4th Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 15:1-3; 11-32 Sermon
March 18, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
403 “Lord With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee”
377 “Sinners Jesus Will Receive”
392 “More Love To Thee, O Christ”
191 “Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing”
THE MOST MISERABLE PERSON OF ALL
TEXT (vs. 25-32): “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'
Chris was a guy I knew in high school. Actually, he was a year ahead of me, so I didn’t know him all that well. He was a party type of guy; he liked fast cars, beer, and a few controlled substances. Basically, he was a nice guy, and pretty laid back about things.
Chris was dating a girl by the name of Jan who was in my class who I had known since Junior High School days (or today, I guess we’d better call it Middle School). It didn’t seem like they were that serious, more like someone Chris could hang out with and have a good time.
When Jan graduated in May, she and Chris got married the end of June. Neither one of them was ready for this move at all, but Jan pretty much had her mind made up.
Things didn’t go well at all. Jan wanted to get out of her parents’ home, and Chris was that way out. She had visions of Chris being her knight on a white horse, so-to-speak. There were things about Chris she didn’t really like, but she figured she could change all that after they were married.
Chris was not a likely candidate to be changed. He looked at his new wife’s role something like his mother’s role—cooking, cleaning, washing, picking up after him, etc. He still partied all the time, and his friends were always hanging out at their apartment. And when they weren’t around, Jan would nag Chris almost incessantly. Needless to say, things weren’t good at all.
There’s a lot to the story that I don’t have time to tell; but the marriage ended when Chris was out partying with his friends; and after a series of events, he wound up being unfaithful to his wife. Jan was furious with him, and almost immediately filed for divorce. Chris was sorry for what he did, but she wouldn’t accept his apologies. She reckoned that he was a no-good, drunken, drug addicted infidel, and nothing would change her mind. In Jan’s mind, he was a lost cause with no redeeming qualities.
Chris wound up joining the Navy; and after his stint, he started college. In the years after his divorce, he had completely turned his life around. He became very active in his church. And he met a lovely young lady in college, whom he wound up marrying. Of course he told her everything about his past, about Jan, and his partying, and his unfaithfulness, so there were no surprise skeletons in his closet. And she was very understanding. There was no doubt in her mind that he had turned his life around.
However, when Jan got wind of all this, she was seething. Jan had been in another rather short marriage after Chris, which also wound up in divorce. Chris went and talked to her, and tried to smooth things out. He apologized for his past actions, but Jan wouldn’t accept it.
Personally, I think she still “held a candle” for him. But whatever, she vowed she’d never let him forget about his past. She was hurt, and she made it her life’s goal to make Chris’s life as miserable as she could.
Our Gospel lesson for today is one of those stories that has been retold many times, and has been expounded upon by almost every Christian pastor that’s ever been in a pulpit.
The metaphor is rather straight-forward. As human beings, we are likened to the prodigal, or wasteful son. The father in the story represents our heavenly father. The point of the story is how much the father loves the wasteful son; and regardless of what the son did in the past, the father loves him, forgives him, and accepts him. The wasteful son is repentant, and returns to his father with his hat in his hand. Instead of beating him over the head with his past sins and bad judgment, the father welcomes him with open arms. The wasteful son’s past is left in the past, and things move on from there.
The pathetic one in the story is the older brother. All of this just rubs him the wrong way. He feels the father should have pronounced judgment on his wasteful brother, rather than show him love and forgiveness. So if the father wasn’t going to beat him over the head, then he felt it was his place to do it, and even chastise his own father for his actions. He wasn’t going to rest until his wasteful brother got, in his estimation, exactly what he deserved.
Humanly speaking, the older brother did have some justification for his feelings—and the emphasis here is on the “human” part. There were two basic reasons for this.
First of all, the wasteful son asked for his share of the inheritance while his father was still living. This was like a cold, hard slap in the face to the family. Children had the responsibility to care for their parents in their old age; and by asking for the inheritance before his father died, this indicated that he didn’t care for his father or family at all. For all he cared, his father could die a pauper’s death all alone.
Second, he relocates himself to a far away place, so he wouldn’t have to see his family ever again. He could live his own life without anybody looking over his shoulder. And he wouldn’t have to be burdened with any of the various and sundry family responsibilities.
At least in his own mind, the older brother had some justification for his feelings. So to see the father’s reaction at his son’s return really burned his biscuits. He had worked hard for his father, and this was the thanks he got? And he probably thought that since his brother’s return, that he would get even more of the inheritance when the father eventually died.
Yes, the older brother was absolutely ropeable. And when he spoke to his father about it, he even refused to refer to the wasteful son as his brother. Instead, he refers to him as “that son of yours.” The father gently but pointedly reminds him that the one to whom he is referring is more than that; he is in fact his brother.
