June 28, 2020 A+D
1 Peter 5:6-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We sometimes mistakenly speak of spiritual warfare as though it were something exotic or mystical. In fact, it is simply the daily life of the Christian, the life of repentance, of setting one’s will to do better and asking God for forgiveness and help. Satan and his demons are always prowling about, strategizing, and laying traps. Their goal is to move us to fear, love, and trust in something, anything, other than God.
They think our faith is shallow. If they can scare us with the threat of bodily harm from a virus or war or even old age, then we will fear death or pain more than God. They attempt to make us love our lives, our grandchildren, and wisdom and learning so much that we fear losing those things more than the loss of faith. They entreat us to trust what we see with our eyes or what we feel in our hearts or what science claims rather than God’s Word and promises. We become arrogant and think we know things we don’t and we overestimate our maturity and strength. Thus we sin and we put our faith at risk.
When we sin, our enemies press their advantage in one of two ways. They either bolster us in our sin with false promises and excuses, that is they try to convince us that what we’ve done was necessary and actually good and should be rewarded, so that we double-down and keep doing it, or they try to drive us to despair. When they flatter us they do so by telling us that we had no choice. Our sin was actually selfless. If God loved us, He would not mind. This is an easy sell because we are all deluded in our fallen flesh and experts of self-justification and double standards. This is why we must constantly be in the Word. We need to hear the Law. We cannot trust ourselves. And we need constant reminders that while death might be delayed, it will not be avoided. We cannot stop death and death is not the most evil possibility. Prolonging life is not the greatest good.
If that fails, and we try to repent and amend our lives, turning to God’s mercy, our enemies try to make us so ashamed of our sin that we refuse to trust in God’s mercy. They lead us to a narcissistic despair, inwardly turned. It thinks that we and our situation is so cosmically significant, that God can’t forgive it or shouldn’t forgive it and we end up mocking God and His love. This is what happened to Judas.
Thus does St. Peter admonishes us: humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. Cast your cares upon Him. Be sober. Be vigilant. Resist the devil and his lies. Nothing has befallen you that is not common to man. The same sufferings, the same temptations, are experienced by your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. You are not special. You are not unique. You are not significant. So, yes, you’ve been stupid, been wasteful and selfish, craven and bitter. You don’t deserve God’s love — but He gives it anyway. You aren’t worth what He paid — but He paid it anyway. His death cannot be mocked. His resurrection cannot be denied. So repent and believe. God has called you through the waters of Holy Baptism and after you have suffered for a while, He will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. This life will end. And with it, temptation and uncertainty and doubt. Then real life begins. Jesus will raise you and exalt you you as He is exalted. And it won’t matter if you lived 10 more days on a respirator or died in a car accident or lived to a hundred. What will matter is that you are baptized and that at the exact right time, God brought you home, not a minute soon and not a minute late. What matters is that Jesus lives and He loves you.
The parable of the prodigal son is about the Father’s grace. The father has compassion. He receives and eats with sinners. He forgives trespasses. In the parable, the father receives his son and exalts him, restoring him to the family and giving him a place of honor after that son had disgraced himself and disowned the family. He disowned the father, but the father did not disown him.
There is very much a sense in which the father seems wasteful. Who gave that son the money that he wasted? This parable is not a lesson in how to be a father. You don’t give a meth head clean needles and pure meth. You give him a ride to rehab. You don’t put your teenage daughter on birth control pills, telling her that she can’t control herself and then try to figure how you can enable her promiscuity while keeping her from facing the consequences of her actions. You teach her about chastity and raise her to be responsible.
But the Father isn’t wasteful. He doesn’t give the son money to waste in a foriegn country. He gives Him grace. Grace doesn’t work in service to sin. The son does not understand who the Father is or what he has given. He tries to take it into the world and it disappears. It is gone. The demons don’t accept that currency. They make him a slave. He doesn’t get pleasure and a good time. He gets pods meant for pigs. If he had written home from the pig trough, saying, “Send more money. I made some mistakes but now I understand and I can make it work. Send more money,” the father would have said, “Son, all that I have is yours.” He couldn’t send more because the son had everything. But it doesn’t work in the service of sin. It can’t be used that way. Grace doesn’t excuse sin or enable it. It just devolves into pods for pigs that men can’t eat, pods of self-righteousness or despair.
The only proper response is to repent and return home. Don’t try to figure out how to beat the casino. Don’t make deals with the devil. Go to rehab. Do the hard thing. Suffer all, even death, rather than leave the Father. And don’t let anyone tell you that you are poor just because you are sick or disfigured, alone or dying. Everything that the Father has, is yours.
When the son returns home, the Father has plenty. Just because He gave the boy his inheritance doesn’t mean that his wealth was reduced. Grace doesn’t work that way.
That is the problem with the older son. He had also left the Father’s house. He wanted to use His Father’s gifts for selfish ends. He lusts to have a party with demons whom he thinks are his friends. Surrounded by good food and wine, on the edge of a banquet, like Adam in the garden or David on his rooftop, he complains for lack of a goat. He has been reduced to pods meant for pigs, but his pride doesn’t know it and he vainly imagines he can live in both worlds.
Nonetheless, the Father is generous. To him, He also says: “All that I have, not half, but all that I have is yours.” The grace of God is a seamless garment. There is no casting of lots. He bequeaths it to each of us undiminished. The Kingdom’s resources aren’t lessened by greater numbers of beneficiaries. “All that I have is yours.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.