Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 3 – 2011

10 July 2011 at St. Andrews Lutheran Church, Novosibirsk, Russia

Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 (Luke 19:10 antiphon)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we hear our Lord teaching us yet again.  The Author of life and salvation authors one of the most beloved and retold short stories of any author.  And we are privileged to hear Him retell this story to us anew on this holy day and in this holy place.

And like all good teachers, our Good Teacher uses storytelling to convey his material to us.  The only difference with this Teacher is that His teachings are revelations from God.  And so when the Lord tells us this familiar parable, we would do well to listen with attentive ears and with hearts open to His Word – for His Word is truth, a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.

Indeed, our Lord tells us this story to take us out of the darkness of sin and bring us into the light of God’s kingdom, to reveal to us the wretched reality of how we are in our sinful flesh, and the glorious reality of how God is in His divine mercy.

And our Blessed Lord tells this parable in response to a complaint: “The Pharisees and scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”  The implication is that Jesus is wrong to do so.  The grumblers don’t understand themselves, nor God’s kingdom, nor  certainly not our Lord Himself.  So our Lord tells a couple stories to make the point as to why they are wrong, and how their very grumbling is sinful.  One of those stories is known in English as “The Prodigal Son.”  The word “prodigal” does not mean “lost” or “sinful,” but rather “overspending.”  A prodigal person is the opposite of a miser.  The prodigal person does not budget well, but lives beyond his means; he does not store up, but rather spends.

This story begins with a son who spends all that He has on himself, but the real story is ultimately about the Son who spends all of Himself for us.

Our Lord tells of a younger son who takes his inheritance and wastes it in foolish and sinful pursuits.  He is prodigal in his sin and selfishness.  It doesn’t take long for the money to be gone.  And his situation becomes dire.  The illusion that he is rich and in good standing is destroyed by the reality that he is poor and miserable. 

And so, our Lord uses an interesting turn of phrase, the younger son realizes this and “comes to himself.”  Previously, he had evaded the reality of who he was.  Now, impoverished and humiliated, he must “come to himself,” and confront the reality that he is not as he should be, not the son the father molded him to be, not the man he was created to be.

Dear friends, we are all so used to things like pain, financial insecurity, anger, random acts of violence, cancer, depression, family problems, temptations, sin, accidents, anxiety, distortions of the natural created order, and even death itself – that we think such things are a normal part of life.  When we think this way, we must “come to ourselves” and see that the world is not right, that we are not right, and that we are not the people we should be, made in God’s image and created to be perfect reflections of our perfect Father.  Our world is broken.  We are broken.  We must “come to ourselves” and face the truth.

And yet this “coming to ourselves” will not make us better, will not save us, and will not restore us to the Father.  For as our Lord teaches us in His story, even our coming to the Father on our own terms will not help us.  Our good intentions will not redeem us.  Our regret will not cure us.  Rather, our salvation lies in what the Father does for us: “But while he [the son] was a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” 

It is in the coming of the father to the sinful son (who has been stirred by the realization that things are not right and that he is not right), it is only in this coming of the father that the son is changed, made anew, and restored to a right standing before his father.  And this is why God the Father sends His perfect Son into the world.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Dear brothers and sisters, this is why the world grumbles.  This good news of forgiveness perplexes and angers the world the way the older son in our Lord’s tale reacts harshly to his father’s generosity, the way the scribes and Pharisees grumble in the face of our Lord’s mercy.  In fact, it isn’t so much the son who is prodigal, but the father.  For as much as the son foolishly spends all that he has on selfish, sinful pursuits of lust, it is the father who spends all that he has on selfless, righteous pursuits of love – even as our Heavenly Father pursues us and withholds nothing – not even His only begotten Son – for the sake of us poor miserable sinners, for our repentance, forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life.

Our prodigal Father comes to us in His mercy and in our sin, in His prodigal love, and our prodigal brokenness.  He is prodigal in His forgiveness and boundless in His grace.  He has compassion for our lack and fills us with the bread of life.  He rushes to us with the embrace of the truly prodigal Son’s incarnation, with His passion, death, and resurrection, and with and victory over sin, death, and the devil.  And the Holy Spirit comes to us prodigally in the Word and in the sacraments, calling us to come to ourselves, to gather where the Word is proclaimed, all the while gifting us with repentance and new life.

The Word is proclaimed to us prodigally by our Lord, by His apostles, and by all preachers of this Gospel of every time and place.  We are washed prodigally and lavishly in the prodigal waters of Holy Baptism.  We are forgiven prodigally and abundantly in the prodigal words of Holy Absolution.  We are strengthened and restored prodigally and bodily in the prodigal body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper: given for you, shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

For us prodigal sinners made prodigal saints, the Lord presents us with the priestly baptismal robe, adorns us with the royal ring of the Christian life, and feeds us with the prophetic and celebratory feast that has no end. 

For our Lord is no miser.  He is prodigal.  He rushes to us in His love and mercy, embracing and kissing us, restoring us, and drawing us into His own household as those who were dead and who are now alive, those who were lost, but who now are found.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.