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Relationship restoration 101 - see the solution
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You’ve got at least one relationship you wish were a little better, don’t you? Last week, we saw how all of our relationships get strained and stressed by our selfishness. Today, we see the solution.

We’ve been walking through Jesus’ story of the Prodigal son, who threw away his relationship with his dad and wasted all his inheritance in wild living. We saw the emptiness of sin’s promises. Now, we’re at the point in the story where the son sees the same thing. Luke 15:17 says that the son "came to himself." He realized the emptiness of selfishness, and the results of his sin, and look at what he says: "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 hands.’"

Sounds like some of our plans, doesn’t it? Deals with God, telling God, "Forgive me and I’ll never do it again. I’ll make up for it. I’ll show you that I can be better," we think like this son.

But, as logical as it sounded, it didn’t work. Look at how the relationship was fixed. It wasn’t in what the son did. It comes from the one who was wronged — the father. This man who had been so abused by the selfishness of the son is filled with an emotion. Now, I can think of a few emotions that would make sense, but look at verse 20: "He was filled with compassion." He’s out there watching and waiting for this guy who had wished him dead. The father is aching with that love that we can only know for something we’ve lost, that do-anything-to-get-it-back kind of love. Our text says he sees him "while he was still a long way off." And he runs. Dignified men do not run. Landowners do not run. But he has to, his love is so great, and he embraces him and he kisses him. His love is so full and so pure and so happy to have the lost back.

And notice, the son doesn’t even get to present his plan to make it up. The father has already forgiven him. In his mind it never happened. The love has overwhelmed all those wrongs. And to the son who should have to be a slave he gives the sandals of the free man and to the one who didn’t deserve to be called a son he gave the ring of authority. And the dad was in a hurry. There was no waiting period, no penance or probation.

You see where the difference was? The son was looking at the rift at being about the stuff he wasted, which he figured he could eventually pay back. But stuff, just like it hadn’t been the solution for his restlessness before, it wasn’t the problem now. The problem was the relationship he threw away, which no amount of stuff could fix. That relationship can only be restored by grace. And that, my friends is exactly what God does. That’s who he is: love, forgiveness. The son was forgiven before he ever even spoke.

Think back to Adam and Eve. Where in that story do we ever hear them saying they were sorry for the whole forbidden fruit thing. It’s not there. While they were still denying their sin and pointing fingers at each other — God made a promise. That’s the love of our God that we could never deserve.

Our problem with God is not in our obedience that we can make up for with more obedience. It’s not about his gifts we’ve wasted, that we can fix by just giving him more. Our problem is deeper than that. Every sin throws away our relationship with him. And that relationship can only be fixed by his gift. And it’s an expensive one. It cost the full price of the wages of sin — death. So God sent his Son, to pay that price, to give us our relationship back.

And he does. When you turn and go your own way and tell God that you don’t have enough time for him…when you tell God that you’re going to live the way you want to live, not the way God wants you to… when you forget about God when times are good and blame him when they are bad…when you squander his wealth that he’s given you and then look for someone else to blame. When we do all that, God is still there, that father, watching and waiting for you to come home. He longs for the lost with that do-anything-to-get-it-back kind of love.

And when we come back, what does God do? Not even waiting to see if we can be better, he rejoices, he celebrates. He throws on us the robe of Christ’s righteousness and washes us clean in Jesus’ blood. He gives us the power and privilege and rights of his sons and daughters. He forgives, truly forgives. The sins didn’t happen. They are gone.

Forgiveness is an amazing thing because it frees us from the prison of the past. We don’t have to carry around guilt from all our failures. God has forgiven you — freely, completely, to restore your relationship with him.

Now — do you want better relationships here? There’s the key: Forgive. Don’t lock yourself into the prison of resentment and hurt. Don’t lock those who have wronged you into the prison of guilt and shame. Don’t wait to hear the right kind of confession or for them to make the right amends. Forgive, so that you too can celebrate relationships restored.

In Christ,


Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at