+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 15:20
Theme: Exuberant Love
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God’s love is not passive. He enthusiastically attends to us; vigorously defending us, firmly prodding us, gently embracing us, as needed. Today’s parable is a supreme illustration. Commonly known as the parable of the Prodigal Son it actually involves three key figures; The father, who is an image of God, the prodigal, representing wayward sinners, and the older son, symbolizing self-righteous sinners. The parable pivots on the father’s response to the return of the younger son. God always rushes to embrace someone with a repentant heart.
The reckless actions of the younger son are easy to resonate with. He wanted to do things his way. We’re not being honest sinners if we say we can’t relate. But his way was not God’s way. A fool and his money are soon parted. So are a fool and his credibility. Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. That was the case today. The prodigal found himself in serious want. While feeding the pigs the hunger in his stomach triggered a stirring in his conscience. He began to see the foolishness of his choices.
When the word of God ruminates in our hearts the Holy Spirit is on the scene. More than simple introspection is at work here. The Holy Spirit made a breakthrough. Now, in one sense it was only common sense; the prodigal was in desperate need but the family estate had ample provision. How rash and foolish he had been to leave in the first place! In a deeper sense, we see true repentance at work. The hole in his stomach triggered recognition of emptiness in his heart. The apology was quickly formulated in his mind. The confession was waiting on his lips. We can picture him rehearsing it again and again as he hurried back to approach his father.
But, surprisingly, the father makes a preemptive strike. This is the crux of the story. Here the colours of Christ come blazing through. The preeminence of love comes to the fore. Compassion makes haste; running with adrenaline-fueled joy- ignoring custom, transgressing etiquette, foregoing dignity-the father embraces the son who was lost. The curator of the inheritance rushes to accept the undeserving heir. What matters to the father is not his legacy when he departs but the presence of his son while he lives.
Forgiveness came before the apology was spoken. What a blessed thing it is when the angst of a pending confession is slain by preemptive absolution! It is a blessed crucifixion. The bitterness of remorse is drowned in a sudden immersion of forgiveness. It doesn’t mean the act of repentance is incomplete, inadequate, or somehow unnecessary. It just means the foresight of grace has treated the intention as a completed action. This brings immediate resurrection to the penitent soul. Reconciliation is achieved. The angels rejoice. The lost is found. The love of the father is exuberant, an image of Christ’s love for us.
The pattern is there throughout the Scriptures. God says to His people, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”1 Before the brothers were capable of uttering one word of remorse Joseph said, “Do not be dismayed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”2 Before Jacob could articulate his humility to Esau, “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his necked and kissed him, and they wept.”3 Before the cowering disciples offered a word of regret on the evening of Easter Sunday, Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace, be with you!”4 Before we can really reach God with our repentance He has already arrived with the pardon. It’s not just because He can read our minds and knows our hearts. His love is always proactive. It pursues us.
Love has definition. It has concrete expression both in the orderly way in which God has created and in the compassionate way in which He has redeemed. Let us not forget that God’s law is also an expression of love. God defines the parameters of obedience to Him for our well-being. The Ten Commandments define God’s will for proper relationships. In a culture (even a religious culture) that is increasingly insistent on equating love with tolerance and allowing a self-definition within the bounds of political correctness, believers must be clear that the reality of God’s love is not open to unlimited interpretation. When He says, “Do not commit adultery,”5 for example, He’s not offering a principle or guideline. He actually means that it’s best for everyone involved to practice sexual purity within marriage. But the law can never bring comfort to our troubled consciences. Thanks be to God that in His redeeming love Christ has been perfectly obedient to the will of the Father! The crucifixion is the crowning example. The cross is greatest reminder of our sins and our greatest source of joy.
Sometimes Lent is misunderstood. It’s not a matter of self-imposed dreariness. It’s a transparent reality check. Like the profligate spender who keeps living beyond his means until outside intervention stops him, the sinner always wants to live beyond his spiritual means and keeps going until God’s divine intervention stops him. We can’t keep going on under our own steam, making our own way. Only Christ can take us past the finish line.
But it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The entire Christian life is really like an extended season of Lent. We have glimpses of the resurrection. But like the three disciples on the mount of transfiguration we can’t grasp it. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we can’t recognize Him. That doesn’t make our spiritual resurrection in baptism any less real. We have already been raised from spiritual death. But it does mean the prosaic of Lenten realities attends us to our dying breath.
Still, even in Lent we are reminded that we worship the risen and living Lord Jesus. The father’s celebration of the son’s return is a preview of Easter. We celebrate each day not just because it’s a gift of God’s providence but because we possess the promise of eternity. We can be stripped of every creaturely comfort and even our credibility, as the prodigal was, and yet the future is still filled with hope. For his son’s return the father killed the fattened calf. For us He has spread the table with the food of His own life-giving body and blood. Holy Communion sustains us in that relationship first restored in our baptisms. From start to finish God plans and executes all that is required for our salvation. The Spirit says, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”6 Both the prodigal and the older brother are reconciled through Him. And so are we. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday in Lent
6 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Isaiah 65:24
2 Genesis 45:5
3 Genesis 33:4
4 John 20:21
5 See Exodus 20:14
62 Corinthians 5:21