“The Loving Father”
March 18, 2015
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bossier City, LA
INI + AMEN.
There are so many benefits to Holy Baptism. Baptism is a “life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.’” It doesn’t just give us the Holy Spirit. Baptism creates and gives faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But there’s more still: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.” Baptism washes us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since Jesus gave us Baptism, He’s at work in it, and there, besides all the wonderful gifts I just listed, He makes us sons of God, heirs according to promise—God’s promise given and sealed on your forehead and heart.
Sonship is something for us to keep in mind, and even though we always call this parable “The Prodigal Son,” or the “Lost Son” this misses the point. This focuses on the younger son’s behavior, but it’s really a parable about a father who loves his two sons. We really can and should see ourselves in the shoes of both sons. In this father who loves his two sons, we see a picture and image of the heavenly Father’s love in Jesus Christ. The love that comes from God, our heavenly Father, gives us great joy because
NOTHING CAN CHANGE THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR HIS BAPTIZED CHILDREN.
(I. He loves you if you’re the younger son.)
The father loved his younger son. Yet, there’s a problem. The son didn’t necessarily reciprocate that love. The son spurned his father’s love, rejected it. He said, “Father, give me the portion of property that falls to me.” These are some hash words because he, in not so many words, wants his father dead. “Dad, you might as well give me my inheritance now. It’s not like I’d get anything more valuable than that. You know, the part I’m supposed to get when you’re dead?” The father loves his son. “He divided for them his livelihood.” The father gives of his own livelihood. Yet even this act of love is ignored. “After a few days, the younger son, once he gathered everything, departed into a far away region, and he wasted his property in that place, living in debauchery.” The son wanted something more than his father’s love. He went far and wide to get it.
The son was looking for meaning in his life in all the wrong places. He no longer wanted to be a son of the father. He was looking for meaning outside of his father’s love for him. How many of us have done so in the past with our heavenly Father? What sort of paths did we go down? Was it the deep, dark recesses of the internet? Things that can’t be unseen? The bottom of a bottle? The never-ending darkness of anger, resentment, and rage at yourself or those around you? Living life as you want and not caring one lick about what others think or say about it? Those just end you up in a dead-end to nowhere. But it’s not just something in the past. Where do you go now? What gets us to squander the heavenly Father’s love? Where do we look for meaning and value? Is it solely in the heavenly Father’s love? Or, is it something like our success at work? Popularity among our friends, coworkers? Our family life? If those things become more important to us than our Father’s love, then we’ve taken the blessing that they are and gone off on our own.
If we go off on our own like that, can any of these ways satisfy? For a time maybe. You spend your time, your money, your emotions, your energy on all such things, and what happens in the end? Is there lasting satisfaction? We tend to always look for more. We have so many things in our lives where we end up like the younger son: “After he wasted everything, there was a mighty famine in that region, and he began to suffer want. He united himself to one of that region’s citizens, and he sent him into the field to tend pigs. Then he desired to to be satisfied from the slop the pigs ate. And no one gave him anything.” His life of debauchery, his life of rejecting his father’s love had landed him among pig’s slop, which he would’ve gladly eaten, but no one, not even the pigs, gave him the time of day.
Now, this son does what we all tend to do when we get ourselves into trouble, when our selfishness has its consequences, when we end up in the pig’s slop of life. We bargain. That son says, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired-hands.’” We’ll get down on our knees, we’ll pray earnestly, “Lord, I know I’ve messed up. I just need some help. I’ll make up for it. If you do this, if you solve this problem, if you fix the mess I’ve made, I’ll do…” Fill in the blank. We’ve all done it.
So the son gets up, and he goes home. This son who’d wished his father dead, who’d taken his father’s livelihood to a far off country and wasted it there with debaucherous living is an image that sticks in our minds, but then something glorious. This father wasn’t just waiting and hoping his son would come home. Some may have called him an ungrateful, unloving, unloveable, petulant child, but not his father. He was his son, and and he wasn’t satisfied to wait. Yes, his son went far off to a far off country, but, “while he was still far off, his father saw him and had compassion.” How could he see him far off if he wasn’t looking? He runs! He lifts up his robe and runs! It’s unbecoming of a man of stature, but the father doesn’t care what anyone will think. “He runs to him,”—he can’t help himself—“and he falls on his son’s neck and kisses him.”
What can the son say? He confesses his sin: “Father, I sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the Father will have none of his bargaining. He won’t let him try and make amends. He interrupts his son. He says to his servants: “Quickly bring the best robe and clothe him. Put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us feast and make merry! My son was dead and lives again, he was lost and is found!” This is the Father’s love for you. He does what the world thinks is unbecoming: He sends His Son, Jesus, after sinners and He’s killed ruthlessly by them. Jesus does this not just to win sonship for you, but to make restoration possible when you’re already a son. He rises from the dead. The world thinks it’s all foolishness for God to do so, but He does it anyway. He can’t help Himself. He’ll do anything to save you. He’ll do anything to restore you too. He hears our confession, but He won’t let us get in our bargains, our compromises. He saves us, restores us. That’s the Father’s love for you: restoring you with no strings attached. Just like the father from our parable.
(II. He loves you if you’re the older son.)
Now, what of the older son? We must also put ourselves in his shoes. The older son was just like the younger. He spurned his father’s love. He couldn’t believe what he heard when he came home. There was a party! “He heard music and dancing.” Why was there a party? The servant told him, “Your brother has come, and your father slaughtered the fattened calf because he received him back safe and sound.” This older son couldn’t handle the father’s love for the younger son. We too must not spurn the Father’s love for all sinners in Christ Jesus. The Father doesn’t just restore them, but there’s a party in heaven when sinners are repented and restored. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. If they’ve hurt you, or the ones you love. It doesn’t matter if they “devoured” their father’s “livelihood with prostitutes.” We mustn’t spurn the father’s love like that older son who refused to enter the celebration for his brother who came back from the dead.
But this a parable is about the father. The father goes and seeks this son. Just as he had been far off looking for the younger son, so also he leaves the party to find his older son. He went out and pleaded with him to come to the party. The older son wanted something more than his father’s love. He says it to his face, “Look, these many years I’ve slaved for you and never transgressed your commandment, and you never once gave me a goat so that I could make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours, who devoured your livelihood with prostitutes, comes, you slaughter the fattened calf.” It’s almost as if he had been working only for the reward. He’d been faithful expecting something for his due diligence.
What does the father do with this son? Does he scold him? Yell at him? Does he grab him by the collar and say, “What’s the matter with you, you selfish child?” No, he speaks the sweetest Gospel. Just like he did with the younger son. He says, “My child, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” What Gospel to call him back! To bring even him into the party. God has to have the party for sinners, for all sinners young and old: “It’s necessary to make merry and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead, and he lives. He was lost and is found.”
All Gospel. All gift. That’s the father’s love for his sons in this parable. That’s the heavenly Father’s love for you in Christ Jesus. He sent Him to die and rise. He’s called you to be His child in baptism. Always restoration for you—Jesus came to win that too. NOTHING CAN CHANGE THE FATHER’S LOVE FOR HIS BAPTIZED CHILDREN. Whether you’re young or old. No matter how we’ve spurned his love. He loves you. You’re baptized. Nothing can change that. The Father will seek you. Call you. He does this because “our Baptism abides forever; and even though some one should fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access to it.” Thanks be to God for it!
INI + AMEN.