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Lost Sons, Searching Fathers (St. Luke 15.11-32)

Third Sunday after Trinity

“Lost Sons, Searching Fathers”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

St. Luke 15.11-32

28 June 2020


+ In the Name of Jesus +

This afternoon at the ordination of Simeon James Cornwell, we will sing a hymn by Lutheran hymn writer and pastor Paul Gerhardt, “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises.” The fourth stanza brings up the story of the prodigal son:

As a father, ever yearning,
Longing to be reconciled,
Seeks the prodigal’s returning,
Loving still the wayward child,
So my many sins and errors
Find a tender, pard’ning God,
Chast’ning frailty with His rod,
Not in vengeance with His terrors.
All things else have but their day;
God’s great love abides for aye.         
(Lutheran Service Book #977, stanza 4)

“Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” The young, impetuous son comes to the father and essentially says to him: “I wish you were dead.”

Such a request was a major insult. Whether the father granted the request or not, the son would have been shunned by the rest of the community – the household of slaves and hired hands, family, villagers. Everyone would have been rightly ticked off at the young son.

But the young son knew exactly what he was asking for. He was cutting off all relationships with family and community. Here, the son not only asks for his share of the inheritance, but also he goes on to sell off his share and take the proceeds, and go and live in a far-off country. He essentially declares that he can live without them all, that they all might as well be dead as far as he is concerned.

The amazing thing about the father at this point is that he grants the boy’s request. He shows unbelievable love and patience in allowing his son to take it and sell it and go. He loves his son so much that he will allow him even his insult and his ability to reject the love and care of his father.

The boy is totally lost – dead, even – to his father, his brother, his extended family and community. Mammon is the new father of this boy, money is the idol the boy bows down to and lives for, he is a family unto himself, living only for himself – which is no family at all.

Our society for too long now has de-valued the family and over-valued independence. Fathers and mothers conceive children but there is no husband and wife, one or both would rather remain independent and uncommitted and the children left in the lurch suffer the consequences. However, even God-fearing, Christian families fall for it: sons and daughters are over-eager to get out of the house, strike out on their own, be free of the rules and norms of living under one roof as a family. Fathers and mothers think their parenting days are over once junior goes off to college or has his or her own job. Being “empty-nesters” is even celebrated by some – we’re finally rid of the burden of our children. Children leave the home and all too often feel no responsibility to look after the welfare of their aging parents. In the worst cases, children have hard feelings towards their parents and refuse to care for them – just leave me in the will, I wish you were dead.

We do need to watch how we talk and act as families. There are extremes of course to avoid. There are circumstances sometimes that break apart a family that cannot be avoided and those are disasters and unexpected and unplanned for. But as fathers and mothers, do we value everyday God gives us the blessing of children? As children, do we honor, esteem, serve and obey our parents, even when we do not live under the same roof?

The problem of being lost sons, angry and self-righteous and self-serving, is nothing new. The problem of fathers (and mothers) failing to look out for their children is nothing new. This is the story of Adam the first man, and the whole human race after him. Adam rejected his role as the created child of God, as husband and head of his family, as defender of his wife, and instead allowed himself and his wife to fall, to lust for, reach out, and take that which was not his. They and all their children – you and me included – are by nature lost, condemned, without hope – stuck in a far off land, not our true home.

Now in this temporal wandering away from home, you might wallow in your sinful condition and totally reject God’s fatherhood, as the lost son in the parable does for a time. Or you may be feeling the chastening rod of the Law in famine and hunger and desperation, maybe in a hurting conscience, in grief, in despair, in simply longing for a better homeland then this one – as the lost son eventually does. Whatever the case: some return home in regret, seeking to pay back the father. Sorry – I got caught out. I was wrong but only because I lost what I idolized. That’s not repentance, mind you, that’s regret.

But there is no smoothing things over, no making up for that which you’ve done wrong, no repairing that which you’ve broken, on your own, by your own efforts. Lost sons may think they have something to offer their father back home – but they do not.

The parable tells us this is true: before the son arrives, the father is looking for him, the father sees him coming, feels compassion for his son, runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him. The father doesn’t allow the son to ask to make up for his wrong.

Where the son had rejected his father totally, wishing never to see him again, the father keeps watch and hopes for his son to return.

Where the son felt no love for his father and wished him dead, the father has compassion on the destitute son.

Where the son ran away to a far country away from his father, the father runs out to meet him.

Where the son severed ties with his father, the father restores his son to his family and to the community – he embraces and kisses him, showing the community and family that the son is forgiven and still to be accepted.

There is no repayment possible or necessary for this father. He merely accepts the son at face value. He is family. His forgiveness of the son is pure grace and mercy. The son is re-clothed in the signs of his father – the robe, the ring, the shoes. The fattened calf is slaughtered for the whole community to celebrate and to show them that the son has been freely restored to his father. He was dead, but is alive again. He was lost, and is found.

It is not a hopeless situation for you or for the sons of this world. Repent. Return home to your Baptism. If not baptized, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the forgiveness of sins. Depend and trust on the mercy and grace of your patient, forgiving, gracious, and merciful Heavenly Father. Be reconciled and restored to Him today, freely, without price. God desires and yearns for you to be reconciled, to show His love to you in pardoning your iniquity, casting your sins into the depths of the sea, and forgetting them forever.

The heavenly Father has sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, who came down into this foreign land, took the place of the prodigal, and suffered in your place. The shame and eternal ruin that was the prodigal’s became that of Jesus. He came and took upon Himself our rejection, our covetousness, our lust, our idolatry, our sinful flesh and our lost and dead condition – and bore them to the awful pig trough of the cross, where He freely ate the bitter pods of death and hell. There, the innocent one died to destroy the sins of the prodigal human race, and so restore us to being true sons of His Father. The same Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, He who once was dead, is alive, He who became lost for our sakes, is found at the right hand of the Father, ruling over His Church in love with the forgiveness of sins given out in Word and Sacrament.

So we pray:

Since there’s neither change nor coldness
In God’s love that on me smiled,
I now lift my hands in boldness,
Coming to You as Your child.
Grant me grace, O God, I pray You,
That I may with all my might,
All my lifetime, day and night,
Love and trust You and obey You
And, when this brief life is o’er,
Praise and love You evermore.           
(Lutheran Service Book #977, stanza 5)

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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