THE PARABLES OF JESUS: A Pattern of Pursuit   Luke 15:1-32   Billy Berglund

Good morning!  My name is Billy Berglund, and for the last four years, I’ve had the privilege of being on staff here at South Fellowship, working part-time with the students as I pursued my Masters from Denver Seminary.  It’s just been a real privilege to my wife Hannah and I.  We’ve had an eventful summer so far.  Our son Cooper joined us on May 31st.  He was born six weeks early, so he kind of surprised us.  He spent some time in the NICU, but he’s growing and is getting a little chunky now, which is awesome.  We feel real blessed to have Cooper with us.

Hannah and I celebrated our five year anniversary (which is coming up) with our last trip before Cooper came, along with celebrating finishing seminary.  We went to Phoenix in March.  We went to this Mexican restaurant, at the suggestion of Josh Suddath, our student pastor.  We walk up and it’s tiny.  The tables are an arm’s length apart from each other.  We walk in and felt out of place.  We’re way underdressed; everybody is really dressed up and the waiters are real fancy.  We sit down and they hand us the menu and the waiter says, “Can I get anything started for you?”  I said, “Yeah, we’ll take some chips and salsa.”  The waiter said, “Well, chef doesn’t do chips and salsa.”  What Mexican restaurant doesn’t do chips and salsa?!  We’re looking at the menu.  We can’t pronounce anything on the menu.  I look at the prices and thought, “Wow, Josh is playing a prank on us.” We found some food to eat.  Halfway through our meal, we see some commotion starting.  The waiters are frantically getting some tables put together.  They asked a couple to move to a different table.  They weren’t going to ask us to move because they didn’t give us chips and salsa, but….   A group came in; they were dressed up in suits and ties or dresses.  They came in kind of one by one and the last person to walk in was John Elway.  On this Tuesday night, in March, in Phoenix.  I don’t know how he heard I was in town, but he decided to come and be at the same place.  I even took a picture; he didn’t know that.  When he came in, my whole countenance changed.  This meal was kind of a disaster and we were going to have to take out a loan to pay for it, but once he came in, I was thrilled.  Our conversation stopped and I kept looking over at him.  For me, this was a big deal, but for her, she doesn’t care for retired pro-football stars or that the owner of the Broncos is sitting at the table.  She just wanted to be with me on our anniversary dinner. It turns out, we actually went to the wrong restaurant, so I can’t blame Josh, but we have a cool story that came from it.  I think about that story and in my upbringing and background, I loved football.  I followed football, so John Elway was a big deal.  He’s a legend.  For my wife, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

I think our experiences, background, and upbringing shape the way that we view people.  Whether that’s a relationship with a friend or a family member.  If we feel comfortable with them, we can just be ourselves, kind of live in this freedom.  If we’re anxious and nervous, we’re going to live tense and live out of fear.  I think the same thing happens in our relationship with God and the way that we view him.  A.W. Tozer, the pastor and theologian, said,  “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Think about that for a second. I remember hearing that for the first time and thinking, I don’t know if that’s true. But over time, I’ve seen how this is true.  Everything we do is shaped by this.  The way that we view ourselves, the way that we view others, is shaped by our understanding of God.  Not only that, but the way that he views us.  If you were honest with yourself this morning and you thought about God and the way that he viewed you, what would the facial expression on his face be?  Would he be discouraged or disappointed?  Or frustrated or angry?  Or maybe happy or smiling or pleased?  I think the answer to that question really shapes how we live our lives.   We all bring our unique stories here today, our unique backgrounds, and something comes to mind and when we think about God and the way that He views us.  This morning, we’re going to come back to this idea that our understanding of how God views and pursues us will shape how we view and pursue others.

The last few weeks, we have been in a series on the Parables of Jesus. These stories that Jesus tells. He throws them right alongside reality. They would really connect with his listeners.  They were everyday things they could relate to.  He would have these truths come in that maybe you couldn’t see right away, but they draw us in and captivate us, like a TV show or a story or a good book, that just draws us in.  Jesus was this master storyteller, and he would tell stories about life in the kingdom, about God, about grace, and more.

In the past two weeks of the series, Ryan taught the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  He said, “The way you see yourself shapes your approach to everything else.” Larry, in the Parable of the Talents, said, “Our theology of God will greatly impact how we experience God.”  This morning, we are going to keep building on those ideas as we look at our passage from Luke 15, if you will turn there with me.  I believe in our study of Scripture today that a pattern will emerge that can be seen throughout Jesus’ ministry and has importance for us today in the way we live our lives.  Here at South, our mission is to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. What we learn and observe about Jesus and his ministry, we’re called to put into practice in the way that we view others.

