October 21st, 2018

Hard Healing
Luke 15:11-24
Week 2 of 3: The Parable of the Prodigal Son

I could hardly believe the words of my friend’s email. He wrote, Gene, my dad passed away a few days ago and . . . I’m kind of angry for no particular reason at all. My wife thinks it has to do with my dad’s death . . . But I’m not that emotionally affected by it. When my dad divorced his wife, he divorced his whole family. When he spoke of his children we weren’t even on the list. Anyway, I was more devastated by the death of my dog than by the death of my dad.

“More devastated by the death of his dog than the death of his dad. . .” How tragic! That’s just not the way it’s supposed to be, is it? But that’s the way it was for my friend. Somewhere along the line that father–son relationship was broken, broken without repair. And today, the splinters of that broken relationship are buried deep in his father’s grave.

Broken relationships. All of us have them, don’t we? Maybe your relationship was damaged by divorce. Or maybe it was some quarrel that sent the two of you on separate ways. Maybe it was a situation at work that caused the rift between you and a friend, or maybe it was that rude remark that built the fence between your house and your neighbor’s.

Sadly, broken relationships are not simply the product of a secular world. Some of the most devastating breaches happen in church. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Good Christian people end up hurting each other (often unintentionally) and in their anger and their pain they break fellowship. Unfortunately, when it happens in the church it doesn’t just affect two people. It ultimately injures strength and health of the entire congregation.

Last week I began a three-part sermon series on the parable of the Prodigal Son. In last week’s sermon we saw how the Father loved the son, even when the son did nothing to merit that love. Today, I want us to examine the dynamics of relationship healing seen in this parable and use these dynamics to heal our own broken relationships.

Listen again as I read the story to you. This time I will be reading from New International Version. The text is found in Luke 15:11-24.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 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 servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“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 around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

Yes, the story of the prodigal son is a story of broken relationships, but it’s also a story of healing, and I think it provides an excellent model for healing our own broken relationships.

Now, before we examine this model I must warn you. The process of healing a broken relationship is a difficult one. Even when you give it your best shot, sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s why I’ve entitled this sermon “Hard Healing.” Once a relationship is broken, it’s awfully hard to repair it. But it’s not impossible, and as followers of Jesus Christ we are commanded to make the effort. In the end, I’d rather try unsuccessfully to heal a broken relationship than to carry its festering splinters to my grave.

So, what is involved in this process of hard healing?

I. Healing a Broken Relationship is Hard Healing Because We Must See Something Hard to See.

We must see ourselves. We must see our own faults, our own motives and our own selfish ways. When relationships are broken, we typically focus on the faults of the other person, but if we want to heal that broken relationship we must first look at our own faults.

In today’s text, healing begins only after the son takes a good look at himself. In verse 17 of the King James Version, Luke uses this phrase, “and when the son came to himself.” Yes, that was the key to healing. Before the son could come to his father, he first had to, “come to himself.” He had to examine his own motives, his own faults, and his own irresponsibility. For this relationship to be healed, the prodigal son had to see something hard to see. He had to see himself.

Somewhere around my 40th birthday I decided that, as I grow older, I’m going to let my wife and children help me choose most of the clothes I buy. I’ll tell you why I came to that conclusion. I’ve just seen too many men my age who look ridiculous in what they wear.

Sadly, most of us old guys don’t realize that we look that ridiculous. We think that brown, calf high socks with blue shorts and sandals look fine. But our wives know better. They see something we can’t see. They see us when we can’t see ourselves.

You know, seeing one’s self is one of the hardest things to do, and that’s particularly true when it comes to broken relationships. It’s so easy to see the fault of others. And indeed, they have their faults. But broken relationships are seldom healed by focusing on the fault of the offender. Broken relationships are healed only when we focus on what we have done and what we can do to make things right.

