Psalm 40:1-5
Luke 15:11-24
Romans 3:20-25a

October 1993, Gatlinburg, Tennessee; three construction workers and their boss are in a bar after work discussing bad odors. You know the ones: rotten eggs, skunk scent, what’s your favorite? And the boss says, “The worse odor has got to be an outhouse.”

He was so convinced he was right that offered $1,000 to anyone who would spend an entire night in an outhouse. How many of you would have done it? By the way, did I mention that in order to collect the money you would have to spend the entire night lowered into the pit of the outhouse? Now how many of you would have done it?

One of those construction workers said that he would gladly dive head-first into that stuff for the $1,000. But the boss said that wouldn’t be necessary. And so it was that at sundown October 16, 1993, his two co-workers and his boss lowered their adventurous friend into the slimy, smelly, stench of a well-used outhouse. After about two hours, in which he said he was tempted to toss his cookies many times, the guy said, “The smell sort of grew on him.”

Sunrise the next morning, the same three who took turns staying awake all night to ensure that the prisoner remained such, threw their perfumed buddy a rope and hauled him out. As the boss handed over a check, he noted his employee just couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

What’s a story like that got to do with anything? Hang on; you’re about to find out.

Sharon was on a Christian youth retreat at Boy Scout Camp. Sharon’s nickname was the primper. She really didn’t relish the idea of roughing it for a week at a Scout Camp. Her idea of roughing it was a Holiday Inn. Anyway, twice a day Sharon would shower and blow-dry her hair and style it with the curling-iron and meticulously re-apply her make-up.

One morning after Sharon’s ritual, the camp director began a game of Capture the Flag, a glorified version of hide and seek. Sharon in trying to avoid being seen by a potential captor chose to stand behind an outhouse. As her enemy approached, Sharon moved around the outhouse and then decided to hide inside so she slipped in quietly and closed the door. She could hear her opponent circling slowly around the outhouse when she suddenly realized that when he came to the front he would be able to see her feet under the door. Quickly, she stepped up on the rickety board that was strong enough to hold anyone who had sitting business to do, but not quite strong enough to hold the entire weight of Sharon the Primper. Crack went the sitter, down went the Primper, up to her waist in all that stuff.

Sharon did what any teenage girl would do in that situation. She began to scream! And the boy who had been sniffing Sharon out did what any other Christian Youth Group Kid would do. He ran off to fetch everyone else in the group so they too could join in cheering Sharon the Primper on as she wildly tried to extract herself from the pit of that smelly old crapper.

When the Camp Director arrived on the site of this most unseemly and unfortunate accident, there was Sharon still trying to claw her way up and out. But by now she had fallen more than once. Alas, all of her work in the bathroom was now ‘all for naught.’ And the harder she tried to work her way out, the worse it became!

Mercifully, after 10 long minutes, someone came with a rope, made a loop and dropped it down into the hole. Do you think she grabbed it? You bet your life she did. She grabbed hold of the rope, put her arms through the loop and Sharon, the primper, was rescued at last.

Sharon’s outhouse rescue is an apt illustration of what the Psalmist, the Apostle Paul and Luke are all putting before us: that entire human race is in the pit of an outhouse; that the whole human race is polluted, wallowing in sewage.

The problem is sin. It’s alive and well and all of us are infected with it. Don’t be confused; sin is much more than individual acts of disobedience. Sin is a perpetual state of being whereby we reserve the right to sit on the throne. This perpetual state of being can be easily identified as our inclination to be selfish in a zillion different ways and is exemplified by the prodigal son who demanded his inheritance and then spent it on wild living.

The prodigal son spoke for all humanity when he said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

When we begin to understand Biblical theology, that until our sin is dealt with in a Biblical way we will never be qualified to enter heaven, we realize that we are in trouble, that we need help, that we need someone to throw us a rope.

There’s an old Humphrey Bogart movie in which he plays an American flyboy shot down over Europe during WW II. In order to escape the Germans, he disguises himself as a Priest and makes his way from village to village toward the front. Taking refuge in a church an altar boy asks him to celebrate the Mass and Bogart replies, “Son, their sin will have to wait.”
“No!” the boy replies, “Their sin can’t wait, father. Their sin is heavy! But God can lift their burden, then the people will be free!”

