A huge issue facing the church today is authenticity, or more specifically, a lack of authenticity.
People say that churches are full of people who pretend like they have it all together. Churches are full of fake smiles and phony piety. Churches are full of folks who act like they have all of the answers, have everything on earth and even in heaven all figured out.
Almost every week, I will hear at least one person ask: “Why can’t Christians just be real?” Someone once asked: “Why can’t people act the same way in church that they act at home?”
I believe the reason many Christians are so fake is that we still have a problem with the good news of the gospel we call grace. We have a difficult time believing that God truly loves us, accepts us, and welcomes us just as we are.
Because, it seems too good to be true.
I believe we Christians have a difficult time being authentic, making ourselves at home, because we have a difficult time accepting that the extravagant, amazing grace of Christ that welcomes us to be real; and because of that, we also have difficult time sharing grace. So, not only do we hide or deny our sins, we are quick to point out the sins of others. Consequently, we have gotten this reputation in the world for not only being fake, but also judgmental.
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:13-13).
Indeed, but sadly, I believe this is where most folks in the church stop reading the Bible. We cannot even think about laying all of our sins bare before the Lord. So we cover it up, hide it, deny it and try to justify it.
And it is obvious to our friends and to everyone we encounter that we phony.
So listen again to the good news:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
But it sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t it? It is almost difficult to hear.
Let us hold fast to our confession. In other words, let us get real and be real. Let us lay bare our sins and authentically approach the throne of judgement.
Wait minute, it doesn’t say that. Does it?
Let us lay bare our sins and authentically approach the throne of grace.
That’s what it says.
And let us do it fearfully.
No, that’s not what it says.
Let us do it with boldness.
That’s what it says.
So, that we may receive our punishment and find correction.
So that we might receive mercy and find grace in the time of need. It’s like coming home. Coming home where we can be real, authentic, yet still be accepted and loved.
But it is sounds too good to be true. Doesn’t it? It is all so extravagant, so amazing. It is difficult for us to read, hear and comprehend.
I believe Jesus knew that we would have a hard time with this. That is why I believe he prepared us for it by telling so many stories.
There was a father who had two sons. The youngest had the amazing gall to demand his inheritance so he could leave home. As the youngest, this disrespectful son had no claim to anything of his father’s. Who did he think he was?
Then the truly amazing part: The father takes his “whole living;” (notice how extravagant this is) the scriptures say that he takes all that he has, and gives it to the boy who slips into the “far country” where he wastes every red cent on selfish living. It is only when he finds himself in the time of his need that the boy decides to go back home.
This is where the story gets even more amazing.
“And while he was a long way off,” the father saw him and ran and embraced him.”
Think about this for a moment.
How did the father see him “a long way off?”
Because the father had been looking for him.
Every day this father sat on his front porch gazing down the road, grieving but hoping and praying that his child would one day come home.
And when he finally came home, he ran to him and cried out: “Come and celebrate with me. My child who was dead is now alive!”
I wonder how long the father waited for his dead son’s homecoming. I wonder why the father waited. For all he knew, his son was dead. Can’t you almost hear his concerned friends and neighbors, or maybe even his preacher, telling him: “Old man, it’s time for you to move on. Old Man, you’ve got to get past this. You’ve got to face the facts. He’s not coming back. You got to get over it. Concentrate on your older boy who is still here with you.”
But the father, amazingly, still waited. Most of his friends probably thought he was crazy. Such excessive, extravagant waiting was hard for them to believe.
After all, he really did not know that his son was ever coming home. A young kid with a pocket full of cash first time away from home was an easy target to any would-be thieves and murderers. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan?
Still the father patiently, amazingly waited. Every day he kept looking down the road in front of his house. Straining to see, hoping to see his son coming home.
We call this the story of the prodigal son. But William Willimon says that if the word “prodigal” means “extravagant” or “excessive” or “amazing,” it should be called the story of the prodigal father. For when the boy left home, the father extravagantly gave him his entire savings. While he was gone, his friends and neighbors would say that the father excessively waited. And when the boy at last came home, the father extravagantly threw a huge party, holding nothing back. The father loved his son prodigally when he left home, he loved him amazingly while he was away from home and he loved him extravagantly when he returned home with a fatted calf, a new robe and sandals, a ring, and festive music and dancing.
It all seems too good to be true
It is a story of extravagant, excessive, prodigal love. It is a story of amazing grace.
And the good news is that Jesus’ story of the prodigal father is the story about his prodigal Father. And it is the story about our prodigal Father. Our God is a God who, when it comes to grace and love, holds absolutely nothing back.
I know, the truth sounds too good to believe, but it is the truth.
Our God waits, with confidence that the far country of sin and death shall not be the last word. Our God waits, ready to welcome us home with a celebration that is more than we deserve, not because of who we are, but because of who God is, namely a prodigal father.
One of the greatest things about this story told by Jesus is that it does not have an ending. Have you ever noticed that? We wonder if the younger boy ever learned from his mistakes and grew up to be more responsible. We wonder if the older brother ever let go of his resentment. We don’t know. All we know is that both boys are finally safe, at home with the father.
Willimon suggests that perhaps the reason the story does not have an ending is because this story is eternal. We know when the party began. But for all we know, the party never ended. Maybe this is a scene of what we all have to look forward to. An eternal homecoming celebration for those daughters and sons who once were dead but are now alive, who once were lost but now are found.
After our service this morning, you are invited to a homecoming celebration that has been waiting for you that Joan Smith, once called “a true vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
When you see the large amount of food that has been prepared for you this day, it may cause you to pause. It is so excessive, so extravagant, you may have trouble believing it. It will seem too good to be true.
But before this service is over, you are invited to another homecoming celebration that has also been waiting for you. In fact, this homecoming celebration is waiting for you each week. The meal is small. It’s just a tiny cracker and a sip of juice; however, when you understand the meaning of it, the truth of it, the love and grace of it, the extravagance and the excessiveness of it, it may also give you pause. For you may have trouble believing it. It will seem too good to be true.
But the good news is that it is true. For it is the truth. It is the good news of the gospel. It is amazing grace, and it is for you.
So, come home and hold fast to your confession.
Come home and be as real and as authentic as you can be.
Come home with all of your sins laid bare.
Come home and approach the throne of grace with boldness.
Come home because you will not be turned away from it.
Come home because nothing in heaven or on earth can separate you from it.
Come home, because this celebration has been prepared for you, even while you were still a long way off.
Come home, because this table has been set for you even while others have judged you, have condemned you, have given up on you, and even have written you off for dead.
Come home, because your God has not given up on you.
Come home, because your God has been waiting for you.
Come home, because his body has been broken for you.
Come home, because his blood has been shed for you.
Come home, because Christ has died for you.
Come home, because Christ has been raised for you.
Come home, because the baptistery has been filled for you.
Come home, because the Word of God is alive and active for you.
Come home and receive extravagant and excessive mercy.
Come home and find amazing and prodigal grace…
this day and forevermore.