Luke 15.11-32 ‘Welcome home’
If there’s one word I would like you to remember from this morning’s service, it’s: welcome.
If there are two words I would like you to remember from this morning’s service, it’s: welcome home.
In a few moments I will baptise Teddy. It’s been lovely to see him in church over the past months, and very kind of him to bring a couple of grownups with him as well!
I thought this morning it would be good to say a few words about the baptism service, and about what it means. You see, baptism is about a lot more than a vicar splashing a baby with some tap water.
After a couple of questions to the parents and godparents, and then to everyone here, I will say this:
We all wander far from God and lose our way: Christ comes to find us and welcomes us home. In baptism we respond to his call.
That’s a mix of Jesus’ two most famous parables: the story of the lost sheep, and the story of the lost – or prodigal – son, which we had read to us this morning.
Now, if you ever speak to a sheep farmer, you’ll know how difficult sheep can be. To be honest, they’re quite a lot stupid. They wander off, they get stuck, they get lost, they’re a nightmare.
And Jesus says to us: you are like sheep. You make mistakes, you wander off, you get lost. To be honest, it would be quite rude, if it weren’t so true. We may not literally get lost in the woods very often, but the mistakes we make, the things we do, the things we say, the things we think that we shouldn’t – these all push us away from God, they make us wander off and lose our way.
We all wander far from God and lose our way.
If you ever speak to a parent of a teenager, or think back to your own teenage years, you’ll know how difficult children can be. In Jesus’ parable, a son turns to his father and says, ‘Dad, I want my inheritance now.’
I suppose he may as well have said, ‘Dad, I wish you were dead so I could get my hands on my money.’
So his Dad sells half of his estate, gives his son the money, and off he goes. He splashes out on fast cars, fancy restaurants, the latest iPhone, designer clothes, and parties – lots of parties. With all that money, he had plenty of friends to help him spend it.
But when it ran out, suddenly the friends disappeared. The son was kicked out of his posh hotel, and ended up wandering the streets. In Jesus’ day the lowest of the low was to eat pig food. Today we might say the son was reduced to going through other people’s bins looking for peelings and scraps.
For a long time he didn’t even consider going home. I mean, would you? He’d basically told his own father, ‘Dad, I wish you were dead so I could get my hands on my money.’
Jesus says to us: you are like this son. God has given you all the gift of life. Sometimes we use it well and get it right, but a lot of the time we get it wrong. The Bible calls that ‘sin’. It isn’t about eating too much chocolate: it’s much more serious than that, and it affects all of us, even vicars, even babies.
But the good news is that Jesus’ stories don’t end with a lost sheep and a lost son: both are found. The baptism service says this:
Christ comes to find us and welcomes us home.
In the first story, Jesus comes looking for the sheep. Christians believe Jesus did exactly that when he was born among us. He knew we’d never find our way home without him, so he came to show us the way by dying for us and rising to new life.
In the second story, the son comes to his senses: ‘Hang on a minute,’ he says, ‘My dad’s servants eat better than this – he surely won’t have me back as his son after what I did, but maybe as a servant...’ And so he turns, and heads home.
And then we get to my favourite bit of all the parables Jesus told:
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 round him and kissed him.
Luke 15.20 (NIV)
I picture the father, longing for his lost son to return home, looking out every day, scanning the horizon, hoping against hope that he might see his son. I picture the father jumping up, every time he sees someone on the road, sinking back down again when he realises it isn’t his son.
But this time, it is his son. This time, he doesn’t sink back down into his chair. This time he leaps up and runs along the road to his son, and flings his arms around him in an embrace. The son doesn’t even get to finish his speech – the father won’t hear it, but says, ‘Welcome home, son’.
The point of Jesus’ story is this: that’s exactly what God does when we come to our senses, turn away from the mistakes and the wrong things we’ve done, and head home. Jesus came to get us: we have to turn, turn away from our sin and back to our heavenly Father, who is there, waiting to welcome us home with arms open wide.
That’s what baptism is all about: welcome, welcome home. It’s a symbol for the turning back to God that we all have to do, every day. Christians aren’t perfect – far from it. I know sometimes we might be or appear to be self-righteous, but really all a Christian is, is someone who knows the way home, because we know Jesus. A Christian is someone who knows who is waiting for us to say ‘Welcome home’, because we’ve made that baptism journey, every day, since we first turned back to God.
In baptism we respond to his call.
Today is the first step of that journey for Teddy, the journey of responding to God’s call. He’ll make some mistakes, he’ll get stuff wrong; he’ll do some wonderful and amazing things. But we pray that he will learn to turn back to God every day, say sorry for his sin, and find his heavenly Father is always there, waiting with arms opened wide, ready to say, ‘Welcome home’.
And in fact that’s my prayer for everyone here today. May you realise you are lost, turn away from all that rubbish, and find that God was there all along, waiting for you to realise, waiting to throw his arms around you and say, ‘Welcome home’.
This is a picture by Charlie Mackesy, it is called The Prodigal Son.