July 28, 2019 – “Prodigal God: The Final Feast” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Rev. Cody Sandahl
Rev. Cody Sandahl
July 28, 2019 - "Prodigal God: The Final Feast" by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Lay Reader = Revelation 21:1-6

21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.


We are continuing our series looking at the parable of the prodigal son from a very different angle. Last week we learned how Jesus is a very different – and better – kind of brother to us. He represents a third way, and we asked how Jesus is knocking on our door right now.

This week we are looking at the feast. In the parable, the younger son is invited to a glorious full-community bash to celebrate his return to the family. The older son is able to go to the feast as well after his day out in the field, but he’s angry and refuses to go in. Interestingly, the younger son AND the older son have the opportunity to enjoy a feast with the father. That’s the final destination.

And we see that same image throughout the Bible when we’re looking at heaven or the resurrection. Some people joke that the word Presbyterian means, “let’s eat,” and it sounds like we’ll have lots of opportunities to eat together in God’s holy future.

Our text today is from the prophet Isaiah. This particular text comes near the end of the reign of Babylon and anticipates the people of Israel being freed by the Persians. Prophecies almost always move on multiple timelines. This prophecy looks forward to the imminent celebration at the expense of the Babylonians. And it also anticipates a cosmic party when God’s final redemption takes place.

Isaiah 25:1-10a

25O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. 10For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.

The What or the How

If you could have any gadget, any invention, any piece of technology that humans have ever imagined, what would it be? It can be futuristic, it can be unrealistic, but if it has appeared in a book or movie or TV show, it’s fair game. What technology would you love to have? Pick your poison.

For me, this is an open-and-shut case. It’s easy. Give me the Star Trek transporter every day of the week. I hate driving, and flying coach with the boys on an airplane isn’t much better. So if I could step on a platform and materialize anywhere in the world? Done!

But there are some real-world issues with the transporter. Scientists actually have teleported things, but with some major limitations. First, it only works on individual particles, not even whole atoms. Second, it doesn’t actually move the particle from A to B, but it makes another particle that’s already at the destination take on a perfect copy of the traits of particle A. And third, it’s really easy to lose the signal in transit. All of these problems stem from a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics that’s called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I’ve already bored you, so I won’t put you to sleep with the details. Just know that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is what makes teleportation so difficult.

Now, Trekkies really like to know how the futuristic technology in Star Trek works. So they ask real science questions of the show creators and the writers. And someone asked how the transporter worked given the limits imposed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. So the writer replied, “Well, the transporter has a Heisenberg Compensator.” “How does that work?” “Very well, thank you.”

I love that answer! Because sometimes I think we get lost in the details, we get lost in the “how,” we get lost in the problems and so we miss the big picture. We miss the “what.” We miss where we’re going.

It’s kind of like in the movie Patch Adams. Patch is in a mental hospital, and one of the other patients is a former businessman who comes up to Patch, holds up four fingers, and asks “How many fingers do you see?” Patch replies “four” And the businessman walks away chastising him for giving the wrong answer. Patch later asks the man about it, and he tells Patch to look beyond the fingers. Because if you focus on the problem, you’ll miss the solution. So Patch looks past the fingers and replies, “eight!”

Many times we get caught up in the details, we can’t see past the problems, we get too busy wondering how the transporter works instead of just stepping on the platform.

As a Presbyterian pastor, I get questions about predestination. How much are we responsible for our own faith, and how much of our faith is because God took the initiative in helping us have faith? As Ephesians reminds us, it is by grace we are saved through faith. So where does that faith come from? From us? Or from God? Or maybe it’s created by Apple Computers, I don’t know! Who gets credit?

I’ve heard it said that salvation is like a door. From one end of the door, it looks like it’s all up to you. You have to decide to open the door. But once you’ve walked through the door, you look back and see how God was the one who gave you the ability to open the door. So how does salvation work? Is it up to me or is it up to God? How does it work? “Very well, thank you.” We know there’s grace. We know there’s faith. We know you gotta have Jesus. That’s what we know. If you want the full details, ask Jesus when you get there! I can tell you various theologies and how they try to answer that question, and I can tell you my thoughts, but I can’t tell you 100% which one is correct. Well, I could tell you, but the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle prevents me!

We just read the good part of this section from Isaiah. The previous chapter went into excruciating detail enumerating everything that was wrong. It was fully focusing on the four fingers – the problems of the day. But then Isaiah shifts focus to what God has in store eventually. Isaiah looks past the four fingers, looks past the problems – but only after acknowledging them – and reminds his readers what God has in store. He doesn’t give the “how,” because he doesn’t know how. He tells them the “what” – what does God have in mind? What is God going to accomplish some day? What’s our actual destination regardless of the road we’re on right now?

