I always get excited about a new series beginning and this one is no different. As I’ve had the chance to study over the last few weeks and look through, hopefully a fresh lens, the story of the Prodigal from Luke 15, it’s once again captured my heart and reminded me of the story that we find ourselves in as human beings. Specifically, and uniquely, as followers of the way of Jesus. My hope is that over the next six weeks this story would be an invitation to you back into the greatest story ever told. Sometimes we need that invitation and we need that reigniting of our faith, so when we sing “awaken my soul,” it’s not because we’ve never been awake before, it’s because sometimes we get caught in the monotony of life, don’t we? And the every day. And the pain and the hurt. Sometimes we need that invitation from God. That’s my intention and hope over the next six weeks.

In 2015, there was a startup company called Lucera Labs. They launched their kickstarter campaign. Over the few weeks that the campaign ran, they raised $164,375. Backed by 712, some of whom may be in this room right now; in hopes of sleeping a little bit better. That was the invitation. It was a new twist on an old invention. A new way of looking at something we all have in our rooms in some way, shape, or form. Lucera Labs invented a different kind of alarm clock. It senses your body heat to try to figure out where exactly the target is. The person that it’s tasked with waking up. Then, through a series of either strong beams of light that are designed to simulate the sunlight coming up through the window, or, if that doesn’t work, a high tech beam of sound that’s designed to only hit the person it’s trying to wake up and let the other person keep sleeping.

If you were to look at this parable that Jesus tells in Luke 15, I think this is a good picture of what he’s doing. A lot of humanity (you may be included in this) walks around in busyness and the noise of life to the extent that we can’t hear, we can’t see, we can’t respond to the goodness of God. Jesus told these stories….there’s three of them in Luke 15 and we’re going to do sort of an overview of those three today. Jesus told these stories specifically for the purpose of awakening people to the grand story that they were living in. He wanted to be like Lucera Labs in waking people up. Jesus was a master teacher and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being brilliant. We talk about Jesus in a lot of different realms, but he was brilliant. But you can only teach somebody who’s awake. I can remember when I was in college and was in a psychology class. They were talking about sleep deprivation and I fell asleep in the very front row of that class. I woke up and the irony hit me! I just slept through an entire lecture about sleep deprivation! I should have listened, I think I have…..

Jesus’s intention is to tell stories that awaken humanity. In fact, after telling one of his parables, his disciples pulled him aside and said, “Jesus, can you explain to us why in the world you tell stories? Why do you tell parables?” If you have your Bible, open to Matthew 13:10-17. That’s where we’re going to start today and then flip to Luke 15. But we need to set the stage. We need to ask the question why would, arguably, the greatest teacher to ever walk the face of the planet, spend the majority of his public ministry telling stories? What was his intention? Why would he do that? What can we learn from the stories that he told? Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus, you talk to us one way, but you talk to the crowds in a different way. Why do you speak to them in parables?

Parables is an interesting Greek word. It’s two words put together. Para – to come alongside of. Bollo – to cast or to throw. It’s this picture of bringing a story alongside of a reality in order to illuminate the truth that is before their very eyes. Jesus, when you’re with us and we’re sort of alone, in private, you talk one way, but when you’re in front of the crowds, in front of people who don’t yet know you, you speak in a different fashion. You throw these stories alongside of these ever-present realities. Why do you do that? Here’s Jesus’s answer; I’d argue it’s one of the most misinterpreted passages in all Scriptures. Here’s what he says: And he answered them, {The disciples are with Jesus after he’s told the parable of the sower or the parable of the seeds.} “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, {You’re with me. You’re asking me questions. We’re living together. Every waking, breathing moment we’re walking together. You’ve started to grasp the secrets of what I’m doing. Literally in the Greek, it’s “the mystery that I’m revealing” that God is way better than you think.} …but to them {To people who don’t have this access. To people who haven’t yet come to this acknowledgement of this faith.} …it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

In verse 12, Jesus is saying that all of humanity finds itself on one of two paths. They’re either moving towards God or they’re moving away from God. We never stay in one place, Jesus says. We’re either growing in our faith or we’re drifting. We’re either walking with God, in more passion and more vigor and more life, or we’re growing more and more cold. That’s what Jesus says. So he sets up this “us” and “them.” I’ve been with you, teaching you, but the other people haven’t gotten that. Then he tells you why he tells parables. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Now, here’s the way I’ve heard this passage taught. Jesus says to the disciples, listen, I tell parables in order to confuse people. I tell parables so that people have no clue what I’m talking about. I tell parables because I want people to walk away knowing less about God than they did when they first got here. Now, if you were to just look at the passage and read it, you could get there given the language, because this word “because” could be taken in one of two ways. You could get there. Let me just ask a question, though. Does that interpretation of this passage make sense? Given who Jesus was and given what Jesus’s intentions were. If you wanted to confuse people, if you wanted to leave people in the dark, just leave them in the dark. Don’t come at all. Don’t say anything. Just let them be. They’ll be in the dark.

