Sermon: The Light Is Always On
Scripture: Luke 15: 11-20
Date: August 2, 2015
After spending the last few weeks wrestling a bit with some of the less familiar and more difficult stories that Jesus told, I wanted to touch on one more. But this time a more familiar one and perhaps a little more straight forward. So consider this kind of an encore because we know this story. I am also aware that you have been very patient the last few weeks as we have gone over time in worship, And so as we prepare our hearts to receive Holy Communion, I am not going to beat around the bush, but rather I just want to quickly remind us of two things that this story leaves for us, to help us prepare to receive this Sacrament. The first is that all of us are prodigals. Now you may be thinking, well that’s pretty obvious but I don’t want to take that point for granted. In a sense, at least for me, there have been many times when coming to the Communion rail was not unlike the prodigal coming home after an extended period of wandering. There have been many times when I have come to the communion rail as a prodigal though I wasn’t always aware of it at the time. I remember when I was in campus ministry, we did a weekend retreat based on this story. And my plan was that on Friday night I would have each person identify what character in the story they most were like and once they did that, I was going to have them divide into groups and tell the story completely from the perspective of their character, and then we would have some time to discuss that perspective. There were about twenty students on the retreat, and I expected that there would be basically three groups. Those who identified with the prodigal. Those who identified with the older brother. And those that identified with the father. In a perfect world, the numbers would turn out to be about even. Well, I was surprised. Because when they shared which characters they identified with, there were some who chose the older brother, some who chose the father, some who chose the prodigal’s friends, even one who chose the farmer who hired the prodigal to tend the pigs. But no one chose the prodigal son. So much for my weekend plan.
You see the truth is that all of us go through periods in our life when we are prodigals.
Periods of darkness and despair. Periods of hopelessness. Periods where things
which seemingly started out so well, go so terribly wrong. Times when the sinful
choices that we make in our life, separate us from the Father who loves us. We
are all prodigals at times. But we are reluctant to admit it. Even in the comfort of the
Father’s house, we are prodigals. Sinners. Anxious for our share of the blessings,
but just as quick to squander them when they come. Sometimes we are most like the
prodigal when we sit in these pews on Sunday morning and the choices we made during the week cling to us like the mud stuck to the pigs that the prodigal tended, and we feel so alone, so abandoned, so far away. Or sometimes we feel most like the prodigal when we sit in hospitals and in our illness and pain we wonder how the Father could be so far away from us now. We long to feel his presence. Or sometimes we are most like the prodigal when the blessings we so treasured: jobs, beautiful homes,
fancy cars; are suddenly gone. In our country, in our community today, there a lot economic prodigals, weighted down by debt and other financial burdens. There are so
many things that can take us away from home, into the far country. But we are
reluctant to admit that we are prodigals, especially in the church. We don’t need to
return home. We’re already here. We’re in the father’s house. No prodigals here. But
that’s the irony of Jesus’ story. Jesus told this story to and about the leaders of
the church. Seemingly the older brothers. They were the ones who had been so
blessed, but who had squandered those blessings. We are all prodigals. And
home for us is right here. In the church. In the father’s house. But Jesus wanted us to
see that it isn’t enough to just come home. It isn’t enough to just come to church on
Sunday morning, to dwell in the father’s house. Because God’s desire for us is for each
one of us to be favorite sons and daughters. He wants to celebrate our presence. He
wants to embrace each one of us. You see, for the prodigal, the trip home was the
road to salvation, but it was in the loving embrace of the Father that he found
forgiveness and redemption. We are all prodigals. And the fact that we are here this
morning means that we are on the road to salvation, the road home. But there are many who come to the Father’s house, but never allow themselves to be embraced by the Father. When Jesus offered the bread of communion to His disciples, in essence He wrapped His body around them and promised His embrace to all who would come.
On the cross He opened His arms wide and invited us to come, and through His resurrection He folded His arms around those who do come and holds us through eternity. It is that which He offers us today. All of us prodigals.
And then the second thing we need to know is that God is always watching for us, always seeking us. No matter how far we wander, His eye is always trained toward us, straining to see us coming. Ready to run and embrace us. This story brings
to mind those Motel Six commercials that featured humorist Tom Bodet. He would tell
some amusing antedote, and talk a little about how inexpensive it was to
stay in a Motel 6, and he would always end the commercial by saying, “We’ll leave the
light on for you.” They were wonderfully effective for that discount chain of
motels because I think they tapped into a basic human desire to have someone
looking out for us, waiting for us, leaving the light on for us. I have always wondered
what the father might have said to his son as he was leaving. I suspect it might have
been something like, “Here is what you have asked for. I don’t want you to go. But if
you must, I want you to know that you will always have a place in my home. I’ll leave the light on for you.” You see, the other thing that Jesus wanted the prodigals to know,
was that God never gave up on them. The prodigal son denied all that he was. He
squandered his birth right. He denied himself. And finally he defiled his religious faith by
associating with the pigs. He strayed as far as he could go, but his father never gave up on him. No matter how dark our life may become, the light of God always
shines for us.
I love the story of the pastor who during a children’s message called the children’s
attention to the beautiful stained glass windows in the Sanctuary and he said that
they were pictures of saints. “Do you know what a saintis?” he asked the children. And
one little boy raised his hand and said, “a saint is someone that the light shines
A man writes about driving down the same rural road in Pennsylvania, every week for several months because of his job. And as he drove he passed a beautiful mansion on the outskirts of one of the small towns along the route. It had many rooms and was surrounded by a large wall with a massive iron gate at the entrance from the road. And the man noticed that no matter what time of day or night he passed that house, it appeared that every light was on. In fact, at night, he could see the glow from its lights from a long way off. He wondered about the expense of leaving all of those lights, hundreds of lights, on all of the time. One day he had to stop in the town for gas and he struck up a conversation with the service station attendant, and he asked him about the house and why the lights were always on. And the attendant said, the man who lived there was very wealthy. He had one daughter, who as a teenager became involved with drugs and other things and on the night of her eighteenth birthday, she left in the middle of the night. When her father discovered the next morning that she was gone, he ordered every light on the estate to be turned on until she came home, so she could see her way home. And though he never heard from her again, he kept the lights on just in case. He died a few years later, not ever knowing where she had gone or what had become of her. The doctor said that he died of a broken heart. But in his will he directed that the house never be sold, and that all the lights remain on until she came home. Twelve years ago, our daughter Anna, left for college at the University of Kentucky. We were living in Northern Kentucky at the time. The first night she was gone I turned on the light on the front porch and left it on all night just in case she needed to come home. I didn’t want her to come home in the dark. She’s finished college and law school and has been on her own for several years since then. And now she’s planning a wedding. But still if you drive by our house day or night you’ll notice that the front porch lights are on so that if for some reason she needs to come home, she won’t come home in the dark.
We are all prodigals, Jesus tells us, but no matter how far we wander, no matter how dark our life becomes, God’s light is always on. He stands at the door, looking down the road, waiting for his prodigals to come home. Waiting for you to come home. How far have you wandered? This story tells us that it is never too far. That God’s light continues to shine for you.
He waits for you. And this Sacrament can become a great celebration for you today. Because though once you were dead, you can live again. And though once you were lost, you can be found. So hear the invitation to come home today, to turn from your prodigal lifestyle, and let God embrace you in His forgiveness and redemption, love and grace. So if you are ready, I invite you to come. Come home.