Receiving the Father’s blessing. There is a hunger to know God as Father in every human heart. 1 million children in the UK are growing up without a father. A recent medical study shows that growing up without a father alters the brain and produces children that are more aggressive and angry. Such is the extent of fatherlessness in the world, if it were a disease, it would be classed as a pandemic. Sociologists are now examining whether fatherlessness is behind such things as violence, pornography and family breakdown. When I think of the world at large I see an unparented generation, an orphan generation, uncertain of love, finding trust difficult.
Let’s read Luke 15:11-32 Now I wonder - which is why I have chosen this over familiar passage - does your image of God need healing? It has been my personal experience both in my life and in the lives I have pastored over 35 years that many of us have a distorted view of who God is. I wonder whether you are one... If you look at the context of this great gospel chapter of Luke 15, it is obvious that Jesus thinks the religious people had got God all wrong. We read, “By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, ‘he takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.’” (Peterson) And from that observation, Jesus tells 3 stories of things being lost - the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. And in each case the only thing that commends the lost is its very ‘lostness’. I hope you know deep down in your hearts that none of us can be lost if we didn’t at first belong.
So let me ask you a question: does your god walk around with a thermometer checking on your spiritual temperature and whether it coincides with his? Have you ever heard the devil’s hiss, ‘you don’t deserve God’s love... you don’t amount to much... you are too sinful ... too impure ... too fat/ugly/thick/thin/...too insecure... too weak... too angry... you are not a good mother/father/wife/husband ... call yourself a Christian with that kind of witness?’ Surely we have all heard such lies - and worse, believed them. Let me take you to the Garden of Eden. What do you think God’s reactions was when Adam and Eve fell into sin? When the human race was plunged into ruin, when the human race was falling headlong into nothingness because of Adam’s disobedience, what do you think was God’s reaction? Do you think God threw up his hands thwarted and baffled, and walked away disgusted? Do you think he did a celestial ‘Basil Fawlty’, and walked away, exploding with frustrated anger? Do you think he was taken aback at the sheer audacity of Adam and Eve? Do you think he went back to the courts of heaven (or wherever), muttering dark thoughts of vengeance? Perhaps his blood began to boil and he started plotting how best to punish them and bring down retribution on their heads?
Well, however fanciful you might think all that to be, let me tell you: for too long we have believed similar lies and tarred the image of God with our sick mythology - our own diseased and tormented mythology. Too often we have imagined a dark god behind the face of Christ. Watchful dragons (or demons) have pinched and twisted the fact of God’s undoubting, undiminished love for each of us into something capricious and fanciful - and impossible for us to know and enjoy. But down the ages there roars a large “NO! That’s not how it is at all!” Instead, Adam’s rebellion is met with the following stout response - an immediate reply from the Lord of adoptive grace: “NO, I did not create you to perish. I do not make rubbish. I did not create you to flounder in misery, or to live in appalling pain. I did not create you to live broken lives, full of sadness and heartache. I created you for life, to share in my joy and glory, to participate in the fullness and the free-flowing friendship and goodness and wholeness that I share with my Son and Spirit. And I will have it no other way, It shall be so.”
You see, the religious instinctively saw this when they observe the kind of people Jesus was associating with. How could he do that? Didn’t he know what they were like? And Jesus, in turn, was shocked too: not so much by their judging scrutiny (he was used to that), but by their NOT knowing who God is, and what he is like - that embracing sinners is what God does best; that he specialises in mending broken things; and that he loves to welcome home the last and least, and all the world call insignificant, for they will ALWAYS have a place in his heart and room in his home. So Jesus tells a story - but in actual fact it’s primarily not about two sons, but the waiting father. And this story, if we have ears to hear, is a full frontal attack on the Pharisees’ perverted idea of who God is. You see, the religious legalist looks upon the sinner and thinks he/ she doesn’t have s snowball's chance in hell of qualifying for divine favour. Indeed, far from doing anything that would commend them to God, they have done everything possible to disqualify themselves from being accepted by God. Like Lazarus after being in the tomb - they stink.
