In Genesis 1:31, we read that on the sixth day God looked at the creation and declared it “very good.” Other versions say “excellent”! This statement could not be further from realities all around us. But that God made it invites us God’s children to reflect on it. Does it have any relevance for us today? We do not only need to turn on the news, read newspapers, blogs or news feed from social networks to know that such a declarations stands in sharp contradiction to how the world is.
Even more closer, our very own lives in many respects contradict the statement. While spending time preparing to preach this sermon here at Sunny Side, I found myself dwelling on these words of scripture. I dwelt there for a while hoping to gain some perspective. While meditating on these words it became apparent to me that the scriptures say more about God and the creation than that, but that the statement normatively reflects what God’s creation ought to look like and that in spite of the other realities in scripture and in the world God is still active and is involved in restoring the creation to its normative state.
This became more clearly when I read about God call or search for Adam in the garden when the norm was broken by disobedience. In that call, I was able to hear a voice of care and concern and a desire to make things whole again. I am grateful that we worship a God who cares about creation, who reaches out and calls out for those who are alienated either by their own choices like the case of the first couple (Adam and Eve) or those that are alienated by choices of others. God is a missional God who seeks to restore them all.
Many people are oppressed, broken-hearted, and mourning. Many are captive to selfish needs and desires, addictive behaviors, broken relationships, or exploitive systems. Their spirits are crushed; their hopes faded. Too frequently cities are ravaged by war and lay in ruin – communities are devastated. The world groans with pains of misery and distress and I believe our stories resonate in one way or another with the brokenness that is all around us.
But the God we serve has a vision for restoration and is on a mission to do just that. We see this mission in Genesis 12 in the call and the commission of Abram and Sarai. God chose them not as an act of favoritism, but rather as a strategy for God’s mission. They were sent forth with a message that through them all the peoples on earth would be blessed.
We see that same mission expressed in prophet Isaiah in his declaration:
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:11)
Through the church this renewed hope is shared and embodied; we proclaim hope, do deeds of justice, live righteously and such a living brings forth praise! Through the church the world and its people experience transformation; a transformation that touches the body, mind, soul and spirit. This is the good news for all people.
How does this restoration happen?
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
This same heart of God for transformation is depicted even more forcefully in what is commonly known as the parable of prodigal son in Luke 15. We all have different relationships with our earthly fathers; some of us our earthly fathers are no longer living, some of us may have varied relationships with our fathers while some of us this is a day to honor the man whom we know as dad. Without going into details of where you may be at in terms of your relationship with your earthly father, I would like us to hear a scriptural story depicting our heavenly father in a particular challenging situation that might invite us to certain responses on this father’s day.
This same Missional heart of God is depicted powerfully Luke 15. Jesus told three parables in response to his critics who were critical of his work but more particularly critical of the people he was hanging out with so to speak. They accused him of eating with tax collectors and sinners and even more troubling, while this was taking place, great joy and celebration occurred. These activities and responses that accompanied them sort of disturbed the authorities. When he was confronted, Jesus did not want to leave any doubt on anybody’s mind as to how God’s missional heart.
Jesus told these three parables to answer accusations against him: The parable of the lost sheep (v. 3-7), the lost coin (v. 8-10) and the lost son (v. 11-32).
Because of time, we will only read excerpts from the parable of the lost son. Please come with me to Palestine and sit down to hear Jesus as 1st Jew might have heard him. Jesus began by laying the offense right at the beginning. The younger son asked for his share of the estate while the father was still living. I grew up in Africa which somehow has some close cultural distance to some of the biblical stories. For a younger son to ask for his share of the estate while the father is still living is an imaginable insult.
Some scholars agree that such a request was unprecedented because in essence he wished his father were dead in order to receive his share of the estate. The fact that the father consented to the request is likewise unprecedented. Things do not get better in the parable, the young man then squandered his share and ended up doing a degrading job and for a Jew you could not get a disgusting and unclean job than feeding pigs and even sharing their food! What would be the equivalent of such a job in our culture?
The depth of his desperation is portrayed in his wish to eat the pods that the pigs ate. He was desperate and alone! But in desperation and brokenness, he did one thing right; he remembered home (which might say something about the father). He reflected on his father’s hired servants and thought about how they were treated.
He probably thought about the contrast between his generous father and the man he was working for and decided that he would rather be a servant at his home than work for the person he was working for. We may pause on this point and reflect a bit. Are you a son or a daughter or are you servant? If you are a servant, who are you working for?
My be some of you parents are able to identify with this father. You have waited and continue to wait for that daughter or son to come home. Some of you might have spent sleepless nights waiting to hear the car approaching in vein. May be this is the condition of this father’s heart. He might have been keeping watch from a distance hoping against hope that one day his son would return. I say this because of his response when he saw the son coming. For most middle Eastern and African old men, running is undignified and to complicate matters, in the case of the father in the story, middle Eastern men wore robes and at times they had no under-garments as other have told me therefore so to run in a robe would be difficult lest you pick up your robe and risk exposure which would be very undignified.
This father however, did not care and even risked loosing his dignity ; he ran towards his son, wrapped his hands around him granted forgiveness and welcomed him home. This picture is depicted powerfully in Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son which you saw at the beginning of this post. My wife recently finished reading Henri J Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal son” which inspired Nouwen to write the book. I was struck by the depiction of the characters. The father’s large hands and the sons’ humility and brokenness! The overall message of the parables is that there is praise in restoration. This is what missions is all about!
The younger son had done everything wrong; he asked for his share of the estate before the appropriate time indicating by his request that the Father should essentially be dead. He left home and abandoned everything about his home, he spent his share of the estate in irresponsible living and even fed pigs. I could not imagine the facial expressions given to Jesus by his audience at this point and to depict the father’s response when this son showed up was perhaps a scandal for the listeners.
The father is generous and wants all children home. Some of us may not identify with the younger son although I personally think that most of us have more in common than we would care to admit any how what a bout the older brother who had always been home but was likewise in a broken relationship with the father. His story only comes to the surface because of how the father had responded to the one with the ‘obvious’ problem. The father did not criticize him either but invited him to join the party. He had no reason to be upset for the father owned everything and had the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do with his possessions.
Both of these brothers depict brokenness in their unique ways but what comes through very powerfully is the father’s heart to welcome and restore that which is broken. Yes, our world and our own live may be broken, but our God always seeks to restore all things to that normative state we began with.
God not only seeks to restore all people and all things, God has called us as co-laborers in the restoration process. We go forth in God’s mission as broken people who are being restored as well by the loving creator whose vision is to restore all things.
Preached at Sunny Side Mennonite Church