You could also read this passage, I think more accurately, in this is why I speak to them in parables. I’m telling them stories because they’re walking around in the world that’s God-bathed and they don’t see it. They’re hearing the anthem of heaven all around them, but they don’t hear it and they don’t understand it. So, Jesus says, I tell them parables. I tell them stories…to wake them up. To rattle their cages a little bit. Author William Taylor, at the end of the 1800s wrote a book entitled The Parables of Our Lord. He said: “The purpose of parabolic teaching is clear; its aim is to elucidate truth, not to obscure it, still less to conceal and issue or to serve as a punishment.” He goes no, no, no. Jesus is teaching in order to paint a picture, to throw something alongside of something else and go, do you get it? do you see it? wake up! Wake up!

That was his intention in sharing the parables. I think Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase The Message, nails it! Here’s what he says in the same passage we just read. He (Jesus) replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been give to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. So I tell them a story, so that maybe, just maybe, they’ll get it.

Indeed, if Jesus’s intention was to conceal things rather than to reveal things, I beg you to study the end and the goal of the parables. In the Parable of the Sower, he says listen, my kingdom is going to increase one-hundredfold! Which means that he was highly unsuccessful….if his goal was to conceal. Here’s the awakening that these stories invite us to: Jesus consistently, in his ministry, used parabolic storytelling to create spiritual awakening. Certainly there were some who couldn’t receive it. Parables had this winnowing effect, this dividing effect, that some people could just not get it. But others heard the stories and maybe they didn’t understand all the details, but they were drawn to Jesus. They were drawn in to the stories he was telling.

Jesus knew something that we’ve now discovered through social sciences. He knows that if you teach somebody didactically, if you walk them through a series of truths, there’s one little part of your brain that’s triggered when you read a book or when you understand a truth. But when you hear a story, it’s as though your brain just starts to light up. All the receptors in your brain (when you hear a story) actually think that you’re there. It’s this fascinating discovery they’ve made through social sciences. When you hear a story, it’s as though you enter into it. There’s one part of your brain that processes pain. It processes both physical pain and emotional pain. When you watch a movie, when you read a book, and your favorite character passes away or the story takes a turn that you were hoping it wouldn’t take….the same part of your brain is triggered as when you stub your toe and go “oh whatever-you-fill-in-the-blank-with-there.” The same part of your brain. Our brains are wired for story. We enter into them and it feels as though we’re there. According to Uri Hasson, a Princeton social psychologist: “A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and their own experience.”

So if you ask why would Jesus spend his time telling stories? One answer: because he’s brilliant. Because it works. Because we can listen to somebody teach didactically, but when they tell us a story…when he tells us a story about a shepherd who’s lost his sheep….he has 99 in the pen, but he lost that one and goes after it, we can resonate with that story. We hear a story about a woman who’s lost one of her ten coins and goes to look for it, we can remember that story. We hear a story about a father who has two sons and one of them goes away, it pricks a part of our heart, doesn’t it? Either as that parent or as that child. We put ourselves in that story.

It’s why stories are such big business. You think about how much money the movie industry makes. Because we love stories. Have you seen the movie, or the musical, or read the book by Victor Hugo, the great work Les Miserables? This question of will grace win out or will law win out? Will Valjean come around or will he not? We love the story of To Kill a Mockingbird where Harper Lee paints this picture of justice and it presses on us to ask questions about our own life, about our own soul, about our own perspective. We love the story….the longest running Broadway performance of all time is Phantom of the Opera. It tells the story about love. It tells the story about worth. It asks through song and picture and story the question of what does real love look like and is beauty just skin deep?

