A Long Way Off
Below is the script of a message I had prepared for our creative team in the lead up for Easter. On the night I was going to deliver it, I felt to shorten it to spend more time in singing together as a creative family - but thought I’d release it in full as a blog. Hopefully it encourages you dear reader. I present to you below…
A LONG WAY OFF
Luke 15:11-21 (NIV)
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
A long way off. I want to really focus on that and pull it out of this text for just a moment.
A long way off. That’s a really emotive line. That’s good storytelling Jesus.
Some translations even put it as a great way off.
That’s even more extreme.
How does that sound for you right now?
Some of us can really resonate with that sentiment… and for various reasons, we can feel a long way off.
For most of us, we’ve heard this story many times before – and if you’re new to this faith thing, I can guarantee you’re going to hear this many more times. So just to mix it up a bit, I’d love for us all just for a moment to try a bit of in-your-seat method acting.
I want us to put ourselves in the shoes of the young son, the prodigal son for a few minutes.
Imagine that you’ve spent your father’s best goods, his best intentions, his legacy for you in the most wasteful, the most selfish ways. Whatever that means for you (some examples, etc). You’ve spent the last little while as a farmhand, if you’re like Caleb Grant, that’s good news. If you’re like me, that’s terrible news. You’ve been hanging out with pigs and making them your dinner pals. And you realise that when you had been living at home, it was always waaay better than this, despite all your grumbling. But you’re conflicted: “I’m not worthy. If I was my Dad, I would have put a restraining order on me. I can’t go back there… but on the other hand, he always told me I could come back, no matter what. Does he really mean it though? Would he really still say that if he knew what I was up to? What I’m capable of?”
So you have this wrestle for a little while - back and forth. And finally you pluck up the courage, a speck of determination, to quit the farm and start walking back to your Father’s house. It’s a long journey. We walk kilometre after kilometre, mile after mile, back past old landmarks that signposted the way back to Sin City, Mount Pointless and Blandville.
And suddenly you arrive at a point that I think most of us have arrived at before. You’ve started out with a bit of confidence; you’ve psyched yourself up in your head. And then you see it. You see the sign “Father’s House”. You can spy the homestead where you grew up in the distance. And you freeze.
“It can’t be” you think. And then you hear a whisper:
“it is. And you’re not worthy to walk another footstep in that direction. Do you know who he is? And do you remember who you are?”
Fear poisons your thoughts.
And there you are. Close enough to see, but yet – a long way off. A great way off.
Let’s pause on that image for a moment. Have you ever felt you were walking in the right direction with a hope in your heart – but for whatever reason, you feel along way off? You can even see the destination ahead.
But you’re suddenly frozen mid-motion. Paralysed by fear – or sometimes even worse, disappointment.
Perhaps this can apply to our dreams. What we’re believing and hoping for in our creativity, in our career, opportunities, our finances, our relationships – even our relationship with God. Or the promises God has made to us. We’re walking the right direction but we’re still no closer to where we want to be.
Or maybe we’re stood still by frustration, failure or impatience: it feels like we’re on the same treadmill but not going anywhere fast. Or so we think. We’ve been doing all the right actions, but why isn’t the result here? I’ve tried so hard. We can feel like Chris Martin does in the opening lines of Fix You “When you try your best but you don’t succeed”.
Maybe this is how we feel about our character or our behaviour. We’ve done everything we think we can.
“Oh I’ll never do that again”.
And then proceed to do it again 10 minutes later.
Picked yourself up from a failure only to fall back down again a short time later.
And here we are: not quite where we want to be. Proverbs 13:12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
We’re a little heart sick. We’re a long way off. Maybe even a great way off.
Thanks Mark. You’ve bummed us all out. You’re welcome. In storytelling they call this the rising tension. And here’s the climax of it all: it’s not over. You’re not over.
Can I encourage you?
If you’re in Christ, you are not where you used to be! You’ve been lifted out of dust. You are changed and changing still! Once upon a time, Sin City, Mount Pointless and Blandville were our regular haunts: you’re not there anymore!
You’re on the road: it’s paved with praise. As Jono talked about a few weeks ago, it’s paved with repentance. It’s paved with God’s seen and unseen goodness. Isaiah puts the road like this in Isaiah 35:8 (MSG):
“There will be a highway
called the Holy Road.
No one rude or rebellious
is permitted on this road.
It’s for God’s people exclusively—
impossible to get lost on this road.
Not even fools can get lost on it.
No lions on this road,
no dangerous wild animals—
Nothing and no one dangerous or threatening.
Only the redeemed will walk on it.
The people God has ransomed
will come back on this road.
They’ll sing as they make their way home to Zion,
unfading halos of joy encircling their heads,
Welcomed home with gifts of joy and gladness
as all sorrows and sighs scurry into the night.”
You’re on the road! And to those who feel like they keep getting doors slammed in their face: as a mentor once said to me, “delay doesn’t always equal denial”. If God has promised you something, he means it. And it’ll arrive in the perfect timing and you’ll be in a position and posture to receive it!
So. We’re going to take communion in a moment and this is where I’ll ask a few of us to start handing out the bread and grape juice. But before we do, and at risk of labouring the point, I’m going to read this passage of scripture again. But this time I’m going to ask you put back on your method-acting abilities and rewind our story again. I want you to imagine that you are wayward child.
“A certain man had two children; myself and my sibling. And I said to my father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to me his livelihood. And not many days after, I gathered everything together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted my possessions with prodigal living. But when I had spent it all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and I began to be in want. Then I went and joined myself to a citizen of that country, and he sent me into his fields to feed swine. And I would gladly have filled my stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave me anything.
“But I came to himself, and said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your child. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
“And I arose and came to my father. But when I was still a long way off, my father saw me and had compassion, and ran and fell on my neck and kissed me. And then I said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your child.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on my child, and put a ring on their hand and sandals on their feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my child was dead and is alive again; they were lost and now are found.’
He loves us as he finds us. All dirty, covered in pig’s mud. Tired and worn out. A strange concoction of faithlessness and faithfulness.
But he saw us when we were a long way off. A great way off. And he runs to meet us in the middle of where we’re at.
He bridged the great distance with his arms stretching the distance between the beams of the cross; love holding him there. This is our Saviour. All of this so we too could have our unrightful place at the table and so we could tell of His story and of His glory. He made the ascent with the cross borne on his back to the new heights of love on the cross so we could find home with him.