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The Prodigal Son: The Journey Back Home

The Vine - July 23 Sermon
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The Vine Discipleship Guide - July Week 4
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It is hard to imagine what it would have been like to be waiting around for a child who was lost or had left home, wondering if they would ever come back. Some of you watching today may have kids or grandkids that might call you and maybe some that seem a little distant for some unknown reason. The one thing that stands out in this story is the image of the father. Let me read it to you in Luke 15:20: “The younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him.” (CEV) Henri Nouwen talks about this imagery in his book on the Prodigal Son. He says this as he stared at Rembrandt’s painting of “The Return of the Prodigal”; “It had brought me into touch with something within me that lies far beyond the ups and downs of a busy life, something that represents the ongoing yearnings of the human spirit, the yearning for a final return, an unambiguous sense of safety, [I want you to hear this] a lasting home.”

Once the younger son had gone off and wasted all his money in wild living, he had nothing--nothing to eat, nowhere to stay, and no home. Maybe that is where you are or maybe that is someone in your life right now--someone who feels they have no home. Each of us has a deep need for home, to be right with God. Nouwen says “I desired only to rest safely in a place where I could feel a sense of belonging, a place where I could feel at home.” This place called “home” is a place where we find reconciliation, forgiveness, and inner healing.

The younger son, then, in his search for home comes to his senses. Here is what it says in Luke 15:17-19: "Finally, he came to his senses and said, “My father's workers have plenty to eat, and here I am, starving to death! I will go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son. Treat me like one of your workers.” (CEV) He had regrets, a change of heart, a change of mind, in essence his move towards home was a repentant heart.

I met a young man named Karl struggling with opioids. He has been in trouble with the law, in and out of prison. His latest stint in prison was because of his addiction and because of a weapons violation. However, inside prison Karl, like the younger son, took a move towards home. Karl found a change of heart and mind and understood his regrets: “Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has fashioned me in secret, molded me in the depths of earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb. Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.” Home is that place where we are called beloved. Karl found home and realized that he was a beloved child of God. In his restoration Karl is now clean from his addictions and on his way to becoming a prison chaplain to help others find the meaning of home.

Let’s get back to our story, Luke 15:20-24 says, “The younger son got up and started back to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for him. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him.

The son said, 'Father, I have sinned against God in heaven and against you. I am no longer good enough to be called your son.' But his father said to the servants, 'Hurry and bring the best clothes and put them on him. Give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. Get the best calf and prepare it, so we can eat and celebrate. This son of mine was dead but has now come back to life. He was lost and has now been found.' And they began to celebrate." (CEV)

In Rembrandt’s painting of “The Return of the Prodigal” we finally get a glimpse of the meaning of being welcomed home. I want you to look at this picture and I am going to give you a few seconds to look at it and think about what you see... I want you to see the father’s embrace...and see the son that is being embraced... Being welcomed home, forgiven, means that as a beloved child of God we have hope, dreams, unconditional love. It is here that we have this voice that calls us beloved and remind us of the father’s unconditional love.

However, there are other voices we must watch for. There are louder voices that are seductive and make lots of promises. There are voices that will pull us to a “foreign country” as it did with the younger son. We are all prodigal sons and daughters every time we search for unconditional love where it cannot be found. There will be times when we look and we end up in a place where we say to ourselves that we are useless, worthless, a nobody, a burden to people.

I understand, and one of the greatest challenges is to receive God’s forgiveness, to be welcomed “home.” There is just something in us that keeps us from letting go and starting new. But what God wants to do is give you full sonship and daughtership, but instead we would rather settle for be a hired servant. Then the question becomes, am I ready to fully submit to what that means to be restored and reclaimed?

What God wants and can do is take your ashes and make them beautiful. Isaiah 61:3 says this: “and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (NIV)

There is song by Chris McClarney called Beauty for Ashes and I want you to hear these words:

God of the new beginnings

God of the second chance

Your grace an endless river

Your love an avalanche

There in my darkest moment

All hope burnt to the ground

That's where Your mercy found me

That's when Your love came down

You turned my mourning into dancing

You turned my sorrow into praise.

Love met me in the ruins

Of all my past mistakes

Love walked me to the river

Love broke apart these chains

Love spoke a new tomorrow

Opened my eyes to see

Love washed away this sadness

Love came and rescued me

You turned my mourning into dancing

You turned my sorrow into praise.

You give me beauty for ashes,

Beauty for ashes

You give me beauty for ashes,

Beauty for ashes. *

As a son or daughter, we must claim the full dignity that God wants to give us. Nouwen says that “Jesus became the prodigal son for our sake. He left the house of his heavenly Father, came to a foreign country, gave away all that he had, and returned through his cross to his Father’s home.”

Where are you in this story?

Where is God calling you to lay do your ashes so that God can make them beautiful?

Maybe you have been in a distant country for a season, and it has been a while since you have seen home. Maybe there is someone in your life who is far from home. There is no better time than today, right now, to say, "I am ready to come home."

I want you to call or text the number 629-300-6090 it will be on the screen and say, “I am ready to come home.”


  1. Nouwen, Henri. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. DoubleDay, 2013.

  2. Songwriters: Brenton Brown / Chris Mcclarney "Beauty for Ashes" lyrics © Thank You Music Ltd.

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