Following in the Footsteps of Jesus to Become Like the Father

On Sunday we wrapped up our series on the Prodigal Son, taking a look at the Father. We talked about how we are called to become like the Father. Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “As a beloved son, I have to claim my full dignity and begin preparing myself to become the father…Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father” His point is simple. We are not accepted into God’s family to remain as we are, but to act and live like a true family member. Athanasius, an early church father, put it this way: Jesus became human so that we might become like him. And through following Jesus we follow in his footsteps, becoming like the Father.

So on Sunday we pulled out three amazing characteristics of the Father in this parable. First, that his love is reckless. He gives his youngest son all that he asks for even though it hurts him. He gives generously even though his generosity will be abused.

The second thing the father does is to practice active love. The Father is on the lookout the entire time the son is wandering around lost. The text says the Father was watching for him. That he was actively searching for him. This is an example of not just loving feelings, but love put into action. We are called to do the same.

The last thing we pulled out was that the Father’s love is marked by abundance not scarcity. So often we worry that there isn’t enough money, time, resources, or love to go around. The older son in this story shows that disposition. He worries that the Father’s display of love lessens the love, and resources available to him. But the Father says, “All I have is yours”. In the Kingdom of the Father there is excess, abundance, and overflowing love not a scarcity or limited supply. This is how love functions in the Kingdom.

So to close we gave three simple steps, with cues taken from Henri Nouwen, on how to become like the Father. The first was to shed tears, the second was to forgive, and the third was to be generous. Nouwen writes this: “To become like the Father…I have to shed countless tears and so prepare my heart to receive anyone, whatever their journey has been, and forgive them from that heart.”  This is true, unless we shed tears our hearts can remained hard, unmoved, and unlike the father. We are also called to forgive, before people ask. This is the example of the Father. Again Nouwen writes with startling simplicity and beauty, “It is through constant forgiveness that we become like the Father”. And lastly, we shared that we must begin to believe in the abundance of the Kingdom and live lives of generosity. Again Nouwen was our guide writing, “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know that I am moving from fear to love”. This is the process to become like the Father to move away from fear to love.

So we closed with a few simple questions for reflection and action.

  • Who are you angry at rather than broken over? Can you shed some tears this week to soften your heart?
  • Who are you holding a grudge with? Can you let go? If not, read this parable again and again until the picture of God painted in this so grabs your heart, that unforgiveness lets go.
  • And lastly, where are you not being generous out of fear? Then this week find a way to be generous.

I think these questions, and this quest to follow Jesus matters tremendously. Because the only thing that will change this world is when we start to live, love, and look like Jesus. And that only happens as we follow in his Jesus’ footsteps, in the power of the Spirit, and the direction of the Father. So may we all take some steps forward this week in following Jesus.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We are to following the Father’s Footsteps

Take Aways…

  • The sons are to become like the Father
  • If our picture of God is off, our lives will be off
  • The Father is one who loves recklessly
  • Respect that is demanded never leads to a relationship
  • The Father’s love is active, and proactive
  • The Father’s love is marked by abundance not scarcity
  • The parable is an invitation to follow Jesus, in our becoming like the Father
  • Jesus became human so that we might become like him. Athanasius
  • “Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop in despair, but always hoping that this children will return so that he can speak word of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless.” Henri Nouwen
  • “Jesus is the true Son of the Father. He is the model for our becoming the father”. Henri Nouwen
  • To become like the Father we have to learn to shed tears.
  • “To become like the Father…I have to shed countless tears and so prepare my heart to receive anyone, whatever their journey has been, and forgive them from that heart.” Henri Nouwen
  • To become like the Father we have to learn to forgive first.
  • “It is through constant forgiveness that we become like the Father” Henri Nouwen
  • To become like the Father we have to be learn to be generous.
  • “Every time I take a step in the direction of generosity, I know that I am moving from fear to love” Henri Nouwen

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? What was new? Why would you say it is important to get our picture of God straight? How does this parable help to focus our picture of God? What part of the Father’s actions most spoke to you and for what reasons? How can you start to follow, to become like the Father? Is there someone you need to shed a tear over? Is there someone you need to forgive, or give to? How might you do that this week?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and talk with you kids about the picture of God painted in this parable. Talk about how God is actively loving, how his love never runs dry, how he gives such grace to us. Talk to them about why you follow this God, and how you might try to this week follow him deeper. What might you do with your kids? Listen more, spend more time with them, forgive some of their annoying habits? What can you do to show them love like the Father?

Challenge for this Week: Shed a tear over brokenness, forgive someone before they ask, and give to someone generously

Prodigals and Finding God

progidal sonOver the next few weeks we are going to be moving into a new series looking at the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. This is a story that is very well known in general. But what is often true is that the most familiar stories are sometimes the least well known. Meaning that some of the most familiar stories are so familiar that they have lost their initial impact, shock, and experience.

This is what I hope to explore over the next few weeks. Because this story is shocking in what it reveals.

  • It shows a God willing to divide up his life for people to make the wrong choices.
  • It shows a God willing to accept and offer forgiveness before it’s asked for.
  • It shows how we can break the rules, and obey all the rules and still miss God.
  • It shows how our own righteousness and obedience to the law can distance ourselves from God just as much as running away.
  • And most of all, it shows a radical picture of God that differs from the unchanging, cold, distant entity in heaven; instead it shows a God radically open, relational, and filled with reckless love.

So that is where we are going for the next few weeks; looking each week at one of the characters in the story and how our lives might line up with theirs. But before we do that, why not spend sometime and slowly read and digest this story. Listen to it as if for the first time and discover not only who God is, but also who we are.

Luke 15: 11- 32.

“A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”