"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20)
This morning it is a privilege passed upon me to stand before you and speak my mind before this congregation. I have enjoyed the times that the Pastor has granted me over these past few years to stand here behind this podium and share the Word of God. God’s Word is fitting to speak from anywhere upon the face of His universe, but I feel a profound honor to speak His Word here in God’s House at Durant. My mother told me so long ago, and I cannot say when that if one is to speak on God’s behalf, you had better have a suitable text from His Word. As most of you know, when I have shared what I have learned of God, I back every thought by His Holy Scripture, but today that is not the case as I stand before you.
I do not know if what I am about to speak is entirely a correct thing to say to you today, for it is not what I have learned as much as it is what I have lived. I had made up my mind many years ago that I would not compare scars with anyone. Your scars are just as painful to you as my scars are to me. Today I am making an exception, and this is personal and I am my worst subject. It is something that only you today will know about as I have not shared this message with anyone. As a result, it is a personal plea to each of you from my heart that you will learn from it so that you will not rest in the pit from which I have come. Even as I am not entirely confident in what I am about to say, my faith is in the Lord, as by His grace, things seem always to work outright. It is my prayer for all of us this day is that we may serve the Lord’s purpose according to His will that His name is glorified. Amen.
The text, according to my mother’s command, comes from Luke chapter 15 and is a parable that Jesus taught and is entitled The Prodigal Son. Most of you are familiar with this story, but I will give a quick synopsis because this is what the Pastor would have done.
This parable is about a loving father who provided for the needs of his son. This parable is about a father who never let his son suffer from want or need. The son’s father was a man of vision, and in his vision he provided an inheritance that his son would have the needful things through his time here on earth. This parable is about a son who lived in the security of his father’s care. His son grew and never knew want or deprivation. His son never had to make sacrifices for the benefits that he enjoyed every day of his life. His son learned of his inheritance and he wanted it now and not at the proper time. He did not want to learn the discipline of managing his inheritance or causing it to grow into lasting value. He wanted his portion and wanted it now and he made his desire known to his father. His father refused and wanted him to wait for the proper time and I imagine that the son became impatient and disagreeable. He looked about him and saw how his friends were living in the world and it appeared to him they were living it up and having a great time. Yet, the son was stuck in his father’s house and having to work for his welfare. I imagine that he became a pest to his father and continued to ask his father for his inheritance, and his father refused. But the son was persistent, and finally, his father gave him his inheritance.
The son quickly packed up his worldly possessions and left the security of his father’s house and went off to the far country to live in his lust for the world. It wasn’t long before the son learned of the lie and deceit of this world. It wasn’t long before his inheritance was spent and gone. It wasn’t long before he found himself unworthy to eat of the food belonging to the swine of a cruel master. And it wasn’t long before there was a miserable life for him in this world and promised a long and suffering death. And it wasn’t long before he found himself with nowhere to hide and nowhere to go but to confess his evil ways and repent to his father, which leads us to our text. "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." (Luke 15:20) This verse is not my life verse in the bible but it has had a divine impact on my life, and I am going to share that with you today.
I believe that each one of us are Prodigal children of the Heavenly Father, the Creator, and the One who will always love us. All of us I pray, have loving parents that would never forsake us no matter what we have done with our lives. We were all Prodigals at one time or another, and some of us are Prodigals even to this moment because we are not in the right relationship with the Heavenly Father our Creator. I have been, we all have been and will understand the words that I have to speak this morning. Some of us still are Prodigals and my plea is that you will take a moment and listen to my testimony which is offered not for my good but the glory of God that He may use it for your benefit.
In June 1969, at the age of 18, I graduated with an honorary degree from Manatee High School in Bradenton, Florida. It was not the kind of honorary degree that one earns from a high-grade point average; it was because some of the teachers were afraid I would be asking them out for a date. Or, maybe it was because coach King didn’t want to wear out another board of education on my bottom side. For whatever reason, we both were happy to part Company. I had a vast life ahead of me with grand plans that amounted to what to do next. My father also had a plan and made an excellent offer that only a fool would not take advantage of. If my father said something or made a promise, it was something that could be taken to the bank. He wanted to pay for the cost of sending me through Seminary. He had sent my brother Jim through, he had financed my sister Mary through a master’s degree in college, and now he was willing to put me through eight years to prepare me for the ministry of the gospel. Being the fool that I was, I declined, as I had better things to do, which amounted to joining the Army. That was my plan, joining the Army? You all know what was going on back then. By August of 1969, I found myself in the far country of South Viet Nam.