With this in mind, we’re going to be in Luke 15, starting in verse 1.  Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   This context is very crucial to understanding the series of three parables that Jesus will tell.  Jesus is speaking to two groups of people. As the master storyteller, Jesus will directly speak to both groups of people, and to us here today. He’s speaking to the lowly of society—the rejected, the outcasts, the tax collectors and sinners— who were despised and often dishonest. Instead of rejecting them, He often spent time with them; he ate meals with them.  As a result, they gathered around to hear him, as verse 1 tells us.  They were drawn to Him.  He showed love to them when most everybody else rejected them.   That’s important.  The second group of people—these Pharisees and teachers of the law—were the Jewish religious leaders. Outwardly, they appeared righteous, but inwardly it was a different story. They were so focused on doing the right things, but they are frustrated with Jesus.  Why would He spend time with these “unclean” people?  They missed his heart entirely. They are muttering about how Jesus is welcoming sinners and eating with them.   They thought if they spent time with these “unclean” people that they would become unclean.  Jesus flips this and shows how he can heal and cleanse them.  A little later in Luke 19:10, Jesus says about himself and his mission:  The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.  This is his mission and his heart. In this series of three parables, Jesus is going to encourage one group—the tax collectors and the sinners—and also challenge the Jewish religious leaders and their mindset.

So with this background in mind, let’s jump into the first parable, found in Luke 15:3-7 — Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  

In this parable, we’re beginning to see Jesus’ heart for the lost and a desire to be in a relationship with them. In the story, a shepherd having a hundred sheep would have been a very common thing that would have taken place.  They would have counted them regularly.  To us, losing one may not seem like a huge deal. Sheep often stray and get lost, and after all, the shepherd still has 99 others. But this is a big deal. Jesus is challenging his hearers. He says that each sheep, each person, is valuable to Him.   Once found, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders. There is rejoicing and he calls together a party of celebration over this one lost sheep who was lost, but is now found. You may ask, and it’s a good question, what kind of shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep all alone to go after one?  It doesn’t sound like a smart move.  But, the reality was at this time, if a sheep got lost, the head shepherd would go searching for the one sheep, while he made sure his helpers stayed with the ninety-nine to keep them safe.  God doesn’t just abandon his followers, but what the parable is showing is His passion for seeking the lost.

In verse 7, he says:   … in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.   Jesus is encouraging his audience and saying there is a place for you.  There’s a place for all of us at the table, we are welcome.  In Jesus, in a relationship with Him, you are not defined by the mistakes you make, but by the grace He gives.   Remember, He’s speaking to lowly outcasts who have been looked down upon for their whole life, and Jesus is saying, “You’re not defined by that.”  The key in this whole parable is this word “repent.” This is a key aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He’s calling us to repentance, which literally means to change one’s mind.   A change of mind that leads to a change of action. To turn from our sins and turn to God. To be changed internally.  To repent and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, to believe in him, to place our faith in him. To change from rejecting to accepting Jesus. As this parable, and many other passages throughout the Gospels show, Jesus pursues people with that goal that they would repent and believe.  Repentance is only made possible through God’s grace and his drawing us, his pursuit of us. He takes the initiative. True repentance will lead to a changed life. This invitation is open to all and this is great news.

But for some, they see it differently.  As we saw in verse 2, the religious leaders are grumbling and muttering. They don’t want to welcome in some types of people. They see the community of believers as a special Country Club with reserved access, rather than open to all who would repent and believe in Jesus.  Jesus is challenging their mindset.  In the parable, Jesus is showing them that there will be a great party, a celebration in the community for anyone who turns to him!  But will they join in?  Will they share in his heart and join in the celebration?   Jesus further challenged them, with a bit of irony this time, with the line, “Ninety-nine righteous leaders who have no need to repent.” The religious leaders saw themselves as holy and with no need to repent, but they were wrong. Their self-understanding was warped. As we see throughout the Gospels and in Acts and the New Testament, there is a universal need for repentance. What Jesus is really saying is, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who think they are righteous and have no need to repent.”  In this first parable, Jesus is highlighting how God views and pursues us. He has deep concern, love and mercy for each individual. We matter to God.

