In Memoriam + Alexander Dmitry Frese
November 7, 2022
St. Luke 15:11-32
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The parable of the prodigal son is probably the most quintessential, important, and central parable or allegory of all of Christendom. Its central refrain – “My son was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.” – is certainly programmatic for every one of us. We were dead in our trespasses and made alive by the grace of God delivered in Holy Baptism. We were lost and heard the Shepherd’s voice in Holy Scripture and knew Him to be gracious, forgiving, reconciling.
The thesis of the parable is clearly that the father’s love is steadfast. The parable, of course, is intimately familiar to every one of us.
The younger son is openly wicked, foolishly wicked, going to his father and saying, in essence, “I wish that you were dead so that I could have your stuff. I want your stuff, not your company. I want your stuff, not your name, not your legacy. I want your stuff. And I want it in another country.”
The father is inhumanly patient and kind, supernaturally generous. He hands it over. Off goes the son for riotous living. And thank God for the famine and swine and pods on which they feed.
But the father, in the midst of that, is patient and steadfast. So if the son were asked before the famine, “Who is your father?” he would say, “I have no father. My father is dead to me. I am my own man. This is my stuff.”
But what if the father were asked, at the very same time, “Is that your son?” “Of course it is. Of course that’s my son. He has my name. I gave it to him. He may disown me. He may run off to a far country, but he is mine and I do not forget.”
But there is a famine, there are pigs to be fed, and the boy comes to his senses. But the father doesn’t know. If the son is true to his character, we expect he is returning because he has wasted everything and he wants more.
But the father has compassion. Before he hears a word of regret or sorrow, apology or repentance – before he hears a word, he says: “This is my son.” And out he runs in compassion, throwing his arms around his neck, kissing him.
And then the son does give an apology, a repentance: “I am not worthy to be called your son.” And the father doesn’t even respond because it’s such a ridiculous statement. Since when did being a son have anything at all to do with worthiness? Never. He was his son the whole time. He’s not just called his son; he is his son.
So the father tells the servants, “Get the ring, get the robe, get the sandals, kill the fatted calf. It’s time to be merry. My son who was dead is alive. He was lost and he is found.”
And the father has another son. It’s not a zero-sum game; the father has plenty of love for both of them. And he wants them to be reconciled and to live together in peace, in fellowship with him and with one another, supporting one another, encouraging one another, rebuking and remonstrating when necessary – but for the sake of love.
So now the refrain changes ever so slightly. The older son in his pride says, “Your son has done this terrible thing.” And the father says, “Your brother – my son – your brother was dead and is alive, was lost and is found.”
This is the heart of Christianity: to be reconciled to the Father by grace through faith, to believe that there are more than one or two or three or four chances. How many times shall I forgive my brother? Seven is not nearly enough, not if we have received the generosity of the Father in giving the life of His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us. Maybe for a good man we might expect that we would be willing to lay down our lives, but not for a wicked man, and never in any case would we lay down the life of our son.
But He has given us His Son, to forgive us, to restore us, to bring us back. In the midst of tragedy, God’s love is steadfast. The Father does not change; He is consistent. He did not walk in the Garden of Eden seeking revenge. They foolishly hid out of fear thinking that God had changed, that their sin was so powerful that they could make Him hate them. But He came seeking them, to speak with them – gently. Yes, there’s a rebuke to be issued. The Law comes, and death comes, but He will take that death into Himself, that Adam and Eve be restored.
The Father’s love is steadfast. He is consistent. He does not change.
There are two – at least two – obvious temptations in the midst of tragedies. The first is to simply curse God, to simply say, “Well, I don’t like it this way. This is terrible. The world is unjust and full of sorrow. And if God is the God of this, He’s not worthy of being called God, so I’ll go my own way.”
The other way is to just simply pretend that God doesn’t really care at all, that there’s no justice in God, and that He doesn’t mind what happens in the world, and it’s okay if you’re off in the far country because He just doesn’t care.
The call for us is a call to faith – faith in God’s Word and the belief that He is good, that His mercy endures forever, that whoever believes and is baptized is saved, that He does not change, and that He works all things together for good. And we cling to that with everything that we have.
We understand those who curse the world. We understand those who just engage in wishful thinking and denial and pretend, but we are people of faith and we abide by the Word of God, and we are going to hold to that to the absolute end, and we are going to wait for God to prove Himself once again.
Because I know that my Redeemer lives, and even though all my relatives are dead and I am suffering physically, emotionally, psychologically, and in every way possible, I know that my Kinsman-Redeemer lives, related to me by the blood of Adam himself, and in the end I will stand upon the earth and I will see him with my own eyes.
God is good. He has to be good. He has promised to be good. Thank God for the famine, as horrible as the famine was. Thank God for the swine and the pods that they were fed, for it drove the son back home.
He works all things together for good, even tragedies. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
In Jesus’ name.
*Sermon delivered on November 7, 2022; transcribed on November 22, 2022, by Janet Frese.