4th Sunday of Lent

Luke 15:21, 32

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

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.’”

This parable needs no introduction, only the Good Samaritan might be more well known. But still, just because it is familiar to us doesn’t mean it’s a chore to listen to again. I’ve heard it called the parable of the lost son, following the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin; or called the Prodigal Son, prodigal just means wasteful, or even the loving Father, but what ever you know it as, it reminds us again of those things we so often take for granted and forget.

            Last week we heard that God’s ways are not our ways and this week we see this played out in the parable. One son decides he’s not satisfied with his life with the Father, takes the gifts the Father has given him, leaves and strives after things that don’t satisfy, throwing away and forgetting all the Father had done for him. The older son stays but also is not satisfied, potentially even resenting his younger brother because the older didn’t live that life, and then resenting him for the great gifts of peace, joy and love freely given to him. And then the Father, the one who sustains both sons even when they don’t recognise it, and who loves them both freely, not because of what they have done and not despite what they have done, but unconditionally loves both his wayward sons.

            Our ways are the ways of the sons, of active and passive rejection, neither were satisfied with God’s grace and love; God’s way is the way of the Father, of unconditional love and free restoration with Him. So here Jesus, talking to the faithful, law-abiding Pharisees who taunted Jesus because he ate with prostitutes and sinners, to them Jesus puts forward the two broad ways that we, as people who now believe in Him, go. Either the rejection of God and His goodness for our own benefit in the here and now, striving for things that do not last, wealth, sex, power; or the more subtle dissatisfaction and taking for granted what God has given you. The younger son turns from his evil ways and back to God pleading for mercy and receiving freely abundant grace; then the older brother resents the joy and peace the younger received. It reminds me of my parents.

My dad wasn’t a Christian, grew up as part of the culture, strove for the things in this world that don’t satisfy, then the Holy Spirit brought him to the truth, to Jesus Christ. It was a big change for him and he jumped right in, reading the books in the local pastor’s library, then the following year beginning to study to become a pastor. But mum grew up in the church, she had known God’s mercy and grace for her whole life, there was no great change, no ‘Damascus road’ experience. Mum was a bit envious of dad that he had that wonderful experience; dad was a bit envious of mum because she didn’t need it.

So how do you see yourself in this story. Are you the younger brother, an outright sinner who lived for this evil world then returned to God’s love? Or are you the older brother, taking God’s grace for granted and fighting your desire to sin? Or maybe sometimes a bit of both? Do you want to live like all the other people of Australia, by that policy of ‘if it doesn’t hurt anyone and makes you feel happy, do it’? This is the season of Lent when we take some time to look at ourselves and why Jesus died, so when you examine yourself against God’s Word, how do you like these brothers reject His love and promises to either go your own way or wish you could? How do you fall to temptation? That drive all humans have to rely on ourselves and store up treasures here on earth. Both in our thoughts and actions.

We all like the young son, are unworthy, are sinners; Paul writes that we deserve death (Romans 6:23). But what does the Father do? Does He make His son a slave? No! He graciously forgives and restores him to the family. The son knew what he had done was wrong, and knew that the Father was loving and generous, the son repented, turned back to God, confessed his sin and was forgiven. This is you and me, today we have confessed our sins, heard our Heavenly Father’s word of forgiveness and will eat with Him in thanksgiving and joy in Holy Communion. From 2 Corinthians (5:16-21) we heard that we who are in Christ are already part of the new creation, restored to the true and steadfast relationship with God Almighty; the old has gone and the new has come; our guilt and sin is taken away by Jesus and we are given His freedom from the devil and fear of death. We are called to live differently, what happens now that’s how Jesus ends the parable, do you stay with God? Or do you leave again or just grumble? This is the life of the Christian to, with the Holy Spirit’s help, struggle against temptation and our corrupt human ways to strive for things that don’t satisfy. But you and I are reconciled, you are forgiven, your Heavenly Father still loves you and wants the best for you. You are baptised into Jesus Christ, washed clean from your sin, even dead to it; sin no longer has power over you; and you are raised to new life, the new creation, reconciled fully to God. Don’t forget who you are, I know it’s not new, but don’t take it for granted; but far more than that don’t forget that you are reconciled to your loving Heavenly Father.

And the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham