The last few weeks we have been talking about how we CAN go home again. The home we are talking about is not a geographical location and it is not the glory days of our past. We also are not talking about our eternal home in heaven. The home we have been talking about is a relationship with God where we can experience God’s acceptance, forgiveness and power. Coming home also means returning to the family of God, or the church, where we can experience the joy of life that comes when we share our faith and lives together. While we often feel far from God and unworthy of being part of the community of faith – the truth we have seen these past few weeks and the message of God has always been that we CAN go home again.
The reason we can return to God is that God has promised us this home. When Jacob ran away he was given a promise that someday he would be able to return home. Jesus said that he has gone to prepare a home for us and he wasn’t just talking about a home in heaven but a relationship with God here and now. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, a way has been opened for us to experience the fullness of life with God now. The death of Jesus took on our sin, which once separated us from God, and the resurrection of Jesus shows us that our sin has been forgiven and overcome so that we can experience the fullness of life. So God has promised us a home, a relationship with Him, and it is waiting here for us if we will just turn to God.
Last week we saw that coming home to God isn’t always an easy journey. Returning to God often means that things in our lives need to change and that we have to work to set things right – but God is there to help us and give us the patience and power we need to do it. Hagar was going to have a difficult time going home and working through the situation with Sarah and Abraham, but God was going to see her through. There were difficult days she faced, but God sustained her and helped her on her journey and God is here to help us too. God sustains us for our journey home.
Today I want us to look at what happens when we finally get home because it may not be what we think. Many people see God as the Divine Referee who constantly scans our life looking for something wrong so he can call a foul or throw a flag. We say the wrong thing: a hurtful word or something that is not quite true and a flag is thrown. We fail to help someone – flag. We think the wrong thought – flag. We make a mistake – flag. When we see God this way, coming home is scary because we think we will only face judgment and condemnation. But this view of God is not what we find in the Bible. In fact, the image of God given to us by Jesus is not of a legalistic master but a loving father.
One of the most powerful images of God we find in scripture comes from Jesus who told three stories that paint a picture of God for us. The first story is of God as a shepherd who drops everything to go and search for the one lost sheep. God wanted that sheep to come home again so he went out to find it and when he did find him he gathered him up in his arms and carried him home again. The second story is of God as a woman who diligently searches her home looking for a lost coin. Can I just stop here and say that Jesus comparing God to a woman is pretty radical. Part of what Jesus is saying here is that God really is for everyone and everyone is loved and cared for by God. So God is compared to a woman who searches for a lost coin and gives all her time and energy until she finds it. The third story is of God as a father and instead of reading the story, I want us to experience the story with a fresh set of eyes.
What I love about the video is the party. When the son finally came home, the father celebrated. They danced and laughed and ate with joy. Think about it – that’s God. God celebrates our return. God celebrates us. God isn’t that legalistic referee just waiting to call fouls and assess penalties in our life – he is the father who can’t wait for us to come home so we can celebrate together. When we come home again God doesn’t stand over us in judgment, the Bible says he dances over us with singing. Zephaniah 3:17
To understand why God celebrates our return we need to understand the character and heart of God and Jesus shows us God’s heart when he shows us the father in this parable. In Luke 15:20 it says, while the son 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. Wow, there is a lot in that one sentence. The first thing we learn is that the father sees the son while he is still far away, just a speck on the horizon. Why is that? It’s because the father scanned the horizon everyday looking for his son’s return. The father so hoped that his son would come home that he took time everyday to look down the road and over the hill and off to the horizon to see if he could see him returning. Morning, noon and night the father looked to see if his son was coming home. He wanted him to, he believed he would and he waited patiently for that day to come.
That is the heart of God. God wants us to come home, he hopes we will and he waits patiently for us to return. This is not a new image of God created by Jesus; it is formed from the compassionate God that is found in the Old Testament. Many people see the God of the OT as a God of judgment and the God of the NT as a God of love, but listen to this – Hosea 11:1-4, 8-9 and Hosea 14:1-4. This is where Jesus got his image of a father who forgives. God is always willing to forgive when we return to him and he celebrates our return with forgiveness, grace, love and life. That celebration of God is referenced in Hosea 14:5. God sends the dew – the water that the brings life in the desert and God is there to return us to our roots and help establish us in His home.
