SPECIAL NOTE: This sermon is not intended to be autobiographical, but a re-telling of the Luke 15 Gospel account. I don't have a brother and I'm not Jewish. I have a younger sister and am of Scotch-Irish/Bohemian heritage.
The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Two Lost Sons
Fourth Sunday in Lent, 14 March 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
I was not an only child. At times I wish I were, but there were two of us. Both sons. And I was the younger of the two. There was always tension between my brother and I, and Dad and I, and my brother and Dad. It wasn’t a good situation at all. I’d had enough. I was ready to leave. I couldn’t stand my brother looking down upon me. I was tired of Dad’s rules. And so I did something unheard of. I asked for my inheritance early.
I even presented it as a formal request. ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ I never dreamed Dad would say yes. He did, to my amazement and the amazement of my brother—not to mention the whole community! I thought at the time that Dad was just happy to be rid of me. I was ready to be rid of him. My request showed my impatience. I was tired of waiting for him to die. Yeah. I guess that’s what I really wanted. Then I could go and do exactly what I wanted.
Brother wasn’t sad to see me go. Since my portion of inheritance was signed over to me, he benefited too. Everything else was his. One third for me, two thirds for him. Dad could still do anything he wanted with his possessions, even though they were officially Brother’s. Brother was to care for Dad. He sure didn’t care for me. Any other brother would have tried to get me and Dad to reconcile, but not Brother. He couldn’t care less. And he needed to reconcile with Dad himself.
Yep. Dad did the unthinkable, something that shocked the community. He allowed his estate to be divided while he was still living. The community was shocked. But not as shocked as they soon would be.
I was getting ready to leave town—and quickly. Just days later, I gathered everything together. That which I couldn’t carry, I sold for cold, hard cash. I was leaving in a hurry and I made deals with whomever I could. Most were so shocked at what had already happened, and what I was doing, they wouldn’t even consider shopping at my Moving Sale. They just got madder and madder. I was rejected from the beginning.
And so I went on a journey into a distant country. No, I didn’t want someplace like Cheers where everybody knew my name. I wanted a fresh start! I wanted friends. “Budget” was not in my vocabulary. I was definitely “prodigal,” which means “recklessly extravagant” according to your Mr. Webster. I’ll spare you the details on what went on. It was bad. When I ran out of cash, I sold the rest. Pawnshops knew me by name. They gave me as little as they could. They knew I still wouldn’t be able to buy anything back. I was far away from home and broke. Do I need to mention that my ‘friends’ conveniently disappeared? I thought nothing could get worse.
I thought wrong. Here comes a famine. It was bad enough that I was broke. Now food and water were scarce, too. What was a poor Jewish boy to do?
It turned out to be a not-so-Jewish job after all. I was desperate for work. Starvation does that to a guy. I got work from a citizen of that country. In times of famine, employers there really tested you—something they didn’t think you’d do—just to get you to leave the country. I was offered quite a job—feeding pigs! Think about the irony. A Jewish boy feeding pigs. Not only that, I would have gladly filled my stomach with the wild carob pods that the swine were eating. No one was giving anything to me.
Rock bottom. Finally, I came to my senses, thinking, “How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I’ll get up and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.'’” That was that. I quit and left for home. And dreaded what might soon happen to me.
The community remembered how I shamed my family by asking for my inheritance and how I unloaded it for cash. How would they treat me? And Brother! Going back penniless means that I would live on his inheritance. Yeah, Brother will be thrilled. And then there’s Dad. What will He do? I all but wished Him dead! My best hope was what I’d already decided upon. I’ll ask Dad to make me a servant. That way, I won’t lose my status in the community, I won’t have to deal with Brother, and I can earn back the money of Dad’s I’ve lost.
I thought Dad’s decision to divide the estate was amazing. Nothing could prepare me for my homecoming! While I was still a long way off, my Father saw me, felt compassion for me, and he ran and wrapped his arms around my neck, embracing me and kissing me. What a welcome from someone I had wished dead!
And so I said what I’d prepared, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' I was truly sorry for how I’d wasted my inheritance. I was supposed to care for Father in his old age, too—not just Brother. And where was I? I blew it all in a foreign country. His love for me pulled my confession right out of me. I repented of everything! I was ready to become a servant, even a slave. But it wasn’t to be. I didn’t get to finish my speech
Father said to his slaves, "Quickly bring out the best robe (Isaiah 61) and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And we began to celebrate.
And what a party it was. The fattened calf was enough for the whole community. Father had me dressed up in his best robe, the good one for festival occasions. You’d think we were living in Isaiah 61 land! The ring showed everyone that Father trusted me again. One lost son was home again. But that leaves the other lost son, my Brother, who never left home.
Brother was distant from Father, as I’ve already said. You can see that because Brother was out in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants, a young boy, and began to ask about what was going on. The boy told him, ’Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'
Brother wasn’t pleased that I, the prodigal, his recklessly extravagant younger brother was home. The way that Father had welcomed me home told him that this party was coming out of Brother’s two-thirds of the inheritance.
Brother was angry. He didn’t feel like partying. This was the last thing he wanted to have happen. Father came out to reconcile with him. Brother wouldn’t have any of it.
‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never disobeyed or neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'
So much for calling Father, ‘Father’. Brother begins with, Look! His tone here showed what my question did earlier—He wanted control over the property. He wanted Father dead, too.
Our Loving Father responded, "Son, you are always with me—you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’
That’s the tale—the story of my life. An amazing parable! And it gets to all of us.
Some of us are prodigals, running away from God and misusing the gifts He has given. We rejoice in the repentance God has brought about in us and the grace He has lavished upon us who are unworthy of it. It is all gift to us. The tax collectors and sinners Jesus told about me could relate.
Others of us can identify with the Brother, the other lost son, who Jesus calls to repentance. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Thanks be to God He does, for we are all sinners! This parable was Jesus’ response to them.
I, the prodigal, was brought to repentance. What about the Brother? We don’t hear what happens to the Brother and the Loving Father after their last conversation. Can you identify with the Brother? If so, in this season you have named Lent, heed Jesus’ call to repent!
So this story is not just about one lost son, but two. Both sons have a loving earthly Father, just as we all have a loving Heavenly Father, Our Father, because Jesus became our brother. This Brother, Christ, reconciled us to the Father unlike the older Brother in the parable. He has made His Father Our Father.
You Christians have been clothed in the best robe, the righteousness of Christ. It is a gift to you, in Holy Baptism where you are clothed with Christ.
Our heavenly Father runs to us. In compassion, He sent Jesus, His Son, so that we all could be His sons, children of the same Heavenly Father. He comes to us in Holy Baptism. It is His doing, not ours. He baptizes, placing His name on us. Where He places His Name, there He has promised to be. He cannot go back on His promises. You are His. You have a new identity in Christ. You can confess, I am Baptized. The Spirit works through the water and the Word, and cleansed you from all sin. And now you can live each day as a Baptized son of God, drowning the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance.
God comes to us in His Word: read, heard, and preached. Jesus said, Remember, you did not choose me, but I have chosen you.
The Lord comes to us in His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper. It is the Lord’s Supper, not ours to do with as we please. He gives the gifts. He remembers His promises to us, especially to forgive us our sins.
There is room for both kinds of lost sons in the Father’s family. He welcomes you with open arms as a Loving Father. Repent. Remember your Baptism daily. Fellowship with the Lord in His Word. And cherish His Holy Supper. This man, Jesus, welcomes sinners like us and eats with them. Thanks be to God. Amen.