Dear brother’s and sister’s I must confess, surprises are hard for me to handle. Don’t get me wrong, I love birthday and Christmas surprises, but otherwise I often struggle with receiving or finding things that I don’t expect, both good and bad. This is especially true when it comes to the word of God. I like to know what to expect.
Dear friends our text is a beloved and familiar parable; a tale of woe, dark days, twists, and exceedingly grateful returns. It’s a rags to riches story, which we Americans love; but there are surprises. Surprises that reveal more significantly just who our Gracious God is.
We start today with the young man wallowing in the pigsty with a strong resolution to do better, hear the word of your Lord. “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” It’s an All-American awakening; “I’ve done wrong… how can I make it up?” We like this sort of admission of guilt because it involves the pulling up of bootstraps, we like this awakening because it faces facts and makes a conscious decision to tell others what went wrong and then reveals a plan to work it all out that will make everyone happy. Dear friends, is this young man making a confession?
Brother’s and sister’s, this young man is not confessing anything… He has no regard for what He’s done at all, in fact, it is only after he has failed in his attempts for freedom that he comes to grips and he is the impression that his only sin had to do defrauding his father of money. He’s not interested in the facts, he interested in saving face which we see in his resolution “Make me one of your hired servants”. In other words; “Give me a job to make this up to you.”
Friends, His sins were many; asking for the money before the time had come has been covered, but think for a moment of the situations that this young man’s sin placed his father, community and brother into. For the father; this young man disowned him, saying; “You’re better dead than alive to me”, his sin placed his father into a situation where he would concede to giving the money away… thus the father knew that his son was saying this; “I do not wish to be a part of your family anymore.” The community was placed in a position to gossip, slander and mock the family name. Things were different back then… back then the community was governed by rules and laws for the sake of good order and the young man broke that good order for his own selfish gain, his sinful actions had brought shame to the family name. One person’s actions soiled the whole community. It’s a foreign concept for us today; for we have been conditioned for isolation and often make the claim that our sins don’t hurt others, dear friends if this is what you believe, consider, the older brother now burdened with the weight of tending to the father’s farm while little brother ran off to “Vegas.” While we like the sounds of this young man’s words they are in no way a true confession, as we will soon see. He knows that he’s erred, but knowing your sin and actually confessing are two completely different things.
The young man is moved to return home and here the surprises continue as we begin to see who the truly prodigal character is. The Word Prodigal means reckless, and we so often equate it to licentiousness or extravagant sinful activity. But being prodigal can also apply to the distribution of gifts. For example; The father was prodigal with his love for the son. In other words; The Father lavishly, exceedingly bestowed kisses and favor to his son. Here we see that the word prodigal not only explains the sins of the son, but also conversely it directly relates to father’s grace, Grace literally means “Undeserved Favor”. Here we begin to see the father acting quite the opposite of how we’d expect. “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and ???????????? and ran, and embraced him and kissed him! Before the son could come up with some more schemes to make the father take him back… the father… ???????????? him, (poured out his guts, had deep compassion upon his son). And in the midst of this the son utters… Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. There it was… come and gone…. the true confession.
Dear friends I am reminded here of a story that I once heard about the surrender of the Japanese in World War II, wherein the Japanese came to the table with conditions of their surrender, to which the United States clearly stated; your terms are unacceptable and your conditions show that you are not fully defeated. So it was for the young man, and so it is with us. We often come to God with conditions of surrender, I have sinned but just let me work out the reconciliation; I’ve sinned but have confessed my sins to God and that’s all thats necessary for a true confession. While this is not false, it is not entirely true. We see this in our text; God has provided men, pastors and other Christians to speak the very words of forgiveness in order that we might tangibly see where forgiveness takes place. Dear friends, God insists on a public, communal, familial forgiveness, family journeys… why? For our good, that we may know that we are not alone in our sojourn, this is what we see today in our text.
The young man could have very well been forgiven by God but look what he would have missed out on; by strong actions and signifying deeds the father robes the son puts the family ring back onto his finger (thus reinstating him to the family) puts shoes on his feet and kills the fattened calf for the feast, that all may be together again and dine as a family and a community.