To say the least, and it is an understatement, my tour was an adventure that became a disillusionment of purpose. I was proud enough to believe that I was where I wanted to be. That I was there to accomplish the mission that I have gone to do but it turned out to be the opposite of what I believed to be true. I went to liberate a country from the chains of Communism but learned that hearts do not change by bullets and one man’s freedom is another’s a prison. It was not long before I lost my ideology, miss-placed my true north, and no longer had compassion for anyone but myself. I wasn’t even sure that I had that. I was so disillusioned that I developed a deep usage of drugs. For those who think that they can use recreational drugs and turn it off anytime they want, let me tell you where it leads to. I soon found myself in complete dependency upon Heroin. Heroin is an evil god in the world and it will master you. There was no price I would not pay to serve my god, and you can take that statement all the way to the farthest place of your imagination and still not be where I was.
Now I am not going to tell you of my year in South Viet Nam, but I will tell you this. As the last week of my tour came, I was trying without success to clean myself up so I could pass the drug test to go home to the world that I had left so long ago. I had two days of Heroin left when orders came down and my unit was ordered to An Keh Valley to position ourselves to defend a fortification. Can you imagine that? Five days left and I am ordered to go on a combat mission. Talk about judgment. We were positioned on the outer perimeter in a field of grass. We weren’t on the compound with the protection of bunkers; we were in a field of grass digging fox holes. Three days past and there was no activity and I hoped that soon we would be relieved. It was my time to go home, I had done my duty, and I was getting sick as I was out of Heroin and I needed it. No orders came to leave and a thick fog came in, and visibility was measured in inches. I was in pain, I was unable to see, and I was unable to think clearly. Then at the climax of my longest year came to longest night there in An Keh Valley.
The thick fog took us into the darkest night I have ever witnessed. There was no light, and I could not even see the tip of my nose. Soon an illumination shell went off and even that was a faded speck in the sky. No one dared not make any sound, or it would invite a line of fire back at them. There was nothing to hear but the imagination of slithering enemy soldiers through the grass to lounge a bayonet into your body. My insides were in agony for want of heroin, I was suffering in mental anguish as my life of 19 years had amounted to nothing but waiting for death to deliver me. I had heard the splash of flesh as it yielded forth its blood, the spirits rising to the sky as the last breath escaped from their chest and the last words of horror as it tripped over a quivering lip. I thought of all the words of love my Grandmother had spoken to me. The last words that my father spoke, as I left, “A little faith in a big God.” And I thought the only god I knew was killing me inside.
I lost my temper. “Is this it, is this what my life has become! To sit here in this darkness of hell waiting for a bullet to deliver my brain upon the ground behind me? I flipped the safety on my rifle and placed my chin upon it. My finger was twitching so bad I know not why it did not release the firing pin. I pulled the rifle between my knees, forcing my head to rise, and my eyes caught the vision of a billion stars shimmering in the sky. Where did they come from? From horizon to horizon, they were winking at me and saying come on, come on. Lord, O Lord, I just want to come home. It was then somewhere beyond the heavens. The hand of God reached down and touched me and all the pain, all the agony was gone, and my spirit was at peace.
A jet plane set down on the tarmac at Muskegon airport in Michigan late in the August mouth of 1970. A 115-pound army corporal stepped into the terminal of the airport and went to the payphone to make a call to the Maranatha Bible Conference. The receptionist answered the phone, and the soldier asked if she could deliver a message to Dr. Robert W Kirkpatrick. She said she would be glad to and the soldier said, “Tell him there is a package to be picked up at the airport, please.” Then the soldier went and sat on the bench outside of the terminal to wait.
It had been a long flight from Cam Ranh Bay Air Base in South Viet Nam, and I was tired. I was fighting sleep, which was unexpected as I was anxious to see my family. I was anxious to see my mom and dad. I found myself with a case of the sleepy eye and drifting. Soon I heard a commotion out on the roadway in front of the Airport and looked to see the cause. There was the sound of squalling tires from a car swinging into the airport parking lot. The car flew in and then raced up and down the aisles of the lot searching for a parking spot. Then the driver saw a spot and slammed on the brakes and slid into the spot.
