When he came to his senses, he said, "How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants."
So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:17-20 TNIV)
I grew up in Tennessee. We call ourselves the Volunteer State because we're proud of our heritage of sending volunteers to respond to state and national emergencies. But, two guys from California demonstrated volunteerism this week that is impressive even by Tennessee standards.
They've agreed to chauffeur a skunk from Toronto back to his home in California.
The skunk wound up in Toronto because he dozed off in the wrong place: a pile of piping bound for a suburb of the Canadian city. The skunk traveled 2,200 miles shut up in the back of a truck. The trip took seven days, and the furry little stowaway apparently made it without food or water. It's illegal to just release a California skunk into the wild in Canada, so the Toronto Wildlife Center has been taking care of the skunk since he arrived in the Great White North on January 5. But the center's goal is to return him to his home.
While airlines will often agree to return stowaway wildlife to its home free of charge in situations like this, in this case, the Wildlife Center couldn't find a carrier who would do it. After all, the Center could not provide a "no-spray" guarantee. Can you imagine being in the middle of a cross-country flight when a startled, confused skunk squeezed off a "round"? The airlines' reluctance is understandable.
But, this left the skunk homeless. So, after the Wildlife Center got the skunk's predicament into every media outlet they could imagine, a California radio host and his producer agreed to drive out and pick up the skunk just across the border from either Detroit or Buffalo, and then bring him back home to the West Coast. What makes them particularly brave, of course, is that they're not getting a "no-spray" guarantee either.
I hope they have a really good air freshener in the car they'll be driving.
You know, I've felt like that skunk before. That's not so much a comment on my hygiene as much as it is a confession about my character. Paul saw the prevalence of sin among human beings — even among the best of us — as it is spelled out in the Old Testament: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." There is no one who does good, not even one? No one? Really?
Yes, and it's actually worse than that. It's not just that it's hard to find anyone who does the right thing; it's also hard to find anyone who doesn't do the wrong thing. "Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." Yikes. Had enough? Oh, there's more to this message from Paul:
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.
There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18 TNIV)
In short, something stinks about us. Specifically, something stinks about me. I've felt like that skunk before because I know enough about myself to know that I'm no prize. All that stuff that Paul saw in the world of his day, he could see in me. And I feel like that skunk because I'm helpless and lost and far from home, and there's no reason why the only One who could possibly get me home would even want to try. Why put up with the smell? What would possibly be in it for him? Give me one good reason why He shouldn't just leave me where I am.
And yet ... he did.
That's the gospel. That's the good news. He didn't have to, but he did anyway. He came and lived among us. He gritted his teeth and wrinkled his nose and lived in the stench of human beings who were warped and torn and twisted by sin. He touched us and taught us and raised our eyes to the heavens. And when it was time, he died for us to prop open the door and take us — yes, us ... you and me — home.
Because I imagine you feel like that skunk sometimes, and because there are so very few people these days ready to put themselves on the line to help you, I hope you can begin to understand what God already has done for you in Jesus Christ. When no one else would, or could, he stood up and said, "I will! I'll brave the stench of sin and death that permeates that world and those people. I'll do what it takes to bring them home."
Yeah, I've felt like that skunk before. And because of that, I hope that in the moments that matter, I'll be willing to step up and volunteer to share my life for awhile with others who need a little help getting home. Isn't that the least I can do?
I bet that right now, there are people with whom God is calling us to share our lives, even for just a little while. They might stink, spiritually speaking, but who are we to be particular? Let's do what Jesus did for us: value them enough to be with them and help them get home.
Roll down the windows and enjoy the ride.