To counter these lies, Jesus tells us of God, who, far from being a hanging judge, with one hand on the rope of the trap door, looking for any excuse to jerk it - tells us RATHER of an amazing Father, who steadfastly, persistently, unswervingly remains on the look out for his wayward rebellious children. The parable Jesus tells us what God is like: we see his heart and how he thinks about us. It shows that God is a song and dance act, who rejoices over his creation. So in fantastic beloved words Jesus paints a picture of the Father who, if you like, is standing on the balcony of heaven, scanning and searching the horizon, looking out for the faintest outline, the merest inkling of the shadow of his son returning home. And once he sees him! Well, he’s off - his dear son is on the horizon, on the very road that leads to his front door - so he’s off, running down the road, hitching his robes above his knees, pumping those legs, eager to embrace his darling, and quick to throw a party in his son’s honour. And now listen to this verse, perhaps one of the greatest statements of who God is in the Bible: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” KISSED HIM AND FELL ON HIS NECK CONTINUALLY is the force of what the Greek says. The father was thrilled beyond words.
This is the power then of receiving a Father’s blessing. God has made us body, soul and spirit. Too often we think it’s all in the mind, or it’s just spiritual - but no! he takes the stuff of our bodies and makes them holy. See how the father hugs his prodigal son to himself and won’t let go. It is intentional touch. Then see the next point in being blessed: words are spoken which bring healing and are full of significance. See how the dad in the story redefines what the son thinks of himself - he is a son after all, he is worthy of a party, he was dead but now is alive, he was lost but now he’s found, now he’s come home, and he’s very welcome. Can’t you imagine what healing hearing these words brought to the despairing son? The third element of blessing: see the worth and value the father places on the son - he’s given the best robe to wear, a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. Why? The son is a slave no more - he is honoured and loved and accepted within the very heart of the home. And so it is - we are adopted by the Father to share the very life of the Trinity itself. We really do matter. The fourth element of blessing is the promise of a special future. In the tale that Jesus tells this is symbolised by the music and dancing. God’s exuberant kindness does not stint in his celebrations that we have come back to his heart. The fifth element of blessing is an act of commitment. The father says to the brother who is sulking, “My boy, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” (v31) This is the commitment of the father to both sons; and it is our gracious heavenly Father’s assurance to each of us - but we are living way way below all that the Father intends for us, so rich and many and so delightful are his resources stored up in heaven and to be used now. There’s the core of blessing then: touch - words - worth and value of the one being blessed - the prophetic promise of a blessed future - and the Trinity’s commitment to you.Tell me, is this what you are living in? Do you know this Father’s blessing? And so Jesus has shown us that God, far form being a legalistic list- checker, is one who dances with joy down the road to meet us, when we start heading for home. In fact, God turns out to be a bit of a sprinter, running on grace, running after all the lost sinners, who then (because he can’t help himself) throws parties for all those who have not and can never qualify by their own efforts for his mercy - that’s the very wonderful nature of grace! Tell me, is this the God you know? We turn to the sons now ... the one we call the Prodigal has a home after all, a father who can’t stop loving him, and an inheritance (get this) that he cannot - try as he may - squander. And what was true of the Prodigal is no less true of the elder brother for we read: “the father divided the property between them ... and though the father divided the property between them... and though the older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in ...[still the father said] ‘son, you don’t understand - you’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours’”
The Prodigal doesn’t even get to say his prepared speech of repentance. It is as if the father says to him, ‘Son, this is not about your opinion of yourself. This has never been about your worthiness or lack of it. This is not about what you do or fail to do. This has ALWAYS been about the fact that I love you, that I am your dad, and therefore you are mine, always and for ever. This is about you coming to know me as I really am, and then you will know who you are too. You belong to me for ever, and nothing you do can break that bond.’ You see, don’t you, that you cannot earn what is already yours? When Jesus died on the cross, your sins held to his account, his life given for yours, he said, “It is finished, it is accomplished!” In other words, you and I need never do another thing to curry favour with God: his grace is ours for all eternity, along with forgiveness, love, joy and peace, and life everlasting. When we see the lengths that God is prepared to go to to bring us home, why all self-effort, all self-aggrandisement, all self-starting goes out of the window. Why in grace we are safe and secure: he has rescued us, he holds us, he keeps us, and he lives his life in, through and for us. The gospel is not just that Christ died for us, but Christ lives in us, the hope of glory, Christ living in us the energy of his own commands within us, his the every life we draw on, moment by moment, for all eternity. We simply say, “thank you”. It’s not religion we want others to have but relationship - relationship with the blessed Holy Trinity, the Song and Dance God, who before the foundation of the world, said, ‘YOU WILL DO NICELY!’ When the older brother came in from work, he heard music and dancing and celebration, and he wanted to know what on earth was going on. This is the very heart of our mission as Christians in our land today: we are called to be a celebrating people who are so excited by the grace and mercy that we have received that we can’t wait to grab the attention of the world around with the joy and peace and love and LIFE of the Father that we ourselves know. I see a picture of thousands upon thousands of steep craggy steps. At the top there is the throne of glory, on which the Father sits. Up the steps the people come - some manage to make it up fifteen, some thirty, some five - but however many they manage to clamber and scramble up, they always fall down, sliding down all the steps, bruising and scratching themselves, By self-effort and legalism God can never be reached. But ever since the Resurrection it is as if the Lord Jesus Christ himself comes and sweeps up all these struggling people in his arms, and he runs up that flight of steps and deposits every single one of them in the lap of his Father, exclaiming, “Here are the children you have given me. I have lost none of them.”
