The Parable of the Loving FatherLent 4 C Luke 15 April 1, 2019 Pastor Sebastian
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Grace be unto you from God…
God’s grace is always bigger than we imagine.
God’s love for us always is more vast than we can comprehend.
A priest had one day decided he’d had it with life
and decided to jump off a cliff.
On the way he stopped by the house of a fellow priest, a friend of his,
to say goodbye.
He finally told him the story of his sad life:
how little he loved God and how little he served the people.
How he broke all the commandments and became a nuisance to many.
His guilt was too large to still expect the mercy of God.
His friend told him:
"But you know, God's mercy is unimaginably vast.
He always offers his forgiving love.
We just need to accept it. "
But the suicidal priest was inconsolable:
"My heart is like a bucket full of cracks and holes.
Once God pours His forgiveness into it,
it just flows through! "
His friend took his hand,
"Maybe your heart is like a bucket full of holes and cracks.
But when thrown into the sea of God's merciful love,
it does not matter how many cracks are in it,
for the ocean of God's love surrounds you from the inside and outside,
from above and below and from all sides. "
God’s grace is bigger than we can imagine,
just like an ocean surrounding a leaky, cracked bucket from all sides.
God’s loving intent for us
is shown, for example,
in that God has concern for the lost.
That God wants to find those who’ve gone astray
and bring them back into his arms.
God reaches out:
God searches for us and finds us
and restores relationships.
Today’s Gospel reading begins with a claim
that Jesus has a dubious reputation:
that tax collectors and sinners hang around him,
and listen to what he has to say.
“You know that Jesus? He’s not that holy, like people think he is”
people snicker behind his back,
he eats with sinners and treats them like friends.”
Jesus had previously explained it by saying that he came not
to call the righteous but the sinners to repentance.
In any case,
the Pharisees and the religion scholars are not at all pleased with this.
Why were tax collectors so shunned and hated in Jesus’ time?
They were seen as being largely corrupt, being traitors,
representing Rome, the occupying force.
They would do their work by estimating the property of their neighbour:
taking a healthy cut off the top,
and sending the rest to the foreign distant power.
Sinners for Luke cannot draw near to God,
because they’re on the margins of community,
they don’t belong to the rest of the holy God-fearing community,
they are outside the walls of the sanctuary.
Now why are the Pharisees so concerned with whom
Jesus shares a meal with?
Who cares who you eat with?
Well, a table set for a meal is a place of belonging,
a place where you spend time with your best friends and family,
it’s a sacred space,
a place where the host becomes a little like the guest.
By Jesus eating with them,
he was anticipating their inclusion in the Kingdom of God,
apparently belittling the holiness of God and
the whole concept of the covenant of Moses:
the idea that some are holy, while others are not,
some are in, and others are out.
It was a heretical idea.
In response to the Pharisees’ complaints, Jesus tells three parables,:
the parable of the lost sheep,
the parable of the lost coin
and the parable of the prodigal son.
(Now it’s interesting that all 3 parables are known by their negative,
and not their positive.
How much different would it sound if instead we would talk about
the parable of the found sheep,
the parable of the found coin
and the parable of the loving Father? )
The first story is about a man who loses one sheep,
goes after that one sheep to find it,
but in the process leaves 99 behind in the wilderness,
at risk to lose them in return!
One could say the shepherd is either foolish,
or he loves his sheep so much that he will risk everything.
He finally finds the sheep, calls his friends and says:
let’s party!: I found my sheep!
The second story is very similar:
a woman loses one of her 10 small coins,
an important part of her life savings,
and turns the house upside down to find it,
searches every nook and cranny.
She finds it, tells her friends about it.
And then another extravagant party.
Both parables have a similar explanation:
There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, who is found.
Much more than many righteous who were in no need of rescue.
The third parable in this set is probably the most famous parable
in the Bible.
It’s also a little different.
In the first two someone loses something and searches for it.
Here in the third parable, the father loses a son, but he doesn’t search for him.
So you all know the story:
A man had 2 sons, and the younger wanted his share of the estate.
Now Jewish custom was that the younger son should receive ⅓ of the estate, that this be divided earlier than the Father’s death,
but distributed only at the death.
So conventional wisdom was not to give property inheritance before death. But the father, contrary to received wisdom, did as his son wished,
Wow, that younger son -what outrageous conduct!
what bad behaviour!
The money was soon gone. A famine broke out.
He worked tending pigs.
