Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 • March 6, 2016
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
A Church School leader was reading the story of the Prodigal Son to his class, trying to be very clear about how upset the older brother was about the return of the wild and crazy younger brother. When he finished telling the story, he asked the class, “Now who do you think was really sad that the prodigal son had come home?” Silence filled the room. After what seemed like an eternity, one little boy spoke up and confidently said, “I think it was the fatted calf.”
How many of you have heard today’s gospel reading before?
That’s kind of what I thought.
Even if you are scared to death to read the bible or do anything resembling a bible study, there is still a pretty good chance that you have heard this parable before today. There are countless pieces of art focused on it, thousands of pages written about it from hundreds of authors, and I would even argue that this parable reveals a theme that is part of many Disney films, among others.
It’s interesting to note that the Parable of the Prodigal Son only appears in the gospel of Saint Luke. And if we take a second to look around this section of Luke, we’ll notice that it’s not the only parable with a similar theme. And I’m actually not sure giving this parable the title of Prodigal Son is all that helpful. The parables that precede this one are the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. Author and Pastor Timothy Keller in his exceptional book The Prodigal God thinks that we should maybe call this parable, the Parable of the Two Lost Sons. I like that. The Parable of the Two Lost Sons.
Anyway, one question I’ve asked a lot this week is…what does today’s parable have to do with Lent and our journey to the cross of Good Friday? For an answer to that question, I needed to turn once again to what theologian, professor, pastor, and seminary president David Lose said about the cross as it relates to the gospel parable before us. “The cross,” offers Dr. Lose, “is not a means of payment but rather shows us just how far our prodigal God will go to tell us of God’s immeasurable love. Period.”
In many ways, that’s very difficult – if not almost impossible – for us to understand and imagine in our world today. God’s immeasurable love. The world in which you and I live sees life as a game with winners and losers, points and playbooks, republicans and democrats, offense and defense, black and white. Things that are definitely not a reflection of God’s immeasurable love expressed most directly for us on the cross of Good Friday.
I think Jesus is challenging us to open our hearts and minds to hear today’s humbling good news – God’s immeasurable love. Are you and I open to that good news? The good news of our prodigal God’s immeasurable love that is freely and extravagantly shared with all: love that we cannot earn, love that we do not deserve. And our response to God’s grace and mercy encourages and invites us, even pleads with us, to share God’s perfect love with others. Even when those others look and act a whole lot like the two sons in today’s parable. (This section was inspired by the writing in Day Resources, Sundays & Seasons.com)
Eric Barreto was one of the main speakers at last summer’s National Youth Gathering in Detroit. Pastor Barreto said that “The story of the prodigal is about God’s ever expanding grace, a grace that will offend our sensibilities and our collective sense of fairness. God’s grace cares little for our reputation in this world. And God’s grace ought to change us if we are its recipients.”
Here’s one way to look at this. I’m not a big fan of the NBA, but I’ve been intrigued for a few years about the story of basketball great LeBron James. In 2010, he made the decision to leave Cleveland and head to Miami to play. Many thought that it was only in pursuit of an NBA championship ring. As he left Cleveland, the media showed pictures and videos of fan after fan burning LeBron’s jersey in disgust over his decision to leave. The native son had betrayed his hometown. Four years later, the native son returned home and told Sports Illustrated this, “Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled…my relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
Even though there are only male characters in our parable, the two sons reflect every one of us sitting in worship today – male and female. At times, you and I are the foolish runaway who wastes what God has provided. At other times, you and I are the arrogant good guy who condemns the outsider. And, here’s the thing brothers and sisters, God’s love and grace is always bigger than either one of those characters.
So…the one thing that I hope you and I hear from Jesus today through this much loved and well-known parable in Holy Scripture is this…God loves you.
God loves you if you are someone who has ignored or messed up every opportunity presented to you. And God loves you if you have worked diligently all of your life in the hope that someone might eventually notice even though they never do.
God loves you if you have been a faithful tither to God’s work happening through places like the church all of your life. And God loves you if you’ve never given a penny away because you still believe your money and your stuff are yours and yours alone.
God loves you if you are sitting in worship today because someone is forcing you to be here. And God loves you if blessing a sanctuary with your presence is something that you have done without fail every week of your life.
That is how great God’s immeasurable love is for us. Love…most fully expressed on the cross where Jesus is crucified.
During one of my morning devotions this week, I was struck by an essay written by New Testament Professor Barbara Reid. It moved me, so much so, that I want to share it with you today. Professor Reid wrote, “The father, as a figure of the divine, offers a gift of reconciliation that shatters the too narrow vision of children vying for a bigger piece of the pie, when all along the whole of the inheritance is offered to each and all, with no bounds. This gift begins a process of healing that expands our puny estimation of our inheritance and opens our capacity to be transformed by the Giver, enlarging our capacity to pass on that heritage to others.
[The Apostle] Paul talks about this process as a “new creation.” The One who created an ever-expanding universe is ever drawing us deeper into the divine embrace, so as to extend that heritage outward in ever-widening circles. The question that is left unanswered at the end of the gospel parable is whether or not the older son can accept the inheritance being offered to him. The father will not give up on his son, who is filled with joyless resentment as he calculates what is owed him. The Source of grace and compassion will wait as long as it takes for transformative love to do its re-creative work.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I are embraced by God’s transformative love that is alive and ever un-folding before us. May we not keep the source of that love waiting. Instead, let’s joyfully join God’s re-creative work in the world. Confidently knowing and believing that we are loved. Because our prodigal God will never stop loving us! Thanks be to God. Amen.