Sermon 3th Sunday in Lent, NL3, 19 March 2017
Pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Twice during the worship service we respond to God's call to us with words of confession. Once confessing our sin and once confessing our faith. We confess our faith in God the Father Almighty creator of heaven and earth and we confess in Jesus Christ his only begotten son, who is both fully human, born of a human mother and yet fully divine. After we confess who he is by birth then we confess our faith about his death and resurrection. Apparently the authors of the creeds of our faith didn't feel it necessary to confess anything about the time between Jesus' birth and death.
It is important to know who Jesus is based on his miraculous birth. God leaving the unlimited, glory of heaven to become an extremely limited human being can barely be fathomed. His sacrificial death and resurrection are also unfathomable not only because he let it happen but because of what it meant. But God also came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to live in a lifetime between birth and death for a purpose.
The Gospel writer's all wrote about Jesus' life between birth and death with the intent of helping the world understand God the Father who is revealed through his Son Jesus. In today's Gospel reading Jesus teaches in wonder about our God that is so different than our human expectations.
We are going to hear three parables about the love of God that goes so far beyond what we could even imagine. Each parable builds, fills in, and expands on the previous one. To help fully grasp the impact of what Jesus tells in the parable they won't be told without interruption. Much of what I will add comes from a book called, "The Cross and the Prodigal" by Kenneth Bailey who lived forty years in the Middle East talking with village folks about how they interpreted Jesus parables after hearing them for the first time.
The Gospel lesson for the 3th Sunday in Lent is from the Gospel of Luke the 15th chapter. Glory to you O Lord.
NRS Luke 15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
3 So he told them this parable:
Here we have the reason Jesus launches into these parables. Tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees were gathered around him. And one group thought the other group shouldn't be there. "He welcomes sinners...and eats with them! How disgusting and beneath a true man of God!" The fact that Jesus ate with them was especially appalling. Eating with a Middle Easterner goes beyond a sense of friendship, it goes deeper than mere friendship, it is acceptance at a deep level, it is almost sacramental. Jesus eats with the least accepted people in all of society, people you wouldn't want your kids to associate with, people you might cross the street to avoid meeting. And yet Jesus is in their midst breaking bread and enjoying fellowship with them. Remember that he also broke bread with Pharisees.
3 So he told them this parable: (to the Pharisees)
4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them (in other words, you lost the sheep that was in your responsibility to keep), does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?
(If course, none of them would go, because they aren't shepherds. Pharisees hire shepherds to care for their sheep. Shepherds are unclean, unwashed, uncouth, uneducated, lowlife people best suited for life in the wilderness away from others tending sheep. And yet God calls his leaders to be shepherds in Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah. The good shepherd does leave the rest of the flock and seeks until he finds the lost.)
5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.
6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'
7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The good shepherd rejoices in finding the lost sheep. He rejoices before the real work starts. An adult sheep, we are not talking about a cute little lamb here, weighs between 75 and 125 pounds. He now hoists that load on his back and finds his way back. As lost as the sheep was this good shepherd now carries it all the way back rejoicing. So that when he gets back to the village with the people who depend upon him to care for the sheep he gathers everyone around and shares his joy with them. But it is almost foolish to go to this kind of effort. It would be so much easier to find the remains of the sheep devoured by wild animals than to carry this load back. And what about the rest of the 99 in the flock? Still in the wilderness? Apparently.
Jesus began the second parable:
8 "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Do you know the panic of losing something very valuable? For a poor Middle-Eastern woman her coins are her safety net should anything happen to her husband or it's the money for food for her family that is entrusted to her safe-keeping. "I know I had it right here and now it is gone." As you search and search. the more you search the more the knot in your stomach and throat tightens. You might let loose sounds of frustration and anger. In the small and tightly packed streets of the Middle Eastern village it wouldn't take long for her neighbors to know what was going on. Finally, after what may seem an eternity the coin is found. It's time to call your friends together and rejoice and share the good news, retelling the story of what it felt like to lose and seek and eventually find what was so valuable. What a relief!
The coin that was lost wasn't far away. It was in the house...of Israel. But it was carelessly lost and required an intense search to find. Who should be seeking with such diligence for what was lost? Did the Pharisees hear this message?
Jesus ended each of these parables with, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." In each of the parables neither the sheep nor the coin did anything to be found. They did not repent in the way we think of repenting, saying "I must repent, I must turn my life around!" The repenting, or returning to their rightful place depended not on the sheep or the coin but entirely on the seeker. It is the seeker's intent and will to find the lost. It appears that repentance of the lost is really acceptance of being found. Repentance is the wonder at being found after being so lost. Who is this seeker that won't give up until he has found me?
