Monday, March 11, 2013

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 10, 2013)

LUKE 15:11-32
In the name + of Jesus.

     Our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us to pray, “Our Father,” and there is a tremendous amount to learn when we ponder that phrase and take it to heart.  First of all, we learn how we are to think of our God.  While it is true that he is holy, just, omniscient, and almighty, those characteristics will only make you fear him.  And for good reason.  The Lord is the one who has commanded us how to live, and he also assesses how we have done.  It is not guess work.  The Lord knows all things.  He will judge you fairly.  That should not fill you with comfort; it should strike you with fear.  If it doesn’t, you have not paid attention to your own actions and words. 
     But Jesus Christ has not taught you to pray, “Holy God,” or, “All-Seeing Judge.”  While your Lord is those things, Jesus has revealed to you one who is most merciful.  He is “Our Father.”  He is the one who has fashioned and made us, who provides for us and protects us, and who blesses us throughout our lives until he has decided that our time on earth is done.  He is “Our Father,” who is pleased to call his children those who believe in his Son, Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus, you have been cleansed of your sins: that is what God sees.  You who have been baptized have been clothed in Christ: That is what God knows.  You are forgiven.  You are saints.  You are children of the Most High God: That is how God judges.  He is your most merciful Father in heaven who has been pleased to give his Son into death in order to have you for eternal life.  All of this is in the phrase, “Our Father,” and you have even more to ponder there.
     But children can be discontented.  You know it from your own family.  And you see it in the parable.  One son was not content to live in his father’s house and to receive its blessings.  He asked for his inheritance early.  He was eager to set out on his own.  Who knows whether he was trying to seek his own fortune, or if he was just ready to blow a fortune?  Maybe he thought his fortune would never run out.  He was convinced the good life was out there somewhere—wine, women, and song, you know.  His desire for pleasure was greater than his shame in dishonoring his father or in his fear of losing his blessings.  He partied hard.  He bought drinks for everyone.  Whatever friendships he had were all lies.  When the money ran out, so did his friends.  The party was over.  There was no good life apart from his father’s blessing.  There was no joy outside of his father’s house.  He had squandered it all and disgraced his father’s name.  Though the years, the Church has called this son “prodigal,” which means wasteful.  No matter what adjective you would use to describe him, this one certainly sums it up: wicked.
     But the younger son was not the only wicked son.  When the younger son finally returned home and was received with joy, the older son showed his true colors.  He was angry at his brother and especially at his father.  The older son commended himself for his faithfulness and his hard service in his father’s house.  You can imagine the older son, sweating it out in the hot fields, thinking to himself, “That little ingrate ripped off his father and then abandoned us.  I’ve heard the stories about his rock star life and his rock bottom crash.  He deserves what he got.  Let him stay in squalor.  Let him rot and starve.  I’ve been stuck here doing my father’s dirty work.  Where’s my party?  Where are my wine, women, and song?”
     The older son was every bit as wicked the younger son.  The younger son’s wickedness was on display for all to see.  The older son’s wickedness was masked behind his supposedly pious life.  The older son prayed for judgment and wrath on his brother.   He would be pleased with nothing less than banishment.  He had earned better treatment.  He deserved the good life.  But he considered life in his father’s house oppressive and unfair.  The older son was not content with the blessings of his father.  He also longed for something better.  He believed that the time spent in his father’s house earned him his blessings.  For all of his pious behavior, his heart was still wicked.
     In this parable, Jesus exposes your wicked heart.  It is not that you are either one son or the other.  You are both.  Like the younger son, you have not been content with God’s blessings.  You have tried to find your joy by pursuing whatever your sinful flesh craves.  In other words, you think that the good life is found apart from your Father in heaven.  You have abused your Father’s gifts.  And you, who bear his name, have disgraced his name with your sins.  Repent.
     But the father’s mercy is greater than the sons’ wickedness.  When the younger son came back from his rebellious and wretched condition, the father did not send him away.  He did not even put him on probation.  In mercy, he received him back.  In love, he restored him as his beloved son with all of the rights and privileges that come with it.  In joy, he slaughtered the fattened calf and called for a celebration with the family and the servants and all the company of the house.
     Even when the older son protested his father’s mercy and joy, the father made no apologies.  He would not let any self-righteous argument reduce his joy or renounce his mercy.  On the contrary, he urged the older son to recognize that he has been no less loving, gracious, and merciful to him.  The older son had always been in the father’s house.  He had always benefited from his generosity.  The kingdom and its rights and privileges were always his.  He has never had it better, so why should he be upset when anyone receives the same good.  Would he really prefer wickedness over godliness, judgment over joy, or banishment over blessings?
     The father’s mercy is greater than the sons’ wickedness.  It always is.  And that is because your Father in heaven has given his beloved Son to win your place in the kingdom.  Jesus Christ left his Father’s house to come to earth.  Here, he lived with sinners and feasted with tax collectors and prostitutes.  He set aside all of his glory to be steeped in shame and humility.  He made himself unclean not by tending pigs but by bearing your guilt and shame.  He was cursed for your self-righteous attitude that would forbid the wicked from seeing mercy.  He carried your sins of discontent when you have sought joy and comfort outside of God’s promises and providence.  He was banished—the only begotten Son cut off and rejected by his Father.  He was stripped of the family name.  He was denied any benefit of his Father’s kingdom.  He was an outcast—cursed, condemned, and crucified.  It was not a fattened calf, but the Son of God, who was slain for you.  This was the price paid for the wickedness of everyone.  But through Jesus’ sufferings and death, the price has been paid. 
     The Father’s mercy is greater than your wickedness.  No matter how wicked your sins have been, now matter how heartless your attitude has been, no matter how bad your squalor has been, you are forgiven.  Through Jesus, you are now reconciled to God.  The Lord is now “Our Father,” and he calls you his sons and daughters.  The house is yours.  The feast is waiting.  There is music and dancing.  We join in the heavenly singing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  For the Son of God, who had been banished, has been raised from the dead.  He has returned to the Father in heaven, and he has been received back with joy.  He has put an end to sin and death.  He has delivered us from wickedness and rebellion.  He shows us a good and merciful Father in heaven whose mercy never runs out or goes stale.  Our Father loves us.  The feast has been prepared for us.  He is delighted to have us enjoy the benefits of being his children and the glories of life in his home.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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