THE 4TH SUNDAY IN LENT AD 2019
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Luke 15:1-2; 11-32
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them.
11 And he said, There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me. And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 But when he came to himself, he said, How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. 22 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. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to celebrate.
25 Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound. 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, 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. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! 31 And he said to him, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.
When we were looking at today’s Gospel at our Winkel this week, a brother pastor said how taken aback he was, when his confirmation class didn’t know the parable that Jesus tells today. I guess it really shouldn’t be that big a surprise, given that my nephew at his Fine Arts college had to tell his class of twenty year olds about the Resurrection of our Lord. They had never heard of it before.
Yes, beloved, that is the sad state of our land which at one time believed itself to be Christian. The danger to our faith in this land is not the threat of Islam or the rampant immorality that surrounds us on all sides, but the sad and sinful neglect of our faith by none other than ourselves. I know today’s parable in no small part, because I can still see the pictures on the page of the book, that my mother used to read it to me. Yes, parents need to be reading these stories to their children. They’re certainly not going to hear them at school.
The parable is such a beautiful one in so many ways. I can’t imagine walking out the Christian life without it. It preaches such a powerful word of love, that is so very comforting for a poor miserable sinner like me. To be honest with you the story is so familiar and so dear to me, that I find it hard at times to think of what I could possibly preach about with it. It is one of those Gospel readings that seem to preach themselves. What more needs to be said, when you see in your mind and heart, the Father running to embrace in welcome his wayward son.
But since the Lord has sent me to proclaim something to you, and you’ve journeyed here to hear what He has given me to say, with His help I’ll give you what I have to give. For those of you who do know this parable well, you might refer to it as the “Prodigal Son.” One Lutheran teacher some years ago tried to rename it as the ‘Waiting Father” to put more emphasis on the Gospel love at the heart of the story. But both titles in a way miss the fact that, the real focus of the story is the not the younger son or the father, but the older boy.
Yes, the story has two boys. The older boy is often forgotten. The younger son gets all the attention. It’s not hard to understand why. There’s a whole lot more drama going on with the younger boy - his running away, his reckless living (with prostitutes no less), then the starving, the pig feeding, the longing to eat the pig’s food and then the return home in shame to be greeted in love and finally the great feast.
In all of that it’s easy to see why the older boy is forgotten, as you can get why he’d be mad about it all. The odd one of us might know a thing or two about all of this, the odd one, just the odd one, might have some similar stuff going on in their own family. As far back as Cain and Abel of course, one kid has always thought they were hard done by, when it came to the attention department. Sibling rivalry is the big fancy name for it - a cause of heartbreak for many a kid and many a parent, sin hitting us close to home, often wounding us the deepest.
The older boy, the good one, is left on the sidelines though, because that’s where he puts himself. He could have been front and centre. He could have been there in the midst of it all. He could have been standing with his Dad waiting, longing, for his lost brother’s return. He could have been the next one to embrace him with tears of joy. But he’s not, because he has gone on with his life, and so in the midst of all the joy and feasting, we find him standing outside, going hungry in his own right, not longing to eat pig’s food, but feasting on something far worse - the poisoned food of bitterness with a heaping side order of self-righteousness.
The younger son may get all the attention but the older one is the story’s target. It might not be all about him but it is for him. And if you pay real close attention, you’ll see that even if it’s not all about him it’s also his story. The younger son does it with a whole lot more drama, but in the end, the older boy ends up in the same place as his younger brother did -outside his father’s house and away from his father’s table. The older boy may have stayed at home, but in the end, his own goodness and righteousness also puts him out the door and so away from the father’s bread.
In some ways the older boy is in even greater danger than his younger brother ever was. It’s easier to get sick of wallowing in the pig pen of reckless living, than it is to get tired of glorying in your own goodness and self-righteousness. It’s easier to go hungry with your arms across your chest than it is when you’re starving. Many are the ways, beloved, away from the Father’s house and table. While we may easily remember the mistakes of the younger son and their terrible consequences, we should not fail to be on guard against the equally dangerous missteps of the older brother. Two different brothers, two different paths, but both brought them to the same deadly place.
In these Lenten days the Lord invites us to examine our hearts as He brings the Word’s light to shine on them. As sinners there is offensive ways in each and every one of us. He wants to show it to us that He might lead us in the way everlasting by bringing us to repentance and leading us into faith. There may be more of the younger son in us, or perhaps more of the older one, yet we are ever in danger of following one or both.
Have you lived recklessly? Wasting the beautiful inheritance of your Baptism as a child of God by neglecting the Lord’s things to gorge yourself on the pleasures of the world? Have you remembered your Father day by day? Have you honoured Him with what He has given you? Have you lived with Him and for Him? Have you lived in self-righteousness? Harboured resentment? Feasted on bitterness? Have you had your eyes on your own sins or have you been to preoccupied with the sins of others? Have you written off family and friends for their reckless living and hurtful ways? Or have you longed for their repentance and return?
Two brothers, yes, there were two brothers with two different ways away from the Father. Many are the ways away, but there’s only one way back - the Father’s love. The Father’s love that has compassion, that runs and embraces and kisses the younger son. The Father’s love that notices the missing older son and goes out and searches for him. The Father’s love does not sit back, waiting for the sons to come grovelling to Him. The Father’s love that longs for their return. The Father’s love that seeks, runs, finds, embraces.
The love of the Father is the Son, beloved. Jesus is the love of God. The love that the Father sent, the love that came running to seek, to find, to embrace, to save. Jesus is the love of God that came down from heaven for you … that took up the cross for you … that suffered and died for you … that He might come to you, to seek you, to find you, to embrace you, to save you. Jesus is the love of God that the Father sent to Baptize you … to rebirth you … to in-Spirit you … to re-home you.
Jesus is the love of God who has come to seek you out this day to forgive you, to renew you. Jesus is the love of the God … who calls you to the feast … who gives the feast … who is the feast. Jesus is the love of God sent to bring you to His house … to seat you at His table … to eat His bread and drink His wine. Jesus is the love of God sent that you might have life and and have it abundantly in the Father’s house for ever.
And so arise and come. He is calling you. Arise and come. He is seeking you. Arise and come. He is waiting for you. Amen.