One of the jobs I had growing up was cleaning out the cabins on our small fishing resort. My brother and I would clear the refrigerator of miscellaneous left overs and the inevitable cup of bacon grease. We would empty baskets, make beds and have the cabin ready for my mother to finish the clean up.
Neither of us was crazy about the job, but there were ways to take the dreariness out of the task. Stripped down beds were bounced on. We played with matches, lighting and relighting propane burners. Always though, we would be on the lookout for my mom, sounding the alarm when she was on her way. By the time she walked through the door, gas burners would be turned off and we would be busy making beds. Sometimes, she would sniff the air and ask if we’d been playing with matches. We admitted to nothing. Thinking back, I wonder how we thought we could have hidden something so obvious as the pungent smell of sulfur mingled with propane gas. We can try to hide our sins from others and ourselves, but we cannot hide who we are and what we have been about from God.
This fall there has been a church wide study on Timothy Keller’s book, “The Prodigal God” based on the scripture in Luke 15: 11-32. The story is of a father who has two sons. One begs for his inheritance early, then disappears into a far country. Along the way his bad choices and bad companions cause his downfall. One day he decides to return to his father’s home and beg for a job. To his surprise and utter amazement, his father races to meet him and welcomes him into the family, throwing a feast of celebration. The older son is angry and resentful, refusing to join the festivities. We have been reminded that all of us slip in some way. Like the younger brother in Jesus’s story, we mess up running as far from God as we can figure out how to run. Our mistakes compound, one upon another, until we are so trapped by the prison we’ve erected that we cry out for God. We’ve looked at the elder brother, also alienated through his self-righteous pride. Unable to celebrate his brother’s return, he fumes in his own arrogance, frustration and resentment. Both are lost, but only one realizes it.
The pungent smells of off-center living corrodes the atmosphere of our lives. Yet, in Jesus Christ, God comes to us with an alternative way of living. He calls us to return home. Home from all the lost places we have run to. He calls us from our self-righteous pride in our own goodness. He calls us to himself and tells us that we are loved and cherished for who we are. J. William Harkins writes ( Feasting on the Gospels, Luke Volume 2) “We can fall from justice, we can fall from faith; we can fall from righteousness; but we cannot fall from grace.” God’s grace reaches out to every part of our lives. God searches after us, yearns for our return, then races to meet us, when we are wise enough to turn around. All we need to do is turn and open ourselves to accept the love that has always been there for us.