Deuteronomy 32, Philippians 2:5-11, John 12:12-19
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today is confirmation day, and that means we have 23 young people looking to stand up in front of our congregation. They’re looking to grasp their baptismal faith like adults. They’re looking to say words that matter today.
I’ve told some of you this before, but it’s worth repeating. My wedding day was one of the scariest days of my life, but I wasn’t afraid because I doubts about marrying my beautiful bride Laura. I was afraid because I read the vows: “To have and to hold... for better, for worse… for richer, for poorer… in sickness and in health…” I was afraid because I realized there aren’t excuses or exceptions to those vows. I don’t get to opt out of having and holding if I’m having a really bad day, or if Laura is getting on my nerves. I don’t get to opt out of providing for Laura if I lose my job or if I lose my ability to work. I’m taking an oath whether Laura lives out her days in health or they are fraught with sickness.
It’s a promise bigger than I. It was a day when I got to participate in something bigger than myself, and I said words that mattered.
There are very few days in your life when you get to speak words that matter. This is one of them.
We celebrate Confirmation on Palm Sunday, the first day of the holiest week of the Christian’s year. It’s extraordinary. Every year, this week, the church takes over the entire week. It’s the 7 days of Jesus’ life set in slow motion, as we retrace his last days, his final steps, as we listen to his every word. We watch him ride into Jerusalem not as a conquering king on a warhorse but as the rightful ruler, on a donkey. We watch him trash the temple court saying, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer.” We sit with him as he takes his last meal with his disciples. We see him pray in agony, at Gethsemane as Judas betrays him. We know his hours on the cross, his death, and his rest in the tomb.
Our story gets taken over by his story. Today, you get to speak words that matter. Did you read the vows? They start out baptismal. I renounce the devil. I believe in a God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe in him because he came to earth and made himself a man. I will regularly come to the Lord’s Table. I will be faithful to my vows to my dying day, and I would rather face death than fall away from these vows.
We are asking you, some of you for the first time in your lives, to be an adult.
So then, what does it mean to be an adult? You think about how you get a driver’s license at 16, how you can vote at 18, or drink at 21, or the final milestone, you can drive a rental car at 25. Or you might think about living on your own, making your own rules, starting a career or a long-term relationship. But, what does it mean to grasp your faith as an adult? Three answers for today: first, it means bowing your head to that which matters; second, it means taking up your cross and following Christ; third, it means resting in your baptismal grace.
First, it means bowing your head and bending your knee to that which matters.
A story has been told of a man who loved his boat and liked to make sure it looked good. He waxed it every week. He cleaned off the propeller every time he got it out the water. He made sure the carpet was vacuumed and the cover was put on every winter. But he never changed the oil. It always seemed to work well, so he never thought of it. But one day after waxing it, he went to start it up and… there was nothing. You see, he was making sure it looked good, and he neglected the heart. He was after the little matters, and he missed that which actually mattered.
Waxing and washing, vacuuming and covering – they’re all good and important in their own way, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. What’s like that in your life? Grasping your faith as an adult is figuring out what matters little and what matters most.
Because the heart of the matter is this: that in the end faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love, and if you want to see the love of God – love more perfect than any other’s, if you want to see the peculiar picture of what it means to love as a Christian – if you want to see how this was made full, look no further than Jesus Christ being made the payment for your sin. Look no further than Jesus who speaks hard truths in love to those who really needed to hear it. Look no further than Jesus sitting down in the dust to forgive those who really screwed up. Look no further than Jesus doing all that Jesus does, and know that every act of God in the Old and New Testaments is an act of love incarnate.
This is makes you weird. This is what makes you peculiar; it’s what makes the Christian a Christian. The heart of your life is a knowledge that Jesus Christ was dead but is now alive, and in the mysterious way of Baptism, because he lives, now you live also. You grasp your faith firmly when you confess this before men. Nothing matters more than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Today I invite you to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. I invite you to look toward what actually matters. One of my favorite bands put it this way: “You know you are as small as the things you let annoy; you know you are gigantic as the things that you adore.” Or in a better way, hear how Paul says it later in Philippians 4: Whatever is true… Whatever is honorable… whatever is just… whatever is lovely… whatever is commendable… if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.
Second, grasping your faith like an adult means picking up your cross and dying. It’s not a mistake that we examine our confirmands a week before Jesus is crucified. It’s not just random that you’re confirmed on Palm Sunday as thousands and hundreds of thousands cried out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” or that you’ll take the Lord’s Supper on the night when Jesus was betrayed. You start your adult life in the faith this week because your faith follows the form of your savior.