Jesus continued with the last parable:11 Then Jesus said, "There was a man who had two sons. (This parable is about two sons, not just one).
12 The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them.
13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
The son only wanted the money so that he could be in control of his life. He didn't call it his inheritance because that would imply responsibility to the family. He immediately sold his share of the property which would have been about one-third of what the father owned. He couldn't stay in his village because what he did was known to everyone in the village and was considered extremely shameful. All Middle-Easterners said this conversation NEVER would have happened because it was so disrespectful and so shameful to even contemplate. And even if it had happened the father NEVER should have given his son the share of the inheritance. This demand broke the father's heart, but the son could not see that.
14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.
15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.
16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. (For a Jew this is an appalling situation to be found in, feeding and caring for pigs).
17 But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!
18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." '
So the son only wanted to go back to his father because he knows there is always plenty of food there and he is very hungry. Perhaps he thinks he can sweet talk his father into a little help so he can get back on his feet. He still wants control of his life. He doesn't know that the real problem between he and his father is not the money that the son took but the relationship that he broke. He thinks he can just be accepted as a skilled servant, meaning still live outside the home, remain in control of his life, and continue to avoid the father and the brother.
20 So he (arose) set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran (he raced) and put his arms around him and kissed him (repeatedly).
21 Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
But the son couldn't finish the end of the speech he had prepared about being a hired servant. He could no longer try to manipulate his father, he could only confess the truth. He was not worthy to be called a son. With shock he realized the extent of his father's love for him. He watched his Father suffer immense personal shame in front of all of the villagers including his own servants as he raced down the road, robe gathered up and bare legs flying, to meet his son. The villagers were more amazed and appalled to see a man of his position and dignity act this way, especially towards someone who had insulted him, his family and his village the way his son had. The scene is inconceivable, unimaginable!
22 But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe -- the best one -- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;
24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!'
Again the son is faced with the unexpected extravagant love of his father protecting him from the scorn of the villagers. No one would insult the son wearing the father's best robe or wearing the signet ring of the family without also giving major insult to the father. Then to be the honored guest of a celebratory meal, how does one respond to such generosity in the face of what had been done? Humble obedience perhaps?
And they began to celebrate.
25 "Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.
26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.
27 He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.'
So your younger brother/sibling gets one third of the family's wealth and disappears for a long time only to return dressed in rags, smelling like a pig, not a penny to his name. And Dad puts the best robe on him, gives him the family signet ring, puts the shoes of a free man on his bare and calloused slave feet and throws him a party????!!!! You have stayed home, done everything your father has asked of you, and he never did anything like that for you!!!! Wouldn't that make you really mad???
28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.
29 But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.
30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'
Now it is the elder son who insults his father in front of the guests who can hear everything. The position expected of the elder son in a party like this, given for the village, was to stand beside his father and serve the guests showing honor and respect to the guests. But he disrespectfully refuses to do this and refuses to go in to the party. Amazingly the father lowers himself and leaves the party. The son angrily insults his father even further and voices his complaint. He doesn't claim the younger brother but calls him the father's son. He makes assumptions about how the money was wasted. But again the father doesn't react like the villagers expected. He loves this son too and desires reconciliation and again shamefully humbles himself in front of the people of the village by trying to reason with his son.
31 Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"
The parable ends.
But what happened to the elder son? What will he do?
I can picture Jesus turning to the Pharisees with a questioning look after finishing telling these parables. Maybe he is looking at us too. Do you get the point of these parables? Do you see yourself in them? What will you do? Do you see how outrageously loving your Father in heaven is? How badly he wants restoration of sinners who were lost to him, whether the sinners wear the clothes of a tax collector or a Pharisee, the rags of the homeless or the robes of a preacher? No one is outside the extreme love of the Father who seeks until he finds the lost - all of them. No one can stand in judgment of another and exclude them from the meal of fellowship. The agony of the shepherd, of the woman and of the father over the lost sheep, coin, or sons is only relieved when the lost is found. And what fun it is when the lost is found. Call out your friends and neighbors! Let's party! There is joy, and rejoicing in heaven. There is celebrating and gathering around a festive meal. Let's give up that heavy baggage of prejudice, judgment, selfishness, and misunderstanding. Let's eat together in restored friendship that is so deeply sacramental. Indeed our cups run over. We were lost and now we are found. All because the persistent LORD seeks until he finds. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.