Helen Kirk: March 2016
I am a sucker for a good story: books, films, TV dramas, personal testimonies; I even quite like reading the obituary page because sometimes you find the most extraordinary stories of people's lives. And, although many might claim the opposite, I find the Bible is a treasure trove of stories and tales that relate my humanity to God's presence.
One of my favourite stories is that of the Prodigal Son, or as it's sometimes called, 'The Waiting Father'. In this story the son goes off the rails; he demands his inheritance not caring about the pain he is causing his family and then he leaves home and blows the money on wild living. It is only when he realises he is broke and completely on his own in the world that he recognizes all he had at home. He decides to return and see if his family will accept his grovelling apologies, but what he doesn't realise is that every day his father watches the horizon for his coming; he cannot help but wait for him to return. When, eventually, the father spots the son, he runs towards him, not giving the son a chance to speak his apology, and wraps him in an embrace. Simultaneously he tells his child how much he has been missed him, whilst at the same time organising a welcome home feast. The father's position is not one of judgement but grace; he forgives before contrition is offered; he extends the opportunity to start again without the need of explanation, and celebrates his return without requiring any assurances. In love he puts aside all that has gone before, and with open armed hospitality welcomes his son home.
Jesus tells the story to remind us of the nature of God, who waits, with longing love, to welcome us, his children, home into his presence. How wonderful to know that God delights so much in us, his children.
However, it is also a deeply challenging story. Forgiveness and love offered without condition somehow goes against the grain of our humanity; we are happier with the language of achievement, of what is deserved and attained, rather than grace: that which is given without even being asked. Yet such grace is God's way and if it is offered to me then it is also offered to others — to those I struggle with; to those I judge badly; to those I avoid. Thankfully I do not have to bear this grace on my own; I am part of the Body of Christ, a member of Aylesbury Methodist Church, and so together we are called to tell a different story, one that subverts society's quick judgements with a distinctive loving response. And so, like the Father in the story, we long for humanity to come 'home'; we offer a welcome and the best of our hospitality, not just to some, but to all and to any, whoever they are, for we believe that in God's love is a transformative hope.
So what is our story? It is one of grace — that which we have received and that which we offer. May we be a community of second chances, a place of grace.
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