And when I think of form, I think of how I just started playing some Thursday night basketball and how bad my shot looks these days, and I remember Rick Riehl my high school basketball coach. He was a fiery kind of guy who’d slam his hand down on chairs and yell Judas Priest whenever we messed up, and I remember one thing he’d say pretty often as we shot hundreds of free throws that we shot at the end of practices: he’d say, “Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent… perfect practice makes perfect.” It doesn’t matter how many thousand free throws you shoot… the only way to improve is to correct your form.
And I tell you that to tell you this: your faith follows the form of your savior.
That’s what “Take up your cross” means – it means that your life is cruciform: you follow a savior who was crucified, died and was buried, and we should expect the same. It means that you follow a savior that was raised to eternal life, and because he lives, so you shall live. It means that suffering comes upon the just and the unjust, and still, blessed be the name of the Lord. It means to embrace the Christian life as a way of suffering, of strangeness, of sin, of leaving yourself open for hurt so that you can show mercy and forgiveness especially to those who don’t deserve it.
Or, like Moses says it in Deuteronomy, close to the last word in a 34 chapter sermon, “He’s the one who kills and makes alive. He’s the one who would and the one who heals. No one can deliver you out of his hand.”
Today, I invite you to remember that the whole process of confirmation revolves around the idea that this week – Holy Week – and Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the most important week of your life. It’s the most important week that’s ever been a week. It’s the week when the fate of the world changed from death to life. It’s a week when God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, did the justice of our sin to his Son, so that Jesus might become sin for us.
Finally, it means resting in your baptismal grace. This week, I had the privilege of being at the bedside of Janice Rux as she passed away. I was there as she breathed her last breaths, with her family all around, with tears streaming down our faces after months wondering when the Lord would take her home. They say in the end that, although you may not be able to respond, many times you can still hear. So, I took her by the hand and spoke to her the same words I’ve spoken many times now, “Jan, you know that your family and your pastor are here with you and we love you. And more than that, we know that your Savior is with you even when you are beyond us.”
Our God promises in your baptism. He promises that he will be your God and you will be his people. He brings you out of darkness into his marvelous light. He nails every single one of your transgressions on his cross. He pays for your sins. He promises that he is your good shepherd and no one can snatch you out of his hand. He promises that your worth is not based on your performance. He promises that he held you in your salvation even before you knew right from left, and he will hold you in his hand even when you are beyond reason.
Our God promises in the Lord’s Supper. He promises that like food and drink make your body strong, so the forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper makes your soul strong. He promises that just as food and drink become part of your being, so forgiveness becomes a part of your soul. He shows you that he is the Strong One, and if you want strength, you will find it at his altar.
Today, I don’t invite you to stop being a child. You are a child of your parents, and you’ll always be a child of your parents. In your baptism, you are a child of God, and you’ll always be a child of God. The difference now is, I do invite you to be an adult child that knows you’re resting in the promises you’ve been given.
In conclusion, this day is about grasping your faith as adults. It’s about bowing your head to what really matters. It’s about taking up your cross and following your Savior. It’s about resting in your baptismal grace.
My wedding day was one of the scariest days of my life, yes, but it was also one of the best. On these days when we make promises, we remember that life is about living each day in good times and in bad grasping the enormity of the promises we make to God today, and about resting each night in the sure forgiveness that comes because he is our true father and we are his true children.
May the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb, who claimed you as his own in baptism, and who began this good work in you, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.
John 19: 28 – Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
…Refer to painting by Jim Tissot / Scrolls now able to be read /at the moment of death veil in temple rent in two, earthquake and saints raised / angels and archangels rejoicing
So far in this Lenten season, we have heard Christ speak from the cross five times.
First, we listened in as He prayed for His Father to forgive soldiers who were not sorry for what they were doing, they were not apologizing, they were not believing, and they were not about to change their sinful ways, and we learned how anxious is our God to have mercy.
Secondly, we listened in as Jesus promised paradise to a thief who was sorry for what he had done, he was crying out for mercy, and so we learned how wide and how deep and how long and how nearby is our God’s love.
Third, we listened in as Jesus made sure that his mom would be taken care of by his disciple John, and we learned from Jesus what it means to be sons and daughters of our father in heaven.