A man jumped out of the car before it had come to a complete stop and began to run to the terminal. It was my fifty-year-old dad running like the wind. I got up, and before I could brace myself, his body slammed into mine as he pulled me deep into his chest. We embraced and watered each other’s shoulders with tears. When my dad finally pushed me back to rest his eyes upon me, I saw the vision that has never left me to this moment. I had never seen my father cry; I had never seen him cry before and never have I sense. I am not saying my dad never cried; I am saying that I had never seen it. His eyes were filled with tears and they were flowing down his cheeks. Then I caught the vision that has never left me from that moment. In my father’s eyes, I saw the tears of joy that the Heavenly Father cries when a repentant son points his way home. I learned something that is the truth of my Heavenly Father. “His father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." I think of that moment to this day and it still makes me cry, but I will never let you see it.I could not tell my dad that I had come from the pit, I could not speak of it, and I have had a hard time telling you this morning.
Some of you may think that this story is about me; it is not. It has never been about me and it never will be. It is, as everything is, all about Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we learn that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) His Word is the truth, as it was before the beginning and, therefore, cannot be but the absolute truth. In Colossians, we learn, "He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:17) Jesus is the power of the universe. God in His love for you and me sent His Son, His Word to enlighten men that they might not walk in the darkness. God sent His Son to pay the wage for our sin, which is death. When I sinned against my father, it was a trip to the woodshed but my sins against my Heavenly Father is death. A debt that I cannot pay and still have life. On the Cross of Calvary, Jesus paid that debt once and for all that man can be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. That man can stand before a Righteous God in the righteousness of His Son fully redeemed by His grace. Justified by faith in Him and by His Word sanctified, we are freed from the chains of our sin. There is only one way, Jesus. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6)
Some of us have been in the pit that we have dug for ourselves, and the Lord has cleaned us up and we are once again His Children. Some of us are still digging that pit and will soon find that we are caught in its trap. And then, there are those of us who are at this moment in that pit and believe that there is no way out. They think they are not worthy and deserving of pardon. They carry the weight of their past upon them as a milestone, and they are sinking into the quagmire of death. But you are worthy because the debt of your sin has already been paid by the blood of God’s Son Jesus and all that you need do is claim Him as your Savior. On the horizons of the spiritual realm, there is a Heavenly Father who searches the horizons for a repentant child that wants to come home. We have a Heavenly Father that can see us while we are a far way off and will have compassion for us. So much love that He sacrificed His Son that through His death, you can have eternal life in the home that the Father has created for you.
I know the joy of my father when one of his sons came home from the far country. In his joy, I saw the Joy of my God and Heavenly Father when I took the hand of His Son Jesus while still in the pit of my darkest night on earth, and He lifted me out and set my heart on the journey to my Heavenly Home.
We all have lived our lives just for this moment today. Why do I say that? Every moment of our life that has past is but a memory, and every moment that we live here forward is hope. The question then becomes for all of us is where your hope is? The Prodigal son placed his hope in the world and he lost everything. He like all of us Prodigals called upon the name of the Lord and was pointed towards his home. Are you in the pit? Do you know there is nowhere to go but to the Lord? He is calling you, He is calling your name, and if you hear Him answer Him. It won’t be a loud voice; you can’t hear it with your ears. He calls to your spirit. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me; See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching, Watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, You who are weary, and heavy-laden come unto me and I will give you rest.
If you would but take that one step towards the Father, He would embrace you with a kiss of His love and never let you fall again. If you hear Him calling, you come now. I can’t pray for you no more than I prayed for myself, “Lord, O Lord, I just want to come home.” But I will pray with you and praise His name. Just call upon the name of the Lord, Jesus, and His hand will reach down from above the universe and touch you. He will lift you up and set your heart on the journey to your heavenly home. You come now for this is the day of your salvation. God’s Word gives each of us this promise, "At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you." Behold, now is "the acceptable time," behold, now is "the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)
Thomas N Kirkpatrick