Unconditional Love

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

So for those of you who haven’t yet heard the news, this past Christmas Eve, I asked a lovely young woman named Christina to be my wife… Believe it or not, she said yes!

On top of adding a soon to be wife into my and Gabrielle’s life, we have also added a little boy, Christina’s son Noah into our life. With this, Christina and I are beginning to understand, as those of you who have multiple children my guess is have as well, that while the phrase two are better than one certainly rings true, when it comes to children, it adds a new “dynamic”, should we say…

As a good soon to be pastor’s wife, not that there is any one definition of such, Christina has been attending Sunday school from week to week. Through the leading of the Spirit, we could say, she has found herself in The Movers and Shapers young parents class, who are currently in the midst of a book study on author Gary Chapman’s, “The 5 Love Languages For Children”. A book that focuses in on what Chapman describes as the primary ways that we, both child and adult, feel and express love; physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service.

In giving Christina some much needed insight into our new to us two child dynamic, at her suggestion and a little bit of nudging, as a good soon to be spouse of a pastor’s wife I am reading the book as well.

As Chapman describes the five love languages, he suggests that while each of us need to feel loved on some level through each of them, their order of importance differs for the individual… that each person needs some love languages more so than others… and that regardless of which love language is being expressed, it must be unconditional. That “unconditional love”, as Chapman writes, “shows love to a child no matter what… regardless of what the child looks like; regardless of her assets, liabilities, or handicaps; regardless of what we expect her to be; and most difficult of all, regardless of how she acts.”

In many ways, today’s gospel, known by most as “The Parable of the Lost Son”, is the biblical example of what it means to live out the type of love Chapman describes… to live in relationship with others out of unconditional love.

Grouped together with two other parables, “The Parable of the Lost Sheep”, and “The Parable of the Lost Coin”, in that of the Lost Son, Jesus responds to the Pharisees critique of his eating with tax collectors and sinners, by proclaiming the greatness of God’s grace… of the rejoicing that happens when those who are lost are found… when those who have sinned, repent, and are reconciled and restored…

Jesus tells of a father who divides his estate equally between his two sons. While the oldest son continues to work for his father, the youngest son takes his share, leaves home and blows everything his father has given him on wild living. As he finds himself with nothing left but the clothes on his back, hungry and alone, the youngest son decides to return home with the hopes of making things right by repenting his wrongs, “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son…”

As Jesus continues, he explains that before the young son can even offer his confession, his father embraces him with open arms. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Unconditional love…

While today’s parable offers us many lessons (lessons on repentance, on forgiving others in those moments when we have been wronged and the new life that comes with that forgiveness, on how we are to live in relationship with one another, on how we are to use the resources God has blessed us with), it is, more so than anything else, one of restoration and new life… of the unconditional love of God given freely to us…

My guess is, each of us here this morning have had moments in our lives when we have felt “unworthy” because of our own moments of “wild living” just as the youngest son does in today’s parable. Those moments when we have made mistakes, when we have done things that we are embarrassed about, when we have squandered the gifts that God has given us, when we have thought about our wants above and even against the needs of others, when we have acted in ways that have divided our families and friendships, when we have sinned against heaven and against others in ways we can’t even forgive ourselves for, let alone imagine being forgiven for by those whom we have wronged. In these moments, as we place ourselves in the position of the lost son, God sees us from a far and welcomes us home…

This is the Good News for us this day. That as we continue to make our way through the season of Lent, the season of repentance, the season in which we focus on our mortality and our sin, Jesus offers us a parable of forgiveness and grace. A parable, as preacher par excellence Fred Craddock suggests should be called, not The Parable of the Prodigal Son or The Lost Son, but rather, The Parable of the Loving Father. A parable where a son, who has done everything possible to separate himself from his family and his community, is welcomed home, kissed, and held in the arms of his father without even uttering a word of contrition… where feelings of total unworthiness are transformed into that of total worthiness.

For the faithful, for you and for me, while the season of Lent does draw our attention to our mortality and to those wrongs we have committed, and while we end our Lenten journey in exactly the place where Jesus does, the journey in its entirety doesn’t end in death, but in life…

Through the cross, in all of our unworthiness, through a single act of unconditional love… regardless of our own wasting and misuse of everything God has given us, regardless of our behaving in ways that go in direct opposition to how we should, regardless of those moments when we walk out of God and our family of faith, regardless of what we look like, our assets, liabilities, or handicaps, regardless of our failures to live up to expectations, regardless how far we are lost… just as a loving father, God sees us, and filled with compassion, throws his arms around us and welcome us in with the promise of new life…

As Saint Paul writes in our reading for this morning from 2 Corinthians, “…if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation… All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… not counting a person’s sins against them…”

While Jesus’ parable neglects to tell us if the older son, in his anger at his father’s welcoming back of his younger brother, ever decides to join the celebration and return to the family, the response of the father mirrors his response to his youngest…

He leaves those at the celebration to seek his oldest out and once he finds him, he deems him as his son… What the older son fails to understand in his walking out of his family, as we so often do as well, is that the father’s love is not an either/or, but a both/and… that his father’s love and embracing for his younger brother does not negate his father’s love for him… but is reflective of his father’s love for him… unconditional…

Such is God’s love for us… for each of us… for you and for me… Regardless of if you are the lost son or the lost daughter… no matter how lost you are or how unworthy you may feel… with hands stretched out in blessing, pardon, and peace, hear God say to you, welcome home welcome home… Amen.

~Pastor Andrew Geib

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