Fourth, we heard Jesus cry out in the darkness and ask why His father had to forsake him, and we were comforted in knowing that because he was abandoned, we will never have to travel through life alone.
Fifth, we heard Jesus cry out for a drink, even though he is the very fountain of living water. We saw how He suffered in both body and soul and how all that He endured He did so for us.
Today we hear Jesus cry out with a loud voice that IT IS FINISHED and in his next breath, other Gospel writers indicate that He commended his spirit into his father’s hands and he died.
First of all, we ask what did Jesus finish? When Adam and Eve sinned, God promised that their Descendant would crush the devil’s head. With his suffering and death, Jesus completed that.
God had promised Abraham that his descendant would bless the nations. With his suffering and death, Jesus did that. In English, “it is finished” is three words. In Greek, it is only one word. It is perhaps the greatest word ever spoken. The world could never speak this word to us the way Jesus did. Jesus finished the race he came to run. He completed the course assigned for him to endure. He fought the battle his father asked him to fight and won the war he was sent to wage.
• Story of my dad’s four brothers going off to fight in WWII, not so much drafted into war, they enlisted. I can only imagine Grandma and Grandpa Griffin worrying and praying and yearning for that day when Francis, Ray, Cleo, and Don were finished. Some may have felt the war was finished when Hitler died, or the day the bombs were dropped on Nakasaki and Hiroshima, or maybe when the treaty was signed. But for Grandpa and Grandma Griffin, there were no doubt four separate days when their four boys finished their fighting and came home. How how they must have celebrated those homecomings.
• Ken Harstad – his suffering was finished the day he came home from prison.
• Jan Rux – her suffering was finished today about 10:20 with daughters, son, sister, husband, and Pastor Muther at her bedside. Months of doing battle with cancer, days and days of death apparently near, hours of restlessness, and then it was finished. I received the report as a text from Pastor Muther – Jan Rux has passed away.
• The next text I received was from Debi – Do not eat the hard boiled eggs, need to cook them more!!!!
• In our text for today, the Son reports to his father he was finished. All of the ridicule, the misunderstandings, and the plotting of his enemies was finished. All of the arresting, the unfair trials, the slapping, the mocking, and the spitting were finished. All of the beatings and the whippings were finished. All of the nailing and the railing and the crucifying and the bleeding and the excruciating agony were done, and as the Son reports to the Father, we listen in, no doubt the angels and the archangels of heaven are listening in, and thank God the suffering is completed.
• But when Jesus said tetelestai, he wasn’t just thinking about himself, he was thinking about a world of sinners. He wasn’t just relieved that his suffering was over, he was rejoicing that the cup of his father’s wrath had been drained, he was reporting to his father in heaven and to anyone who has ears to hear that the curse of the sinful Adam had been reversed, he was reporting to his father in heaven and to anyone who has ears to hear that prophecies had been fulfilled, that all debts had been paid, and that heavenly mansions had been prepared. He was reporting to his father in heaven and to anyone who has ears to hear that all that needed to be suffered had been suffered, that all the laws that needed to be kept had been kept, that all the blood that needed to be shed had been shed, and that all the works of the devil that needed to be destroyed had been destroyed.
• We may picture Jesus as standing with one foot on the devil’s neck as he lies chained on the ground. The devil’s crown has rolled away into a ditch, he’s king no more, he has no power over us now, when we die, or after we die.
• While it is true that the devil is on a chain, it is also true that in the latter days, that chain will be lengthened. And because the devil has a longer leash in the end times, it means he will be stepping up his attacks on the called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified people of God. Two temptations in particular come to mind today.
First, he tempts us to forget that our salvation is a done deal and to think that we still have to do something to be saved. It’s when we think that we have to do something ourselves to stay in or earn the favor of God that we are more likely to feel we are failures. To be sure, we fail every day in our marriages and in our family life, we fail every day in the bad that we do and the good we fail to do. But the fact that we keep on failing has no effect on our Lord’s success on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. Our Lord’s success keeps on getting delivered into our hearts in the preaching of the Word and in the pronouncement of absolution and in the eating and drinking of the Supper. The world can deliver all kinds of messages into our hearts, but only the Church can give us this pure and simple good news, that our sins are forgiven, our salvation is accomplished, heaven is ours.
A second temptation is to live as if the crucifixion and death of our Lord doesn’t really matter. In fact, our #1 problem in life has already been solved, all other problems are secondary. In fact, our #1 challenge has already been met, all other challenges pale in comparison. In fact, our #1 question in life has been answered, all other questions are by definition less important.
The kingdom of God is like a widow who misses her husband in a strong way, but even stronger is her confidence that her name is written in the book of life. It’s like a married couple that spends all kinds of energy worrying about their future and the future of their children and grandchildren, but over the years they have developed a wonderful habit of taking all their worries to God in prayer at the end of the day, and as often as they do so, their worries have a way of melting away and they lay their heads down in peace. The kingdom of God is like a young man devastated by the idea that his wife would end his marriage, but even stronger than that devastation is his confidence that he has been baptized and that God will be faithful to the promises of Baptism. It’s like a busy and stressed out and hard working person who has a long to do list and imagines some days she will go crazy if she doesn’t get everything done, but then she travels one more time through the season of Lent and into Holy Week, and one more time, she knows that all is well with her soul. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Luke 20:9-20 – But Jesus, having given them a look, said, “What then is this that is written, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Back in my growing up days, my dad and I were pretty strong Minnesota Twins fans. We would listen to games late into the night on little transistor radios, and my very first hero in life was Harmon Killebrew, #3, an aw shucks kind of a guy who struck out a lot, wasn’t particularly good in the field, but he hit all kinds of home runs. In 1965, when it was the Twins vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, I remember the school office playing the games over the intercom in our little school / would play full nine inning games between dreaded Yankees and Twins / would see to it that Killebrew would hit at least one grand slam home run each game / would dream of playing in Metropolitan Stadium, hitting home runs to win games / would dream of the crowd standing and roaring and watching balls sail over the fences/ My dream ended in about 7th grade summer Babe Ruth baseball, when I figured out I wasn’t a very good baseball player. I wasn’t particularly good in the outfield, and I had a really hard time even making contact with the ball as a batter, much less being a home run hitter. My dream wasn’t really rooted in reality, it was all about me, wasn’t at all a prayerful approach to what God’s plan for me might be. To use the language of our Gospel lesson for today, my first dream in life was missing a (Cornerstone).
Our sermon theme today is “Living The Dream.” You have perhaps heard it said that there are three kinds of people – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Another version of that might be that there are folks who are living God’s dream, those who are living their own dream, and those who have stopped dreaming and maybe never did have a dream. The prophet Joel predicted that in the latter days God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh…your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
In our Old Testament lesson, Israel was focused on the glory days of the past, but God wanted them to see Him as their present day provider and to see an even more glorious future. They were fixed on days gone by when God had delivered them out of slavery in Egyptian, they were fixed on their triumphant crossing of the Red Sea, but God wanted them to fix their eyes on Him as deliverer from Babylon. But their return to the homeland wasn’t at all the climax of the dream God was calling them to live. God’s ultimate dream for the Babylonian exiles was that they would spend their lives (declaring His praise!) Yes, God was doing a new thing for their nation, and yes He was going to make for them a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, and yes He would be providing water for His thirsty people, and yes they would be living their dream and living happily ever after, but the joy was meant to be contagious, “the people I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
In today’s Epistle Lesson, we see that Paul had a vision for how to live out his life as well. We see that once Jesus Christ got ahold of Paul, His life long dream was to (lose) Himself and (gain) Christ. Prior to meeting up with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul’s passion was to destroy Christianity, but once Jesus got ahold of him, his passion was to spread far and wide the good news of Jesus Christ. Prior to conversion, Saul was on fire for the status quo of Judaism, but once Christ called him out of darkness into a marvelous light, He was all about forgetting what was behind him and knowing Christ. He wanted to be found in Christ. He wanted nothing to do with his own righteousness and everything to do with the righteousness from God that depends on faith. His dream was to share in the sufferings of Christ, it was to become like Christ in his death and know the power of resurrection. Living the dream for Paul meant that that whatever he could do for the sake of the Gospel, he would do. Whatever he could suffer for the sake of His Savior, he would suffer. Wherever he was called to go for His Lord, even if it turned out to be a nightmare, there he would go.
As it was with the people of God in the days of Babylonian exile, as it was with St. Paul, so it is with us this very day, in this very place. God has to shatter our self-centered dreams before we can (share His vision). We see that principle getting played out also in our Gospel lesson for today. In Luke 20, Jesus is getting on the nerves of Jewish chief priests, scribes, and elders. In fact, he’s doing more than that, he’s driving them crazy with rage and jealousy. Their dream was to live out their divine appointments as the teachers of Israel, but here was Jesus standing in temple, teaching their people, and horror of horrors, the people were listening to Jesus and more than a few were believing and they were following.
