Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
March 10, 2013 – Lent IV
Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, II Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
From the book of Joshua:
And the Lord said to Joshua, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”
From St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:
We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
And he said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Our Gospel reading this morning is referred to as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” but it could also be called “The Parable of the Loving Father,” for it emphasizes the graciousness of the father more than the sinfulness of the son. Unlike a shepherd, the father did not go out to seek the son, but it was the memory of his father’s goodness that brought the boy to repentance and forgiveness.
According to Jewish law, an elder son received twice as much as the other sons (Deut. 21:17), and a father could distribute his wealth during his lifetime if he wished. It was perfectly legal for the younger son to ask for his share of the estate and even to sell it, but it was certainly not a very loving thing on his part. It was as though he were saying to his father, “I wish you were dead!”
We are always headed for trouble whenever we value things more than people, pleasures more than duty, and faraway places more than the blessings we have right at home. The prodigal son learned the hard way that you cannot enjoy the things money can buy if you ignore the things money cannot buy.
The younger son dreamed of “enjoying” his freedom far from home and away from his father and older brother. He wanted to have his own way so he rebelled against his own father and broke his father’s heart.
But life in the far country was not what he expected. His resources ran out, his friends left him, a famine came, and the boy was forced to go to work! Sin promises freedom, but it only brings slavery (John 8:34); it promises success, but brings failure; it promises life, but “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The boy thought he would “find himself,” but he only lost himself!
The young man changed his mind about himself and his situation, and he admitted that he was a sinner. He confessed that his father was a generous man and that service at home was far better than “freedom” in the far country. It is God’s goodness, not just man’s badness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). If the boy had thought only about himself – his hunger, his homesickness, his loneliness – he would have despaired. But his painful circumstances helped him to see his father in a new way, and this brought him hope. If his father was good to his servants, maybe he would be willing to forgive his son.
Had he stopped there, the young man would have experienced only regret or remorse, but true repentance involves the will as well as the mind and the emotions – “I will arise…I will go…I will say…” Our resolutions may be noble, but unless we act on them, they can never of themselves bring about any permanent good. If repentance is truly the work of God, then the sinner will obey God and put saving faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
When the son returned home, the father ran out to meet him. The father prepared a great feast and invited the whole village to attend. The father shows us the attitude of our Heavenly Father towards sinners who repent: He is rich in His mercy and grace, and great in His love toward them (Eph. 2:1-10). All of this is possible because of the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. We are saved by God’s grace, and grace is love that pays a price.
Everything the younger son had hoped to find in the far country, he discovered back home: clothes, jewelry, friends, joyful celebration, love and assurance for the future. In the far country, the prodigal son learned the meaning of misery; but back home, he discovered the meaning of mercy.
It is interesting to consider the father’s description of his son’s experience: he was dead, and was now alive; he was lost, and now was found. This is the spiritual experience of every lost sinner who comes to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ (John 5:24, Eph. 2:1-10).
When we look at the elder brother, he had some virtues that were quite commendable. He worked hard and always obeyed his father. He never brought disgrace either to the home or to the village. He was a good citizen, a good son, and compared to his younger brother, almost a saint.
Unfortunately, the elder brother was angry at both his father and his brother , and chose not go into the house and share in the joyful celebration. He stayed outside and pouted. He missed the joy of forgiving his brother and restoring the broken fellowship, the joy of pleasing his father and uniting the family again.
If we are out of fellowship with God, we cannot be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters and, conversely, if we harbor an unforgiving attitude toward others, we cannot be in communion with God. When they show true repentance, we must forgive those who sin, and we should seek to restore them in grace and humility.
I am sure we all know someone, perhaps ourselves, who have preferred nursing a wound to enjoying the fellowship of God that comes from forgiveness.
The act of rebellion started right from the beginning with Adam’s rebellion with God, which put man out of fellowship with God. Through the work of the Cross, Jesus Christ has brought man and God together again. God has been reconciled and has turned His face in love toward the lost world. The basic meaning of the word reconcile is “to change thoroughly.” It refers to a changed relationship between God and the lost world.
God does not have to be reconciled to man, because that was accomplished by Christ on the cross. It is sinful man who must be reconciled to God.
In his farewell address to the nation, Moses repeatedly commanded the Jews to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and that the Lord had delivered them and made them His own people. This great truth was embodied in their annual Passover feast. They were never to forget that they were a redeemed people, set free by the blood of the lamb.
I am going to tell you a story that will perhaps help to illustrate forgiveness and reconciliation. When a man and a woman get married, it is very important to establish “rules of engagement.” It is important to determine where and with whom the couple is going spend the holidays and other special occasions with. The fair way would be to alternate between the two families. Such as, if you spend Thanksgiving with the husband’s family, then you spend Christmas with the wife’s family, etc. If this arrangement is not done, it can cause some hurt feelings.
Such was the case with Peter and his wife, Jane. For some reason, Peter’s family always spent Christmas day with them, but the rest of the year was determined by his wife, Jane which meant it was only her family. When the grandchildren came along, it was hard, because literally half the birthday parties Peter’s family was not invited to. It was also the case that Peter’s mother was never honored or remembered on Mother’s Day; not even a card, because Peter left that chore up to his wife.
Peter died in the year 2000 from a fatal car crash, at the age of 47. Jane soon severed ties with Peter’s family; wouldn’t even speak to any of them. This hurt Peter’s mother very much. It was hard enough to lose a son, but to have his wife act this way only made it worse.
A few months after Peter’s death, his mother fell at home in the bathroom; hit her head on the bathtub. She managed to crawl to the bedroom and call 911. She had fractured her left leg and was in a rehab center for several months. Jane did nothing to show that she cared.
When Peter’s mother came home, she started calling her daughter-in-law to see how she was doing, with no response. Peter’s mother would call her up, leave a message, hang up and then start crying. Peter’s mother tried for 6 months and her daughter-in-law would not return any of her phone calls.
Four years after Peter’s death, his mother died of cancer. When it was determined that the end was near, her grandchildren were contacted, because she wanted to see them one last time. To everyone’s surprise, Jane came too. It had been over 3 years since anyone had seen or heard from her. Peter’s mother welcomed Jane with open arms and tears of joy.
No one knows why Jane acted the way she did. The purpose of this story is not to berate Jane, but to witness to Peter’s mother’s love and reconciliation with her daughter-in-law. Jane did not deserve her mother-in-law’s forgiveness, but it was given freely.
This is the message that we all need to hear: That we are all sinners; that we do not deserve God’s forgiveness, but that God’s Son, Jesus Christ, freely gave His life on the cross, so that we might be reconciled to God; that we are saved by His redeeming love. As we come to your most sacred table Lord; we remember Thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ; that we are partakers of His most blessed Body and Blood; that this Bread and Wine are signs of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us, until His coming again.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you alone bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.