Stories get inside of our heads, don’t they? They get inside of our hearts and they mess with us a little bit. Here’s what they do….they create awakening. They cause us to go man, are the values that I’m holding, the values that I want to hold; is the story that I’m living, the story that I want to live; are the truths that I’m believing actually true. Over the next few weeks we’re going to look at the story of the Prodigal Son or the Prodigal God—however, you want to look at it. Prodigal just means recklessly lavish. Both the son and the father are pretty lavish in the story. Jesus wants to tell the story not just so you go isn’t that awesome, but I never saw that before, I’ve never thought of it like that before, I’ve never seen myself like that before. He wants to create an awakening. He wants to wake us up. Why does he tell this story specifically? These stories in Luke 15. Let me give you just a few reasons today, and I want to ground us in this. My hope is that it’s a launching pad for moving forward into the next few weeks.

Flip over to Luke 15:1-2. Here’s the way that the stories that Jesus tells….this triad of parables….a parable of a shepherd, a parable of a woman looking for a coin, and a parable of a father. Here’s the way the parable starts. Here’s the setting….it’s really important. Now the tax collectors and sinners {Quick timeout. That’s a category of people. People who all the religious folks thought were really far from God. People who were on the outskirts of society. Tax collectors had betrayed their own people in order to collect taxes for Rome, but they got to keep whatever was extra, whatever they charged that was over what Rome asked them to get per head. And the sinners were typically prostitutes. They were people who were just on the outskirts that nobody wanted anything to do with. All these people are crowding around Jesus.} ..were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes {Read….the church people.} grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Opening your table was akin to opening your life. He welcomes them in to the deepest parts of his soul and his life. He sits down and has a meal with him. The church people are like, Jesus, don’t you know the rules? You’re not allowed to do that! You’re supposed to…. Holiness means keeping a safe distance from people who might taint you, who might make you unclean, who might tarnish your reputation. Jesus, you should have known. You should stay at a distance. So Jesus says, “Let me give you twelve reasons why I eat with tax collectors and sinners.” No, he doesn’t. He says, let me give you three stories. Let me build for you through story, a structure for you to get inside of and climb around in. For you to explore your own heart and your own soul. Let me tell you three stories that are going to prick your heart, challenge your values, create some tension and leave you going I’m not sure I like that. Three stories.

The first one is about a shepherd who loses his sheep. What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? The second story is about a woman who loses a coin. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? Jesus ends this triad of parables by telling a story about a lost son. You could deduce the same question—who wouldn’t go find their lost son? It’s this picture Jesus is painting of what it really, actually means to be lost. To be lost, in these parables, doesn’t mean that you failed to achieve some moral, idealistic expectation that God’s laid on you. That’s not what it means to be lost. Jesus is repainting lostness completely. What it means to be lost in every single one of these parables is to be outside of the care and the protection of the owner, the guardian. The sheep is away from his shepherd. The coin is outside of the coin purse that is with the owner. The son is outside of the protection of the father. Jesus wants to shake us a little bit. To cause us to scratch our head and think, we’ve always thought of lostness in categories of sinners and tax collectors. But he goes no, no, no, no, no. All being lost means is that you’re not home. That’s what it means.

He wants to create a new attentiveness to lostness. Lostness in each of these parables {Look up at me a moment.} is relational, it’s not judicial. It’s not ‘you’ve done a whole bunch of really bad stuff, therefore you’re lost,’ it’s ‘you’re not in contact with your father.’ You’ve seen the green grass that’s away from your shepherd, you went over there, and now your shepherd’s protection is removed from you. That’s what it means to be lost. If you’re a coin, you’re not in the coin bag. That’s what it means to be lost. It’s not a list of judicial ‘you’ve done this wrong, that wrong, this wrong, that wrong,’ it’s you’re outside of the arms and care of your loving father or guardian or shepherd. That’s what it means to be lost.

So for Jesus in the story he tells about the sons, you can be lost in rebellion. Certainly the younger son was. He tells dad listen, I want to go, and I want my money, and I’m going to spend it on all the stuff in your kingdom and your house that you think is wrong….I’m going that direction. It’s simply saying to God, God, I think my way’s better than your way and I think I know better than you know. I’m going to take my stuff and I’m going to go. It’s lost in rebellion. The older son is lost in religion. He’s lost, but he’s near the father, but he refuses to go into the house.

You can be lost in rebellion. You can be lost in religion. Part of how we know we’re lost is by seeing the fruit that comes out of our life. If we’re lost in rebellion, typically we have this deep sense in our hearts that life is just off. That there’s something missing. We try to medicate that pain. We try to chase after a bunch of other things to fill us up. We try our best to reconcile and solve the reality that because we’re out of our Father’s care the wages for our sin, our rebellion, is death. We feel it! We can’t live with it so we try to cover it. We try to put stuff into that vacuum that can never fill it up. It’s the lostness through rebellion. If you look at Luke 15:24—The father, upon his son’s return home, says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again….” He was away from home and now he’s home. He was dead and now he’s alive.