When they asked Jesus by whose authority he was teaching, he answered their question with his own question.”You tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” They knew if they said John’s baptism was from man, the people would stone them to death, and if they said John’s baptism was from heaven, Jesus would ask them why then they didn’t believe John. And so they answered the way my 7th and 8th grade students occasionally answer, with a shrug of the shoulders, and “I don’t know.” And so Jesus says, if you won’t tell me and answer, then neither will I tell you by whose authority I do these things!
Instead Jesus tells them a parable meant to shatter their own self centered vision for Israel and call them to repentance. In this parable, the vineyard refers to God’s people, God is the owner of the vineyard who has done everything necessary for fruit to be produced, and the Jewish religious leaders are the tenants hired to manage the vineyard while the owner is good. Two questions we ask today to learn what it means to have our self centered dreams shattered, then replaced and aligned with our shared vision in this place to mature as disciples for Jesus Christ.
Question #1 - What kind of renters would see themselves as (owners?) The problem with these tenants was not that they were not doing their job of working the vineyard. The problem was that they refused to provide the fruit of their labor. Instead of honoring their God with their work, they were serving themselves. They were dreaming big dreams for themselves. The owner had provided them with a comfortable arrangement, they had solid employment and a secure future. Their ultimate dream wasn’t to produce fruit, it was to have the inheritance for themselves. Their dream was for the status quo to continue, for old traditions to be maintained, for their positions of power to be increased, for Roman oppression to end, for the temple of Jerusalem to be central, and for the glory days of old to return. Instead of striving to be faithful stewards of all the owner had given them, they were living with the illusion that they if they would kill the owner’s son, the vineyard would be theirs to keep.
The kingdom of God is like a man who almost dislocated his arm the other day patting himself on the back. He was congratulating himself for paying off the mortgage on his house, congratulating himself for owning nice vehicles, congratulating himself for having his finances in order, congratulating himself for planning his estate well. Yes, he is living the dream, he thinks to himself, and he doesn’t mind it at all, if others comment on what a nice life he has fashioned for himself.
Question #2 - What kind of owner would send his only son to his (violent death?) We can understand an owner who would send a servant to collect his share of the fruit, that’s what absentee landlords would do in that day. But once they beat him up and sent him away empty handed, we do not understand how a clear thinking owner would send a second servant all by himself. And when they beat up the second servant and send him away empty handed and do the same with a third servant, what owner in his right mind would send his beloved son and think they would respect him? The same kind of God who would send one prophet and then another and then another dozen to a rebellious people over the course of thousands of years, in hope that his people would repent. The same kind of God who would send his only begotten Son into this world, that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. The same kind of father Pastor Muther preached about last Sunday, the father who would run with reckless abandon to greet and love and forgive his returning and rebellious son, the same kind of father who would kill the fatted calf and throw a party and plead with the entire family to celebrate that the lost had been found and the dead son was now alive. The same kind of God who would look you in the eyes today and say that no matter how far you have strayed, no matter how self-centered you have been, no matter how ungratefully you have lived, no matter how often you have patted yourself on the back and congratulated yourself for being so hard working and successful….he says fix your eyes on my son and do not be distracted, he has suffered all that you deserved to suffer, he has paid the price you could never begin to pay, for the joy set before him, he endured the cross and he scorned the shame, his dream is for you some day to be with him in paradise, and until that that day comes, would you do me just this one favor……….just let your light shine, let your light so shine before others that they might see your good works and give glory to my father in heaven.
THE LOOK In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus giving his listeners THE LOOK, he looks them in the eyes and tells them in no uncertain terms that you either build your house on the true cornerstone, or your house will collapse into rubble. You either believe in Jesus as Lord and are saved or you believe not and are condemned. You either live the dream that God has called you to live, you live your own self centered dream, or you just sort of wander through life with no particular dream.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where Jesus is looking them in the eyes in a regular kind of a way and inviting them to live out their dreams in a way that gives Him glory and binds them together. It’s like a young mother of five children who posts on FB, “my dream is simple. Be married to the right man and raise beautiful children.” It’s like a single person who loves to go to church, she listens closely to the sermons, she has a passion for serving ina quiet and behind the scenes way. It’s like a busy and hard working couple whose marriage has all kinds of ups and downs, and one of their favorite times in life is when they look each other in the eyes, they say they are sorry, and they forgive as they have been forgiven. It’s like a single mom whose son is going down the wrong path in life and she spends her days crying her tears and worrying until she is sick to her stomach, but at the end of most days, she is still, she knows that God is God, and she endures. Finally the kingdom of God is like an elderly couple doing less and less what they would like to be doing and more and more their dream is to take care of each other, to season their conversations with grace, and that their Christian joy would be contagious. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I want to tell you about something lost that my wife just wanted to stay lost. I have a blue St. Croix soccer T-Shirt that I’ve loved for a long time, and I mean a very long time. I got it when I was in 8th grade at the St. Vinnie’s Thrift store and it’s worn and threadbare and smells a little bit bad, but just a little bit. But I love it. I cherish it. I keep it. I wear it.
