she called her family, and they were going to come to see her. She decided to receive therapy. Later, her family helped her and cared for her while she received the treatment. She called me six months later; she said she received the news she was cancer-free from her doctor.
Is there anyone struggling in a broken relationship? It is time to reconcile with them. Jesus taught us about a good relationship’s significance with one another. He said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you lose on earth will be lost in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Let us reconcile with God and our loved ones this Lent. If we are not in harmony with our brothers and sisters, we may not be in harmony with God. The love of God and the love of our neighbors are the great commandment from our Lord Jesus Christ. If we hate our brothers and sisters, we can’t love God. Jesus taught us, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The reconciliation with our neighbors is more important than offering a gift to God because if we hate someone or are in a broken relationship, we might not be joyful in worshiping God. It means, even though we are in the sanctuary, our minds fly away. It is time to reconcile with one another. It is time to come back to God with all our hearts, with all our minds, and with all our souls. It is time to worship God in the truth and spirit.
Today’s scripture is a famous story about “a lost son” or “a prodigal son.” However, today, I want to read this scripture about “the Prodigal Father.” The father gave all his property to his sons because his son wanted it. In the law of the Israelites, before a father died, his children couldn’t ask for an inheritance from their father. Nevertheless, the younger son asked for his father’s inheritance, and his father gave it to his son at his younger son’s request. As soon as his younger son received his portion of the inheritance, he left his father’s house. He spent all his money with his friends. However, he had no one to help him after spending all his money. He got a job feeding pigs. In the Israelite custom, a pig was considered an unpurified animal, and they didn’t come close to pigs or eat pork. But, the younger son fed pigs and ate pigs’ food. It showed how the younger son went against the laws.
Suffering and hungry, the younger son recalled how much abundant food there was at his father’s house and regretted that he left his father’s house. He said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger.” I told you last Sunday the word “regret” means “looking back” and “frustrated with failure.” The younger son looked back at how it was at his home and was frustrated that he had left his father. However, he didn’t stop there. He went further to repent, saying, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy of being called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands,” and set off and went to his father. He moved forward from “regret” to “repentance.” The word “repentance” means turning around 180 degrees from how you are going. The son was back to his father. The prodigal father gave his son good clothes, sandals, and even a ring. In the custom of the Israelites, when a father provides a ring to his son it means that you are my inheritor. That is, the father accepted his younger son as his heir again. Furthermore, the father had a party with neighbors for his son. This father is a prodigal father for his son.
As you may know, this father’s love represents our God’s love. Our God is the prodigal God with his love and grace unconditional. God loved us, even though we are sinners. God gave Adam and Eve everything in the Garden of Eden. But, they disobeyed and left God. Nevertheless, our God gave his only Son to us to take us back to Him, saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). As God asked Adam, “where are you?” God looks for us. As the father gave his son everything, God gave us everything we need. Nevertheless, we left God like the prodigal son. God is waiting for us as the father waited for his son. It is time to return to your home and the church like the son returned to his father’s house. It is time to be back to God with our whole hearts, with our whole minds and whole souls. Thanks be to God. Amen!
Pastor Jenny Lee