Trinity 3 2016

Trinity 3
St. Luke 15:1-32
June 12, 2016 A+D

 

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

The parable of the lost son, usually called the prodigal son, is the Christian narrative par exellance. It is the parable of parables, a narrative summation of our faith, simple enough for a child to comprehend yet too deep for the most humble and erudite theologian. The poetic statement of the father at the end “Your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found” is as important to Christianity as “For God so loved the world,” “By grace you have been saved by faith,” and “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.

Our focus is usually on the lost son, the one who is reported to have wasted his living with prostitutes and who longed for the pods fed to pigs, who saw the error of his ways and repented. Then our focus turns to the compassion of the father who ran out to meet him, who was quick to forgive and restore him. We rightly understand that we are the prodigals restored, that God the Father ran to meet us in Baptism, that He speaks kindly to us in the Scriptures and places the ring upon our finger, and that the Lord’s Supper is the celebratory banquet wherein we are publically declared to be the true and restored sons of God

We were dead and are alive; we were lost and are found.

Polemically, in context, the weight of the parable is actually on the older son, not the younger. The weight is on him who stands outside the feast and pouts. We are quite good at feeling superior to that fellow. We know who the hero is in this story and it is not him. He suffers that which Americans hate the most: snobbery and self-righteousness. He thinks himself to be holier than others.

We must tread softly here, brothers. The flesh is weak and full of pride. It thinks it engages in Christian charity, but finds a way to love and approve of itself even in the name of not thinking too much of oneself. It is a perverse form of pride, perhaps more subtle and therefore more deadly, to be proud of one’s humility, to judge others as proud, and to bask in one’s non-judgementalism. It is virtually impossible for the fallen human flesh to note that someone else is self-righteous, is proud or thinks that he is holier than other people and not be immediately guilty of thinking yourself to be holier than him precisely because you do not think yourself better than other people.

When your mother told you not to point because when you did three fingers pointed back at you she was on to something.

There a perverse pride that thinks wasting one’s living with prostitutes is glorious. It makes the Gospel sweeter for the depravity. It I thinks that divorce teaches one to love marriage more and that only one who has been addicted and cursed God in the worst ways possible can really understand God or appreciate the Gospel and be truly religious because he understands the dark side. Such a thing would mean that Jesus did not understand his own preaching and the archangels to have shallow faith.

In fact, there is something broken and proud in us that loves the sins of the prodigal and hates the righteousness and faithfulness of the older brother. Part of it is that we like the drama and drama comes from conflict. But while all antinomians are really legalists, so also do we all have some hedonistic greed that likes the idea of tasting for ourselves illicit pleasures and being welcomed back as conquering heroes richer for the experience. In fact, fantasy is worse than vain: it is deadly. The Lord is not mocked. Repent.

The Law must be preached without winking. There is no having your cake and eating it. It is necessary to renounce wickedness, to even hate it. There is a time to confess that sin has nearly ruined us. We must have the courage to say: “That tooth must come out. That leg must be amputated.” Then we must have the wisdom not to hate the messenger but to see the mercy in the Law’s demands by seeing sin for what it really is.

Most of us have not lived interesting lives full of sinful drama. We should be thankful for that. It does not make us better Christians than others, but it doesn’t make us stupid in the Gospel either – unless Jesus and His Mother and Simeon were stupid in the Gospel, unless God was just kidding in the Law. Piety and sanctification aren’t harmful to faith.

But this older brother, despite his outward obedience, definitely has some problems. So do we. We are in danger. Temptation is all around us. But we are not alone. The compassionate father stands outside the tent with us and invites us in.

Be glad for this your brother was dead and is alive; was lost and is found.

Be glad. Come in. Rejoice. The fatted calf was killed also for you and you are with me always. Do not sulk that you are not a celebrity in the Church. The Father has come out in compassion to get you because even though you are with Him always your flesh is weak. You may be hardly noticed by the party-goers but the Father notices and He wants you in with Him.

That is where the parable ends. We don’t know what the older brother does. Does he repent  and then get ushered into the tent by his Father or does he refuse? It doesn’t matter. What matters is what you will do.

Jesus died for you. He held nothing back. He made the sacrifice in Himself that takes away the sins of the world. He has reconciled the Father to you. There is nothing left to pay, no one left to accuse you. Now the Father Himself is seeking you.

This world is full of injustices. The wicked are rewarded. The poor are forgotten. Hard work goes unnoticed. But the banquet isn’t a reward for righteousness: it is grace. You can’t buy or earn your way in. Neither son has the right to be there – the prodigal or the cranky. It doesn’t matter if you were outwardly obedient. No one gets in by right.

But it gets worse. It is not just the prodigal you have to deal with. The party-goers are an uneven bunch. Some are decent, some are kind, but some are braggarts and bullies and needy. Some have been cruel and rude, some still are. And some are prudes and some are obnoxious and some won’t even remember your name or care about your story. Will you associate with such people? Do you risk sitting by someone who bores you? Will you rejoice that the dead live and the olost are found? Will you come in by grace?

Your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found. You don’t need to stand proudly in the cemetery with the death you’ve earned. Your brother was dead and is alive. You can live also. You can be found.

Come to the Supper, brothers. Leave death and pride behind. All is ready. None is worthy. But Christ is risen for people like us.

Your brother was dead and is alive; he lost and is found.

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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