Der Vasken's Sermon on March 8, 2020

Mar 11, 2020

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We just heard the perfect Lenten story.  This story is called "The Parable of the Prodigal Son" but it could just as well be called "The Parable of the Far Country."  This is possibly one of the most famous stories ever told.  It is a story that came from the mouth of a Master storyteller.  This story was told by Jesus Himself. Thousands of sermons have been preached on this story over the centuries.  Some preach on the Fatherly Love of God.  Others talk about the son--the wasteful prodigal son, who ran away from home and wasted his life and his inheritance.  Some preach on the older brother, who stayed at home and was jealous and envious of his younger brother.  There are many ways to understand this well-known story and each way brings us closer to God.  So this is the perfect Lenten story.

Today, I want to focus our attention on a part of the story that is most often neglected--not the loving father or the prodigal son and not the older brother.  I want us to look at that place called "The Far Country."  Through this story, Jesus tells us that the boy was not happy at home.  (Sounds like the boy was a teenager).  We don't know why the boy was unhappy.  He may have been bored, or maybe he became embittered because his father was holding him back from doing what he wanted to do, or maybe it was out of "the spirit" of human adventure found in the heart of the young.  

We don't know why, but Jesus tells us that this boy was unhappy.  And he went to his father and he said, "I want everything that is rightfully mine." And the Bible says, "The loving, caring father gave it to him."  And so the young man gathered everything together and took a journey into the "Far Country."  I want to talk about the "Far Country" today, and I want to do that by asking us to think about a couple of simple questions.

First, where is the "Far Country?"  We think of the "Far Country" as being a physical place a great distance away--a piece of land that is out of reach for us.  But the "Far Country" I want us to think about today is not a great distance away and it is not out of reach for any one of us.  In fact, it is very close to us and in reach of every one of us.  The "Far Country" is anywhere that a person tries to live WITHOUT GOD.  That is the "Far Country." We may know of people, who have lived in the same town or city all their lives, but if they are living there without God, then they are living in that "Far Country" that Jesus is describing in today's story.  

Now, let's ask another question.  Why does a person go to the "Far Country" in the first place?  There are likely many reasons for this such as the search for freedom, which is probably the main motive of the young son in this story.  "If I can just get away from my father's house, I can do the things I want to do. I can be free."  We can almost hear him saying it.  A second reason could be that they are searching for happiness--that they want to be happy but they want to be happy on their terms.  They want to experience all the joys that life has to offer.  They feel that happiness is found in worldly possessions.  And so they turn their backs on God and leave Him behind and go out into the "Far Country" in search of that "something" that will make them happy. 

The "Far Country" is more than a place.  It is a way of living--a condition of the heart.  It is that "Far Country" where we leave behind our faith and family to follow our own way.  It happens all the time.  We, or the people we know, are lured to a place where wrongful behavior is made to look like fun.  That is the "Far Country."  Let's fast forward through the story. The son has spent the last of this inheritance.  He is now penniless.  All his friends have left him.  He eats what the animals eat and he is alone in that "Far Country."  When he comes to his senses, three very important words come out of his mouth.  He says, "I was wrong."  It is the moment of truth for his life.  It is the moment when he no longer blamed others for his immaturity.  It is the moment when the excuses for his life stop and he takes ownership for his actions.  He said, "I was wrong."  That moment is the key to a better future and to a way out of the "Far Country."

The Armenian Church has always taught that it is a sign of spiritual maturity to own our wrongs. The path to eternal life lies in our willingness to say, "I was wrong.  I have made wrong decisions.  I have made wrong choices."  Our Church Fathers chose this parable for Lent because it speaks to the lives of every one of us.  Everyone has a little bit of the Prodigal Son within them.  Everyone has journeyed into that "Far Country" at one time or another.  

So our place today is to ask: Does the example of the Prodigal Son speak to my life?  And have I ever traveled to that "Far Country" and found myself lost?  The story of the Prodigal Son speaks about being lost in a "Far Country" but then it shows us the way back and into the open arms of a loving and forgiving Father.  

Have you ever traveled into the "Far Country" and wondered how you would ever get back?

Amen.