Tag Archives: Prodigal son

Love is…

The grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.

Love – what is love? Not a silly question. How we answer determines what we mean when we talk of the love of God. Love is a much used, and a greatly misused, word in common currency. “Would you like a coffee?” the man at the next table asks the young lady when she joins him. “I would love a coffee” she replies. She means – I am dying for a drink. “I love cream”: in other words – I cannot resist it. “I love a good long walk” – I enjoy taking exercise. “I love Arran.” – Arran is my favourite holiday resort. Surely not the way we would want to speak of God’s love.

In the early summer of 1956, on the Guild trip from one of my charge churches towards the end of my three-year probation period, we went to Inverness. Before going home we had time to visit a local cinema. The film was the award-winning Love is a many splendored thing. Matt Monroe made a big hit in the charts with the film’s song of the same title. As I recall, the film was about a young couple very much in love, for whom circumstances decreed a parting of the ways. It looked as though it was forever but, undaunted by the pain of forced separation, their love never died. And, Hollywood being Hollywood, there was a happy ending. Years later they met again and fell into one another’s arms. “True love,” the song declares, “A many splendored thing.” Translated less poetically: “True love – brilliant; magnificent.” And that brings us closer to our understanding of God’s love for us. Leaf through the pages of Scripture and they tell us that God’s love is persistent; God’s love is consistent; God’s love is all-embracing: it tells us the width of God’s love – it is not just for you and me or the faithful few: “God so loved the world that he gave us his son. . . . .” Behind everything, those pages tell us, is the love of God.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son: Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus tells a story of a father and his two sons, all three living at home, working together on the family estate. One of those sons, disgruntled and fed-up, wants to flutter his wings, and asks to be given his share of the family inheritance there and then. In spite of the potential pain of loss, and because he loves his sons, the father accedes to the boy’s request. This younger son takes it, departs, and wastes it on riotous living. We are told that when he regains his senses, impoverished, demoralised, he crawls back home hoping his father will receive him back as a servant. Far from it – his father, his heart full of pity, does the unconventional thing: he runs out to meet his boy, throws his arms around him, kisses him, and welcomes him home with a lavish party. The boy who stayed at home could not believe it and was greatly offended. More than that, he would take no part in the celebration despite the father’s pleading and his being given the assurance that he too was loved and cherished. The story is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It could just as easily be called The Parable of the Loving Father. When Jesus speaks of the love of God, it is of a father’s love he speaks: our Heavenly Father.

The love of God be with you, always.

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The fatted calf

Boys' Brigade marching in Edinburgh

Boys’ Brigade, Edinburgh. Image: FreeFoto.com

The church down the road, during August and September, has a fair-sized and colourful banner strategically hung across the front of the building announcing that its Boys’ Brigade Company is recruiting new members for the coming session. Boys of an appropriate age are invited to enrol. I do not know whether the response to this novel method of recruitment will be large or small. In my time with the BB we did not have to go public to extend the ranks of the company: boys joined and remained loyal right through the ranks – in spite of the small pillbox hats that were part of the uniform, in which we looked like page-boys at The Astoria. Passing the BB banner the other week, I was reminded of a significant event in my journey of faith.

When I left school to work on the farm, I left church as well. At the time I was a Lance Corporal in my BB Company. Two and a half years later, farming days over, I was persuaded to go back to church. I went somewhat reluctantly and with not a little apprehension. I did not expect to take up exactly where I left off and worried lest I should not find a welcome or feel too big a stranger. (Loyal and long-serving church people don’t always appreciate how hard it can be for a stranger or newcomer to cross the threshold of a church.)

What possessed me, I do not know, but one Friday evening, at the invitation of friends, I made my way to the Boys’ Brigade drill night. I thought I would show good manners and not ignore the kindness of friends and pop in for an hour, strictly as a visitor – no more. The Captain greeted me warmly, made me feel at ease and invited me to watch from the side-lines – where I wanted to be: to move any closer would have been daft. Going on seventeen and a private in the ranks! It wasn’t on!

Before the evening was out, I was thinking very much of the story Jesus told about the prodigal son – actually a story about three persons: a father and two brothers, toiling together on the farm. The younger brother got fed-up and decided to get away from it; he wanted to flap his wings, live it up, and asked his father to advance him his share of the family inheritance. He got his way, turned his back on home, squandered his inheritance, discovered what a fool he had been, picked up courage and went home prepared to be a servant. Instead, his father – ignoring all the rules of correct behaviour for a man his age – sighting his son in the distance, ran to meet him. Much to the displeasure of the elder son, father welcomed his errant boy with open arms, killed the fatted calf and threw a party.

The BB Captain said to me, “Welcome back; you are promoted to Sergeant!”

BB EmblemThe Boys’ Brigade is currently celebrating its 130th Anniversary.
BB Motto – Sure and steadfast.
BB Object – The advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among boys and the promotion of habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.