You better believe it! God can lift our burden. He did come to our rescue, in Christ! And though He was clean, He died a sinner’s death by taking upon Himself the combined pollution of all humanity in one fell swoop.

He threw us a rope that touched the earth at the foot of the cross. And He invites us to slip it around us. When we do, He pulls us up out of the foul-smelling darkness of our own filth into the sweet-smelling light of His brightness!

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. And set my feet upon a rock and put a new song in my mouth to sing” (Psalm 40:1-3).

But is it possible that some of us haven’t grabbed hold of the rope?

Is it possible that some of us, like Sharon, have been duped into thinking we could claw our own way out of the outhouse to freedom?

That’s what the prodigal son was thinking after he came to his senses. He got the first part right: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But as to how he was going to get back in his father’s good graces, he was misguided when he said, “Please take me on as a hired servant.” He mistakenly thought he could earn his way back into his father’s good graces through his own efforts.

And how did his father respond? Did he say, “Okay son, go work in the fields until I tell that you have done enough to merit being called my son again.” No, he spoke a word of marvelous grace: “Quick, bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found” (Luke 15:22-24).

We will never be successful in extracting ourselves from the pit by our own efforts. Should we choose that method to escape, we would be doomed to claw and scrap like Sharon did for the rest of our lives. For Paul insists, “No one can ever be made right in God’s sight by doing what the Law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” (Romans 3:20).

So how can we be made right with God, Paul? “We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”

“HE pulled me out of my despair!” (Psalm 40:3).

Christ has thrown us a rope! Have you grabbed hold of the rope?

Let me tell you about another prodigal son who finally did; his name is Scott.

Scott’s father, mother and siblings had been through years of ups and downs with him and his drug abuse. They heard hundreds of promises and had seen them broken twice as many times. Scott had stolen from them, manipulated them, and failed them. He had broken their hearts. And it had been a relief not to hear from him for two years.

Until one day his father was told by his secretary that Scott was on the phone. “Get his number and I’ll call him back,” the father said, wanting time to think. When he saw the area code, he realized that Scott was in a different state, and his curiosity was stirred. When he finally got himself psyched up to place the call, he was surprised when the woman who answered said, “Oakridge Christian Center.”
“Could I speak to Scott Granger please?”
“Who’s calling?”
“His father, returning his call.”
There was a brief pause, and then he heard Scott’s voice. “Hi Dad, thanks for calling me back.”

So began the most amazing phone conversation that father ever had. Scott told him that he had been through another rehab program, but this one provided something no other program had offered: “Faith in Christ,” he explained.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I have been forgiven of my past because Jesus died for my sins, and that He’s given me a new start on life. Dad, I want to know if I am welcome to come home? I want to ask you and mom to forgive me, too.”
He went on to tell me that he was actually working for the church, helping other addicts get on the right path. His father was torn between the hope that he really was straight this time, and the fear that they were going to be let down again.

When Scott arrived at the airport two weeks later, he looked like a stranger. He was well groomed and nicely dressed, and his eyes were bright and clear. “He was probably as nervous as we were, but we quickly put our arms around him in a hug.”

In the days that followed, Scott told his story. In the midst of drug withdrawal, he cried out to God for help. Somehow he couldn’t explain, his withdrawal symptoms had ended instantly, and the experience led him to a church. “And when I heard Jesus died for my sins, I asked Him to forgive me and my life hasn’t been the same since.”

Other than an occasional wedding, Scott’s family hadn’t been to church for years, but the change in Scott was too dramatic to ignore. And when he showed them in the New Testament the story of the prodigal son, they discovered that just as they had welcomed Scott home, God was waiting with open arms to welcome them home too. “Now, ten years later, Jesus has taught us about forgiveness, new life, and renewed hope. He has given us the same new life He gave to our prodigal son.”

Scott is one of the thousands upon thousands upon millions of prodigals who have opened their hearts to God in hopes that He would accept them as is.

The son said to Him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the Father said to his servants, “Quick, Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his fingers and sandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found!”

There can only be two responses to this kind of message:

First, if you haven’t taken the rope that landed at the foot of the cross, then take the rope.

And if you already have, rededicate living your life to the One who rescued your soul from the pit.