Faithlife Sermons

God Moves Out to Find Us

Lent 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Lost Sheep

15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother

11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

The lost Lego piece
Legos are big in our house these days. Building, play-acting, imagining, tearing apart, and repeat.
Many individual pieces that together, make intricate, detailed wholes.
I don’t know much about losing a coin or drachma or a sheep or even having my son run off with his portion of the inheritance — but I do know about losing a lego.
Exonerate Asher — this is my issue. I get obsessive about that missing piece.
How do the other pieces feel while I’m looking for the one? What about all the replacement pieces I could choose (albeit difference colors, not part of that set…belonging somewhere else…)?
The joy of recovery. The joy of wholeness.
The Prodigal Son and Many Tellings
Bet you’ve heard a sermon this text before, or read a book or studied this yourself. The Prodigal Son. An iconic parable, a wisdom parable of the grandest nature in the Christian tradition.
Hearing multiple tellings/interpretations of the story with hiring the INN director years
A rich text, a revealing text, a text that illuminates that vantage point of the interpreter.
Are you the Prodigal son? Do you resonate with his free-spirited, defiant, go off and see the world kind of way? Have you wandered off and found yourself coming back home? How were you received? I wonder if those of us who resonate with the son may sometimes have a sense of dissonance with this passage — the return did not go as planned. It wasn’t a full restoration. Maybe you have been marked with the status of “not-quite-welcome anymore.” We’ll come back to that.
Are you the Father? Have you had the opportunity to extend this kind of radical welcome home to someone? Or can you immediately picture those people in your life’s story who have played that role to you or others?
Are you the Older Son? Have you lived a faithful life, never really stepped out of line, always looked after what was given to you and not asked for much? Have you watched the prodigals running off to live it up and held envy or voyeuristic curiosity? Have you wanted that life, but known better? I resonate with the Older Son a lot. And not only the envious side — though that’s the quickest connection point most folks make. But also the affirmative side, when the father comes to him and says, “hey, I’ve always put my trust in you, my gifts have always been yours. so let’s celebrate the one who returns, but never forget that you’ve always been in my house.”
The older son is like the pieces of the Lego set that have always stuck around. They didn’t go running off down the heating vent or into the couch cushions. They stayed with their set, rather than stepping out to philander with the new blocks in town. They’re those classic square blocks that always held the cornerstone of the wall and never really stepped out of line.
Ok — all of this to say that the story of the Prodigal Son is ripe for us to identify with, to place our own human struggle and story in line with.
I invite you to do that as you consider this text in the days to come. Find yourself in it — All of the characters, in my opinion, have a sense of hopeful resolution — there is welcome and grace and home for all of them. Look for it.
But today, I want to take us up a level and look at all of the characters as a unit, as a working system, as the whole Lego set — unique members of a body who need each other and need each member to receive full restoration and grace.
The Lost Ones - Parables
Jesus tells this story among a couple of other parables — one about lost sheep, another about lost coins. While the meanings are rich and multivalent, I want to pull out something important from them that must be heard by our community.
For our ears, I hope we hear the Prodigal Son story as a story of radical welcome and radical grace. Grace and welcome so radical that they should make us uncomfortable, make us squirm a little bit. Grace so profound, welcome so immense, that in this little family unit, we see a picture of the restoration of all humanity and the loving welcome of God that is extend past all sin, through all brokenness, driving through all pride and unmasking all that we hide behind.
The problem the Prodigal Son faces is that his imagination for what the world could be like is misshapen. He expects he can go out and run the town and live it up and that his material wealth will take him where he needs to go. And it does, for a bit.
But when the money runs out, his imagination problem shifts toward how he thinks about the abundant riches of his family. In vs. 17, he “comes to himself.” (I don’t really think he’s in his “right mind” then, either, but yet another delusional state) - “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger.”
He thinks — alright, I’ve messed this part up, so I’ll keep going and change who I am and become a servant of my father’s house.
