Welcome Home #1
The first time I ran away from home I was four, at least that’s what my Mom told me. She said she couldn’t remember what brought it on but apparently I’d threatened to run away, so, she called my hand on it. She went and got a little suitcase and even helped me pack it. She watched as I walked out the door, down the front porch steps and then down the street.
I don’t remember it at all but she said I got to the corner street, looked both directions, turned around, started crying and ran all the way back home.
I do remember, when I was fourteen, I ran away again. I don’t remember the circumstances that lead up to it, but I remember my Dad telling me I was going to get a whipping when he got back home. I distinctly remember thinking, “Not this time, you old so and so.” And when he left to go pick my mother up from work, I packed a backpack with a few clothes, made a couple of peanut butter sandwiches, grabbed a couple of cans of dog food, called my dog Poochie, and off we went. I don’t remember why but we were headed for Chicago.
We didn’t make it very far, maybe ten miles at the most before the temperature dropped and it started to rain. Poochie and I found ourselves taking shelter in a dilapidated old house. I’d forgotten to pack a can opener so Poochie got one of the sandwiches and I got the other one for supper. The rain stopped but it looked like it would cut loose again any minute.
I don’t remember much of the walk back but I do remember thinking, “Well at least I’ll be dry.” We finally made it home just before midnight. Surprisingly, the back door was unlocked, the light over the kitchen sink was on and Mom was sitting in a chair waiting. She didn’t ask why. She didn’t ask where’d you go. She looked at me and asked, “Are you hungry? I made chili tonight and it’s still warming on the stove if you want some.”
We didn’t say anything else. She fixed me a big old bowl of chili and then cleaned up pot and put the leftovers away while I ate. She walked over and did something she hadn’t done since I was little, she kissed me on top of the head. Then she turned to go to bed. The last thing she said that night was, “Rinse out your bowl before you go to bed.” And then she was gone.
I never got the whipping and Dad never brought it up. We never talked about it. And though the air between us was tense for a while, it wasn’t long before everything went back to normal. Or as normal as you could get in our family.
You know Dorothy Gale was right, “There’s no place like home.”
That’s what the youngest found out in the parable of the Prodigal Son, which I think should be called “The Parable of the Extravagant Father,” because his was the greatest Welcome Home anyone has ever received. And that’s what we going to look at today. God’s Welcome Home.
Let’s look at the passage from Luke 15:11-24 (NRSV)
 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons.
 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.
 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
 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 to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘
 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.
 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
I. THE STORY:
A. We know this story well, don’t we? Some of us know it well because we have been the prodigal and found our way back home or we’re still the prodigal and struggling in the wilderness.
Some of us have been the loving father waiting for our prodigal sons or daughters to come home, waiting to throw that welcome home party if they’d just come to their senses.
And sadly, some of us have been the elder brother, unsympathetic and hardnosed about the prodigal’s misfortune. “He made his bed let him lie in it. If you help him you’ll only be an enabler.”
We know this story very well. The Prodigal, the youngest son, for whatever reason, decides he’s fed up with life on the farm and tells his Dad, “I know how much you’re leaving me, I’ve seen the will. Farm living ain’t for me. So, how about giving me my inheritance now and let me blow this joint.”
The youngest son, the baby of the family didn’t realize it just how much Dad loved him. You see, even though, his youngest son had just said, in a roundabout way, “I wish you were dead,” because Dad loved him so much, Dad agreed. With a heavy heart, with fear and trepidation Dad handed over the inheritance.
What you may not realize is that in receiving his inheritance early, the youngest son was basically divorcing himself from the family. Once the youngest son stepped out the door and headed down the road he no longer had any right or any claim upon the family whatsoever. Like Esau, he gave up his birthright. In receiving his inheritance early, he gave up everything for the money.
And the family, the family was no longer responsible for anything the young man did. Legally, it’s as if he never existed. They never had to think about him again. Of course, we know that’s wasn’t going to happen. We never forget about family.
B. Of course, this young man went off to live the wild life, the life he’d dreamed of, the life he thought would set him free but instead it enslaved him and locked him in the cell of regret. The pigs he was slopping were being fed better than he was. And that’s where he discovered the truth of an old Jimmy Cox blues ballad, “Nobody knows you when you’re down out.”
Scripture says, “he came to himself” and remembered that his father’s hired hands had “bread enough and to spare.” I love that phrase, it describes God’s grace so well. “Enough and to Spare.”
So the young man set off for home, planning his apology speech the whole way. And that’s when the Extravagant Father saw him in the distance and ran to him. The Father dropped everything and ran to his son, threw his arms around him and welcomed him home.
II. GOD RAN:
A. The image that has always stuck in my head from this parable is the Father running to greet the returning son. What a welcome home that was. The father, even though he’d watched his youngest son leave, anticipated his return. Scripture doesn’t say this, but I picture the father figuring in his head just how long the inheritance will last. He knows his youngest and he knows how fast he’ll blow through the money. And when that time passes, the father begins stepping out on the front porch every couple of hours, looking down the driveway to see if his son has come to his senses and decided to come home.
And then it happened. The Father’s excitement and relief that his son was OK was such that he couldn’t contain himself. He dropped everything and ran to greet him. Why? Because the Father’s love was undying and unrelenting.
I never thought I’d utter these words in a sermon, but God’s is a lot like Forrest Gump. No, it has nothing to do with a box of chocolates. Do you remember the scene when Forrest is in Viet Nam. The platoon finds itself under attack. Forrest and his best friend Bubba get separated.
Back and forth Forrest runs looking for Bubba. Every time he ran into the jungle he found someone else to carry out. He was relentless in finding his best good friend. One after another, Forrest carried them out until, finally, he found Bubba.
B. God is a lot like Forrest Gump in that scene. God’s love is undying and relentless in its search for us. Like the Extravagant Father, God never gives up on us. We might be off in the far country wallowing with the pigs but God still loves us. And unlike the Extravagant Father who waited for his youngest son to return home, like Forrest Gump God runs searching for us, calling our name over and over. Yes, God will stop and help others, God will bring them home, but God is pursuing us, crying out, “I’ve got to find Billy, I’ve got to find Mary, I’ve got to find . . .”
And when God finds us, God will throw his arms around us, offer us forgiveness and welcome us home. Home, where we belong. Home, where there is “bread enough and to spare.” Home, where a party has been planned in your honor.
Welcome Home. That’s what God wants to say to you today. Welcome Home.
It doesn’t matter how far away you’ve gone. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or whether you feel worthy of the welcome.
The long speech and explanation aren’t necessary. All that’s necessary is that you come home and join in the party that has been planned for you; a Welcome Home party.
In essence that’s what the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper can be, a Welcome Home party.
Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we have our feast. There truly is Bread Enough and To Spare on the table today. And the finest wine in all the world has been reserved just for our celebration. Oh, the bread may taste a little like homemade bread but it’s really Bread From Heaven.
And the wine might taste a little like Welch’s Grape Juice but it’s the finest wine which has ever been created. And through this bread and wine, the sins of our past are forgiven, if we’ll let go of them and give them to God.
And our future is filled with hope because we know we no longer walk alone. God is with us. And if we will let Him, God will strengthen us for whatever will come our way. God will lead us and hold us up and walk with us through whatever storms and challenges we will face.
And all we have to do is Come Home. So, turn around and see, God is standing with outstretched arms, waiting for you. And all God wants to say is, “Welcome Home.”
The party has been planned since the beginning of time. The table is set. The meal has been prepared. Now it’s up to you. Come Home today and hear God say to you: “Welcome Home.”
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.