Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lent 4 of Series C (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

A little late in getting this up, but here it goes. If anyone is still following this blog, I hope to resume posting sermons sometime this summer, as I was assigned as a candidate from the seminary to Faith Lutheran Church in Deloit, IA, and St. John Lutheran Church in Kiron, IA. Once I am going there, expect regular sermon postings, newsletter articles, etc.

“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.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon today is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, the Father had two sons. Now these were two pretty ordinary brothers. They grew up in the same home, ate much the same food, watched the same television shows, and played on the same high school football team. They went to their Father’s house on a weekly basis, to receive the gifts that their Father abundantly poured out on them. But the Father didn’t just bless them once a week. By His gracious provision, they did not lack anything to sustain this body and life.

But something changed between the two brothers. The younger brother fell in with a different group of friends, ones that persuaded him that there were far better things to do than visit his Father’s house each week, or follow his Father’s constricting rules. He began to drift farther and farther away from his Father, and he rarely darkened the door of his Father’s house. Finally the day came. In arrogance and pride, the younger son walked into his Father’s house and told him to drop dead. “I am finished being your son, I am finished following your rules, I am finished depending on you!” And you know what? The Father did not stop him. In an act that bordered on insanity, the Father let the younger brother take everything he had given him, indeed his very own life. Why would any Father do such a thing? Well, for this Father, it was part of His character. No one could choose or decide to become His son, but the Father would not stand in the way if someone decided to reject the sonship that had been freely given. To be sure, it saddened Him, but He would not force someone against their will to remain His son.

The younger son left his brother and his hometown and went to the city. There, he indulged his desires in an endless search for pleasure. There is no need for us to go into the dirty details of his life- let’s just say that he lived only for himself, and he used up every gift that his Father had given him. He spent his money, his mind, and his body on sex, on alcohol, on drugs, any quick fix that would satisfy his immediate needs. He rarely felt bad for the parade of women that spent the night at his apartment- they had all been raised on the same television shows, they knew what life was all about. Satisfy your own pleasure, and don’t worry about anyone else, because all those other people are only doing the same. The dim spark of love he held toward his father, indeed toward anything other than himself, soon flickered and died. He was truly as he wanted to be, dead to his Father. But yet, despite this, the Father continued to constantly seek after His lost son.

The older son had watched his brother drift away from their Father. He had seen it happen and had said nothing, he had not attempted to reconcile that broken relationship. “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” he told himself. At least he had stayed. He continued to go to his Father’s house every week to receive his Father’s gifts, eventually bringing a wife and a young child along. He was even in his Father’s house a lot during the week, as he served on church council and then as an elder. He and his family were the perfect example of morality and love, and example that may others wished to follow. Sure, he lusted after women and had indecent thoughts, but he never acted on those thoughts. Like many others, he often let a curse word or a dirty joke escape his lips, or he participated in gossip, but those were minor compared to whatever his brother was doing. At least that was how he responded to himself whenever his conscience told him he was not as squeaky clean as he looked- “At least I’m not my brother.” That assertion was the basis of his relationship with his Father- “I’m the loyal son, I’m the good son, you don’t see me wasting your gifts like that brother of mine.”

The younger brother first realized something was wrong when his debit card was rejected at the casino. His account was empty, and as he soon discovered, so was his life. Within weeks, in addition to having no money, he had no friends and no home, and if it was not for the generosity of a downtown soup kitchen, he would’ve had nothing to eat. He began to realize the emptiness of his life, that when you live your life concerned with no one but yourself, you are left with no one but yourself when the bottom falls out. His transgressions of his Father’s commandments had ruined him. And now, how could his Father ever take him back? He deserved death, death forever, for what he had done, and he knew it. He knew that he didn’t deserve to be his Father’s son again, but then a plan formed itself in his mind. He would make amends, he would earn his way back- even if he could not ever receive his sonship back, surely he could earn something more than he had now, right?