And so whenever Laura folds the laundry, she’ll make a point to fold that shirt and put it away for me. But, you see, I never know quite where she puts it. Sometimes its in one of the bins, other times it’s under the bed, but usually it’s stuffed way back in the back of my dresser, and I think she just hopes that I would forget about it.
I wait for the day when my beloved shirt in the trash, and when Laura just can’t stand it anymore, I’ll know, and I see it there, my beloved shirt, and I’ll run to it, pick it up, I embrace it, and bring it back to its home. The thing some just want to stay lost, I rejoice in finding it.
Today, we read the parable of the Prodigal Son, and it’s a sermon that preaches itself. It’s the story of a man with two sons. It’s the story of a father full of unexpected delight. It’s the story of a man that rejoices when his sons come back home. It’s the story of a son that doesn’t deserve to be forgiven and another son that doesn't see his father’s heart.
It begins with tragedy. A younger son says, “Dad, I wish you were dead. I wish you were dead and I wish my inheritance would be mine right now.” A family gets blown apart, and you’d better believe that this would’ve been like most family blowouts, it’s the last word in a long battle. And so the father gives him his inheritance. Now, know this, that the inheritance he’s asking for was probably in the land and in the cattle. It wasn’t so simple of a task as just cashing out your IRA or writing out a check. It was the long, painful process of a divorce. Deciding to sell a third of his assets, selling a third of his land, downsizing his herds, laying off his workers. It may have taken a year or more of painful bookwork to get to the next verse.
But they do, and then his son gets lost. He decides to walk in the wrong direction. He loses his name, he loses his family, but most of all he loses himself. He dishonors his father, he dishonors his family, but most of all, he dishonors himself. He is absolutely reckless – that’s what prodigal means – when it comes to food and drink and wine and women.
If you were the father, what would you do? Some of you have been the father. What did you do?
It seems a harder thing to love from afar than to cut ties. In our little baptism classes, we talk about how before the age of adulthood, I have two kinds of love for my little Benjamin Button: Conditional Love and Unconditional Love. Conditional love because on the one hand, if he does what I tell him to do, I reward him, if he doesn’t, I punish him. There are rewards when you set the table. There are consequences when you break the lamp. On the other hand, there’s unconditional love. It doesn’t matter if he breaks all the lamps in my house, I will love Benjamin no matter what, because he’s my son. Now, after he becomes an adult, conditional love fades away. I don’t have that power over him. I only have as much influence on him as he lets me. You don’t get to choose whether your son lands himself in the White House or in jail. Parenting, it seems, is the art of letting go, little by little, of your children and trusting them with their own lives.
So, this young man, he’s reckless and he’s unwise, and he’s foolish, and then he’s broke. He gets exactly what he deserves, exactly when he deserves it. Do you know any young men that have this coming?
He hits a place that drug addicts call rock bottom. There’s nowhere to turn. You have to face the truth or die.
And he comes to his senses and goes home.
Our story continues in unexpected joy. First the son dishonored himself, but now it’s the father’s turn. Dishonor number 1. His son wished him dead, and he let him have his wish. Dishonor number 2. He runs to his son. In that culture as well as our own, children run to their parents, not the other way around. Dishonor number 3. He embraces his son who’s full of mucky pig waste. Dishonor number 4. He kisses him on his filthy face, he fits him in his best suit, and throws a party for him. And he suffers all this because he sees that the main thing is the main thing: his son was dead but now is alive. His son was lost but now is found. His son had left but now is home.
Our God is absolutely reckless – that’s what prodigal means – when it comes to forgiveness and compassion. The Father is absolutely reckless with his love, so much so that at the slightest provocation, at the littlest gesture of turning, even before his son can get the words of his confession out of his mouth, he runs to his son, he embraces his son, he cherishes his son. He loves his son. That which some just want to stay lost, he rejoices in.