The second parable is found in Luke 15:8-10:  Jesus continues — Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.”  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  This second parable is very similar to the first and it reinforces the points that Jesus made in the first parable. Yet the situation now is slightly different. There’s ten coins that the woman has and she loses one.  We don’t know if she was poor or widowed, so each coin would have mattered a lot to her.  Each coin was worth about a day’s wage at that time.  Some scholars have suggested that the coin would have had more than just monetary value; it could have had sentimental value, like part of a 10-piece set that was like a ring, so it was very valuable to her.  We don’t know exactly the details, but what we do see is the great value placed on finding that coin. Once found, the woman again gathers her friends and neighbors together for a celebration. They celebrate and rejoice together.  In verse 10, Jesus concludes the parable by saying:  In the same way, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

These two parables together are very intentional. Jesus shows that God is merciful. Each and every individual is precious and important in his sight. He has deep love for each person. We matter to God. He wants to be in a relationship with us and there is rejoicing when even one person repents and turns to him.  Throughout these two parables, Jesus is contrasting a communal response of rejoicing and celebration in the community of faith, with the Pharisees’ grumbling and muttering; they don’t want to welcome in these people.

As I thought of these two parables, with the theme of lost and found, in my own life, stories have a way of drawing us in. Jesus even says, “Wouldn’t you go looking for that sheep?  Wouldn’t you go looking for the coin?”  So, a few years back—quite a few years back now—when I was a young boy, I had a best friend.  We did everything together. Everywhere I went, he went.   He was loyal.  He was faithful. His name was Simba. Simba was a stuffed animal, but he was the best. The timing is kind of funny for this sermon because the new Lion King movie just came to theaters this weekend.  But as a young boy, I hung out with Simba all the time.  I took him everywhere.  I was probably too old for stuffed animals, but are you ever too old for stuffed animals? I took him everywhere. One summer, our family was vacationing up in Keystone, here in Colorado. We were standing around Keystone lake and I had my Simba. There was a high railing and the water down below. Well, I proceeded to drop Simba into the lake. My family still talks about this event to this day. I lost it.  I was wailing and shrieking.  I was inconsolable.  I had to get my Simba back.  If I didn’t get him back, I’d have to make real friends and that was going to be a problem.  We tried everything to try and get him. Finally, we asked a worker at a nearby shop and she had a giant net and was able to scoop out sopping wet, smelly Simba. My joy was restored. There was great rejoicing in the Berglund household that day.

When we lose something that has great value to us, we will go to great lengths to find it, to retrieve it. I think these parables give us a glimpse into God’s heart for us. We matter to him and we are important to him. We are worth pursuing. Have you ever thought of that? God pursues you, because you are worth pursuing. You matter to Him.  You are made in His image, you are loved and known by Him.  You are not just some sheep or some coin, but you hold deep importance in the way you are uniquely and wonderfully made.

Through these first two parables we are seeing how God views and pursues us.  But He doesn’t stop at these two parables. I think that’s really important.  Jesus is now building and he’s coming to kind of this main event,  this third parable. He has told the parable of the lost sheep, then the parable of the lost coin, and now he’s going to tell the parable of the lost son (or prodigal son.) This story may be very familiar to you. In fact, two years ago here at South, we did a six week series called “Freeway,” through the parable of the prodigal son. There is so much to see in this story. This morning, I want to encourage you to enter into this story, even if it’s familiar to you, as if you’re hearing it for the first time. Imagine yourself as a part of Jesus’s original audience and what you would have been seeing and feeling.  I truly believe this story has shaped my understanding of God more than any other. I think it’s really powerful.

Let’s read together now, keeping in mind the context and the two parables Jesus told before this one.  It starts in Luke 15, verse 11-16.  Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’  So he divided his property between them.   Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.   So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.   He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

So we can already see some differences emerging in this parable as opposed to the two previous ones. There are two sons in the story and that is important.  The first son willfully chooses to go.  He basically goes up to his father—Jesus is identifying himself with the father in this story—and he says, “I don’t even want to be in a relationship with you. I’d rather have your stuff and I’m going to go.”  This would have been seen as very disrespectful and frowned upon at the time.  In a stunning move, the father gives it to him.  He allows the son to make the choice and to go on his way.  It doesn’t work out so well.  The younger son is not only unfaithful to his father but to his people as he goes off into a distant country. He then proceeds to spend everything he has before a famine comes. He comes to the lowest possible point at rock bottom, longing to eat the pods the pigs were eating.  Maybe you find yourself here today.  Perhaps not exactly what this younger son experienced, but you find yourself at a place you never expected. Through a series of decisions or habits or trials, you feel far away from God. You may feel like there is no way God could forgive you or no way you could turn back. If that’s you this morning, be encouraged, because this story is far from done.

