Hungry for Grace

LUKE 15:11-32, August 9, 2015

Hunger is at the center of this story. Hunger is the connecting piece, the pivot point of this story. That’s where everything changes, that’s where it all hinges. It is not because the younger son in this story prayed to God to be changed. It is not because he realized that paying prostitutes to sleep with them was maybe not a great way to live his life. It is not because he suffered a twinge of guilt or shame. It is not because he looked at a family picture and thought, “I’ve got to turn my life around.”

It’s because he was hungry.

It’s a few sentences in this story that changes the trajectory for the whole deal. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So then he got himself a job feeding pigs and then realized the pigs had it better than he did.

A severe famine took place. Which means a combination of restrictive government policies and no rain or bad weather or an imbalance in population all collided to contribute to a severe famine. A lack of food and water. A survival mentality where everything is scarce. The kid had no family there and he saw his value as a human being was lesser than the farmer’s interest in keeping his pigs alive.

Can you imagine being so hungry and desperate? So hungry and desperate that you would steal from pigs to eat? Can you imagine the worry and the despair and how you’d view other people as competition for surviving? Wouldn’t you point your nose toward home even if you’d burned every bridge? The youngest son’s physical hunger breaks open his ability to see the path of destruction he’s caused. He rehearses his speech and trudges home.

His father sees him from a great distance, compassion overtakes him and he greets him, dresses him in clothes of honor, and sends his slaves to prepare a feast so they can celebrate that his lost son has returned home. Imagine the father’s hunger to be reunited with his son. Have you ever missed someone like that? Just watch those videos where a person serving in the military comes home. Or watch people greeting each other in the airport.

I wonder, had the father just been surveying the work out in the field, checking in on the oldest brother out in the field, or was it his hunger to know and see his younger son once again that had him looking out in the distance? Whatever had his eyes to the distance, his hunger for connection and reconciliation with his son is proven as he embraces him and prepares to celebrate.

Meanwhile, the oldest son is out in the field, working just like it seems he does, day in and day out. And perhaps this life makes him happy. Perhaps he is satisfied with his life’s work, his situation at home. After all, he’s fed and has a roof over his head, and is with his family and will be entitled to a share of it as the eldest.

But even the obedient son is hungry. Hungry for his father’s approval, for a show of appreciation. Perhaps he’s even hungry to see his younger brother get what’s coming to him.

I know it’s a bit hard to see, but take a look at the painting. This is a depiction of the lost son come home, falling at his father’s feet, his father embracing him. Do you see the older brother? Can you even see him? He’s in the shadowy background, barely able to be seen, watching this touching father/son reunion.

There is a distance, a coldness to this painting that needs little explanation. In that darkness lingers envy and jealousy, emotional distance, broken relationship, hard hearts. A refusal to come inside and celebrate. A refusal to acknowledge the return of his screw up of a younger brother. Hear this part of the story again:

28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours

this son of yours

came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours

this brother of yours

was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

Do you see what connects these two men – father and eldest son? The black sheep. The screw up. The one who disrespected his father’s trust and possessions. This son of yours. This brother of yours. There is ownership in this language whether they want it or not. He belongs to you. He belongs to you.

It is this relationship that changes everything. This insatiable hunger that God has for us, to be reconciled to us through our love for each other. Nadia helps us to see just how God works on us to break us open.

Click here [Nadia clip] to see the video up close and personal that was played during the sermon.

We do our level best to not need grace, don’t we? This is the power of Jesus who refuses to let us linger outside in the field, angry and jealous. He refuses to let us keep ourselves out.

This is the power of Jesus who refuses to let us live in the mud of regret and shame, up against our own sin without relief.

This is the power of Jesus who refuses to let us live with our eyes always cast to the distance, hoping for reconciliation but never realizing it.

This is the power of grace. You can’t plan for it. You can’t work for it. You can’t earn it or plead for it. You can’t decide who gets it and who doesn’t. Because God, through Jesus Christ, just gives it to us. No matter if you are the lost daughter, the expectant mother, the screw-up sister. No matter if you are the loving father, the devoted son, or the bratty, entitled brother.

What are you hungry for? Do you hunger for acceptance and forgiveness? Do you hunger to be loved? Do you hunger for peace in your home, for relationships to be made right?

Jesus works on the hard heart of the stubborn older brother. Jesus reconciles the father with both of his sons. And he does it through the trouble maker who has caused them both pain and resentment. Jesus gives us grace that is so unexpected. It breaks our hearts. It brings estranged family together. It both deepens and satiates our hunger. It changes us forever. It can’t be changed back.

Thanks be to God.