PRODIGAL DAUGHTER SERMON / Lost in the True Church
I want to tell you today about a family where people are safe. Children sometimes make mistakes; they sometimes rebel. They don’t fully understand the love of the parents whose hearts yearn to bequeath this amazing and everlasting life to them.
I once fell into a horrible misunderstanding. I wanted to make God happy. I wanted to be his child. Which is all good. But I had this terrible idea that each time I made a mistake, I had left God’s family! I felt like I was standing outside this great big gray wall, like the one around the hospital compound where I lived. God on the inside, Jesus on the inside, all good Christians on the inside . . . and me on the outside. But then it seemed to me that if I told God I was truly, truly sorry, and said kaw todt to God with all my heart, well, then maybe God would let me into his family again.
The only problem is this. I was just a kid! I wanted to do right, but I made many, many mistakes. I was a pretty big sinner back then! Many sins! And so, in my heart, I was outside the fence, then inside, then outside, then inside. I became a new Christian over and over and over again. I once thought to myself, “Instead of getting baptized a hundred times, maybe I should just live my whole life inside the water of the church pool.” Because I was spinning like a top: saved, lost, saved, lost, saved, lost.
Young people, I have to tell you this right from my heart. I was really sad! I had failed to see the beauty of being in God’s eternal family. And what’s worse is this. I thought to myself, “Here I am. At ten o’clock I am okay with God. I’m a Christian. But at two minutes after ten, I commit a sin. I say a curse word. Or I think an angry thought. Or I am selfish. Or I take somebody’s toy and put it into my pocket. I did that once.” So here I am, in a classroom in Bangkok, and my connection to God is like a bad light bulb. Or a computer flash drive that has a broken connection. Except we had no computers back in those old days!
So a horrible fear settled over me. What if I was saved at ten o’clock, but then not saved at 10:02? Because I had done some sixth-grader sin? And then, what if, before I could get down on my knees, and say to God, “Please, God, forgive me again,” what if I had a heart attack and died? What if the school’s roof fell down and killed me? What if a thief came into our classroom with a gun and I was suddenly shot and killed?
Listen to me. I was so sad! I was scared! Very, very scared! It seemed to me that my chance of getting into heaven was, like, one in fifty. I had to hope that I would die in a very lucky moment, a lucky moment where my life was clean like snow. And since there was very little Bangkok snow in my life, and lots of mud and dirt, it was a very hard experience for me.
I have a story to tell you, young people. Jesus told this story once, and it is so beautiful. But today we will change it into a Bangkok story. Because Jesus has such a love for the people of Bangkok and I believe he would tell stories with the MBK Mall and the Sky Train and Petchburi Road in them.
Once upon a time there was a young Thai girl who grew frustrated with life in her family. It was a good family with a kind father, but this girl didn’t understand how much she was loved. Didn’t fully grasp how beautiful life could be under the care of this good man. So she ran away from home.
And during her time away, see, she finally decided she was not in this family any longer. She had lost the right to be a daughter. Her many mistakes, she thought, had broken the family ties. She had slept with many men. She had used drugs. She had forgotten the values of her life as an innocent girl. Soon her arms were covered with needle tracks. Her body had been all used up, selfishly stolen by men who cared nothing about her breaking heart. They gave her a few baht and said kop kuhn and after a while, the diseases that come with such heartbreak began stealing her very soul.
So one day she finally woke up. I believe the Holy Spirit woke this girl up. “Go home! Go home! Your daddy loves you so much! Go home!” And she finally hit herself in the head and went, “Dear God! I could go home! I’ve been so foolish!”
There was just one problem, see. This girl had left home. She had no family. Her claim to be a daughter was gone. How could she go home when she had shouted at her father, “Leave me alone! I don’t want your stupid rules! I don’t want to be your child anymore”?
So she began to walk slowly through the streets of Bangkok toward this house, this building, that had once been her home. She walked down one soi and then another, toward this man who used to be Kuhn Paw. Who used to be her protector. But now she knew he was no longer Kuhn Paw. See, she had no Kuhn Paw. She had given away the right of being a daughter and of receiving birthday gifts, of having a father to sit in the Matthayom graduation hall and take pictures of her and walk down a church aisle with her and offer her hand in marriage. All that was gone. She knew it was gone. It was her fault, but it was all gone.
So this broken girl, this girl with no father, comes down the last street. And she practices in her mind what to say. She plans to say to the man, “I know I cannot be your daughter. I know I lost my claim to be in the family. But I’m hungry. I’m starving. I have no food, no money. I have no claim. I have nothing. But please . . . be kind and maybe take care of me anyway. Let me be a servant. Let me be an employee. Let me work for you for thirty baht an hour and some rice and a bed to sleep in.”
But something amazing happens. And listen. This story is not just a story. This story is truth! This story is my story! This story is what happens when a lost person comes to the house they thought was their home before. Because Jesus says that when this girl comes up the street, the father is already out in the street looking for her! He is there every day and every hour looking for his girl. And when he sees her, what does he do?
This old man who had a breaking heart for so long . . . he begins to run! He runs toward her as fast as he can! And when he gets to her, he throws his arms around her. And begins to cry and sing at the same time. “My daughter! My daughter! This is my daughter! She is home! Home at last! Mama! Grandma! Grandpa! Everybody! Our baby girl . . . she is home! Have a party! Buy mangoes! Hire a band to play! Let’s dance! Let’s sing! Let’s cry for joy! Our daughter is home at last!”
This girl, see, ran away with a terrible misunderstanding. And when I was a boy, it was my misunderstanding too. She thought her sins had driven her from the family. That she was no longer her father’s child. But in the heart of the father, that had never happened! He still loved her. He still called her “my child.” He didn’t say, “Give me fifty thousand baht and you can rejoin the family.” He didn’t say, “Spend five years on probation proving yourself.” He didn’t say, “You committed a thousand sins, and it will take a thousand prayers or a thousand days of goodness or a thousand acts of merit before I call you ‘daughter’ again.”
Let me read what Jesus himself says. But while she was still a long way off, her father saw her and was filled with compassion for her. He ran to his daughter.
Now why was this man filled with compassion? Why did he care? Why did he run? Because . . . This . . . Was . . . His . . . Daughter. Not his former daughter. Not his disowned daughter. No! Always his daughter! Always and forever!
Today, young men and women of Bangkok, you people who are the finest of your country, Jesus invites you to join his family. And when you do, he and God, our Father, will draw you close into a permanent love relationship. You will still make mistakes. You will still stumble and fall. You will still sin. But as long as you are willing to be in this family, God will be glad to have you there too. We do not join, then leave, then rejoin, then leave, and come in and out and in and out. Once we are in his family, we find it is a forever family. Which makes being a Christian the most joy-filled thing we can ever do.