Monday, March 07, 2016

Sermon on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32, for the 4th Sunday in Lent, "The Love that Overcomes"

*Please see an additional post for my hymn composition about this Parable, entitled: "The Father's Love" 
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. If you were in Jesus’ audience on the day when He first taught this parable, 2,000 years ago, there are certain things you would have just known as a Jew. You would have known that when it comes to an inheritance, the oldest son was due to get a double portion of the father’s possessions. You would have known that for the younger son to demand an inheritance before his father died, was deeply insulting and disgraceful, and would have made him the shame of the family. You would certainly never expect a good Jewish father to act in this way—conceding to the son’s request. And to take the cake, the father running out to greet his lost son on the road, was astonishing. The son can only anticipate being treated as he deserves—hopefully at best to work as a hired man, so he can at least be fed. Even the son cannot imagine being received back as a son.
If you were in that original crowd—well, if you’re just in this crowd today—you might well have been a tax collector and sinner, receiving the unexpected welcome and grace of the Lord Jesus. You would have felt the surprise of the younger son, who cannot anticipate his father’s incredible love. You long to be home again, but you might doubt or fear that God’s love could ever be for you. Or, you might just have been a Pharisee or scribe, who was astonished that Jesus breaks with the social conventions to eat and mingle with sinners. You would have felt the surprise of the older brother, that the father would act with such scandalous love and uninhibited joy to receive back his younger brother, whom he saw as a reckless scoundrel. You’ve never left home, but you might have felt that you deserved preferential treatment for your good life, and resent your brother. Jesus’ parable takes aim at both groups, and it finds us just as surprised or convicted by the father’s love, so that we would do and show the same.
If we have wandered from God, wished that He were dead, and preferred to just live off His generosity, while severing our relationship to Him—then God grant that we walk the path of repentance, home to Him. If we are still miles from God’s mercy, in a far-away land, squandering our inheritance, God grant that we come to our senses, and see the emptiness of a life lived without our Father or our family. If you are that younger brother, and have despised your Father’s love, pray those heartfelt words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son (or daughter).”
Those may be hard words to speak. We live in an entitled age, and we don’t want to admit that we have done wrong, and God is right. “I’m not worthy” are not words that easily spill from our lips and our heart, unless they are loaded with sarcasm. But all through Scripture, God makes it clear that He does not stand for our pride or self-righteousness. If we are to come to God, it must be humbly. The son’s prayer echoes Psalm 51, David’s confession before God. King David confessed his deep fall from grace, and confessed that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). He could not fix what he had broken, and humbly came to God alone to forgive his sin, cleanse his guilt, and restore his spirit and joy. Our humbled and broken heart, God will not despise.
The younger son doesn’t seem ready to understand or anticipate his father’s forgiveness and restoration. Before he starts home, this journey seems a “walk of shame” for him. He anticipates no good outcome, only the possibility of work and food, and a place of dishonor. How many sinners do you think live lives that they feel are so broken and helpless, that they could never be wanted again, whole again, loved again, forgiven and set free from the secrets, the lies, the shame, or whatever else holds them captive? How many people long to know if there is any hope that God could receive them? How many people would never dare come to a church because of their fear of what some “good old brother” would think of them? But they don’t know our Father’s love! They have no idea the welcome that God would give them, or the joy that would spread across His face to see them home! Jesus drives home this point to the dismay of Pharisees and the self-righteous—that all heaven rejoices over even one lost sinner who repents. God knows the emptiness of life away from Him, and that’s why He pursues us with His love, to drive us back into His arms. Even when that love comes tough, through brokenness and need driving us back to the only One who can provide for us. But God runs arms open. Not arms folded and grim. He rejoices to see us turn away from sin.
Can you help someone see God’s love in this way? Can you be God’s love to them, to bring the lost and the erring back to Jesus? Yes we can! Jesus Christ lives and moves in us, to perfect and shape His love, so that by our good deeds, by our love and compassion, that they may give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). For those who God brings to us, or for those whom we find, God would teach us that it is “fitting to celebrate and be glad,” for those who were dead, and are alive again, for those who were lost, and are now found. Making that turn and coming home to Jesus may be incredibly hard, but we all need to walk that road. Whenever we have wandered, we must journey back to our Father’s home. His home should be our dwelling place.
