Preparing for Worship: Agents of God's Hospitality

Preparing for Worship: Agents of God's Hospitality

John Haralson   •   April 22, 2016

“We're tolerant, and if you don't agree with us you can leave...We love the word 'community,' as long as it refers to a group that excludes other people."

Mark Morford, San Francisco Chronicle

“Grace has a grand laughter in it."
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

This is Rembrandt’s famous painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. One art historian said that if you ever saw the original, you would understand why some people think it is the greatest picture ever painted.

The painting is Rembrandt’s interpretation of the parable Jesus told in Luke 15:11-32. In the story, a son leaves his family with his share of the inheritance, only to squander it with irresponsible living and a destructive lack of self-control. The son comes to his senses and decides to return home. Rembrandt depicts the son’s softened heart by having him as kneel before his father. In a very moving scene, the father runs out to welcome his son back into the family and throws a feast to celebrate.

It is a wonderful picture of God’s restoring and forgiving love to all who turn to him in faith and repentance. This gracious embrace lies at the heart of God’s love that is now being offered to everyone on earth.

But not everyone in the picture is happy.

Standing off to the right is the dutiful older brother, who had faithfully stayed at home all these years. He remains at a distance with his hands crossed in judgment and a disapproving look on his face. The older brother thinks that the father’s gracious welcome not just unfair, but actually believes it to be immoral.

This parable and Rembrandt’s masterpiece have a lot to teach us. They tell us that God is currently throwing a feast for all who turn to him. Through Jesus Christ, God fully welcomes all who come to him. God is doing a lot of celebrating and welcoming on a daily basis.

This means that one of the challenges of walking with God is learning this kind of gospel hospitality from our loving Father. For many of us, our tendency is to be like the older brother and not really welcome everyone whom God welcomes. We tend to not celebrate and make space for others who, quite frankly, appear to us to be “unclean”.

But God is always nudging us outward, working to enlarge and expand our hearts as we grow in our ability to share his welcome with others.

This week: Agents of God’s Hospitality, Psalm 148, John 13:31-35; Acts 11:1-18; Revelation 21:1-6

Liturgy is here.

I hope to worship with you on Sunday.