Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 31, 2019
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Did you see what my father gave me? He gave me this robe. And these sandals. And this ring. And look at this plate – I licked it clean, a few times over, it had the best food, piled high. The food was part of the party – thrown in honor of me!!
And why would they throw a party in my honor? Because my father loves me more than anyone could ever love anyone. He said that I had been dead and now I had come back to life. He said that I was a lost soul and I had been found. So I got a robe and a ring and some sandals and a party.
You know I shouldn’t have gotten a darn thing. Boy, had I disappointed everyone. I had hurt my father and my brother, and our family name. I was ashamed of myself. But my father took me back. You know me. My name is Prodigal. Means wayward, lost. Screwup. I was just a kid and I came to my dad and I told him that I was leaving, I didn’t want to be connected to this family anymore. I told him that I hated him and I wished that he was dead. I was leaving but I wasn’t going to go empty handed. I demanded my share of the inheritance. I didn’t care that he wasn’t dead yet – he was dead to me, and I demanded my money.
My, did I hurt him. But at that moment I didn’t care. My life was about me and my pleasures and my rights. He gave me the money and I left, I was happy to get out of that place. I was free. I could finally do what I wanted.
And you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to do everything that he hated me doing. I didn’t do some of that stuff because I liked it, I did it because he would have hated me doing it. I knew that sleeping with some prostitute would crush his heart – so that’s what I did. I knew that getting stupid drunk would bring shame on his name – so I did it. I knew that if I could be worse than the worst and that it would inflict pain on him, I was quick to make it on my list of what I had to do.
What a loser I had become. I was given a good life and I made it a terrible life.
Do you remember a few years ago when my older brother spoke to you? He shouted at you, the first words that came from the pulpit that day, “I hate my brother!!” My did he. And you know, I don’t blame him. I had injured my dad, him, our name. I had taken tens of thousands of dollars from the family and I used it for women, and lots of booze, and drugs, and a party that never stopped. He hated me and I hated me too.
But then I hit the bottom. I was broke. I didn’t have a dime left to my name. And nobody was willing to give me a thing to help me. No loan. I couldn’t stay in their spare bedroom or on the couch. My brother didn’t like me. I didn’t like me. My friends, well they didn’t like me either.
But I still had to eat. So I worked with pigs – not something that most good Jewish boys would even consider – but you have to do what you have to do. But that job didn’t pay very well. I tried to get some of the husks that the pigs were eating, and they told me that their food wasn’t going to be mine.
I couldn’t keep on living like this. This was disgraceful. There was no future here. So, I had learned my lesson. I was humbled. I was a failure. Where could I go? Was there anything to look forward to? It hit me. I would go home. I would go to my father. I would grovel and put my tail between my legs and go back. I knew I couldn’t come back as his son, but maybe, maybe, he would take me as a slave. I could live in the back sheds. I could find food there. It had to be better than where I was.
When I would step onto his property I would tell him that I was sorry, that I had done terrible things to him and to God. I would make sure that I didn’t even look at him – keeping my eyes focused on the ground. I would bow, or kneel, or lay prostrate. “Treat me as one of your slaves.”
I didn’t know if this would work. I didn’t know if I had committed the sin that could never be forgiven. Maybe he would send a delegation of folks that would tell me that he had moved on, that I was no longer welcomed at his home.
But my father is amazing. I found out later that when I had left his heart was not angry but broken. Every day, every one of them, he would get to the highest point on the farm and he would start looking, seeing if I would be walking down the road, coming back. Every day he longed for me.
That day when I entered the property that man ran to me and as I saw him, I could tell he had been crying. Did you know that it is very hard to run and cry at the same time? It makes your running very awkward. But he didn’t care. He squeezed me. In fact, I thought he was going to make my belly button that is an “inny” into an “outty”. I didn’t have to come begging. He came to me, he embraced me, he loved me. I was all prepared to make the speech. “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired men.” But he didn’t let me finish – he interrupted my carefully chosen words.
He gave the word, “Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Butcher the fattened calf. We’re going to have a feast. We’re going to have a party.”
What? I had messed up the lives of everyone. I was a sinner second to none. I had ruined my body, darkened my soul. I should be an outcast, an untouchable. Everyone should look at me and then start their hushed conversations – pointing at me the whole time. But everyone is patting me on my back. They are raising their glass because I was alive, I had been found. The music and singing and laughter were amazing. This wasn’t like one of my old parties. This was holy and right and good.
Why was it like this? It was all due to my father. My father is the most amazing, gracious, forgiving, compassionate father that any one could ever have.
I know that my brother wouldn’t come in. He wasn’t happy that I had come home. “The one that was lost is found; the one that is dead is alive” didn’t make him happy. He wished that I was dead, gone, lost, never to return.
You might think that I was my father’s favorite, but that is not the case. My father went to him, too. He sought him out just like he sought me. We were both his favorite’s – that is what makes a father so special – everyone is their favorite. He even assured him, “Everything I have is yours.” I was lost and dead in my immoral, selfish life. But he was lost and dead by his self-righteous heart.
If I understand this right my father is your Father. Jesus used my life, and my brothers, so you could see yourself in us and you could learn about your Father, your heavenly Father. When I walked out here today I realized that we had something in common. I thought of what Jesus said when everyone was up in arms about Matthew, a known sinner, becoming part of the apostolic group, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” That’s what we have in common. I messed up. So have you. I regret my choices. I bet you do too. I looked for an answer. You?
But more than being fellow prodigals we have the same Father. My, what a Father!! He ran to you with tears running down His face. Didn’t He? He gave you the family ring and let you have sandals, didn’t He? Slaves don’t get shoes, but sons and daughters get the best. He gave you a robe and covered up your rags, didn’t He? And then came the feast. Bread and wine, body and blood. A feast unlike any other. A party and laughter and joy. He washed those filthy clothes in pure Baptismal water. Did He say to you, “The one that was lost is found. The one that was dead is alive.?” I think He did.
Your Father sounds like my Father. My, what a good, good Father we have. Amen!!