Older brothers, are you here? You’ve walked with God your whole life. You’ve done well and been obedient, at least as far as you can tell. You might be one of the many Christians who hold the deeply mistaken notion, that “I think I’m going to heaven because I’m a good person.” It may be that you wrongly assume that your standing is by right and by what you have earned—forgetting that we are all our Father’s children, and our place in the family is not by right, but by God’s inestimable love. Perhaps we underestimate our own guilt, because our outward lives are presentable. We might find good company in the Pharisees, whose lives were spic and span, but Jesus exposed their proud and selfish hearts. If we are an older brother, it may be that we have drifted so far from our Father’s love, that we would not have the joy and excitement to see our own brother alive and home again. Could it be that we’ve assumed our place, but forgotten God’s first love for us? To older brothers also, Jesus calls, “repent!”
Just as surprising as the father’s joyous sprint to his young son, is his gracious appeal to his older son. A true father, he shows no favoritism between his sons, but longs for them both to be close to his heart, and close to one another. So great is the father’s love, that it overpowers and overcomes his significant material losses, the public shame of losing his son, and even the insolence of his judgmental older son, but rises still higher, above these painful and hurtful marks, and he shows a true, unconditional love.
A love that we could only see more clearly on the cross of Jesus Christ, as God’s own Son, sent to find and redeem the lost younger brothers, and to win over the prideful older brothers. The love that overcame and endured every shame, rejection, and dishonor, as He hung there bleeding for us. Our sins, nailed Him to the tree, and yet His love rose over and above the losses and shame, and He spoke forgiveness to us. We don’t know what we do. And He paid for all that hurt and wrong, and He still appeals to us both, calling us home, bringing us to the Father’s welcoming arms. Jesus endured great pain and sacrifice so that we could come home into the Father’s blessing. Sin was no light and indifferent thing for Him, but He paid that awful price for our redemption.
And what is prepared for us? Not a servant’s place and servant’s wages in the corner. Not a demoted son or daughter, no longer part of the family. But a feast is prepared for us. God’s grace poured out beyond our imagining. The Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ body and blood, shed for our forgiveness. A covenant and promise of His forgiveness, and our new inheritance. A royal robe and ring, as we receive the baptismal garment of Jesus’s righteousness, a white robe to cover all our sin. The baptismal seal of the Holy Spirit, sent to our hearts to convict, to renew, and make alive. The celebration of saints and angels, that a sinner has been restored to repentance, forgiveness, and life!
Our Father has loved us with a Divine Love that goes beyond our understanding. Our Father loves us younger and older siblings. He wants us to love each other the same. Jesus, His Son, was the shape and form of that love, sent to pursue us, to rescue us, to die for us, and rise again for us. Jesus showed us how to walk that extra mile, to seek reconciliation, to seek life and joy between brothers. It is love that covers a multitude of sins. It is God’s Divine love that bears our wrongs, forgives us so we can forgive others, and leads us in the new way of righteousness. Come home to the Father. Welcome your brother. Rejoice, and be glad that our Father’s home is our dwelling place! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. In Luke 15:1-2, Jesus’ audience for the parable is made up of two basic groups of people, who can readily be identified as the younger and older brother of the parable. What are the two groups who are listening, and which brother do they match?
  2. In Deuteronomy 21:17, it states that a first born son would receive double the inheritance of the other son(s). If there were only two sons, this means the younger would get about 1/3 of his father’s property. By asking for his inheritance, what was the younger son basically wishing for? Why is it shocking that the father gives him his request?
  3. What does it mean to “squander” one’s possessions? How do we do this today? What gifts and possessions do we have? How do we use them wastefully? What was so humiliating for the son, about working with pigs? Deuteronomy 14:8
  4. Before he returns, the son plans to strike a bargain with his father (Luke 15:18-19). Why can’t we bargain with God in this way? What are we unable to do? Cf. Matthew 18:23-27
  5. How does the father receive him instead? Luke 15:20-24. What does this communicate to us about the love of our heavenly Father? How does heaven respond when a sinner repents (turns back to God)? Luke 15:7,10
  6. How do attitudes like that of the older son form? Luke 15:2. What do we fail to recognize about ourselves when we are judgmental? Romans 2:1. What would have been the right attitude for the older brother to have, when his younger came home? Luke 15:32. How should our attitude change towards those who have left God in sin, and returned to Him, finding forgiveness?
  7. Though Jesus does not match any of the character’s in the parable, how would He have been a fitting older brother in the story? What about the life and ministry of Jesus showed true brotherhood and true love for the lost? Luke 5:29-32; 19:10; Romans 5:6-11.

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