It’s so easy to see how they hurt us, but so hard to see how we hurt them. It’s so easy to see what they need to do to make things right, but so hard to see what we should do. It’s so easy to see what they did to start the problem, but so hard to see what we could do to put it all behind. Yes, healing a broken relationship is hard healing because We Must See Something Hard to See. We must see ourselves.

II. Healing a Broken Relationship is Hard Healing Because We Must Say Something Hard to Say.

We must say, “I was wrong.”

Before the relationship between the son and his father could be healed, the son had to utter three of the hardest words he had ever spoken. He had to say, “I was wrong.”

Notice the son did not say, “I will go back to my father and say, “Father, I realize you were overprotective and that you often sided with my brother, but I’ve decided to forget it all and come back home.” No, the son made no mention of anyone’s fault but his own. “I have sinned.” “I was wrong.” Those were the words that began the process of healing for him, and those are the words that can begin the process of healing for us as well.

Several years ago, I preached a sermon similar to this one in another church. After the worship service, an elderly widow met me at the door in tears. As she dried her eyes she said, “When we buried my husband last year I was sad, but angry at the same time. I was sad because he was gone, but I was angry because in our 65 years together, never once did he say, “I was wrong.”

Yes, those three small words can make such a difference in relationships. If we refuse to utter them, our relationships flounder at best. But if we can say, “I was wrong,” to those we’ve hurt, those three small words have healing power.

But I’ll admit it. Saying “I was wrong” is hard. It’s hard because, in most cases, we weren’t the only one who was wrong, and we may not have been as wrong as the person to whom we are confessing.

Still relationships are seldom healed by saying “You were wrong.” If we want to heal a broken relationship we must start by say something hard to say. We must start by saying “I was wrong.”

Healing a broken relationship is hard healing because we must see something hard to see. We must see ourselves. We must say something hard to say. We must say “I was wrong.”

III. Healing a Broken Relationship is Hard Healing Because We Must Do Something Hard to Do.

We must confront the offended person.

In the story of the prodigal son the healing didn’t actually take place until the son did the hardest thing of all - until he went back and faced his father.

Too often, broken relationships never get repaired because people tend to avoid each other instead of confronting each other. A lot of times, after the smoke clears, people will regret what was said and wish the breach had not occurred, but because of fear and because of pride, they avoid the confrontation.

Unfortunately, too many people keep putting off the confrontation until they finally lose the opportunity. Too many people forget that life is short, and a broken relationship cannot be repaired after the offending party goes to the grave.

At the beginning of this sermon I told you about my friend who said he was more devastated by the death of his dog than the death of his dad. Later he wrote me telling me just how much he grieved the death of his father. In a subsequent email he wrote,

Gene, the other day I was driving home from my doctor’s office and this song from Mike and the Mechanics came on the radio. The song was “The Living Years.” That was all it took. It cut right to the heart of the matter and I completely broke down crying like a baby for an hour.

After I got his email I made a point of listening to the song. When I heard it, I realized just how poignant its message must have been to him. Here are the song’s lyrics.

I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away.
I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say.
I think I caught his spirit - later that same year.
I’m sure I heard his echo in my baby’s new born tears.
I just wish I could have told him, in the living years.
Say it loud, say it clear. You can listen as well as you hear.
It’s too late, when we die, to admit we don’t see eye to eye.

Yes, repairing a broken relationship calls upon us to do one of the hardest things we can do. It calls upon us to go to the offended party and confront the broken relationship. That’s hard, but at least it’s possible. Fixing a relationship after someone has died, is not hard. It’s impossible.

Now do you see why I entitled the sermon, Hard Healing? It’s hard to heal a broken relationship because we must:

See something hard to see. We must see ourselves.
We must say something hard to say. We must say “I was wrong.”
And we must do something hard to do. We must confront the offended party. And even after doing all those hard things, there’s no guarantee that the relationship can be healed.

But don’t you owe it to yourself to try? Because even though healing is hard, it is the way of Jesus Christ.