Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent C, 2016
Text: Luke 15:1-3,
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the beloved parable of the prodigal son, there is one thing that can easily be overlooked:
EVERYTHING BELONGS TO THE FATHER.
The father is certainly a rich man. No matter what happens he never takes into account the cost of anything. His son comes and asks for his portion of the inheritance and the father doesn’t hesitate. One third of everything is given to the younger son. (The first-born would get a double portion.) The father is not concerned about how he will take care of himself or the rest of the household with this portion of the estate gone.
The younger son wants nothing to do with his family except to spend its wealth. It has often been pointed out that, in asking for his inheritance earlier, this younger son is in effect saying, “Dad, I wish you would just go ahead and die.” When he gets his share of the estate, he liquidates everything and leaves without looking back. But this does not change the fact that he is his father’s son. His father is not dead. And every coin in his pocket is his father’s.
When the younger son returns home, the father welcomes him back. He gives him clothes, sandals and a ring, all indicating that he is received back not as a slave, but as a son. He is still his father’s boy.
The older brother, of course, does not receive his brother back so warmly. He pouts that the fattened calf is sacrificed for his brother, when he has not been given a goat to have a party with his friends. His father tells him, all that is mine is yours. Yet the father is so rich that whatever he spends celebrating the return of one son does not diminish what is available to the other.
To profit from this parable we must answer two questions: where is Jesus to be found in this story and where are you to be found in this story?
Jesus is everywhere in the parable. Being of the same substance of heavenly Father, He is reflected in the abundantly rich father of the parable who gives and gives with no fear of running out. He is reflected in the younger son who departs from His Father and spends everything of the Father’s in the company of prostitutes, tax-collectors and sinners. Is there is a more prodigal life than leaving heaven to give up everything for those who are nothing? Jesus is reflected in the older brother as well. For though Jesus took on our flesh, he does not give up His divinity by which He is omnipresent—present everywhere, even with the Father in Heaven while He walks the earth. Jesus is the fattened calf, who is sacrificed (‘killed’ doesn’t do justice to the Greek) so that those who have wandered may be restored to the Father’s family. Jesus is the robe of righteousness put on in Baptism. He is the sender of the Holy Spirit who seals you for redemption with the Divine Family’s signet ring.
Jesus is everywhere in this parable, but where are you?
Are you the younger son who has squandered the wealth entrusted to you by the Father? Have you lived as though you wished God was dead and you were your own person? Before you answer that, realize that every sin rejects God’s Fatherhood over you. Sometimes we can hear this parable and think that we used to be the prodigal son. We used to live recklessly. We’ve been greeted by the Father and now that we have returned we have never strayed again and never will. How many times have you told yourself that you wouldn’t return to your old sinful ways? How many times have you returned to them anyway, if not the old sins, then some new one? Friends, Jesus came to save sinners. Resist sin with all your might, but don’t desire to be anything other than a sinner. Desire to be a saved-sinner, but not something other than a sinner or you will miss Jesus. We are all sinners. We live in families of sinners, worship as a congregation of sinners in the midst of a nation of sinners. The blessings that God has given and we’ve squandered are beyond number. You have been and are today the younger son. Every day we are in need of making the confession, “Father, I have sinned against you.”
But can we not also be the older brother? Do we not look to our own righteousness? “God, I’ve been in Church every Sunday for the last umpteen years. I’ve never been in jail. I don’t have any speeding tickets. I keep your commandments. Yet such rotten people have so many blessings that I would like. Why haven’t you given me a goat to celebrate with my friends?”
It’s easy for us to look down on people who are different, who have sins more noticeable than ours. We can be this brother just as easily as we can be the younger brother. But we forget that everything is the Father’s.
The gifts that others have squandered belong to God, as does everything you have. But don’t forget that everything belongs to the Father. Not just what you have and what your neighbor has, but everything. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow, all belong to God. He can supply all that you lack by whatever means He chooses. He will not run out of blessings to give no matter how much you or your neighbor squander them.
This parable is a call to live in God’s generosity. You do not have to be perfect, nor do you have to require your neighbor to be perfect. Whatever sin you have committed, God is there with the righteousness of Christ to wrap around you when you repent and look to Him. God does not become poorer by giving you more. For everything is His, including you. What He gives to You He never loses.
As God calls you to return to Him and be His child, He also calls you to be reconciled to your neighbor. The feast of the parable restores the son not only to his sonship but to his place in the family. It is not the son’s celebration, except that it is the Father’s celebration for the family. When the fattened calf is sacrificed, the entire household celebrates. The joy belongs to everyone.
Now, when the Father reconciles your brother you can choose to stay away, but it is you who loses the joy of redemption, not your brother. And when your brother refuses to forgive you, as sad as that is, it does not take away your place in the Father’s household.
Now some of you have undoubtedly been doing the math. How can you take one third of everything and squander it? How can the younger son run out of one third of everything? How can everything that belongs to the Father belong to the older son and there still be enough for the younger son? What will the younger son do when the Father dies for real? (Or should we ask, “Will the Father ever die?”)
But math falls under the realm of the law. Math can explain commandments, math can help you calculate the tithe you are required to bring of your produce, but it is useless in describing the Gospel. God’s grace cannot be measured, divided, lost or increased. What is certain is that Christ who possessed everything that is the Father’s gave it up and thus secured it for Himself and for you—not for you to do with as you please, but for joy to the household of faith. God gives everything for the reconciliation of the lost and erring. If that is you, or your brother, He calls you to the feast. Don’t worry. He won’t run out of food or joy to share with you and your brother alike.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria