Welcome Home #4 The Love of God TransformsSermon February 7th, 2010
The Prodigal Sons, Luke 15:1-2,11-32; 1 John 4:7-12; Psalm 126
This is the last sermon in our series on the love of God, as seen through the story of the Prodigal Sons. Here I want to ask what is for me one of the central questions for religion: What does transformation look like?
There are several options our story presents. Perhaps foremost in our minds is the prodigal son himself. We know he left home, lived wildly, and was welcomed home. But what we do not know is how he responded to his dad’s extravagant welcome. Was he “converted”? Did he repent, and live a wholesome life? Was he transformed? The story never says! But I believe that what we do know gives us a picture of what transformation looks like: being welcomed and loved. Many Christians feel that this picture is all there is. It’s what some would call “being saved,” and it’s described as the whole enchilada. Really though, is this it? Being saved and getting to heaven, is that all there is in transformation? Or is there more?
The elder son gives us a more complete picture of what transformation might look like. Beyond just being “saved,” the elder son lives in harmony with his dad for years. Every need or care he has ever had, dad has covered for him. In fact, the text says, “Everything I have is yours!” Now that sounds marvelous, and much richer than narrowing down transformation to being saved. This guy, on top of relationship with his dad, has everything he will ever need in life: food, clothing, shelter, relationship, family, culture, religion. And yet, it’s obviously not enough for him. Because when his younger prodigal brother comes home, he flips out and goes berserk. Clearly while his external physical life might be transformed, he has a lot of internal work yet to do. Again, many Christians feel this picture is all there is, all we can hope for in transformation. To live closely with God (through piety and/or devotion) and to have all our needs met (perhaps liberation theology or social gospel theorists would fall into this camp) is what transformation looks like. For me, this isn’t enough! Being saved, living closely to God, having my needs met, and still being a complete jerk with immeasurable self esteem issues does not sound like transformation to me!
So where does this leave us? Perhaps our story just doesn’t address this issue of transformation, or at least not to my liking. Or is there something else, something we’re missing?
I believe there is still yet a more complete picture hidden behind our stereotypes of this story. The true and most complete picture of transformation we see in the prodigal sons is the not the sons, but the father himself. Our ultimate destiny is not just being saved, not just having all of God’s promises, but to become like God. Jesus said, “Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful.” 1 John 4:7-12 says that we love, because God first loved us. We are now able to love, we can become like Christ; if we embrace the love that God has for us. The father’s love in our story for his two boys points out for us both the Divine Parent’s love for us, and the end result of that love. We are being transformed into the image of God! God is working in us to make us more welcoming, generous, celebratory and non-judgmental. Through the grace of Christ, we are learning what it means to be transformed into the kind of people who natural love others, without condition and without regret.
But it all starts when we open ourselves to God’s love for us. Henri Nouwen says, “The closer I come to home the clearer becomes the realization that there is a call beyond the call to return. It is the call to become the Father who welcomes home and calls for celebration. Having reclaimed my sonship, I now have to claim fatherhood.”
Our destiny is not to remain as children, tossed to and fro by every wish and whimper. No, our destiny is to be transformed by God into the image of God, so that we can participate in the transformation of the world.
May you come to know the love of God for you today! And may you become more like God. AMEN.