And so after years of absence, the younger son traveled back to his Father’s house. He intended to make his bargain as soon as he entered, but on this Friday night, there were people in his Father’s house, and a man in the pulpit preaching. This preacher speaks about his Father, and about his Father’s wrath over rebellion. In agony the younger brother realizes that no amount of bargaining could possibly satisfy that wrath. He is truly done for, without hope. But then the preacher speaks of someone else, he declares that the Father, his Father, sent a Son, one to be our brother, to take upon Himself all of mankind’s rebellion. He quotes from Saint Paul: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” This brother of ours, Jesus Christ, had no sin of His own, He was perfect. But in the extraordinary, incredible love of the Father, Jesus Christ took on the sin of all mankind, of you and me, and he bore it to the cross. A tear fell from the younger brother’s eye. How could this possibly be true? The preacher reached the crescendo of his sermon, and he proclaimed to the gathered people: “This Jesus took our sin to the cross, and there He bled, there He died, there He faced the wrath that we deserved. On this Good Friday, He suffered in our place, to deliver you, to deliver me, to grant us the forgiveness we so desperately need.” The younger brother shook his head in amazement and joy. Before he could even begin to bargain with Him, his Father had provided the solution, He had sent a brother to bear his sin along with the sin of all.

The preacher continued to speak, declaring the results of Jesus’ death. The younger brother heard about how through the cross and empty tomb, Christ’s death and resurrection, we are restored to the Father, how those who were dead in their trespasses and sins are now made alive through Jesus. The younger brother nodded, remembering that while through his rebellion he may have told his Father to drop dead, he was actually the one who died, and he died in the filth of sin. And now the Father, through the work of Jesus Christ, has sought him out when he was lost made him alive again. Through this pastor, the Father had reminded him of his baptismal garments, and had indeed covered the filthy rags of sin with the white robe of Christ’s own righteousness, won on the cross.

The preacher was not surprised to see the young man from the back of the church come running to the altar after the service. He had watched him carefully as he preached, seeing the change of emotion and the tears flow freely as he heard of what Christ had none for him. The younger brother threw himself on the floor before the altar. “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The pastor did not hesitate. “What is impossible for man is possible with God. As a called and ordained servant of the Word, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He lifted him onto his feet. “Welcome back to your Father’s family, those purchased by the blood of the Lamb.”

The older son’s cry of protest boomed out from behind them- “He does not deserve your forgiveness!” The pastor turned and gently said, “None of us do, but the Father continues to give it freely.” The older son came chest to chest with his pastor and pointed an accusing finger at his brother. “You mean that after he has squandered every gift that our Father gave him, after he has turned his back on our Father and no longer wished to be His son or my brother, that he can simply come back and everything is well!? I have served my Father all of these years, and we have never celebrated me! I have followed all of those stupid rules to the letter, I have been a slave to my Father, and this is the reward I get? He cannot be my brother again, he cannot be my Father’s son again!”

The pastor spoke softly. “You have been a child of your Father since that day He claimed you with the waters of Holy Baptism. From that day, He has continued to shower His gifts upon you. He forgives your sins each and every day, but especially at the beginning of the Divine Service each and every Sunday. You have heard from this pulpit God’s Word proclaimed, a Word that declares Christ’s death on your behalf. In just a couple days, you will hear of Christ’s victory over death, as the women came to the tomb on Easter Sunday and found it empty. You have life, just as your brother has life, eternal life, because you are incorporated into Christ’s victory. All of us were lost, all of us are in need of the gifts Christ won. Your sins are forgiven not because they are somehow less worthy of condemnation than your brother’s, but because Jesus Christ shed His blood for them upon the cross. Each and every sin that you have ever committed is covered with Jesus’ blood. Your Father never abandoned your lost brother, but continued to seek him out, for Jesus Christ came to seek sinners and restore them to the Father. You have seen this today with your own eyes. So now, join the feast with your brother, the feast of salvation, the feast of forgiveness, the feast of Christ’s Body and Blood, for Jesus only dines with sinners.” Their Father rejoiced, for His sons were lost and they are now found, they were dead and are now alive.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” This feast, this celebration, is for all those who are crushed by their sin and the demands of the Law. This feast is for all those who were lost, for you and me, who have lived in sin and self-righteousness, and have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. Come, for the feast is ready, and all is prepared, celebrate with all the saints the foretaste of the feast to come! Amen.

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