Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon -- 4th Sunday in Lent (March 31, 2019)

LUKE 15:1-3,11-32


In the name + of Jesus.

     The parable Jesus told, commonly referred to as “The Prodigal Son,” is a parable of both grace and warning.  Grace is shown to the younger son.  He surely did not deserve it; and, in fact, he himself admits to that.  He is dead on right when he makes his confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:18,19)
     He had insisted upon receiving his share of the inheritance, taking a portion of his father’s estate before his father had even passed away.  He blew through all his money and goods in hedonistic, drunken, sleazy living.  He sullied the family name, disgracing his father as well as himself.  When the money ran out, his scarcity was made even worse because of a famine.  He was reduced to feeding slop to unclean animals.  He was not a good son, and for that matter not even much of a human being—so low his honor, so great his shame.  Still, he thought there might be hope with his father.  He reasoned, “How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17)  He had squandered his place as a son, but even as a slave he would have at least some benefit of his father’s kindness.
     When the father saw the prodigal return, he went out for his wayward son.  He ran to him and showered him with grace.  He did not reluctantly take him back with conditions, reduce him to a slave, or put him under probation.  He put a robe on him.  He put the family signet ring on him.  He restored to him all the rights and privileges of a son, even making him an heir again!  This is grace—giving him gifts that he did not deserve.  The father went out of his way to bring back his wayward son.
     As endearing a parable as this is, and as much as this exemplifies God’s grace, the parable does not end with this joyful father-and-son reunion.  It is a parable of both grace and warning.  The warning is for Jesus’ target audience.  We should not fail to see who this parable is for.  St. Luke notes: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear (Jesus).  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)  This parable was not aimed at the reprobates, but at the religious.  We usually think of the wayward son is the younger son who squandered his father’s goods.  He was, but he was not the only wayward son.  The older son also showed disdain for his father because his father was so gracious.
     Pay attention to Jesus’ parable, because the older son is a warning for us.  The older son is the one who had never left his father’s house.  He was the dutiful son.  His behavior was not shameful or scandalous.  The older son was doing what you might expect a dutiful son to be doing—he was out working for his father.  Everything about the older son seemed commendable, until his little brother showed up.  When the older son came back home to find the celebration and learned what it was for, he refused to set foot in the house.  He was hurt and bitter.  He knew his brother did not deserve the joyful reception he got.  When he actually witnessed the extent of his father’s grace, he was outraged.
     The reason we take this to heart is because we are like the older son in the parable.  The older son is the long-time church-goer, just like most of us are.  You have benefited greatly by coming to God’s house for so long.  You have always been an heir of his kingdom.  But have you ever concluded that your place in our Father’s house has been earned because you have put in the time and the work?  Or that God's grace is for the worthy?  Beware.  That is not grace at all!
     Listen to the older son’s protest: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30)  You do not have to stretch your imagination much to consider your own protest to God’s grace.  Look, Lord, I have been coming to church since I can remember.  I memorized Bible verses and the Small Catechism.  I was confirmed.  When co-workers went out Friday night to get drunk, I went home to my family.  When salesmen were getting awards for cheating their customers, I maintained my integrity and worked honestly.  There were no awards for that.  When friends were spewing out lies, gossip, and profanities like a lawn sprinkler, I kept my conversations clean and kind.  And now you’re telling me that there is salvation for those who are perverted, profane, and pagan?!
     The heavenly Father says, “Yes.”  The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Yes.”  For, the Father sent his Son to save sinners.  And Jesus came to interact with sinners so that he could save them.  The charge that was issued against Jesus was no lie: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)  
     The Father goes out for the wayward sons.  He sent Jesus to bring them in.  Look what Jesus Christ squandered on the prostitutes, thieves, liars, and cheaters of the world.  He left his heavenly home and entered our world.  He exchanged his glory for humble weakness.  He exchanged his immortality for mortal flesh.  But much more than that—he exchanged his righteousness for sinful filth.  He exchanged his innocence for the slimy ways people act, for the criminal deeds people do, and for the hateful things people say.  His chaste life was sacrificed for fornicators.  His riches were expended on thieves.  His blessing was uttered to gossips and liars.  And he emptied himself completely for religious people who are full of themselves—who think they are better and they they deserve better.  Jesus gave himself completely for sinners.  The only ones who do not benefit from the Father’s grace are those who insist they have done their duty and demand their reward.  This is the warning.
     But the warning is issued so that you will not miss out on the Father's grace.  That is why the Father went out to his wayward son.  The father was grieved that the older son would forfeit all his blessings because of his own pride.  Rather than bawl out the older son for his arrogance—which he deserved, the father extended more grace by imploring him to come in and to celebrate what was good.  The father had to remind the older son that by bringing his brother in, the older son lost nothing.  “He said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32)
     The father went out to his wayward son because he despised grace.  If you have been a life-long believer, remember: No son ever has earned his place in the father’s house.  You did not choose to be here.  God brought you in.  You were born again of water and the word by which the Father has made you his child—a beneficiary of his grace and an heir of his kingdom.  And no son is deprived of his father’s good things, no matter how many more are added to the family.  If you do not feel like God gushes over you, then you have forgotten what benefits God pours out on you every day.  There is no shortage of forgiveness, no limits on comfort, and no end of peace.  The Father never withdraws love from you so that he can show it to someone else.  All that is his is yours.  God does, indeed, gush over you, and he continually gushes his gifts upon you.
     Therefore, if Good Shepherd all of a sudden saw an influx of wayward people—addicts and pole dancers, Muslims and Hindus, sex offenders and felons, people who are obnoxious, arrogant, and braggarts, we have reasons to rejoice.  It means that God loves sinners.  It means that God is still gracious.  It means that the Father still seeks wayward people and wants to celebrate their place in his family.  And he wants you to rejoice with him.  For, no one deserves to be a son.  No one deserves to benefit from the Father’s riches.  And no one ever earns an inheritance.  Nevertheless, the Father gives it all.  He is pleased to bring people into his family and grant all good things to them.  Do not despise his grace, but rejoice in it.  For, his grace is for you, too.

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

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