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The Fourth Sunday in Lent 2022
March 27, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Luke 15:1-3a, 11-32
Can you walk into a bank where you don’t have an account, go to the teller and demand that the teller give you money? I suppose you can, but they call that bank robbery.
Can you go to your boss and demand that she give you a $10,000 bonus? No? Why not? Because it doesn’t belong to you; it is not owed to you.
Can you go to your parents and demand your inheritance? “Mom, Dad, I just can’t wait until you die, I want my share now.” Can you do this? Of course not, people would talk.
The audacity! The scandal! How dare he think that he can just waltz in to speak to his parents and demand his inheritance?
But this is what the younger son does in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal; the wasteful, the free-spending, son. He goes to his father and demands his inheritance as if the father owes this to him; as if it is the father’s debt to the son.
Now in Jesus’ parables we need to examine who’s who. The father is God. The sons represent us humans. The younger son goes to the father and demands an inheritance as if it is owed to him. How often is this the way that people treat God? We go to God and demand our inheritance from him as if he owes us.
How many view salvation from God as their “right?” Folks will say, “I believe in God,” and yet their lives are unaffected by this “belief”. They say, “Sure, I’ll get to heaven, why wouldn’t I?” Salvation is viewed as a heritage; a birthright and it is just demanded from God and then they leave home and live a life apart from, and unaffected by the Father.
I am afraid that this may be the case for many of those who have distanced themselves from the church; from the body of Christ. Without even being aware, folks demand their inheritance from God; the forgiveness of their sins — and then drift away from the church and head off to a foreign land, and squander that inheritance.
Folks claim forgiveness as their right, but you don’t deserve forgiveness. It is not owed to you. It is not God’s debt to you. Rather, it is a gift that he freely offers in His Word and His Sacraments. This forgiveness was won through Jesus’ holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. You cannot purchase it, you cannot earn it, you cannot demand it — it is a gift which you receive here each week as you gather as the body of Christ, as you kneel before the Lord in confession, and at the communion rail as you eat and drink from the fountain and source of all goodness.
For those who are members here at Immanuel or becoming members, this is your home, your spiritual home. There is a great spiritual danger in leaving home to live in the world and forsake the fountain of forgiveness found here. It is dangerous to leave home.
But this happens all too frequently. The worries of this world, the busyness of life choke out your connection with the Body of Christ.
Our confirmands and their families too often, it seems, take their inheritance and depart for a foreign land. Our precious young people stand here in their white robes and promise to remain faithful to this church and suffer all, even death rather than fall away; and then they disappear into the foreign land to squander their inheritance.
The college years are a great danger. Our young people leave home and head off to the university where there is an abundance of options of worldliness in which to get entrapped. They are away from us and many do not find a local congregation to serve as a spiritual home-away-from-home while at college. We have been that home for a number of students at Miami University, but there are so many who live their college years spiritually away from home, like the younger son, off in a foreign land squandering his inheritance.
Young families can become busy with sports and activities; they claim their inheritance and drift off into a foreign land.
Folks can wander away to the latest and greatest new community church that has a great band and a great video system and a charismatic, likable pastor, but instead of teaching about sin and forgiveness, they teach you how to live well in the foreign land and feel good about yourself while living there.
Folks of any age can have a crisis in their life and this can be used by the devil to separate you from the body. It could be a divorce, an illness, or a move to a new area that causes people to drift into a foreign land.
It is a danger as you grow older and weaker that you allow this to separate you from the body. Don’t give the devil a foothold. For those who are too ill and too weak to come here to receive the forgiveness of sins we will bring it to you at home.
Most folks have allowed themselves to drift at one time or another. Often this is not so much a conscious decision but rather that they have allowed other things to overwhelm life.
When you find yourself alone and separated from the Body of Christ, what do you do?
If you find yourself in a foreign land like the younger son, what do you do? When you find that you have squandered the gift of forgiveness in wild living, what do you do? When you find yourself in the spiritual pig pen starving for some real food, what do you do?
What do you do when you find yourself empty after chasing fulfillment through intimacy without commitment?
What do you do when you find that the alcohol and the pot and the pills can’t numb the pain anymore?
The younger son realizes that his father’s servants have a better life than living with the pigs in the mud of the foreign land and the son returns home humble and repentant saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”
When you find yourself alone and separated from the Body of Christ, what do you do?
You come home. You humble yourself before God and you come home to where you belong. You come home and get on your knees and confess that you are by nature sinful and unclean. You come home and get on your knees and confess that you have sinned in thought, word and deed. You come home and get on your knees and beg for the gift of forgiveness that previously you demanded as if it were something you were owed.
And God the Father will lift you up; He will surround you with His love, wash you clean, and clothe you with the best robe; the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. He will restore you to your place as His son; as His daughter.
He will invite you to the feast and there he will feed you with the very body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.
What do you do when you find yourself in mud? Come home. Come home and be welcomed with open arms by God the Father and by your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now, this parable is not just about the younger son, but also the older, loyal son; the one that has been consistently devoted to the father. He too forgets his place. He too demands from the father what is only offered as a gift. He thinks he has earned it by his years of hard work and faithfulness. Be on guard also against “older son syndrome” in which you start to think that God owes you forgiveness because you have been faithful to him and his Church for so many years. Guard against “older son syndrome” in looking down upon those who have lived for a while in the foreign land and found themselves in the mud and humbly came back to our midst. Those returning are your brothers and sisters redeemed by the blood of Jesus. You kneel with them at the altar of the Lord and this unites you with those who have wandered and returned. It is not for you to be bitter that the younger son is welcomed back. It is a time for rejoicing.
You do not have the right to think that another is less deserving of Christ’s forgiveness. You cannot kneel at the rail with a fellow Christian and wonder, “Who does she think she is coming here to the altar.”
Those who are loyal and faithful, be aware. In this parable, which son is in the better spiritual place? It is the younger son, broken down by knowing what the world truly has to offer, who realizes he is owed nothing and who comes to his father in humility and penitence. The older son is in great danger because, although he is with the father, he still thinks that his father owes him. The father owes him nothing, but all that he has is for the son. The father owes you nothing, but offers you everything as a gift.
No matter if you have been a faithful disciple for 90 minutes or 90 years, you still approach God the same way. You come with empty hands, in humility and repentance to receive His great and abundant gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.
You can’t demand forgiveness; it is not God’s debt to you. The Good News is that forgiveness is already yours; a gift from God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. You are not owed forgiveness, but you have been given forgiveness, life and salvation by your loving heavenly Father. Amen.