(Now remember, swine are unclean animals according to Jewish law!)
No one gave him any help.
So there are 4 Main issues here:
the Son disrespected his Father,
he wasted money,
there was a famine,
and what we tend to forget: no one helped him!
However, being very hungry,
the son began to think straight,
he came to his senses:
“my father’s servants get enough food!
I’ll tell him “I’ve sinned, I’m not worthy to be called your son, just hire me.”
Was he calculating, or was he truly repentant?
Was he really sorry?
We may never know.
But in any case it doesn’t matter,
(he didn’t even get a chance to ask for forgiveness,
because his father forgave him anyway. His father didn’t wait for his excuses and his explanation: he simply forgave him.)
The Father ran to greet his son.
(Now that would be seen as demeaning of his status in life,
it would be over the top,
others might disapprove: of an old, wealthy man running.)
The Father is full of compassion, grace, mercy, love,
hugging and kissing his youngest son.
The son began to repent, but the father wasn’t listening.
He called for fine clothes, the big roast (meat being very rare),
the big party, the whole nine yards.
“What’s been lost is now found” the Father declared!
It seemed so natural for him to show love and mercy.
The elder brother, returning from work, heard the dance party music,
and heard its reason: that his brother had returned, safe and sound.
The elder brother got angry, and refused to join the party.
(Interesting that it was the music and the dancing
that offended the elder brother,
he might have been OK with letting his brother come home,
but the excess of the party?
fatted calf, music, dancing, the whole nine yards?
where was there to be room for “saying sorry”,
for repentance, being contrite,?)
His Father tried to reason with the elder son.
But he replied:
“For years I worked hard, never disobeying,
never even got a chocolate bar.
but HE--HE-was the black sheep--and YOU--
YOU gave him the juicy roast?”
The Father replied: “I love you too: what’s mine is yours.
c’mon; we had to celebrate your brother’s return:
it’s a wonderful time!
what was dead is alive, what was lost is found.”
And there ends the story.
Did the older brother concede and join the party?
Jesus never said.
The elder brother is like the 99 sheep left behind,
the 9 coins seemingly forgotten,
the righteous not in need of rescue,
or like the grumbling Pharisees complaining about Jesus.
They are righteous, but they’re not the priority of Jesus or God
so they’re jealous.
They are good and nice and safe, so they’re not of prime concern for Jesus or God right now,
so they grumble and complain.
Radical Grace like we hear in this story offends the listeners.
It offends our sense of fairness.
“But that’s not fair!” we might well reply
after hearing about the Father’s response.
The Bible, for example in Psalm 1, and in the Proverbs states clearly
we shouldn’t associate with evil/bad people.
Don’t we tend to believe:
“birds of a feather flock together”?
So really, the younger son should be punished by the father
for what he’s done.
That would only be fair.
TO be honest,
most of us could agree with Jesus for the first two parables:
celebrate for a lost sheep? sure.
Celebrate for a lost coin? OK.
Celebrate for a prodigal son? Now wait a minute here!
Shouldn’t he be taught a lesson?
There should be a difference:
now the coin is an object, and the sheep an animal
they can’t learn a lesson.
But this young man; he should learn a lesson,
an example should be made of him,
to discourage other young folks from following his example.
But no..that’s not what happens.
What the Father shows is pure, unadulterated grace.
Pure mercy, no ifs ands or buts.
Love like a never-ending stream.
And that offends us a bit.
Our idea is that 2nd place is 1st loser,
that the elder brother should be rewarded more than the younger.
But God says: “can’t we have 2 winners?
I’ve got two sons!
The embrace of the younger son doesn’t mean rejection of the older.
The father, by indulging the younger, doesn’t ignore the older.
He’s concerned for both.
God’s love is both/and.
Jew and Gentile. Male and female.
Older and younger. Insider and Outsider.
Finding and restoring the lost gives pleasure to God.
He has joy finding what was lost.
We are also the lost and found ones,
we were welcomed and experienced God’s grace.
God shows mercy to all.
We need to hear the voice of Jesus again and again,
we are addressed by Jesus,
by that Amazing Grace which saved a wretch like me.
That Grace which is so immense,
just like the leaky, cracked buckets of our hearts,
dipped into the immense ocean of God’s love:
God’s grace embraces from beneath, above, all around.
God’s grace says: welcome home, you lost one.
softly and tenderly Jesus is calling.
Come into my embrace,
all is well.
And let the festivities begin.
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