So we medicate. We become addicts. We become co-dependent. There’s a lot of different things that we do when rebellion is the way we’re lost. When religion is the way we’re lost it looks like being judgmental of the people around us. It looks like being fairly angry and contentious; that people aren’t playing our game. That people don’t add up to what we think they should add up to. It means that we have the confidence, the unshakable confidence, that we are RIGHT! And we’re on an island there, because everybody else is wrong. That’s typically what it looks like. If Jesus were telling this parable today, I don’t know how he would describe our lostness. Certainly he’d hit rebellion and certainly he’d hit religion, because we haven’t grown beyond these things. He might add in being lost in busyness. Maybe you’re lost in your bitterness. Or you’re lost in your amusement. Or you’re lost in your achievement. For a second, would you just give yourself over to assuming that in some way, shape, or form you’re lost. How?

The stories don’t end in lostness. Look at the way the story of the woman with her coin continues. (Luke 15:8-9) Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? {In the Greek, it’s this picture of I’m going to go until I have nothing left.} And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Jesus paints a new picture of lostness; are you within the home, are you within the care, are you within the protection of your God. Secondly, he wants to repaint the way we view God and the way that we view ourselves. It’s a new attentiveness to lostness, and it’s a new appreciation of God’s goodness. Everybody who heard Jesus tell this original story—all the tax collectors, and all the sinners, and all the Pharisees alike—would have left scratching their heads, thinking to themselves, “Our God could not possibly be that good.”

If you’ve never thought that, may I propose to you that you’ve never really heard the gospel. The gospel presses on us to the point, to cause us to ask the question, God couldn’t really be that good, could he? He really couldn’t love someone like me, could he? I don’t know about you, but I turn on the news at night and this question just bubbles up in me, especially right now, where it seems like our whole country is either on fire or under water. I’m going, God, in your goodness, couldn’t you just sort of spread some of that out? Or maybe you were questioning God’s goodness when after 9/11 two prominent Christian leaders came on the news and said, “This is God’s judgment on sinful United States.” Maybe you had a visceral response to that, like I did, and thought, “I’m not sure if that’s the picture of our great God. I don’t know.” Or maybe you question God’s goodness because of things that have happened closer in your home, closer in your heart. God, I don’t understand how you could allow that death. God, I don’t understand how you could allow that trial. God, I don’t know how to hear your voice when I’m walking through this valley. God, I don’t know. Maybe you’re in this place this morning and you’ve walked away from faith, you’ve walked away from Jesus, and this is the reason—You can’t reconcile how a good God could allow really, really difficult things.

While Jesus doesn’t answer the question ‘How could God allow that?’ he does answer the question ‘What is God like?’ Here’s how he describes what God is like—God is like one who seeks. Who seeks you out, who in that valley finds you and calls your name and invites you home. He’s that kind of God. Who refuses to let you just wander off, if you’re the sheep that thought you found some green grass somewhere and strayed away. What is God like? God is like a shepherd who goes after the one. God is like a woman who seeks to find and sweeps her whole house until she finds that one coin. This is a picture of the way God reacts to “lost” humanity. I wanted to shake us this morning. First, to walk away and go, I don’t know the answers to all the questions about pain, trials, and all the things that happen in world that we would change if we could. I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know the answer to this….Is God good? Yes! Does God love us? Yes! Is God for us? Yes! Unequivocally, passionately, diligently for us.

In fact, the apostle Paul, in writing to his friend Titus, will say this: But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured ot on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7) That’s the invitation. That’s the picture that the story of the shepherd and the coin and the father points out to you. You may think that you are far from God this morning, and you may be far from God this morning, but I want to assure you, He is not far from you. He is chasing you down. He’s the ‘Hound of Heaven,’ as the great poem says. Refusing to let you go.

As a side note, let me add that sometimes our narrative about humanity is pretty negative as followers of Jesus. Our view of humanity is we are just simply unworthy. To that I would say yes….depending on how you define that. If we mean by unworthy, we haven’t earned our way to God, I’d say yes and amen. That’s what unworthy means. We’ve confused being unworthy with having no worth. I want to say that that’s a lie from the absolute pit of hell! According to the Scriptures, you have great worth. According to the Scriptures, you have great value. So much value that the shepherd would leave ninety-nine to go find the one….and this just in….YOU’RE the one! That she’d leave the nine coins to go and find the one….and we’re the one. You may be unworthy in that you cannot get there on your own, but rest in the fact today, friend, that you have great worth. So much worth that the King of heaven left his throne to come and to bring you home.

