Tuesday, April 2, 2019
the Parable of Parables
Twitter and bumper stickers do not make for good theological answers. What we want made short and easy, God makes long and complicated. Jesus loves you sounds great until you face the threat of cancer or lose your job or mourn the death of a child. Then the easy answer is not so easy and faith becomes complicated and messy. Most of the time we tend to reduce the parables of Jesus into easy lessons with easy answers but in doing so we miss much of what Jesus is saying.
We tend to think we are the prodigals whose repentance ought to count for something, who deserve something of the grace shown to us. But we just might be the resentful brother who wonders why his father forgave so quickly his good for nothing sibling and so foolishly gave him what he neither earned nor merited. The romance in the parable lies with the prodigal son who did what we all wish we could do – spend ourselves into happiness and live out all that we want. Even if he is a good for nothing, we all secretly wish we were him. So it is so profoundly comforting that when the money runs out and the guilt sets in, we know God forgives us and will gives us back all that we lost. At least that is how we read the parable.
Nobody likes the older son, moody and jealous and who does what is right by his father but only because he wants the same things his younger brother wants. The only difference is that the older son bides his wait for time, age, illness, and death because he knows he will have it all to do with as he pleases without having to face his father’s rebuke or disappointment. So nuts to the older brother and his selfishness. It is no wonder the younger brother wanted to cash in his chips and run away. Who wouldn’t?
The problem is that neither son is a good example. We are both sons – those who do what must be done to get what we want and those who blow it foolishly because we think we deserve some self-indulgence every now and then. So who should we focus upon? If not the son who meets life with a champaign taste and a beer budget or the son of who says the right words but burns with jealousy in his heart – then who? Who is the hero of this parable of parables? It should be obvious. It is the waiting father, the compassionate father, the forgiving father – the heavenly Father. He is the hero.
Jesus does not need to tell us a story to get us to think about ourselves. We do that all the time already. We cannot stop thinking about ourselves. We are so conscious of our wants, needs, desires, and dreams that it is pretty darn hard to pay attention to a boring preacher on Sunday morning or sing hymns that have too many stanzas or pray for too many words. We watch the clock because we are thinking about ourselves.
We come to church because we know we should and we think of everything except church while we are here and we leave as soon as we can – and then we think we ought to get a little more credit for having shown up in the first place. We are sinners.
But who is God? God is the Father who wants to give us all things and daily and richly bestows upon us too much for our own good. God is the Father who carries the wounds of a rejected Dad by a people who would rather live on their own terms and die on their own terms. We stop loving God every time something does not go our way but but God is the Father who never stops loving us. We resent the good we know we should do but God still loves us. We run away to indulge ourselves but God still loves us. God loves the good we do as His children and God forgives the evil we should not do as His children. Even when we insist that it is all about me, God still loves us.
His love is not some theoretical love that inhabits feelings and hearts or lives in words or ideas. The love of the Father is concrete and unmistakable. He sends forth His Son for sinners like you and me. He accepts the righteousness of Christ to count us righteous. He gives to those marked with death the everlasting life of Easter morning. He does this out of pure grace and mercy and not because we can or do anything for Him. He is the star of the story and this is what we miss in this and so many parables. Jesus is not telling how we ought to live or what we should or should not do. Jesus is confronting us with what the love of the Father that He is come to reveal by His cross, suffering, death, and resurrection.
When God brings our dead brothers and sisters to life again through repentance we should rejoice as do the angels in heaven but instead we complain: where these people were when we were out there alone trying to be good. When we think ourselves good enough or better than most, the Lord calls us to look into the mirror of our souls and see that we are sinners as desperately in need of His redeeming grace as those whom we so quickly condemn. When we want to cut and run because we think life is too hard, we are not getting the recognition we think we deserve, our marriage is costing us too much, children are harder than we thought, and all we really want is some time to and for ourselves, the waiting Father points us those who faithfully do His bidding as best they are able and asks us why we cannot do the same? When we thrive on conflict and throwing gasoline soaked words into the small fires in our families and our nation, the Lord points us to the healing balm of His mercy and asks us to apply it to our world so filled with impatience and violence.
Your brother was dead and now is alive, was lost and now is found. You were dead and now are alive, were lost and now are found. And this is the will of the Father, that all people might be saved and come to know Christ.
God has thrown a party for sinners. The best He has to offer has been slaughtered upon the cross and now is your food in this bread and cup. He has clothed you in the royal robes of righteousness in your baptism. He has washed you clean in His blood. He has restored His family by the power of His grace and mercy. You need to learn to rejoice in Him and not in what you think you have done or what you think you deserve or in what you think is fair. You need to learn to rejoice in the mercy of the Father who has waited for you when you had no time for Him and who still waits upon you here in this blessed sacrament. For until you learn to rejoice in the mercy of Your heavenly Father, life will seem to be all about pleasure at any cost or about duty that steals away all your pleasure. Only when the focus is upon the waiting father can those waiting learn to rejoice.
How appropriate for the day when we have a 60th birthday party for our congregation. A party for sinners. That is today. Not a pat on the back to a people who did good but a good God who loves sinners, redeems them, and works through them to build His church on earth. That is our party. It is not to tell tall tales of our heroism but of God’s mercy who lavishes upon the undeserving forgiveness, life, and salvation, and then sets free the forgiven to tell the world what He has done. God has not given us a fatted calf but the flesh and blood of His Son, not a robe of our own but Christ’s own robe of righteousness to wear, and not a ring for a finger but the mark of the cross upon our hearts. And not to us only but to countless thousands over 60 years in this place. Today is not about us. It is and always must be about God, if there is to be another anniversary.
The waiting Father waits for the self-indulgent who give into whim and desire and He has provided a conscience to sound the call to repentance. The waiting Father waits for the dutiful who do all the right things but with resentment in their hearts and He has provided a conscience to bring them to repentance. To both the self-indulgent and the resentful the Lord speaks His Word, points to the salvation that comes not to the deserving but to sinners through Christ alone. He gladly gives us all things in Him – things we do not deserve and never will and things The waiting Father has given us all things in Christ. That is the parable above all parables. More than this, that is the story of our lives, redeemed, restored, and renewed in Christ our Savior. Happy 60th Grace Lutheran Church. Happy new birth day to a sinful world. So great is God’s love for us, what can we do but say Thanks be to God!!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.