God celebrates our return because God’s compassion for us is strong. God celebrates us for no other reason than he loves us, but the radical nature of God’s love is really seen in what happens next. Jesus says the father runs out to son, throws his arms around him and kisses him. None of that is what respectable men in Jesus day would have done. They would NOT have run and they would NOT have embraced a man who had just been working with pigs and a father would NOT have kissed a son who had betrayed him. The actions of the Father show us the radical nature of God’s love. It’s a love that tears down barriers and overturns traditions to reach out and welcome us home. When we are least deserving – God is most loving. When we feel most unworthy – God is most welcoming. The radical nature of God’s love is hard to capture, but a spontaneous party for an arrogant son who returns home in humility does a pretty good job of it. God truly celebrates our return because he loves us so much.
What’s great about this story is that God doesn’t just go out to welcome one son home, he goes out to welcome both his sons home. Look at Luke 15:28. The older son was angry that his little brother was able to come back without any consequences or punishment. After all he had done for his father, it just wasn’t fair, so like another son I know, he ran away to pout. Once again, the father loves his children so much that he leaves the party to go out and find his son and when he does he embraces him and pleads with him to return home. God wants all of his children to come home. God wants those who are far away but God also wants those that are close by but at times struggle to understand. God wants us all to come home and God wants us to celebrate together.
See the celebration isn’t just for God and the angels of heaven, the celebration is for those who return as well. Can I say it – God wants us to celebrate together. God wants us to party with one another and celebrate with God our connection as a family. One of the greatest joys God has is when he sees his children celebrate together. Look at Psalm 133. The dew on Mt. Hermon would be a blessing because just the morning dew is enough water in the desert to bring it to life.
I believe seeing us celebrate together blesses God because one of the greatest joys as a pastor is to see and hear about God’s people celebrating together. When I hear about Bible Studies and small groups getting together for parties and celebrations – it lifts my heart. When I hear about other church groups coming together to celebrate or serve together, my heart is filled with joy. Nothing makes me happier than seeing God’s people rejoice and I pray we will do that more and more. Our celebrations not only strengthen who we are by drawing us closer to God and one another but they are a light that shines into the darkness of this world. The world needs to see the church celebrate because they need to see a God who celebrates them.
The truth is we need to celebrate because we belong to a God who not only knows how to celebrate but has called us to celebrate with him. Think about the worship God commanded his people to follow in the Old Testament. On Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments and the law, God also gave 7 feasts or festivals that the people were to celebrate each year. On these days the people were not supposed to work, instead they were to offer sacrifices and then share in meals and celebrate together. These festivals were spaced throughout the year because God wants celebration to be an active and ongoing part of our lives.
Take a look at the festivals God has given us. Three were to be celebrated in the Spring: Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits. One was to be celebrated in the summer: Pentecost. And the last three in the fall: Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles
What each of these feasts or festivals celebrated was God’s goodness, grace and mercy reaching out us, you might say that each in their own way was celebrating God welcoming us home.
Look at what these festivals celebrate:
• Passover - celebration of the salvation God gives.
• Unleavened Bread - celebration of the holiness God gives.
• First Fruits - celebration of life and harvest God gives.
• Pentecost - celebration of the 2nd harvest and sustainingpower God gives.
• Trumpets – celebration of the victory God gives.
• Atonement - celebration of forgiveness God gives.
• Tabernacles - celebration of the homes God gives.
So these celebrations really are a celebration of who God is and what God gives to us and because God gives us forgiveness, salvation, victory and the promise of a home, we CAN go home again.
God calls us to come home today because he loves us and he wants us to experience life with Him. When we come home there is not judgment waiting for us, but the celebration of God’s forgiveness and love. All that’s left is turning toward home. All that’s left is making the decision to return to God. He is waiting, he is watching and he is hoping that today will be the day we will ALL come home again.
You CAN Go Home Again ~ Part 3
God Celebrates Us!
1. Read the three stories found in Luke 15. Reflect and give thanks for all the ways God is seen searching for us when we are lost, welcoming us home and celebrating our return.
2. There are seven feasts God called the people to celebrate (see Leviticus 23). Each day this week use one of these feasts as means of giving thanks to God and celebrating all God has given us.
• Passover – the celebration of salvation God gives us.
• Unleavened Bread – the celebration of God’s holiness.
• First Fruits – the celebration of the harvest God provides for us for life.
• Pentecost – the celebration of the 2nd harvest which is a symbol of God’s sustaining grace.
• Trumpets – the celebration of the victory God gives us over all things.
• Atonement – the celebration of God’s forgiveness that allows us to come home to Him.
• Tabernacles – the celebration of the home God gives us today and our eternal home in heaven.
3. It is God’s desire that we all come home to him. If you have been feeling far from God, return to him today in humility with this simple prayer: “God, forgive my wandering heart. I’m tired of running and living without you in my life. Please accept me home as I trust in the grace you have given me through the death and resurrection of Jesus. AMEN.”
4. Now CELEBRATE! God has welcomed you home!!