Dear friends, this parable is more than a feel good story; it has implications for you individually. We relate to this story not just because we understand where the young son comes from, but because we, the baptized know that what the father has done for the son in the text is exactly what God the Father did and still does for us through Christ. We love this story not just because the young man is saved but because everything the son destroyed; his family, his community and even his own life, has been restored. Dear friends, this is the true nature of forgiveness; namely reconciliation, understanding and familial unity among the children of God. St. Luke reminds us of the true gifts of forgiveness in 15:7; I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Repentance isn’t just for the sinner, it’s benefits are for the whole community, indeed all heaven rejoices so why should we insist that it be different on earth? My friends look at the text; the son is restore to the family and the entire community who has gathered for the feast. You see, eating together signifies togetherness, unity and oneness. Eating together means, that we’re not eating alone. We see this today at our Lord’s table. Dear friends, when we gather around our Lord’s table we are saying this… “I agree with everyone around this table and I am at peace with them I am reconciled to them, I have confessed my sins to them and have received their forgiveness, I confess the same Jesus, I confess that we all believe that this is true body and true blood given for the forgiveness of sins, I agree with the pastor and the things he preaches and teaches, and I agree with everything that the bible teaches.”
Dear friends, we gather in our Father’s House, not for just for personal fulfillment, we gather corporately, to confess together that we are the tax collectors and sinners Jesus has come to dine with. We are the ones who, having been given our inheritances in Holy Baptism (everlasting life, forgiveness of sins, Christ’s mercy in word and Sacrament) have exchanged those inheritances for pleasure now. And yet we, like the older brother, often see no reason to join the feast, to be reconciled to our brother’s and sister’s, to join the community or to join the party. Why does this happen? Because for those who’ve been doing all we’re supposed to do, have never even had a slaughtered a ewe lamb for you and your friends. Brother’s and sister’s notice who the older brother emphasizes; friends…. not family, not community… friends. This older brother, indeed the Pharisees and the Saducees walked alone with God so that other’s couldn’t see their frailties and sins, so it is with us. They walked alone and so do we, but God knew their sins. This is what Jesus preaches today! It was the corporate nature, indeed the familial nature of Christ which offended them so greatly. You see for the older brother, he was the one with the birthright, the Pharisees and sadducees were the remnant of faithful and dutiful Israel who held fast to the law, and for we who have been; slaving all these years for God and never disobeyed your orders… often grow resentful, or bitter when the sons who have squandered property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!
Dear friends we are both sons, wicked and deceitful, squandering our baptismal inheritances, and we are proud and haughty, obedient to the law, dutiful in our work for all the wrong reasons. And for us because we are both, the Father has ???????????? you! The one who poured his guts out in compassion for you has also shed his innocent blood that you might live with Him and be His in His kingdom. Who we are by our sinful birth can only respond with the prodigal son, I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This is the truth, but hear also the truth that your Gracious Lord says to you today, for you are here in your Father’s house, your sins have been forgiven yet again and there is great reason to celebrate for you who have always been with God, in church every Sunday… hear your Lord’s word, everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!
It’s surprising isn’t it? That celebration is found so close to the most desperate moments of our lives, how close forgiveness is to the depths of sinful despair and just how quickly we are returned to the status of sons before God? My friends it is true all for the sake of true Prodigal Son. The true Prodigal son is Jesus who knew the sins of the world, who carried the guilt and shame and agony and trials of the whole human race. Jesus is the one who ate with sinful pigs (the dirtiest and dingiest Gentile sinners in the whole world) and He hungered not for Himself but for those He had come to save. Jesus willingly sold His birthright as the Son of God to suffer your death, to hang forsaken on the cross in your place! The true prodigal son, inherited not riches or wealth, notoriety or fame, but poverty, blasphemy, servitude, the sins of the entire world and the forsakenness of God the Father in order that you might live.
Dear friends this parable is most beloved, and is not surprising to you in the least now. For now you know that it is more than a rags to riches story; it is the story of your life, your existence, how you are seen in the eyes of God because of Jesus. Christ the Prodigal (reckless) Son of God has dispensed grace and forgiveness of sins unsparingly, He still dines with sinners in our Lord’s Supper. Your prodigal Lord has given you all good things, and even now sends you out, forgiven, clothed in the finest garments of Christ’s righteousness, with the familial signet ring placed back on your finger, you are now not an individual, separate from God and His family, but you are an individual member of the body, He has prepared the feast, and a party ensues, you’re invited! And dear brother’s and sister’s… you belong! Amen.