+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 15:20
Theme: The Father’s Compassion
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”1 Today that word comes to us with exceptional beauty. We could hardly find a parable more representative of the storyline of salvation and instructive of the heart of God than this one. The tenderness, compassion and faithfulness of God are all illustrated in this father of two sons. So too are the profound consequences of sin. The younger son becomes a self-styled narcissist that must fall to the brink of despair. The older son is the dutiful child that still begrudges the mercy of the Father shown to the younger. “It’s not fair!” is his cry.
No one really wants to believe that he or she is the prodigal- unless through false humility they hope to receive the benefit of some sympathy. No one wants to believe they could be so reckless, disobedient, and immoral. But this text is not asking us to compare. We are called to recognize we that are no less sinners than the prodigal. Only the Holy Spirit can bring us to this conviction. No one deserves an audience with God. No one deserves to be welcomed into His kingdom. God alone is privy to the reckless waste and disobedience in our lives.
The prodigal son did return. How does one come to this point? The scaffolding of our self-constructed kingdoms must collapse. In modern parlance we call it hitting rock-bottom. Otherwise we cannot enter or remain in His kingdom. It will happen at death anyway. This truth-personal for every individual- runs parallel to the decay of the world. The apostle says that we should “use the things of this world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”2 The skeleton of the cosmos is fracturing under the weight of sin’s burden.
We do well to remember during this season of Lent that the exercise of repentance is a personal and a corporate one. Together as the body of Christ we live in the world but we are not of the world. We shouldn’t be too hasty in making the assumption that this reality can be maintained unchallenged. Can we have anything meaningful to say to the world if all we are doing is presenting a religious-sounding version of what the world already believes? Should the church be re-imaging herself to be more in-step with the culture? Or should she be constantly refining and reforming herself to be more reflective of the Word? Are we brash or naïve enough to say that people don’t need salvation from sin in the way they once did?
What do we fear? Ridicule? Political correctness? Irrelevancy? Probably all these and more. Yet, the more we mimic the world the more irrelevant we become. The issues that people are grappling with demand an informed Christian perspective: Climate change, sexuality, life after death, purpose for the present, proper respect for authority, sanctity of life- abortion, euthanasia, suicide- etc., and etc.
How is this challenge being met? Like the world, do we believe this life is an end in itself? Are we really closet Epicureans believing we should eat, drink, and be merry? Do we believe sexuality is a personal freedom meant for pleasure? Are we really closet amoralists not concerned about divine value judgments? Do we believe nearly everyone is “going to a better place” when they die? Are we really closet universalists denying the existence of hell? Do we believe life can be ended by democratic pragmatism? Are we really closet adherents of social Darwinism? Do we believe we are essentially laws unto ourselves? Are we really closet anarchists wanting to be kings and queens of our own castles?
Or are we not really often acting in secrecy at all? Just sometimes carefully, sometimes sheepishly as we capitulate to the persuasive influences of culture! Dear friends, the lie of Satan is that you’ll always be better off without God than with Him. But God is not a begrudging miser. Jesus says “The pagans run after all these things (necessities of life), and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”3 We are not prevented from enjoying life. We appreciate it all the more because we are not given over to futility. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”4 The prodigal son did not see at first that he possessed more blessings with His father than apart from him.
The prodigal son returns without expecting to be reinstated to his place in the family. God does not look at repentance as our good work. It is a work of the Spirit. To repent with the intention of demanding recognition from God shows there has been no true change of heart. We can make no claims on Christ’s mercy. Even those returning to the church have no ‘rights’ to claim. If it were any other way grace would not be grace.
The grace of God is not reactionary it is proactive. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”5 It was beneath the dignity of a mature Jewish man to run. But what is beneath the dignity of God? God does not wait to announce to us His promise. Christ humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross. God’s love is not contingent upon our initiative. Baptism promises life to the spiritually dead. This life is ours to celebrate in life-long obedience to His will.
What does the father say to the skeptical older brother? “We had to celebrate…because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”6 Should we not celebrate when the dead live! When those in spiritual death and darkness are revived by the light of Christ! Ah, “But it’s Lent!” you say. And hallelujahs are restricted. Is not the ox pulled out of the ditch on the Sabbath7? Do the guests fast when the bridegroom is still with them8? Is there not more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents9? The bruised reed is not broken and the smoldering wick is not snuffed out10.
When the gospel is preached, when the Spirit enters the darkness- the dead will live. These things we celebrate. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”11
Where Christ is the darkness cannot long linger. The prophet says that in Christ’s presence “sorrow and sighing will flee away.”12 Why? Because “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”13 He was crucified for us and raised from the dead. This is our joy in the face of struggle. God abides with us in our pilgrimage.
When the manna ceased could the Israelites still rejoice? They were now receiving sustenance from the promised inheritance. God had sustained them for 40 years with the bread from heaven. Then it ended. They must have felt grief mixed with joy. But it was yet another preview of the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died…I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”14
We have the true manna- Christ’s very body and blood- in the sacrament. He promises He will not withdraw it until we join Him in the heavenly banquet. For his reconciled son the father killed the proverbial fattened calf. For us He has done so much more. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday in Lent
10 March 2013
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Romans 10:19 2 1 Corinthians 7:31
3 Matthew 6:32 4 1 Timothy 6:4 5 Luke 15:20
6 Luke 15:32 7 See Luke 14:5 8 See Luke 5:34
9 See Luke 15:7 10 See Isaiah 42:3 11John 1:4
12 Isaiah 35:10 13 2 Corinthians 5:21 14 John 6:48-51