This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning, the Fourth Sunday in Lent. The gospel reading was Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.
God comes to us. This is a message we see throughout the story of scripture.
When the Israelites were about to enter the promised land after forty years in the wilderness, God said to their leader Joshua, “Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because I am with you wherever you go.”
The prophet Isaiah called to the people who were in exile in Babylon: “Don’t fear, because I am with you.”
The author of Psalm 23 wrote, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”
Paul wrote to the Romans, “I am convinced that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And John tells us in his gospel that the Word became flesh and lived among us. Matthew tells us that Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that a child would be born called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
God comes to us. It’s the core of the Christian message. In Jesus Christ, God comes to us. And that means we don’t have to go to God. We don’t have to climb a ladder to heaven, we don’t have to earn our salvation. We don’t have to make ourselves perfect.
God is already here, ready to welcome us. Ready to forgive us. Ready to empower us. Ready to love us. Even when we’re not ready, God is ready.
And this is a message that is at the heart of the story Jesus tells in today’s gospel story. Jesus tells the story of a father who has two sons.
The first son, well, he messed up in a big way. He took everything he had, everything his father had given him, and he traveled far away. He spent it all, every penny, on extravagant living, and he ended up destitute and hungry. So he went back to his father.
Now he didn’t presume to ask his father to welcome him home as a son. He knew he was unworthy of that, but he hoped that his father might perhaps offer him a job, and at least help to feed him. He prepared an apologetic speech for his father. He practiced and rehearsed it, and then walked home, prepared to grovel.
However, his father saw him in the distance, and he jumped up and ran toward him. The son started to give his well-rehearsed speech, but he couldn’t, because the father was too busy hugging him and crying for joy. The father had no interest at all in his son’s apologies or explanations or job applications. He just wanted to welcome him home. And throw a huge party for him. The father could have waited for the son to come to him, and apologize and make amends. But instead, the father came to him.
The second son, well, he messed up in a different way. He was out in the fields working when his brother came home. And when he heard about it, when he heard that the father had thrown a big party for his spendthrift brother, he got angry, really angry. And he refused to come in. He just stood in the field sulking. Then his father came out to him. Pleaded with him. Told him, “Everything I have is yours.” Told him, “Come and celebrate, for your brother is back!” The father could have waited for this son to calm down and come to him. But the father came to him.
The father went out to both sons. Came to them, just as they were. He didn’t have to. He would have been very justified in waiting for them to come to him. But that’s not who this father is. This father is someone who comes to his sons, right where they are, no matter what.
Neither son expected that. Neither son deserved it. But that’s how this father acts, with grace, sheer grace. He loved his sons, and came to them simply because of that love.
I think perhaps the father is a symbol of God in this story. A symbol of how God comes to us. With grace, sheer grace. Whether or not we deserve it. Whether or not we expect it. Whether or not we’re ready.
God is coming to us, to you. And when God comes, God brings hope. And peace. And life. And love.
Is that good news for you right now?
And if so, would that also be good news for other people right now?
And if so, would you be willing to help make that happen?
I have something in mind for how we can do this at Prince of Peace. Something you can do to show a particular group of people that God loves them, and that God is coming to them. Those people are the youth of our church.
About a month ago a few of us were talking about the fact that we haven’t seen many of our teenagers here in a while. We were talking about the ongoing challenge of getting youth programs going here. We discussed what some of the reasons might be for this, and ways to address it. How do we get teenagers to come here?
Then someone said, “What if we went to them?”
The whole conversation changed after that. Instead of feeling disappointed, we started to get excited. The beginnings of an idea started to form. We shared this idea with congregation council, and they got excited about it too. And now I’m sharing it with you.
See, here’s the thing about teenagers today. Things have changed in the past few decades. There was a time when one of the things teenagers needed most was a safe place to go, to have something positive in their life outside of school. Youth groups in churches like ours fulfilled that need very well. But that’s not a need for most teenagers today. Teenagers today are over-scheduled with positive, good things to do. Between sports and music lessons and scouts and more, they really don’t need something to keep them off the streets, like we used to say. The last thing they need is one more commitment.
But you know what they do need? They need to know that God loves them, that God is with them. And they need to know that they belong. And that’s where we come in.
A few of us want to start a program that for now we’re calling “POP Boosters.” The goal of this program is to support the youth of our congregation and community, and here’s how it would work: Many of the teenagers in our congregation are very busy with activities in the community, such as sporting events, music recitals, plays, and so forth. We will compile a schedule of these events, and publicize that schedule, and encourage congregation members like you to attend these events and support our youth. We’re thinking of maybe providing matching T-shirts for you to wear when you go.
So you see that the point of this program is not to try to get young people to come here, but rather for us to go where they are. You know, kind of like God does for us all. Now, there are details still to be worked out, so I’m not ready to ask you for a commitment to this program yet. But what I would like to know is whether you support this idea, in general. Is this something we as a congregation can get behind?
Don’t answer just yet. Sit with this idea for a little bit, as we sing and pray, and as God comes to us through bread and wine. And right after communion today, I will ask you to answer this question: Is POP Boosters an idea that we can get behind as a congregation?
For now, rest in God’s presence. Know that God is here, with you. Not because you’re at church, but because God loves you. And God will abide with you today and every day.