Patient Grace (Palm Sunday)
April 5, 2020 Pastor: Series: com(Parable)
Topic: Grace Scripture: Luke 15:11–32
We all have aspects about ourselves that we not only know need to be improved, but that we also genuinely want to see improved. And there’s a difference there, right? Would I love to have a full head of hair? No. Ha, gotcha. You thought I’d betray all my bald and beautiful brethren. Not a chance! But even if I did want hair, there’s not a lot I can reasonably do to improve that situation. But there are things that all of us can work on to improve. For me, there is one thing that always seems to make its way back to the top of my list: patience. Patience is hard for me. Waiting for something that I’ve been looking forward to can feel agonizing. Maybe you struggle with the same thing. But you know how God seems to bring things into your life to show you, personally and powerfully, how needed something like patience is? Almost like a lens, something comes into our life that brings focus onto that which we are lacking. Those mysterious and insightful blessings can go by many names. For some of us, we simply call them our children. Our kids have this uncanny and often time unwelcome ability to expose all the flaws and foibles we as parents possess. In my case, my boys have shown me just how desperately I need patience.
If you’re a parent, maybe you’ve had an exchange like this: Mommy, can I please have a snack? (It’s up to you whether you want to believe if that “please” was accurate or an embellishment on my part.) Hold on just a minute, I’m working on [insert task any parent is doing at that moment]. * 3-second pause * Daddy, can I please have a snack? Not right now, buddy. Daddy is [insert other tasks any parent might be doing at that moment]. Next comes an unnatural increase in tone and volume from the child’s voice: But I’m hungry, and I need it now.
Now, look, as I said, maybe this exchange is familiar to you as a parent. Or maybe you want to pretend it isn’t. In that case, maybe the thing you want to work on isn’t patience but coming to grips with reality. Regardless, for me, patience is something I learn my need for not only from my own internal dialogue but from the dialogue I have with two very cute, very persistent little boys. And I’m not the only person who has used a story of a father with two sons to offer a lesson. Jesus did the very same thing.
This morning we are finishing our com(Parable) message series. For the last six weeks, all through this season of Lent, we have explored some of the stories Jesus shared that are called parables. These parables offer us a glimpse into the teaching of our Savior as well as into the condition of our own hearts. Using images of banquets, seeds, talents, servants, and Samaritans, Jesus offered wisdom and truth in powerful ways. And this morning we finish this series by looking at one of the more well-known parables. Perhaps, it’s even one of the more relatable parables. It’s a story about a father and two sons. Specifically, it’s a story about a Prodigal Son and a father with Patient Grace. We’re in Luke 15:11-32.
This is a powerful story. It invokes something that we all can relate to - the connection between a child and a parent. Because, whether or not all of us are parents, we are all children. Maybe that’s why this story has had such a prominent place in the teaching of the church. This parable is one we share in Sunday school classes and is a commonplace passage for a sermon. And it’s not only what this parable contains, a parent/child bond, but what it teaches that gives it such moving gravity. This is a story about grace. Grace that finds its origin in unimaginable love. Grace that grows outward in unexpected and even confusing ways. It’s a grace that endures, that gives, that waits, and forgives. It’s a story about Patient Grace.
The younger son in our story does something that makes us cringe. He approaches the father who loves him and simply demands his inheritance. The son shows no thought or affection for the life of his father but only the wealth his father has that he wants for his own. The first time I remember hearing this parable in a Sunday school class, the teacher told us if this were his son, that boy would have been slapped upside the head and sent to his room without supper. But that’s not what happens. No, we’re simply told the father gives the son what he asks for. And then the son leaves.
Sometimes, in messages addressing this story, there is a lot of time and emphasis leveraged toward the period the younger son spent in what verse 13 calls “wild living” but I don’t want to do that this morning. I suffice it enough to say this: The younger son not only dismissed but disgraced the love and affection of his parent. And he did so in order to satiate desires that tore him apart from the outside in. To the point where, eventually, this young man is left with nothing but an exposed, desperate, and appalling awareness of his own brokenness and mistakes. And so, he does the one thing he can think to do: go back to his father’s house.
When the son arrives, he brings with him the only thing he has left, shame. But the father…the father brings something else to that encounter with his wayward child. Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Church down in Atlanta, brings an awareness to this story that I absolutely love. He shares it in his book, Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World. He asks a fairly simple question: What is it the father was filled with when he saw his son coming from afar? Some of you are trying to think about that. What was it? Some of you know it. Compassion. It wasn’t anger, disgust, disappointment, or superiority. It was compassion. That’s not what the son expected. And it’s certainly not what the audience listening to this story would have expected. The expectation is bitterness or judgement. Instead, what is displayed is Patient Grace.
You see, patience can really have two labors. Waiting is the one we think of right off the bat. Waiting for something or someone. Whether it’s sitting in a waiting room, standing in line at Starbucks or Emack and Bolios, or just waiting for a message back from a friend or family member. We understand patience in terms of waiting, whether we like it or not. But that’s not the hardest labor of patience. No, the other labor of patience, the most difficult one, is endurance. It’s the endurance of patience that is tested when a 5-year old begs you relentlessly for a snack. It’s the endurance of patience that is tested when you’re trapped within a conversation you no longer wish to be a part of. It’s the endurance of patience that is tested when someone we love or trust has hurt us. For the father of our parable, his patience involved both the labors of waiting and endurance. And within the unfathomable depths of his heart and his love for his child, this father cultivated and offered something rare, precious, and breath-taking: Patient Grace.
This Patient Grace urged the father to keep his eyes and his heart open to the son that had gone astray. It is Patient Grace that filled the older man with the energy to run out to his boy and wrap him in his arms. It is Patient Grace that caused the overflowing of joy that sparked a celebration to be had. And it is that same Patient Grace that was in the father’s voice when he spoke to his older son, the one who was frustrated by the attention and forgiveness given to his irresponsible brother.
Friends, we need that kind of grace right now. Personally, we need it given to us. And thankfully, we have a Heavenly Parent who offers it to us with reckless abundance and unimaginable affection. But there is a desire for this Patient Grace right now also in the sense that we need it to give to others. While waiting is a universal norm at this point, it is the endurance of Patient Grace that I feel followers of Jesus Christ can demonstrate and share in a powerful way right now. Like our Savior in all of His travels, we are encountering a variety of different people right now. People who are fearful, who are anxious, who are hopeful, who are content, and who are hurting. This is our chance to be like the father in the story of the prodigal son.
We so often associate ourselves with the wayward child in this parable. And rightfully so. There is so much in that character that resonates with our own condition. But I don’t think anyone would call the younger son the aspirational character of the story. That, clearly and inspirationally, is the father. And when the father saw the child approach, the child who had disrespected him and hurt him and abandoned him, when the father saw that child, his heart was filled with compassion. Might it be the same with each and every one of us.
It is my challenge to you and my prayer for each of us that we might display Patient Grace and have compassion for all of those we encounter, especially during this difficult season. Compassion for the people we see burdened with fear and anxiety. For the people who we think are far too relaxed and hopeful. For the people making difficult decisions. For those wearing masks in the grocery store and for those who are not. For those with opinions we don’t agree with, and for those providing services so critical to our community. Really, it’s all people. It’s everyone. We need what the father demonstrates. We need it given and we need to be the ones doing the giving. So much is outside of our control right now, but we all have the opportunity to give something to those we encounter or think of. We can all offer Patient Grace.