Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 31, 2019
The Joy of Being Found
We general know this parable as the that of the Prodigal Son. That is the heading it is given in my Bible. It is the third of three parables told by Jesus to a group of grumbling Pharisees and scribes that were displeased by Jesus receiving and eating with sinners. They were put off by His embrace of those that they thought should be shunned. The first two parables are those of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The problem with reading the parable of the Prodigal Son by itself is that we, like the rest of our society, like to identify with the “bad boy,” the renegade. We think it “normal” to be a little wild when we are young. If it is normal, then we tend to excuse it a little, and maybe even more than just a little. When we think in this way, tend to see this parable being about the prodigal and about us instead of about the heavenly Father and His love and mercy. This parable is not about being lost. It is about being found and
The Joy of Being Found
In our common usage of the word “lost,” we think of those who live in foreign lands that have never heard the Gospel or of those that are still in their beds every Sunday morning because they were not raised with the understanding that you have been given. The use of this word in both the Old and New Testaments is a reference to those that have been members of the Church and have wandered away. Our current use of the word to refer to those that have not heard the Gospel is not wrong, but as we see in this parable, the “lost son,” is just that, a son, a member of the family that has turned his back on the great thing that was always and has spurned the status of what it means to be a son in the household of his father.
The father describes it well as he says that his son was dead. The Greek word apollumi describes the lost as one who is perishing. We can understand it as one that is on his way to perdition; on the way because of time not because of situation. If time were to run out at that moment, he would be lost to hell and so because of his unrepentant state, he is already lost even as we wait for time to come to an end.
I want to take a couple of moments to look at three fallacies that the son falls to; three spells that even we find alluring; three deceptions of the devil and this world that draws people into this position of being lost.
The first is that the son thought he deserved a status greater than the one he possessed. Whether it had anything to do with being the younger son or simply that he remained under his father’s shadow, he desired a position of his own. He wanted respect in his own right. He wanted to be noticed as himself, not as his father’s son or his sibling’s younger brother. He wanted status and position. He desired respect that he didn’t think he could have under his father’s roof.
We can easily be misled in this way as well when we think that Biblical teaching is somehow backwards and old fashioned. How can we ever attain our rightful place in the world if we are always going to be seen as one of those people that clings to religion as their crutch or panacea? Or when faced with the material poverty of the Church, we become ashamed and desire the more glamorous and the more flashy things that the world or the prosperity seekers have achieved.
A second way in which the son is deceived is in the promise of happiness and pleasure in a fun-loving life. At home he was stuck with propriety and old traditions but on his own, he had the liberty to pursue his passions and to be satisfied in whatever pleasure he decided was good. As he quickly realized, such pleasures were fleeting. They had no lasting effect nor any permanent happiness or joy.
It doesn’t have to be prostitutes, but such happiness seeking and pursuit of carnal pleasures are found in all manner of vices. From internet addictions to chocolate or alcohol consumption, from shoe purchases to music downloads, the desire of the high works against the godliness of being content. Just as the drug user ends up hurting the ones he loves the most in the pursuit of his pleasure, the son in the parable sought only the material things that his father could give him at the expense of their father-son relationship.
The third way in which we can see that the son is deceived is in that he thought he could find something greater than the love of a father for his son. In asking for the inheritance before his father’s death, he spurned his father’s love and, in essence, told his father that the only thing of his father’s that had value, the only thing he wanted was the accumulated wealth. The son thought nothing of the tussled hair and the pinched cheeks. He despised the Sunday dinners and the games around the family table. He spurned the deep words of affection along with the simple glances of love. The son looked down upon the things of his father’s household and sought after a manner of life without such gifts.
It is no different among us when we think so little of God’s Word that we spend no time listening to the kind words of love that are there for us; the affectionate way in which the heavenly Father’s voice caresses and soothes our souls. We too, despise the dinners and the family fun, the deep words of affection and the looks of favor when we abandon the means of grace and refrain from prayer. When we disregard all that we have as members of the household of God and seek after the lying promises of a dying world and a defeated devil, we are the bad boys and girls, the rebels that have turned their backs on God.
But the essence of this message is like the essence of the parable: Jesus chooses to receive and eat with sinners. He seeks after the those that are perishing in their sins that, they, like the prodigal would realize their folly and repent. This parable is given to us that we would repent of our foolish ways and return to where real joy is found – in the family of His Father and ours. The essence of this parable, as it is in all of Scripture, is that we are called to repentance by a heavenly Father that does and will not simply let His children go. He will not let us remain lost but is always looking for us, always calling for us.
Motel 6 might leave the light on, but God sends the Light into the world, His Son, to save and illume the hearts of men that, whether it is the stray that returns home or the ungrateful that remains home, each may see the grace of the Father and give thanks for such undeserved love.
When one does repent, it is fitting, as our translation says, that all of heaven should celebrate and be glad. We should understand this with a bit more strength as the Greek does emphasize that, it is necessary that heaven, and I would add, the Church on earth, would celebrate and be glad over every sinner that repents and believes the Gospel. What greater joy can there be for us than to be welcomed home in the heavenly Father’s house as one of His dear children where He withholds no good thing from us and everything that is His is ours.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.