Oh it is a pitiless and useless thing to throw people back on themselves. All works avail nothing. That way despair lies. We depend from conception to resurrection upon the person and grace of God in Christ. It is HIS faithfulness which will bring us through life, through all its ups and downs, through the very grave itself and right into the Father’s house. In the movie Tombstone Wyatt Earp goes to visit his friend Doc Holliday, who is dying from TB. The two good friends chat a while; then Holliday says, “Wyatt, you are the only human being in my entire life who ever gave me hope.” But that is what you and I are alive for - to spread hope... to radiate hope. Just like Jesus. You see, the reason sinners came to him and strained to hear what he said was this: he exuded freedom and hope so that they knew they could come to him as they really were, right there and then, no masks needed. Jesus has grace upon grace for us - and for all the broken, the bruised, the strugglers and the stragglers, and all the fallen - we can all flock to Jesus (for we are all like sheep gone astray) and we can all receive what we long for - acceptance and forgiveness and a new start. In the midst of all our fear and shame and nothingness, we have heard that the Father has made us acceptable and welcome in the Lord Jesus. And in our broken hearts, hope erupts, joy breaks out, and we count ourselves as truly blessed of the Lord. In the end, you see, having experienced the wild grace of God in the depths of our being, amidst our very sinful failures, we radiate hope, love and acceptance - because that’s what we know and experience. We are all prodigals who have come home. And we become the partying people - or as some call us, ‘the church’.
Ministry A father is meant to provide, protect, bless and to establish his children’s identity. Maybe your dad did that, maybe he didn’t. We all parent imperfectly. Perhaps he abandoned or misused you, perhaps he abused you physically, or verbally or mentally and emotionally. Perhaps he died before you were ready, or left the family home. Perhaps he was distant, removed, and showed no interest in you. Perhaps you were terrified of him. Perhaps he blamed you for things that weren’t your fault all all. Perhaps you were his pet and he delighted in you to the detriment of his other responsibilities and you have been unable ever since to break away from seeking his approval. Perhaps he worked too much and never spent enough time with you. Perhaps he was just too preoccupied with himself to notice your need. Perhaps he was just human - just like you... Let’s pray the blessing of God into these: “Heavenly Father, please pour in the best blessing you have into those areas where our earthly fathers failed us. Come mighty God and break chains that bind us. Come Gentle God and heal our brokenness. By the power of the blood of Christ shed on the cross set us free from all harsh words spoken against us - loose us from all the words that have acted like curses and have lodged deep in our spirits. Free us into life as you meant us to enjoy. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the healing touch of the Risen Jesus, set us free from all heartache, fear, disappointment, dreads, grief, or rage. Father God give us all that our earthly fathers were unable to give us. And now beloved child, hear the words the Father speaks over you: You are mine I am so proud of you I am glad you were born
I am glad I came to save you And dear child, take flight, my love: soar into the Trinity’s destiny for you - fly free and live, conscious of my blessing, AMEN.