Someday, God will gather all the nations for a great feast. Someday, God will swallow up death itself. Someday every tear will be wiped from our eyes. Someday the poor will have refuge. Someday all people will sing of their trust in God. Someday all of those who oppose God will be frustrated and defeated. Some day. Isaiah doesn’t tell us how. But he says that’s what God will do some day.

In the parable of the lost sons, the great feast is the final destination. The great feast is where the father wants both sons. For the younger sons among us who have suffered as a result of their bad decisions, the Father invites you to a great feast. For the older sons among us who have suffered as a result of our own religiosity, the Father invites you to a great feast. That’s what the Father has in mind.

Heaven on Earth

Early in the days of smart phones, I decided to truly rely on my phone for driving directions for the first time. I was performing a wedding in a mountainous region of Pennsylvania, and my shiny new phone had maps and GPS – and remember this was when that was a new feature, not something everyone had.

So I pulled up the map when I left my house, and sure enough it had great directions to the resort where the wedding was. It worked perfectly. It was brilliant. After the wedding, I fired up my phone to get directions home. One problem – no cell phone Internet access in the mountains. You see, my phone still had the map in memory when I left from home. But when I started in the mountains, it couldn’t pull up the map without the Internet. So I had no directions.

But I knew that the mountain was to the West of where I wanted to go, so I just drove East. Every time I had the opportunity to turn, I headed East. And yes, that meant I found myself in the middle of a corn field on a dirt road, but that’s when my phone found the Internet signal again and resumed guidance to bring me home! I guess corn acts as an antenna or something.

I knew which direction I needed to go. I didn’t want to go North or West or South. Only East. Knowing that, I knew if I was getting closer or further from my destination. And then I had faith that I would eventually get a good signal if I just kept heading East, and then I could get my final directions.

That’s how it’s like in our faith, I believe. If we know where God is headed, even if we can’t pull up the address, we know broadly which way to go. We know broadly if we’re getting closer to or further from where God wants us to go. And eventually, the Holy Spirit will show up to reveal the specifics.

This text from Isaiah is a vision of God’s overall direction. The things listed in Isaiah are like knowing to go East instead of North or South or West. If we head toward these things, we’re headed toward God.

I asked you earlier what technology or gadget you would choose. Well if you could pick one thing from Isaiah’s vision to be a reality right here, right now, what would you pick?

Would you love to see the nations gather together? Would you love to see suffering end? Would you love to see those who weep be comforted so they cry no more? Would you love to see all kinds of people singing of their trust in God? Would you love to see those who oppose God frustrated and defeated? Would you love to see the poor have refuge? What would you pick from this vision of God’s ultimate plan?

Because those things are God’s plan. Those things are God’s will.

And what do we pray in the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” where? On earth as it is in heaven. In Littleton as it is in heaven! On this block as it is in heaven! On my cul-de-sac as it is in heaven!

If you want to see God’s ultimate reality someday, how about helping it happen in the people and places around you? God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, in my life as it is in heaven.

But I don’t want you to spend too much time looking at the four fingers. Don’t spend too much time wondering about how you could possibly make that happen. You can’t. God is the only one who can make that happen. But if you keep heading East toward God’s ultimate plan, then your neighborhood or the people in your life might experience a little more heaven on earth today.

Or if you’re intimidated by these big ideas from Isaiah, how about something easier to wrap your head around? How about a feast? In the parable of the lost sons, the father invites both sons and the community to a grand feast. Isaiah mentions a feast, too. The book of Revelation mentions a feast, too. So how can you help your neighborhood or this city or the people in your life experience something like a heavenly feast?

A heavenly feast is very different than what a lot of people think about Christianity. A heavenly feast isn’t about everyone sitting down quietly and making sure you use all seventeen forks in their proper order according to religious etiquette. A heavenly feast isn’t about a bunch of boring rule-sticklers. That’s the older brother.

But the heavenly feast also isn’t about a bunch of hedonists gorging themselves self-indulgently. That’s the younger brother.

The heavenly feast isn’t about celebrating ourselves, it’s celebrating in the presence of the Father. All the people from the community who were invited were celebrating for the Father, because his family was reunited and they knew it made him happy. Their day might have gone poorly. But they were happy to celebrate with and for the Father. That’s the heavenly feast. Celebrating joyfully when God’s will happens on earth as it is in heaven.

So how can you celebrate joyfully when you see God’s will happening? How can you help others celebrate joyfully when God’s will is happening? That’s a little taste of heaven on earth.


Sisters and brothers, God’s ultimate vision for us is a joyful feast, where nations are gathered in worship, where suffering has ceased, where every reason to weep has been removed, where the poor are welcomed as first class citizens, where those who oppose God have been overcome, where we can be glad and rejoice in our salvation.

I don’t know about you, but I like that vision of the future. It’s not reality today, and I don’t know how to make all of that happen, but I know how to head in that general direction. How might you help your life, your relationships, your neighborhood look a little like that vision of heaven on earth? Amen.