The woman seeks diligently and then she celebrates lavishly. I mean, almost ridiculously so. The picture that Jesus paints through the story, it jars the Pharisees because they go why in world would someone throw such a strong party after finding just one little, stupid coin? I mean, it would be like Kelly and I throwing a celebration after find the Lego we were missing under our couch. Praise Jesus!! We’ve got twelve billion in our house somewhere, but we got the one! Yeah, we go it’s absolutely ridiculous! You know what’s ridiculous? His goodness. That’s what’s ridiculous! Jesus wants the story to wake you up. He wants it to wreck us a little bit. When I don’t believe God is good, I resort to control, I resort to manipulation, I resort to medication, I resort to addiction, I resort to judgment. When I don’t believe that God is good, I resort to control. But when I believe God is good, I can let him be in control. It turns out, he’s not that bad at that. As Martin Luther aptly put it: “This is true faith, a living confidence in the goodness of God.”

If you flip back over to Matthew 13:14-15, here’s how Jesus ends this section of Scripture. He quotes from the book of Isaiah, and this will wrap up our initial….God give us awareness of what you’re doing here. After saying he tells parable to wake people up, to stir receptivity (according to Peterson’s paraphrase) — Indeed, in their case {The people who have not yet responded.} the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed… {He says the reality is that apart from me coming, and apart from me telling stories, and apart from me awakening humanity, they’re just going to go on with the monotony of life. Their hearts are cold. Then he uses the word “lest.” If you were to go and look it up in the Greek, it’s most commonly translated “when.” But when… } ….lest (when) they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn… {Oh, this is the story we’re living in. I’m lost and God’s good….that’s the story. And then…and then…} …and I would heal them.

If we think that Jesus does not want to heal people, or invite people into what he’s doing in the world, we haven’t read the Bible. He says it really clearly, and we should always interpret less clear passages in light of more clear passages. Here’s what Jesus says in Mark 2:17 — Those who are well have no need physician,but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. He’s going I am the Great Physician and I long to and love to heal the broken, bind up the broken-hearted, set free the captive. That the blind may see and the deaf may hear. That’s what he says he came to do. One of his most common methods is story. One of his most common invitations is to wholeness. To peace. It turns out that wholeness = Home-ness….which isn’t a word, until today.

Let me ask you a question — Do you like the direction your life is heading? Are you pleased with where you’re going? If so, my hope is that the next few weeks would just reinforce the ground that you’re standing on. But if not, can I encourage you that Jesus’s invitation to turn and be healed is on the table, and it’s that freedom that we’re going to be pursuing over the next few weeks. If you don’t like the way your life is heading, then this invitation to wholeness and goodness is for you, because we’re all, in some way, lost. The invitation over the next few weeks, is going to be to come home. To come home.

There’s this story about a boy named John. John grew up in this pious Christian home in the early 1700s. His mom trained in the catechisms of the church and taught him how to follow the way of God. When he was seven years old, his mother passed away and he went to go be with his dad. His dad was a captain of a ship. From the age of eleven to the age of seventeen, he did five voyages on ship. Back in that day, they would have been tumultuous, to say the least. He grew up to me a ship captain himself, and drifted from that faith that was a part of his early upbringing and a big part of his heart. It was March 21, 1748, that a huge storm came up. He was holding on so that he didn’t get swept away into the open sea, off the ship. As he did so, the words of his mother came back to his mind, the words of Thomas a Kempis, in his great little work Imitation of Christ, came to his heart. He wanted to believe, but he had these doubts….all the things that he had done, all the evils he had perpetrated, all the things he’d been a part of as a slave-trader captain of ships….that God would never ever welcome him home. If you were to ask John, he would tell you that THAT was “the hour he first believed.” He went on not only give his life to Jesus and trust that God’s grace would be sufficient for him, but he had this awakening in his life where he went on to be a pastor. He partnered with William Wilberforce in confronting the evils of the slave-trade. He was one of the greatest advocates of Great Britain coming to the point where they said we don’t want this as a part of our society anymore. It was this awakening on that ship that changed his entire life. Out of that awakening, he wrote this great hymn. A great hymn about lostness, about goodness, and about wholeness. It’s a hymn that’s our invitation throughout the course of this series. Friends, welcome to the freeway, welcome to God’s amazing grace. Will you stand and we’ll close our time singing together.