“How to Get Closer to God” Sermon Notes from March 13, 2022

Luke 15: 11-24

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 Then Jesus[a] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[c] 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.


  • We are in Lent, a time of spiritual preparation, reflection, introspection as we prepare to receive the great gift of God’s mercy demonstrated in the suffering, death, and most importantly the resurrection of Jesus commemorated on Easter.

  • In this season, I am challenging us to use this time to adopt practices that will transform our lives for good, for good.

  • A key scripture we are using as a guiding principal on this journey to transformation is Romans 12: 2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

  • Rather than being conformed to the world, I am inviting us to be transformed by God’s Spirit. We will be talking about several key areas of life to be transformed with God’s help and power with the goal of getting healthier spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally, relationally, vocationally, and we’ll also think about how we can transform our relationship with our finances too.

  • This series, that has been inspired by and adapted from work done by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, is about our potential and possibilities in God with an eye to making the best of the rest of our lives. The idea is if we change the way we think, it will change the way we feel, and that will change the way we behave. If we think defeated thoughts, we will feel defeated, and then we will act like someone who is defeated. Conversely, if we think that we are victorious, we will start to feel victorious, and we will behave victoriously.

  • Today we are focusing on how we might be victorious through spiritual transformation. This is the foundation for any other transformation to take place.

  • We become spiritually transformed the closer we get to God. I am going to assume that those listening to this message or reviewing these notes are somewhere on the continuum of being curious about getting close to God to being pretty sure you are already close to God. Even those who think they are close could even be closer. I am also going to take a guess that everyone listening to this message has also either gone through some rough times, is going through some rough times, or will go through some rough times. It’s called living.

  • The closer you get to God, the better you will be able to weather the storms of life. Being a follower of Jesus, God’s son- the physical embodiment of God, doesn’t mean you will be spared hardship in life, it simply means you will have a means of making it through the challenging times.

  • We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23; We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way… Isaiah 53:6— we tend to wander away. We get distracted. We see a patch of grass that looks greener than where we are and we go after it. Often, it’s one of our senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing, or smell that tempts us to wander away.

So how do we get back to God, if and when we get to wandering, when we look up and realize we are so far from home, so far from God?

Today’s scripture gives some clues. 4 Things to do to get back to God or get closer to God:

  1. Get fed up. Luke 15: 13-14, 17; In the words of the Civil Rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer, get “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Transformation will not happen until you decide you don’t want to be where you are anymore. How desperate are you? How anxious for change are you? When you determine that there is nothing that you want more than to turn to God and away from your current circumstances, you can lean into the words of the prophet with confidence: Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me (God) and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” When you are desperate enough, it’s time to move to step two.

  2. ‘Fess up. Confess your sin. Luke 15: 17-18; Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you...” Acknowledge that you have strayed by trying to live your way, irrespective of God’s direction and wisdom. Some people use Lent as a time to acknowledge when we have some things in our lives that have become idols. When these things have gotten between you and God, you need to ‘fess up. As David confessed in Psalm. 51: 1-4 “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Then hear these words of assurance, from Isaiah 1:18 “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” All this highlights a more general point and that is that we need to set a goal of doing a spiritual check- up saying search me O God and know, see if there is anything in me that needs to be rooted out, paraphrasing the psalmist in Psalm 139. 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves…”; 1 Corinthians 11:28 “ Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.” We do other kinds of check- ups- breast, colon, prostate to check for issues so that they can be addressed before they get out of control. Sin is the same way. Left unchecked, it can overwhelm us and next thing we know we are far, far from home needing to find our way back.

  3. Offer up: will, life. Heart transformation occurs when we change from self-centeredness to God-centeredness. “Give me”- which was the disposition when the prodigal son left his father, becomes “take me” – which was his attitude when he returned. Romans 12: 1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

  4. Lift up praise. Luke 15: 23-24. The Father runs to meet his son. He didn’t wait for him to get all the way home and he met him with celebration not condemnation. Then everyone was encouraged to celebrate with great rejoicing. Two forms of celebration we can participate in are the sacraments of baptism and Holy communion. We also sing, when we can. Not only can it be therapeutic for us, but it is a sincere form of praise. References to praising through singing are throughout the Psalms including: 9: 2; 68:4, 32; 13:6.

God loves us just the way we are, but loves us too much to leave us where we are. During this season of Lent, let us come to our senses and decide to go home. Our first and most important goal: to get closer to God.

Rev. Adonna Davis Reid

First United Methodist Church of Oak Park pastor@firstumcoakpark.org

** This series has been inspired by and adapted from work done by Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and is about our potential and possibilities in God with an eye to making the best of the rest of our lives. www.pastorrick.com

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash