Fourth Weekend of Lent
March 31, 2019 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Luke 15:1-3
Well I'm going to try something here. We have these great lights and ... see if it works here. Oh my! Look at that. How about that. Nelson Electric giveth and Pastor Bryan taketh away! Feels kind of odd doesn't it.
Well some of you may be excited. You can probably sleep during the sermon a little better than when they're on. But we humans, we're kind of funny creatures that way--we get used to something--we get used to the brightness of the lights so quick, right? That as soon as it goes away we can kind of take it for granted. No we haven't had these bright lights for years and years and years, we finally have them and just something simple like that they go away for a second and we already miss it. We take it for granted.
Me too, I noticed something that I was doing the other day. I don't know if you know but my grills, they they kind of went kaput on me heading into the winter last year. My gas grill. Try as I might to to resurrect that thing I just would not put out a quality flame anymore. So that was done. And then my Weber kettle of over 25 years is--it's time to get rid of that too. Finally unfortunately that kettle produced a award winning pork shoulder for me at the Barbecue Cook-off here. So I was trying to figure out what to do and I went to The Google and ended up with an offset charcoal smoker. Oh man is that thing fun. Already done a couple of fun cooks off of that. But I wanted to make sure that I had proper equipment to know how the meat was doing, what the temperature was at the grate. And I found this thing from Weber. You can have four different thermometers attached to this and it connects to your phone via Bluetooth. How could I not buy it. Right?
And so I actually only have two of the temperature probes right now but it's still fun. I made a smoked or a pulled pork off of it--smoked a pulled pork--and had one probe in the pork itself. So I knew how the meat was doing and then I had one right above the grate so I knew the temperature at the grate and then stared at my phone all afternoon ... all afternoon ... it was the greatest thing watching those numbers. But I noticed something, I noticed that this thing that I just bought--that I got so excited about--every now and then the Bluetooth signal would be lost and I'd get really mad and I'd go out and I'd check the temperature at the thing and re-establish the Bluetooth. And I had already been starting to take this for granted that it should just work all the time and that I should just know the numbers ALWAYS so that my meat can be as good as possible. We're funny that way. We we get used to things quickly to the point of expectation. I think once we settle on something we just expect it to be the same. Right? Once we settle on something we expect it to be the same.
And I think that the struggle with this text, the struggle with the parable of the prodigal son, is we have done that with this text as well. For One, we title it "The Parable of the Prodigal Son," so that it naturally only makes us focus on the prodigal son. Right? And granted that son has the most text in this parable, but Jesus was proving a point about hanging out with sinners and tax collectors, right? That they're not completely lost; that we shouldn't just chastise them and cast them out but we should actually care about them and welcome them back home. But over the centuries we have taken this story and we've basically boiled it down to: 'isn't it neat that no matter how much sinning we do, no matter how far away we go from God we can always repent, come back, and be forgiven.' Isn't that neat?
Well the truth of the matter is yes it is! But that's not all there is to this story. If we take this story for granted and assume that we've read the parable and we know the single meaning of it--the single definition of this parable--we lose the depth of what Jesus is truly talking about in this passage. Because on the one hand, yes, it is wonderful. It is exciting. It is great that no matter how hard we have fallen we can come back to the Lord and the Lord will welcome us with open arms. That's the beauty of the gospel. That's the beauty of grace and the forgiveness that we have through the cross and resurrection of Christ.
But as I look out on the pews and I see all your smiling faces (some scowling) I have to admit that we are not likely the prodigal son in this story. Some of us are. Some of us know that feeling of being so far away from God and then being welcomed home in open arms. But the majority of us, I'd wager, baptized at birth, grew up in the pews, confirmed at the regular age--we're more like the elder son who's just kind of been around the house the whole time.
And the danger of being the elder son is that we take this faith for granted. We take this faith for granted because we're exposed to it all the time. The danger of being the elder son is that you tend not to recognize what you truly have because you do recognize that you've always had it. And so it's hard for the older son to see that forgiveness to see that grace--the younger son that spurned everything, spit in the Father's face by demanding his inheritance, wishing his father was as good as dead, and being forgiven and welcomed back like that.
It's so easy to take our faith for granted; to take our salvation for granted; to take forgiveness and the promise of new life for granted--to the point where when something goes hard in our life it's easy to question whether God really exists. Whether any of this is true. Not only that but when we try to do things for the church as a way of either feeling good about ourselves or checking the box to make sure that we're doing good things or somehow trying to earn God's favor--that's not how this works.
And the elder son is frustrated because of that. We take for granted that forgiveness is ours that salvation is ours, not because of what we're doing but because of what God did. And the best part of this parable is that God even goes further than the father in the story. Right? God doesn't just sit there and wait for you to come. God came to us. God came to us through the power of the incarnation in Jesus Christ through the cross--God's perfect sacrifice for you and for me through the resurrection--proving to us that this forgiveness and grace business is real. God comes to us and the wonderful thing about this parable is that it says that really no matter where you are in your faith stage no matter where you are in life you cannot escape God.
Now that may sound terrifying if we did not know that God was a God of love; mercy; grace, and peace and forgiveness and all that stuff. Even when we take it for granted. Even when we try to prop ourselves up, shore ourselves up, and maybe look down upon others if they're not doing what we're doing--God is still there welcoming. God is still there reminding us: forgiveness is yours; the promise of life is yours. It's always been yours. Let us celebrate and rejoice together those that have been in the house forever, and those that are new to coming in. This same God is over all of us, showering us with forgiveness and grace and mercy. Amen.