Pause there — this kid, taking his father’s inheritance, had for all intents and purposes cut himself off as a living member of the family. He says, thank you very much Dad, I wish you were dead and I’d like to be cut off too, but with a full purse, mmkay? He is dead to his family.
So his imagination for restoration or what’s possible is stunted. And rightly so — that’s how it would have been in this kind of social structure. Take your inheritance and see you later.
Back to the story, he “comes to his senses” and returns home, expecting the state of disconnection to be maintained, but as a non-person, he could perhaps work for better food.
Here’s where we have to stop and savor the goodness of the story which is a mirror of the goodness of God’s grace.
The Father sees the son far off. How would you respond? Would you roll your eyes and sit in your deck chair and watch has he limps up the road? “Oh great, here comes that freeloader again. What does he want this time?” The Father could very well say - I have given him enough, he’s dead to me.
Do you consider that God might be this way? That you’ve run out your luck. That God remains far off, disinterested in any of your needs? You and I may not want to admit it, but I think we most of the time do think of God this way — we (or others around us) are the wayward sons and daughters. God has no real interest in restoring us.
God moves to welcome the Son
And here’s where that whole notion of radical grace trumps all those underwhelming, unsatisfying, dare I say heretical ideas about God.
If we look at the Father as a picture of what God is like, what the shepherd looking for sheep is like, what the woman looking for coins is like, what the Dad searching for that one-itty-bitty-but-all-so-important Lego is like — we see something radical.
We see One who gets off the porch and runs out in welcome. The Father doesn’t even respond to the son’s cheap, weak statement of repentance — the Father extends grace and welcome far out ahead of any sort of restitution or reply that the son can even utter. The Father has run, full force, out to find the son and bring him back in.
Why? Because the son belongs. Why? Because the family had not been whole without him. Because the Lego set is not complete with out that piece. Forget about inheritance, forget about who’s worked the land longer — those things are secondary to restoration. Come home, be home, be a member of the family once more.
Older Brother’s Frustration
I can totally see how the older brother would have felt in this moment, and so as I bring this on home, I want to acknowledge him. This text could be read in a way that takes the Older Brother’s faithfulness for granted — he most certainly questions that in his reply to his father. But the father’s response to him is one of grace as well — hear it this way: “Son, we’ve been living the good life all along together. you’ve had what you need and more. Life has been celebration with you, because you are beloved. Now, though, we get to celebrate the restoration of your brother, to welcome him back into the party, to see him come back to life so we can all enjoy our riches together!”
For those of us who have stayed faithful — it is easy to resent the one who is restored. But if we can reimagine the great hope that it is to see a full community, a full set of people in welcomed, restored life — then we can see that we are better off with them.
Closing
St. James folks — hear this good news. This is a story of grace and welcome. For you, who have been long faithful — grace in the full restoration of God’s kingdom with and around you. Radical, uncomfortable, expansive grace that I hope you extend to yourself as much as you seek to extend to others. For you have been the prodigals — and haven’t we all in some respect? — this message is one of homecoming, restoration, radical grace that says you do not need to be dead any longer, you are welcomed in life to this family. Wherever you roamed off to, whatever you think you’ve done, whatever baggage you carry — our family is better with you here and with you being restored to fullness of life — so welcome home.
And hear the good news about God’s love — God is the one who runs out to find us. God is ahead of us on this Lenten journey, waiting for us at the destination. Running ahead and preparing the way. Open arms and full smile and radical welcome of restoring love. Because you belong, because God’s expansive love is calling you home.
Grace upon Grace
Radical, abundant grace.
Uncomfortable grace.
Aren’t so many of us the Older Brother?
Wouldn’t you rather the grace not be as abundant as it is?
Can you think of a time when you didn’t want to extend the whole measure of grace?
You can be forgiven, but only this much.
Fully restored? Not so much.
Home
A Dead Son
A Restored Son
The Consistent, Jilted Brother
A Space for All and A Celebration for the Restored
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