Let’s jump back in now in verse 17:   “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.   I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”   At the lowest possible point, the younger son comes to his senses. He realizes his sin is not only against his earthly father, but against his heavenly father as well.  He is repentant.  He makes this change of mind that leads to a change in action.  He makes a turn in his heart and he sets out to go back to his father. But he cannot imagine that his father will accept him as a son, perhaps as a servant, but never as a son.  Maybe for a meal, but never as a member of the family.  After all, he’s brought so much shame and disgrace upon his family with his reckless living.  It’s also possible he won’t even make it home, as the community might go out on the road to meet him and reject him before he gets home. So with fear and nerves, he sets out for home, not knowing what to expect when he returns.

Let’s finish verse 20.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.    I love this verse. God has used this verse in my own life in powerful ways that really caused me to rethink the way that He views me. God is not disappointed in me.  For so long I felt like I was not good enough, that I didn’t measure up.  I have a great earthly father, but between coaches and the pressures that I felt, I felt I was never measuring up.  That God was disappointed in me.  But this story began to change that, that he actually delights in me. He runs to me. At this time, the father running would have been completely unexpected and against cultural norms. But look what happens: The father sees his son, which implies he was looking for him, day after day, longing for his son to come home.  He feels compassion for his son, not disgust. He loves him dearly.  He runs to embrace him; I imagine this giant bear hug.  The father ignores social norms; he brought shame upon himself and acts undignified, but he doesn’t care about that. He cares about his son. His son is home, and his son is forgiven and loved.

The son begins his planned speech to his father.  The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  {He gets through the first two lines, but the father interrupts him. The younger son is genuinely repentant. He acknowledges his sin and knows he is not worthy of being his son, but before he can ask to be made like a hired servant….}   But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”   So they began to celebrate.

This is so amazing that the younger son will not be a made like a hired servant. Far from it. Instead, he is given a robe, a ring, sandals, and the fattened calf is killed for celebration. Each of these symbolize his being welcomed fully back to the family. He is reconciled completely to his father. Not only that, but he is treated as a guest of honor. They are going to have a community-wide celebration to show he is a deeply loved child and he is fully accepted. Note that the father doesn’t say, “Go clean up and then I can love and accept you.” He probably smelled bad, living with the pigs, but his father embraces and accepts him back.  He forgives him and welcomes him back to the family. There’s a community-wide rejoicing and celebration; this is a wonderful day.

You can imagine the shock on the face of Jesus’ original hearers as they heard this story.  How could this happen?   I think, for us, we can get so familiar sometimes with certain stories from Scripture that we can just read on over this.  We’ve heard it before.  “Yep, the father runs….   I know that.”  But imagine hearing this for the first time.  Imagine truly believing this over your own life:  That God is waiting with open arms; that He wants you to come home; that He is running to you; that He delights in you; He loves you, imperfections and all.  By faith, we are part of His family and there’s a celebration for us.  We belong.  We are his children, sons and daughters of God.  Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:14-16:  For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.   Like the song says, “I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

I have the privilege of working with students, here at South in the student ministry, now as a full-time teacher and coach. It is one of the greatest joys of my life. I am so excited for this next generation and I am encouraged by their faith.  But I believe one of the most important issues for students AND adults alike is identity.  It’s so important for us to know that our deepest and truest identity is not in our performance, our popularity, or our earthly success, what we can achieve, but as a child of God.  Our identity is not in what we have done, but in what Jesus has done for us. We can live from approval, not for approval. From this place of acceptance, not for acceptance. We are His children and we can walk in freedom and newness of life.   I just love the picture that Jesus paints of the father running.  My hope is that this begins to be the image that comes to mind when you think about God and the way that He views you; that He delights in you that you’re home with Him.

But let’s return now to the passage in Luke 15. The younger son has just come home, the father embraces him, welcomes him back to the family, there is a great celebration, the lost is found, and everyone is happy.  Well, not quite. Jesus could have ended the parable at the end of verse 24.  That’s how the first two parables end, right? There’s a celebration and rejoicing. But there’s also another question that I have wondered about this chapter of the Bible. As you look at the first two parables, the shepherd and the woman go out looking for what is lost: the sheep and the coin. But in this parable, the father lets his son go and he does not go out after him. He certainly is waiting and he runs to him and embraces him with grace, but it is different than the first two parables. Why is that?  Well, culturally, it was the older brother’s job to go out after the younger brother. To his original hearers, they would have immediately known this. That’s when it clicked for me, that when we put it together, we see Jesus is challenging these religious leaders to live in his way with his heart. To pursue the lost and to welcome them. We see this pattern all throughout the Old Testament, too. Jesus is inviting his people to live on mission with him, to share his heart for the lost, and to pursue them in the way that He has pursued us.  To understand his love and then pursue others in the same way.   Recall our big idea from today:  Our understanding of how God views and pursues us will shape how we view and pursue others.

