When I was a child, I do not know, maybe 6 or 7 years old, I went for a walk to discover the neighborhood in which I lived. I ended up about four blocks away, at my school and the playground where I would play with my fr4iends during recess. There I met some of the kids I knew from school. I must have been gone a long time that day because my mom was frantic. She got all the neighbors and kids to go looking for me. When it began to get late in the afternoon, I started walking home and was confronted with some people who had been looking for me all afternoon. When my mom saw me about a block away, she ran to me, hugged me, and then spanked me all the way home.
That story ended on a good note. But every year, about 2 million children are lost to their parents. Some run away. Some are kidnapped. Some are kidnapped and put into sex trafficking. I cannot imagine the panic, despair, and grief that a parent experiences when they have lost their child. Can you imagine? What would you do if one of your children got lost, not for a few minutes in the mall, not for an hour, but what could be forever? What would YOU do?
Luke 15 starts out with the scribes and Pharisees being upset with Jesus because He was eating with and socializing with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were universally hated by their fellow Jews because they collected taxes for the hated Roman invaders and even worse, extorted extra money to line their pockets. Sinners included a broad category of thieves, prostitutes, and generally irreligious folks. The religious folk did not have anything to do with the irreligious folk. And when Jesus spent time with the irreligious and enjoyed their company, the religious folk began to grumble.
Knowing the hardness of their hearts, Jesus launched into three of the most well-known parables He ever taught. Remember that a parable comes from two Greek words “para” meaning "alongside" and “ballo”, meaning "to throw or throw down." So, a parable is a story thrown down alongside a truth to illustrate it.
The first parable in Chapter 15 of St. Luke’s Gospel was about a shepherd who lost one of his sheep. He risked the ninety-nine to go after The One. The second parable was about a woman who had lost a coin. She turned her house upside down searching for The One. Now, this third parable takes on a more personal dimension: it is about a father whose son had chosen a path that separated himself from his father, and a father whose heart ached because of the separation and who celebrated when the son finally did come home.
The actions of the father toward the first son is shocking. This son asks for his inheritance. Normally, and inheritance is given when a father dies but not while he is alive. It is as if the son looks at the father and says, “I wish you were dead.” Wow! How would that feel?
The shocking part is that the father gives him what he asked for. Have you ever been in a position, as you watch your children fall into traps, where you know from the get-go that they are going to fail? You give them advice and yet they fall into the traps of the world. This is not an easy thing to watch.
But notice the love of the father. He gives as the son requests. We do not know how long the son was gone. It could have been weeks, or it could have been years. But what we do know is that the money soon runs out and the pleasures cease. The money is squandered. Nothing left to show. Now this son is regulated to helping in the “pig pen.” Nowhere to turn but to go back home. At least he could be his father’s servant.
If you are here this morning and you feel like you are lost and separated from the Father; if you feel like you have been squandering your life in foolish living, there is a message here for you straight from your heavenly Father: It is time to come home. He longs for your return. You have nothing to offer Him except yourself. Jesus is telling this parable because that is why He came: so that if you will come to your senses and seek the mercy and forgiveness of God, you will be redeemed.
Brothers and sisters, close your eyes and listen carefully to my words: You can bring nothing to God that will make you acceptable to Him. It is only by your repentance and faith that redemption can come to you. If you confess your sins, repent of them, and make sincere, honest, and fruitful satisfaction, then your sins will be forgiven you, and a great and heavy burden will be lifted from your shoulders. Then, and only then, will your eyes be opened, and your hearts illumined that you may see just how much you are loved by God and how much He wants you to come back to Him.
Open your eyes and let us continue with the parable. Somebody is not happy about this reunion and celebration. Who is it? Well, besides the fatted calf, the older brother is certainly not happy, at all. Let us think about why Jesus told this parable.
Jesus was really aiming these three parables, this last one in particular, at the scribes and Pharisees who had been grumbling because Jesus was socializing with and loved being with the sinners and irreligious. He knew that they were searching for something. He knew their hearts were heavy and their lives filled. He understood their pain and their suffering.
Some of us who walked in here today were or are typical of the younger son. We may remember the days when we were lost; we may remember the day we were found. But most of us here this morning are typical of the older son, possessing three not-so-nice and unattractive characteristics to some degree. They are indifference, a sense of entitlement, and, self-centered.
The older son showed great indifference to the pain and heartache of his father. While the father was looking and longing for the return of his estranged son, what did the older son do? He went about his business, taking care of the chores and work necessary to care for the estate. While admirable, it indicates a lack of concern for the one who was lost and separated from his father.
I appreciate the service you give to our Heavenly Father: greeting at the doors, leading worship, teaching children, mentoring your small group members. And the Father appreciates it as well. But in our serving, are we forgetting the ones who are not here? Are we concerned and burdened and longing for their return, praying for them and witnessing to them in the hopes that they will come to their senses and come home?
Sometimes we suffer from a sense or feelings of entitlement. What did the older son say to his father? “Look at what I’ve done for you! Don’t I deserve some special treatment as well?”
What happens to us after a while is that we begin to feel entitled. For example, some people refuse to regularly volunteer their time and talent to the Church because they feel that since they spent years doing it, it is time for others to step up and for them to relax. In other words, they “did their time” and fulfilled their “obligation” which means they are in good standing with the Church and are therefore entitled to a special consideration. Unfortunately, they are sorely mistaken. Another example would be when I ask people to make room for people who are new and nervous and may be far from God so that it is easier for them to find a seat and still a bunch of you cling to your chair or your “space” because you feel entitled. The longer we are believers, the more we feel entitled to special treatment. And finally, another example. How about those people who demand that their priest do this or that, or make this consideration or accommodation simply because they donate large sums of money to the Church? That is one that really gets my goat. That is the line in the sand for me. That is when I say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I would serve Divine Services in a barn before I would sell my soul to the devil.”
Finally, we can be self-centered. Jesus finishes this story with the father pleading with the son to rejoice with him; to be excited and joyful and to celebrate with him. There is no indication that he did. Jesus ends the story abruptly and in such a way that the question is left open for the listener to respond to: Am I going to have the heart of the older son? Or am I going to have the heart of the Father?
How will you answer the question? Will you remain indifferent, entitled, and self-centered, or will you long for, seek out, and actively participate in the mission of finding the lost and uniting them with the Father?
Like many of you, I fight those three characteristics. But I am praying like never before that God will absolutely shake me to my core, burden my conscience to the point of pain, and empower me by His Spirit to be always on the lookout for those who seek to return to my Father’s house. I invite you to come home to your Father’s house if you feel lost, and I invite you to seek out and bring back those who have left our Father’s house and want to come back but are ashamed and scared. Let us run to meet them with open arms and tears of rejoicing. Nothing can make us feel better than forgiveness, mercy, and love.