Turn to the book of Jonah and how the prophet went to Nineveh. You remember that Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, the nation that sows salt into the conquered lands that they have a grudge against. The nation that slaughters cities that oppose them. The nation that hauls slaves away a thousand miles to force them to work the land. He goes there to the nation that had just slaughtered and deported the kingdom of Israel with a message of judgment, that their number was up, and they repent – and that’s remarkable in and of itself – when they repent, do you know what God does? He relents. He forgives. He runs to them. He embraces them. He cherishes them. He loves them.
That’s God’s stance on sin, not that he lets it go or ignores it, but on the cross he pays for it fully. While we were still sinners, he rescues us. While we were still running away, he chases after us. While we were still dead in our trespasses, he makes us alive. While we were still chanting “Crucify him, crucify him!” he was pronouncing forgiveness over us. He’s reckless – that’s what prodigal means – with his love in a way that makes dead things alive.
Our story ends in wondering. You can wonder about what the neighbors would have said when they heard the story. You can think, as I did when I wrote this sermon, “Well, how can you tell your people to do this? They’ll just get burned!” You can think about how unreasonable it would be for him to take in his son again.
And then realize that the logical choice, the one that you jump to first, you can see is in fact the exactly what the older brother says. One author writes from the older brother’s perspective: “There was no way […] I would join in that ungodly celebration. What was there to celebrate? A faithless son? A destroyer of our family? A sexual predator? At the very least, he ought to have been taken back in quietly and made to do the work of the lowest slave if, and until, he had earned our trust. He needed to be taught a lesson. He needed to earn his way back into our family’s good graces. That boy didn’t need a forgiving father but a strict judge. Otherwise, who’s to say that history wouldn’t repeat itself and, once again, he’d soil the good name of our family.”
He would rather that the lost would just stay lost.
When we think about the older son, the application is simple. Rejoice where your Father in heaven rejoices. Forgive as you have been forgiven. Jesus calls us to have compassion on others the way that God has compassion. It’s simple, but it isn’t easy. When I think of the older son, I think of the siblings that have held an olive branch out to the black sheep for too many years. I think of the friends who are afraid that they’ll be taken advantage of. I think of the fear that someone’s not going to learn their lesson.
You can see that the older son is just about as lost from the father’s will as the younger son was. The younger may have wandered farther from home, but the fact of the matter is that both sons weren’t following the heart of their father.
The heavens rejoice when the church follows the compassion of our heavenly Father. The heavens rejoice when the undeserving are given compassion. The heavens rejoice when God’s people are persecuted, beaten, reviled and despised for doing good, showing compassion, running to others, cherishing them, loving them.
The kingdom of heaven is like a Lutheran school where the Gospel is not only taught in its truth and purity but practiced as well. Where teachers chase after all kinds of wayward students to follow them around with goodness and mercy. Where parents and students alike know that the compassion of their heavenly Father. Where no one - and I mean no one - is turned away.
The kingdom of heaven is like a community food shelf in a small town where tens of thousands of pounds of food are given away every year, where pastors and laypeople alike chase down the hungry to stomachs with bread but moreover to fill their souls with the bread of life.
The kingdom of heaven is like fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters having compassion rather than anger, in the business of mending fences more than setting fires, knowing that they were all lost sons until they were found by the reckless – that’s what prodigal means – love of their Father in Heaven. Amen and Amen.
Matthew 27:45-49 Now from the sixth hour[f] there was darkness over all the land[g] until the ninth hour.[h] 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
Dear Friends in Christ,
• A story with an ugly beginning, but a beautiful ending……from forsaken to loved……..A story of Micah, adopted son of a pastor and his wife from Richfield. He had been left to die in a dumpster in India. Born as a survivor of abortion, born with cerebral palsy and a host of other health issues, rescued by folks who wanted him to live, baptized into the Name of the Triune God, raised in a loving Christian family, sat next to me for hours and hours on our bus rides to and from the remote mountains of Mexico.
• Few stories are more heart wrenching than stories of being unwanted, left behind, and abandoned. A baby left in a trash container. A student getting bullied with no one to stand up and protect him. A wife abandoned by her husband as he runs off with a younger woman. A teenager is told by his dad to leave and not bother coming back. An elderly parent sits alone for days at a time feeling as though nobody really cares.