These Pharisees and religious leaders, they didn’t get it.  They didn’t understand God’s heart and the way that he viewed them. They were missing out on this life-giving relationship.  They’re represented by the older brother in the story, so let’s finish this story together in Luke 15:25-32:  Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.   “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”  The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.   But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”  “My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.   But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

The older brother is upset and angry. He won’t even acknowledge his younger brother, he calls him “this son of yours.” He is upset at the father for even welcoming him back.  He’s missing God’s heart. He spent his whole life trying to earn the Father’s affection. He was living in fear and was completely focused on himself. He didn’t care much for others because his whole world revolved around him.  Jesus is just masterful in the way he tells this story as he speaks so clearly to them.

First, the older brother refuses to go in to the party. So what does the father do? Verse 28—He “went out” to the older brother. He calls him “my son.” He is still pursuing him, just like the father went running to the younger son, he is still pursuing the older son. He is still inviting him to the party. He’s saying it’s not too late to join in on my mission.  Jesus is saying this to the religious leaders, calling them to change, to join in, and to live with Jesus’ heart.

Second, in verse 31, the father says, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” I truly believe this was a foreign idea to the older brother. He could not get his mind around this idea of living in the freedom and love that was offered to him as a son. He even says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you. I’ve been working for you.” He’s been trying to earn the father’s affection.  But he’s missing the point.  He was so focused on earning, and striving, and keeping score, and comparing, that he was bitter and mad.

Lastly, it is ironic how this parable ends.  It’s known as “The Parable of the Lost Son” or “the Prodigal Son.” I prefer the title of “The Parable of the Surprisingly Good Father.” Both of the other two titles refer to the younger son. But which son is truly lost in this story? Jesus flips it. The older brother is the one missing out and missing the point. Whereas the younger son was lost in his rebellion and he comes home, the older son was lost in his religion and the story ends without knowing what will happen next. The younger brother repents and just hoped to be accepted as a slave or a servant, but he is welcomed as a son. The older brother is already accepted as a son, he is with him, but he is living as a slave. He is not living from his father’s approval and love, but he is striving to earn it.  Yet in both cases, the father goes out to each brother.  Each and every person matters.  God is still pursuing them.

As I reflect on these three parables, I really believe that God has used them to really change my perspective.  This idea of God pursuing me, almost seemed radical. A huge part of this journey came from my very first Sunday at South: August 9, 2015, four years ago. My wife and I moved here the day before, not knowing anyone. I was going to start at Seminary in a few weeks.   We sat in the back and heard Pastor Ryan speak. In that message, I will never forget Ryan’s words.  At the end of the sermon, he said a line that has stuck with me. It really sparked a new trajectory for me and my understanding of who God is and how he views me. He said, “God pursues relentlessly, loves always, and refuses to give up on you. He is relentless to the end.”  For some reason, this just felt new to me that the God of the Universe pursues me, imperfections and all.  He loves me deeply, he is not disappointed, but he delights in me. These parables bring out these wonderful truths so clearly.

So what do we do with all of this? How do we put this into practice in our daily lives? We are invited into this journey together with Jesus. We are meant to do this together. Our faith is not a solo act, but a team sport, we need each other.  As each parable shows, celebration occurs in community among the people of faith, so this mission needs to be our heartbeat. So what does it look like?  If you have your bulletins, you may have noticed I titled this message “A Pattern of Pursuit” and I have left a blank for three lines.  You might have been wondering what that is or why I titled it that way.  The reality is, I have read this story many times, and taught on it, and heard it taught many times.  You can get so familiar with it, but awhile back, I was struck with something. It occurs back in verse 20.  The younger son has gone out and now he’s coming home.  This is what we see:  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.   It struck me because it sounded familiar. I thought about this pattern that is seen all throughout the gospels.  In Jesus’s ministry, this pattern is seen at numerous times. I don’t think that’s a pure coincidence either, when we find a pattern. Jesus sees people, he feels compassion for them, and then moves toward them in love.

Let’s look at a couple of these examples.  In Luke 7:12-15, Jesus raises a widow’s son  — And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he camp up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.  And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”   He saw the woman, he had compassion on her, he moved towards her in love, and he heals her son.  In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, which is recorded in Matthew 14:13-16 as well as in Mark 6, we see this pattern as well.  The disciples are tired and want to withdraw by themselves.  Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.  But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.  Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”  But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”   And Jesus feeds the five thousand.  Jesus sees people, he feels compassion for them, and then he moves toward them in love, through healing, through teaching, through giving them food to eat.

But it doesn’t stop there.  It’s not just in Jesus’s ministry that we see this example, but in his teaching for us.  In Matthew 9:35-38 there’s a similar type passage — Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”   Jesus is calling us to send us out, to go out, to live on mission with him.

Perhaps the strongest example of all is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, another well known parable, Luke 10:25-37 — An expert in the Law stands up to test Jesus. He notes he should love God and love his neighbor, but to justify himself, he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus has this answer.  Check it out with this pattern in mind.  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest {Who should have helped him.} was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, {Who should have helped him.} when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, {The last person you would have thought of to help him.  Culturally, it was unthinkable.} as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’   Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”   This is the pattern of seeing people, feeling compassion, and moving towards them in love.

Following Jesus’ pattern of pursuit, the first thing we’re called to is to truly see others.  Everyone that we know and everyone that we see bears God’s image.  Seeing others as God sees them starts with knowing how God sees us. Every person you meet has a story. Instead of quickly judging or ignoring others, what if we started noticing them? Think about how much that means to you when someone takes the time to notice you. I think through my story and the men who have noticed me, and pursued me. My volunteer basketball coach Scott in high school.  The Senior captain on the basketball team in college named John.  Pastor Rob in Minnesota while I was finishing college.  Pastor Ryan here at South who was my mentor for three years.  Or Russ Smith at Denver Christian.  These are guys who took notice of me and cared about me.  I think of Kevin Perdew here at South, one of our leaders with the students. He notices and talks to each and every student, he reaches out to the new students, including the students who are quiet and shy. What if we each did this not only here at church, but in our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, sports teams, and in our community?

Secondly, cultivating compassion for others, following this pattern from Jesus.  How do we get to a place where we feel compassion for others on their journey?  It starts with listening to their story.  Everybody has a story and is on a journey.   Build a relationship with them, engage with them, slow down.   See conversations and relationships, not as interruptions, but as invitations and opportunities.   Ask God to help cultivate this in us, the more we do it, the more we grow and develop it.   To slow down and listen, rather than just rushing on with our own agendas.  Another of our student volunteers, Kevin Rayl, does this so well. He cares so deeply for our students and has a heart of gold. He goes out of his way to build up our students, to pray for them, to follow up with them. He has done that with Hannah and I from day one here at South. It may not seem like a lot, but it matters so much to others.

Lastly, moving toward others in love. Jesus did this over and over and it wasn’t always the same way.  Sometimes it was healing or teaching or feeding or raising a son to life.  But what does it look like for us as we move towards others in love?  Building a relationship.  Meeting a pressing need with the resources that God has entrusted to us.  Extending love and care for people.  Extending forgiveness, maybe to a family member or a friend that we have a difficult relationship with.  Inviting others into community.  All these parables shared the same theme of doing this together in community. Today is our Local Ministry Partner Sunday. This could be a great way to get plugged in and move towards others in love. There are tables in the lobby right after this service to learn about various organizations that South partners with and hear about the work they’re doing right here in our community. Their areas of ministry range from supporting the homeless, ending human trafficking, fighting hunger, tutoring kids, and more. This could be a great opportunity to get plugged in and serving.  If we’re committed to living in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, then we’re called to do that together as a community in our community.  1 John 4:19: We love because he first loved us.

Putting it altogether: We see how God deeply loves and pursues us. He values us, being made in His image and pursues us. He invites us into a life with Him, as we love and pursue others.

As we end this morning, I have asked Aaron to come up and close with a song. I have left a spot at the end of your bulletin for “My Next Step.”  I want to encourage us to be thinking about what is one next step that we could take from what we have heard today. I love this song, its called “By Your Side” by Tenth Avenue North. Perhaps God did something in your heart, whether you connected with the younger son, or the older son.  Or maybe the way that you view God or the way He views you was challenged or changed today.  This song speaks to us, as we always remember that God pursues relentlessly, He loves always, and He refuses to give up on you.  Let’s sing.