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The Third Sunday after Trinity

June 16, 2024; Rev. Kurt Lantz, Pastor
Lent 4 C. prodigal son.jpg


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What Kind of Father Is That?

A shopper waiting in the check out line of the department store had to endure the prolonged wailing of a child to his father in line behind him. The child was whining and writhing because dad had said “no” to buying one of the large chocolate bars that the store had strategically placed on display near the cash register. Just when it seemed there would be no end to the ear-piercing siren screaming, dad finally said, “Alright then,” and a cleansing peace ensued with a few delighted giggles from the young child. The man in line ahead was disgusted but relieved and thankful for the end of the cacophony. His joy reached its climax, however, when at the end of his checkout, he paid an extra $80 to buy up all of the chocolate bars at the till.

 

There is no shortage of critics of parents, both of mothers and fathers, trying to carry out their divine vocation to raise children infected with the same original sin that has corrupted all of mankind. Everyone thinks that they know better, that they have the solution, that they could do a better job of it. It seems to us that some parents let their children get away with anything. We will even say that they let them get away with murder. It seems to us like lazy parenting. They just don’t want to go to the trouble of being consistent in their discipline. They let their children run roughshod over them. Or at least that is the way it looks to us.

 

And this is not isolated to the parents of young children. This is one of the things that comes out in the response of the elder son in Jesus’ parable from today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 15:11-32). He is not very happy with his father’s parenting. He complains about the liberal forgiveness and grace shown to his wild brother, and of the seeming lack of reward for his own hard-wrought obedience.

 

As Jesus spoke this parable against the Pharisees, it is apparent that Jesus was aware that there are those who are critical of the heavenly Father’s treatment of His children. That wouldn’t be us, would it? Do we echo the criticisms of the Pharisees that Jesus rewards tax collectors and sinners, and ignores those who are diligent in living upright, obedient lives? Does God let sinners get away with murder? Does He dismiss the behaviour of those who run roughshod over His commandments? Is He a lazy parent, giving in to those who whine and wail?

 

We have taken a proverb out of Scripture that says, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” (cp Proverbs 13:24). Children need discipline. The Bible does not exclude physical punishment from the discipline of children. But parents infected by the same sin as their children, when driven to their wit’s end, can also spoil their children by being sparse on grace.

 

Salvation is by grace through faith, and not by discipline through obedience. And yet, God’s holy Law still demands obedience. The threats of the Law are always in place, and its final verdict of death and damnation are universal until grace enters in and answers the cry for forgiveness.

 

In today’s psalm we praised God for His grace toward us in the midst of His discipline, ending off with the verse which says, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him” (103:13). The psalm has been the basis of many hymns in praise of God’s compassionate grace, including “My Soul, Now Praise Thy Maker” and our first hymn today, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” The words of God’s gracious compassion to us inspire our praise of Him; but when we see His compassion toward others to is often criticism that comes out.

 

The elder brother could not understand why his wayward sibling seemed to get the better of their father. Why would his father allow him to get away with such behaviour? While the younger went off and wasted half of his father’s livelihood, the older brother stayed and worked day after day. While the younger was out partying night after night, the older never took a goat to make merry with his friends.

 

We see in the actions of the father that divine compassion, as illustrated in Jesus’ parable, includes letting the children make their mistakes. He let the younger son take his share of the goods and he let the older son continue to be a workaholic. He let them go their separate ways, and they both suffered for their choices. The father allowed them to go through their times of suffering.

 

But as soon as they would call out for help, the father was there to answer and to save them from their troubles. He was the one who paid for his children’s mistakes. That is the compassion of the heavenly Father toward you. He has allowed you to trespass and He has paid for your sins. We praise the LORD “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit” (103:3-4a).

 

As a result of the younger son’s sins, he could not afford to feed himself. He had a plan to beg his father for a job. He had learned his lesson, and was going to depend upon the compassion of his father to hire him on. But he was overwhelmed when he approached the homestead. His father ran to him and would not hear anything about giving his son a job. He welcomed him into the house with the same celebration as if another child had been born to him.

 

The father rescued his son from the mud pits where the swine fed. That is where the son deserved to be for wasting all of his father’s good gifts. You deserve to be in the pit of hell for all the waste you have made of the heavenly Father’s good gifts in order to seek your pleasures in life. But the heavenly Father rescues you from the fiery pit and welcomes you into His Church, to be fed and nourished with the body and blood of Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And to have a place in the eternal mansions where the feast to come never ends.

 

As a result of the younger son’s sins, he could not afford to clothe himself. All of his finery had long gone to tatters. But when his father saw him, he ran and put his best cloak on him and a ring on his finger. He crowned him with love, as our psalm leads us to sing about the LORD “who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (4b-5).

 

Your heavenly Father has clothed you in the royal robe of Christ’s righteousness. Through the grace poured out upon you at your baptism, He covers over all of the sins that have left your life in tatters. He gave you the royal status of a son, and when you come confessing your sins, He renews your position in His kingdom through His words of absolution. Your return to your place in the household is proclaimed and celebrated by the angels in heaven who “rejoice over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7, 10).

 

 

The LORD made know His Law through Moses, and we have memorized His Ten Commandments and given our oath to live by them and the rest of His divine decrees. We know the rules of the house and what honours Him as well as what actions of ours bring disgrace upon His holy name. He warns and condemns and continues to call out to us to come home.

 

And when we do remember the love that the Father has for us, remember that He is always watching and waiting for an answer to His call, we can humbly return to Him. For we know that “the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (103:8). That is also the way that the father in Jesus’ parable dealt with the older son. He noticed his absence from the home as well. He went out to that son, too, the one who had so many complaints about his father’s parenting.

 

Who knows how much grumbling came out of the older son’s mouth throughout the whole time that his younger brother was away? There was certainly inward resentment as the older brother makes known to his father in the end. Perhaps he didn’t have as clear an understanding of his father’s compassion and grace. For although the father had declared that everything belonged to this grumbling son of his, the son never felt that he could even take one goat to enjoy with his friends.

 

But the father did not leave his older son outside either. He did not tell him to go away and chew on his resentment. He did not send him out to find another father that might be more to his liking. He invited him in as well.

 

Our heavenly Father does that for us, too, even when we complain about His parenting. When it feels like He is so generous with others and not to us; when we feel that we have been so obedient and others so wayward, when we have felt that we cannot ask him for anything while others ask him for what they do not deserve and get even more than can be imagined, is it not we who are being “disgraceful,” denying that our Father is gracious.

 

And yet, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (103:10). Rather, than telling us to go away, He sends our transgressions away. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (v. 12). They are farther away than the younger son was from home. They cannot be seen anymore. The filth of the fields and the stink of the swine are washed and we are cleansed and purified to come into the Father’s house, to be clothed in the robes of Jesus, to sit at His table, and to have our place secured for eternity.

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