It is hard to sleep when you are hungry, when you know that you have hit the end, when you cannot sink any lower, when you are doing things that make you ashamed.
This is where I was. I couldn't sleep because I knew that if I continued what I was doing, I would die.
During many long, agonizing nights, I would begin to remember. There was one memory I could not shake. It was the moment when I went to my father and demanded my inheritance. I knew and he knew what I was saying: "Old man, you are as good as dead to me."
Why did I deliberately hurt this man who had loved me every moment of my life? My desire for freedom and excitement drove me. His love made me feel cramped and I resented his hopes for my life.
For a while I consumed everything that my heart and body desired. Looking back, I can see that I had become ever more frenzied as the thrills delivered ever diminishing returns.
I was so involved with indulging myself that I paid no attention to the money running out. And it did. With my pockets empty, my friends proved to be fickle and my lovers false.
There was nothing for me to do but to go to work. Now I knew work, even hard work, but I had never been forced to do work that demeaned and broke you. It was the only work I could find-feeding the pigs. But then maybe it was appropriate for the pig to feed the pigs.
It now sounds silly to say this, but my pride kept me at this work for a long time. I kept thinking, "I will get a break. This can't be my life. There must be a way out." But things only got worse, until one night when it seemed like the fog cleared. For the first time in months, maybe years, I felt like I had come back to myself.
So I left the pig farm and began the long walk to my father's house. I didn't expect him to receive me as a son -- that relationship was over -- but I knew that I would be better off as his slave than in that pigpen.
I will never forget the moment when I saw my Father in the field. Seeing him, I knew that he had been waiting for me, and I could almost feel his eyes drawing me back home. When he recognized me, he threw down his tools and began running down the road. As we came near to each other, I fell at his feet and begged to become his slave, but he greeted me as a beloved son. I groveled as the wastrel, the scoundrel, the whoremonger that I was, but he brushed off all of my words with his tears and kisses.
He called all the servants together. As they gathered, I could tell that they were not pleased to see me. They respected my Father, and they knew that I had broken his heart.
My Father, though, immediately cut through the tension in the air with these words: "...this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!"
Even though they were cleaning me up and starting the fires for the fatted calf, I couldn't relax. You see, I knew that I still had to face my older brother. Things had never been good between us. He had always been the good and responsible one, and I, well, you know what I had been.
He came. He saw me. He sneered at the ring on my finger and the robe around my shoulders. He curled his lips in disdain and said to our Father that "son of yours" doesn't deserve any of this. Looking at my Father, I saw that my brother's words hurt him just as deeply as my words asking for my inheritance.
I am now reporting to you events that happened many years ago. There has been some talk, especially among the young and restless, about all the carousing that I had once done. Some of the stories have a kernel of truth, but most have been embellished for the titillation of the audience. I have even heard some people refer to me as the prodigal son, but that is to miss the point of the story. Do you want to know the true prodigal? It was my father. The story is about his lavish, extravagant, and prodigal love.
Some people have questioned my father. Just what was he thinking when he gave me the inheritance? Just what was he thinking when he welcomed me back? This is just too easy. You can't just give love away like that, they say. Some of these people are not parents, which means that they do not know about the intricate and delicate dance a parent has with a child around freedom. Some of these people just don't know much about love, do they?
Some people think that my brother was treated unfairly. Some may identify with him and his dutiful and responsible ways, and some of them resent people like me. Some of these people have forgotten that my Father loved him just as much as he loved me.
I now see that neither of us understood my father and his love. I had thought that I could destroy it, and my brother had thought that he needed to earn it.
Why do I stand before you and tell this story? Maybe there is someone here who is now experiencing his or her own sleepless and desperate nights. Maybe there is someone here who needs to come back to himself, to herself. Maybe there is someone here who needs to come back to God. If so, don't hesitate. God not only waits for you, he sent his only son on a rescue mission from heaven to find you. If my wonderful, though human and fallible, father could love so freely and completely, just think how prodigal God's love and mercy must be.
And then maybe there is someone here who is like my brother. He was a good fellow, he meant well, but his feeling that the weight of the world was on his shoulders had pinched his heart. Do any of you feel that way? It is not a good way to feel. If anyone here identifies with him, would you please believe that you are loved and that all that the father has is already yours?
My father threw that feast for me when I returned home. That is what parents do. Today God, our father, throws this feast. The feast of Jesus. Please don't come thinking that you need to earn your way here either with your remorse or your righteousness. Just come. Come and acknowledge your hunger for God. Come and be filled. There is enough for all. There is room for all. The father delights to see his children feast together.
Let us pray.
Good and gracious God, help us to come to ourselves. Help us to return to your love. Help us to see your great tenderness coming towards us. Help us to know that you have already fitted us for the robe and for the ring, and help us to smell the fatted calf of your great forgiveness for us. Lord God, help each person who hears this story see himself or herself in it and know that it is always possible to return home to your great love for us. All this we ask in your name and through the mercy and love of your Son Jesus. Amen.