• We cringe when hearing stories like these. We’d rather not think about how painful it is. Tonight, for just a few minutes, we are going focus on Jesus being unwanted, left behind, bullied, and left alone on a little hill outside of Jerusalem. Isaiah had predicted it, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised.” The painting before us is one of darkness, thieves are far behind, guards are barely visible, little groups of people talking to themselves, Jesus forsaken.
• First, Jesus was forsaken by his people, the people of Israel. Five days after they shouted “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
• Secondly, Jesus was forsaken by the religious establishment of his day. Priests, scribes, and Pharisees initiated, insisted on, and carried out his public execution.
• Third, and perhaps worse than that, his friends abandoned him. Like birds scatter when a cat comes into the yard, his good buddies ran when the soldiers came on the scene. Peter denied that he had ever been associated with him. Judas betrayed him with a sign of affection. Even John watched at a distance.
• The list of forsakenness goes on and on. The light of the sun deserted him, as total darkness ruled from high noon to 3 p.m. To add insult to injury, even justice abandons Christ. He hangs on a cross, though innocent of all crimes. A Roman governor declares him not guilty and in the same moment washes his hands. A wicked king Herod has to acquit Jesus of the charges against him, and yet there he hangs.
• Jesus doesn’t question any of that. He knew what was coming and that all of his days had been getting him ready for this day. Up until this point on the cross, he had been taking care of people, but now he cries out with one question for his Father. First he had pleaded with his father to forgive those who were nailing him to the cross, for they really didn’t know what they were doing. His second crossword was a promise to one sinner who was repenting that in fact paradise was on the way. A third crossword was making sure John would take care of his mom. But now he asks for what purpose His Father had to forsake him?
• As darkness covered the entire earth, Jesus tasted the very judgment of a righteous God. In Gethsemane, His Father heard his Son’s prayers, but not in these three hours of darkness. In Gethsemane, God sent angels to strengthen, but no angels were there for him in these three hours leading up to death. In Gethsemane, Jesus and His Father were one, but for three hours they were separated. In Gethsemane Jesus wrestled with himself and brought himself to do the Father’s will, on the cross wrestles not only with flesh and blood, but with the forces of darkness. As all
• A story of my wrestling days, and on how on the mat you really are alone. Coaches can encourage, and friends can cheer, but each wrestler fights alone. On their way to defeat, no doubt many wrestlers think about quitting, but every time victory comes their way, the will to keep on practicing and fighting is renewed.
• The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet without sin. No doubt he was tempted to quit or to take the easy way out, but he didn’t. No doubt he was tempted to cry out for legions of angels to come down and smack these soldiers silly, but he didn’t. No doubt he was tempted to ask why his father had turned away, and he did ask the question.
• My God why have you forsaken me? Jesus knew well the purpose of dying, but was it really necessary for him to be left alone? We know now the answer was yes. It was necessary for the full price of redemption to be paid. He had to be left alone as an orphan so that we could be claimed as sons and daughters. He had to have this one prayer unanswered so that we could pray to our Father as dear children ask their dead dads. He had to be cursed so that we could be blessed. He had to be loaded down with sin so that we could have our burdens lifted. He had to be punished so that we could be forgiven. He had to be alienated so that we could say with St. Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels no rulers, no things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What a privilege it is to be persuaded by the Holy Spirit that our sins have been forgiven, the price we could never begin to pay has been paid, that our names have been written in the book of life, that our mansions in heaven are on reserve, and that through thick and thin, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, we are never alone. Christ is inside of us. He is walking alongside side of us. He goes on before us.
What a privilege it has been to minister to the redeemed, the forgiven, the persuaded and believing people of God over the years. Tears………..
• Ruth, as she approaches death, rejoicing in her forgiveness and soon to enter heaven.
• Ida, as she approaches death, telling me to quit crying, she’s going to be just fine, and then gives me coffee and cookies.
• Mom, as she approaches death, wondering why I am crying, and assuring me that she will be just fine.
What a privilege to say to you tonight, no matter what is causing you to be afraid, no matter what storms are blowing hard your way, no matter how alone the darkness is making you feel……….what a privilege to say to you that by virtue of your Baptism, Christ is inside of you. In the preaching and in the teaching and in the remembering of God’s Word, He is walking alongside of you. In the bread and the wine of the Holy Supper, He is forgiving you and strengthening you and drawing you close. And in those times you can feel his presence as well as those times you can’t feel it at all, know that He goes on before you.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther