Tonight sees the finals of Euro 2020 (in 2021) and England in their (our?) first final in 55 years. As the tournament has progressed there's been a gathering momentum and belief that this could be England's year, and, once again the crowds in the stadiums, in the streets, in the pubs are singing 'football's coming home.'
As a football fan and also as a Lightning seeds fan, it raises a smile seeing so many people singing along to a song by one of your favourite bands...
But all this singing about football's 'homecoming' and the celebration around this, reminds me of an even greater homecoming, and it's one that we are all invited to be part of.
In Luke 15 Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son, as an example of what God's love for us is like. He tells a story of a family with 2 sons. One son stays with the family and works hard, but the other, quite shockingly in that culture, turns his back on the family, and asks for his inheritance money before the Father has even died.
He walks away from the Father, and tries to make something of his life on his own. The parable tells us how he squandered his wealth on wild living, and when hard times hit, desperation for work set in and he found himself out in the fields feeding pigs, regretting some of his life choices and decisions, and longing to be back in the family home. 'Even those who serve in the home have a better life than I do'...
The son swallowed his pride, and he began the walk back towards his father's house and to the family home. How would the Father respond to the son who had effectively said 'you mean nothing to me'? How would the Father respond to the one who had effectively said 'you're as good as dead to me, I want my money now'? How would the Father respond to that same one who was slowly walking back towards him, covered in filth, smelly, without a thing to his name?
The Father still loved his lost son, he still longed for him to be part of the family. He was looking out, and he saw his son on the horizon. Perhaps if the song had been invented then he'd have started singing 'he's coming home, he's coming home, he's coming...' but it hadn't, so he didn't. Instead, Luke's Gospel says this, 'while he was still a long way off, the father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. ’But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
The greatest homecoming isn't a football tournament, it's us coming home to our loving heavenly Father. The parable shows us what God is like. When we come near with hearts turned back to him, sorry for the mess we've made of things without him, he runs out to embrace us, he celebrates us, he removes the dirt, puts a clean robe on us, reinstates us as part of his family and celebrates like its 1966.
In Three Lions the chorus is one of hope - 'maybe this will be our year' sort of vibe in the 'thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming' but the Good News of Jesus is so much better than that. Forgiveness isn't a dream, new life isn't a dream, being loved by God isn't a dream...it's made possible through Jesus, through who He is and what He did for us. We just have to turn and start walking back towards him, coming home.
And perhaps for those of us have just found ourselves drifting out of our church family, or out of our Christian community wherever we are, as lockdown eases and as summer approaches, now would be a great time to re-connect with your church family. None of us are meant to do faith alone, none of us are meant to be a disconnected or dislocated part of the body of Christ. There is nothing quite like being part of God's family, and knowing the support, encouragement, love and challenge of those around us.
Enjoy the game!