God’s Big Embrace

Sunday, March 27, 2022
Pastor Arne Bergland

Luke 15:1-3,11b-32

You might have known him.  He was the little boy who could never sit still.  He wasn’t a bad boy, but he was always into some mischief or another.  On top of that, he was a bit clumsy and so he often left a trail of messes.   Well, truth be told, I was that boy.  As a child if I was invited to someone’s home, be it a play date or a birthday party or whatever, my mother had the same piece of advice, because she knew. “Before you leave,” She would say, “be sure to say, “I’m sorry.”    It is a custom I have kept to this day. I am about to leave this place. It has only been 8 months, but I still have to say it.  “I’m sorry.”

It was highly unusual in Christ’s time that a father would consent to a request like we find in the parable of the prodigal son.  The request was unusual but not impossible.  The son gets what he wants and proceeds to spend his inheritance Las Vegas style.  When all was gone, and hunger took hold he began to look for work.  His search led him to the job of feeding pigs.  As if that wasn’t bad enough his choices took him once step lower.  He was so hungry he would have eaten the pig’s food, but he wasn’t even allowed to do that.  He hit bottom, with nothing to show for his life and nothing to offer.  His life was a disaster.

Now you need to remember that Jesus was telling this story.  The prodigal son sinks as low as he can go in order that Jesus might give some hint at the magnitude of God’s grace and mercy.  The son could harbor no illusions.  He was aware that all he deserved from his father was rejection.  He knew that even asking to be his father’s slave was beyond all hope.  The father shatters all his expectations.  The son had no idea how much the father yearned for his return, how deeply he wanted to be restored to relationship with his son.  The father neither listens to his son’s confession nor offers up a lecture, or even asks the son for an apology,  the father celebrates.  Just as Jesus celebrates by eating with sinners and tax collectors.  The lost is found, the dead is alive.

The older brother was not impressed.  The news that his derelict brother had returned made him angry.  The news of his father’s reaction made him even angrier.  The good news was bad news.

The father pleads with him to understand, to no avail.  The brother is filled with judgment.  He had worked hard, he had been loyal, and there had been no payoff.  This was a bad deal.  Now this derelict brother gets the fatted calf, just because he came crawling back?  The brother wants everyone to know how much he worked, how good he was, how deserving he was and how much he had been cheated.  The brother had earned it all; grace has nothing to do with it.  This older brother is the picture of self-righteousness.  His religion was himself and his own efforts.  This clouded his vision.  In working so hard to be worthy he had worn himself out.  No wonder the celebration of his brother was so upsetting.

He was being punished when the younger brother was the one who deserved it.

The father tries to help.  Son, don’t you know that all I have is yours?  You have lived amid plenty all the while.  You don’t have to earn what is a free gift. In truth, I have some sympathy for the older brother.  The prodigal never really says he is sorry. It would not be wrong to think that the younger brothers return is not because he had repented but that he had nowhere ese to go.  If the prodigal is manipulating the father one more time it still doesn’t matter. The father tells the older brother, it doesn’t matter, , we have a resurrection on our hands. Resurrection calls for celebration.  He was lost and now is found, was dead and now is alive. If that doesn’t call for a celebration then what does?  Because he gets all that you already have does not take anything from you.  God gives all to all.

God is a god of great compassion.  There is no limit of prodigality.  We could even kill him, and he would still be compassionate.  Which, of course, is exactly what we do.  And yet not even that will stop God. God out prodigals the prodigal in the careless, carefree, careful prodigality of the cross, pouring out for us the blood of the new covenant.  God out slaves the older brother by becoming slave of all, by giving his life as a ransom for many.

Neither the guilt of the younger brother or the pride of the older one is too much for the embrace of one who seeks the lost until they are found.  Not with silver or gold but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.

But the prodigality does not stop there.  God keeps on pouring out the water of baptism, which brings us into Christ and into each other.  God thrusts us into the death of Christ.  God brings us from our death to new life through the power of the resurrection

And the prodigality does not stop there.  God continues to serve up the banquet of all banquets, the body and blood of Christ provided daily and richly for the forgiveness of sins.   For Pharisees, scribes, for sinners and tax collectors, for derelict brothers and self-righteous church goers, choose your category.  God is bigger than any of them.

You  may be sorry for the messes you have made in your life.  You may not be sorry.  God wants you to know that Christ is for you, no matter what.  Christ will bend himself to the death to prove it, even if we have to kill him.

Then celebrate.  None of this hiding in the corner. No elaborate rituals about how bad you used to be.  God knows all about that and more.  God want you to come home, God wants you to taste the goodness of his mercy.

The ability to rejoice with God over the return of the lost is a measure of how well one understands the awesome grace of God. The hardest part is to rejoice over God finding us.

The reality is our mess. The and yet is God’s great embrace. Come home to that grace and mercy, breath deep of the love of God.

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