As we read this story, one thing really sticks out. The one who is the most miserable in this whole ordeal is the older brother. The father is happy, the people at the party are happy, and the son who has returned home is now very happy. The older brother is unhappy because of his sinful attitude. He’s got his nose out of joint, and he’s unhappy because he wants to be. The father tells him to be happy and rejoice because his brother has returned. He could be happy and join in on the celebration. He could be happy if he wanted to be. But he refuses. He’d rather hold on to his sinful attitude and be miserable. It was his choice.
We’ve all gone the way of the wasteful son. We’ve demanded much from our heavenly Father, and we’ve gone our own way. If we do an honest assessment, we have to admit that.
As Christians, we’ve also experienced the grace of God in our lives. And yes it is grace, which means that God gives us what we haven’t deserved or earned. Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, our heavenly Father welcomes us into his fold with open arms. We are treated like the prodigal son in our text. We are welcomed home, and all of our past sins and transgressions are completely removed from us.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there, Christian people in fact, that readily take on the role of the older brother in our text. And they have come up with some dandy reasons to justify their actions.
This morning, I’d like to share a few of these so-called “reasons” that I’ve encountered over the years, along with how the Bible answers this logic. I’ve come up with five, however there are many more that could be added to the list.
1. THEY DON’T DESERVE TO BE FORGIVEN. And who of us actually do? God’s grace covers all, as Ephesians 2, 8-9 says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no-one can boast.”
2. THEY DON’T WANT TO BE FORGIVEN. We need to remember that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, not just for those who want it, or for those who we feel are worthy of it. Certainly there will be those who reject the forgiveness God has to offer, but he still offers it just the same. We also have to maintain an attitude of forgiveness. Even Jesus had this attitude while hanging on the cross. The Roman soldiers weren’t seeking his forgiveness. But in Luke 23, 34 Jesus says: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
3. THEY’RE NOT SORRY FOR WHAT THEY DID; THEY’RE JUST SORRY THEY GOT CAUGHT. That’s a tough one, especially in today’s society. A lot of criminals in jail today feel that same way. However, this is not the attitude of the repentant Christian. Jesus says in Luke 3, 8 to: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…” A Christian’s actions should demonstrate what is in his heart.
That being said however, Jesus also says in Luke 6, 37: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” God has not given us or any human being the ability to judge what is in a person’s heart. That is something for him alone to do; and if a person isn’t repentant, then God will sort it all out. This is definitely one area where we have to let God be God.
4. WHY SHOULD I FORGIVE THEM? THEY’LL JUST GO OUT AND DO IT AGAIN! Ah yes, the problem of the repeat offender. Again, an honest assessment of ourselves will show that we’ve often repeated the sins which condemn us. And the Bible says we’re not alone in this either. The Apostle Paul in Romans 7, 18-19 laments this fact: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing.”
Even with this lament, the Apostle Paul does record some words of hope in I Corinthians 10, 13: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
So how are Christians supposed to handle a “repeat offender?” Jesus says in Luke 17, 3-4: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him.”
5. WHAT THAT PERSON DID WAS SO BAD, THE WHOLE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW HOW AWFUL THEY ARE! This attitude is so prevalent in today’s society, it’s almost automatic that we do it. But that doesn’t make it right either. If we look at Luther’s explanation to the 8th commandment, he says with regard to our neighbor, that we are to: “defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way;” or some translations read: “to put the best construction on everything.”
Proverbs 11 has some excellent advice. Verse 12 says, “A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbour, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.” And I Peter 4, 8 also has some good advice: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
So regardless of whether something is true or not, the Christian will always seek to protect the repentant sinner’s good name and reputation, irrespective of their past. There isn’t anybody out there who would appreciate having all of their proverbial “dirty laundry” aired in front of the world.
Our Gospel lesson for today contrasts for us the father and the older son which should serve as shining examples of the right and wrong ways to handle repentant sinners. Christians are to forgive others as God has forgiven them, pure and simple.
It’s been several years now since I’ve run into my old acquaintance Chris. He’s a very successful businessman with a happy marriage, and even grandchildren now. His first wife Jan is also still out there. She’s had two husbands since Chris, and is now divorced. She still harbors a lot of resentment and hatred toward Chris; in fact her harassment got so bad that he had to get a restraining order on her. She is one very lonely and bitter woman who would rather nurse an old grudge instead of moving on with her life.
If we have the same attitude as Jan, or as the older brother in our Gospel reading today, we can be prepared for a lifetime of bitterness, misery, and heartache.
If we have trouble forgiving others or with any other aspect of our life, we need to turn it all over to Jesus. He came to take that burden of sin and that load of strife from us. Through faith in our Saviour, we have experienced forgiveness from our heavenly Father.
I’d like to close this morning with a reading from Psalm 103 verses 8-13. These verses were penned by King David, who experienced and appreciated the forgiving love of God.
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger for ever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.”
Forgive others as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you. That’s a lesson we all need to learn. Forgive from the heart. Rejoice as God rejoices. Put all of the past wrongs and sins of others behind you, and don’t keep regurgitating them. And then come and join the celebration. The angels are rejoicing, and father has invited you. It’s time to move on.