When Losers are Winners

Sunday, March 7, 2021
Pastor Mark Aune

Luke 15:1-32

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen

We get all of Luke 15 today. It is quite a chapter in the biblical narrative. Unique in its structure and message the three parables seem to build on each other reaching a crescendo with the parable of the lost son.

  • Or is it the parable of the lost older brother?
  • Or is it the parable of the crazy Father?

What do you think? How do you hear it? Where do you find yourself in these parables?

Let’s be honest about what is going on here in that what is lost is really dead.

A lost sheep is a dead sheep. It cannot survive on its own.

I can understand looking for a lost sheep. It needs to be cared for, it is vulnerable, helpless and it needs to be found.

A lost coin is a dead asset. It has no value and can serve no purpose if it is lost.

I can understand looking for a lost coin. It is a day’s wage. It is critical for the survival of the household. That woman worked hard for the coin and it is with good reason that she works hard to find it.

And truth be told, the younger son is a deadbeat. Why you would go out looking for him is more difficult to understand.

He is self-centered. He is irresponsible and reckless. He lacks direction in his life. He does not deserve to retain his sonship after what he puts his family through.

Perhaps the only redeeming quality about this lost son is that he wakes up and realizes he no longer deserves to be called a son and is willing to just go back as one of his father’s hired men.

When the Pharisees criticize Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he proceeds to tell them these three parables about a dead sheep, a dead asset, and a deadbeat son.

Being lost is really the same as being dead. When we lose something, it is as if something dies.

Being lost feels like being a loser and that is what we have in all three parables and the biggest loser of them all is the son.

It is easy to categorize him as a loser.

  • Losers don’t work hard enough.
  • They don’t utilize their God given talents enough.
  • They don’t try hard enough.
  • They don’t make the right decisions enough.
  • That’s why their losers, right.

‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

We have this notion that losers are bad people and if we believe that, then it also means we believe that winners are good people. This fits in nicely with our need and desire to always put people into categories, to label them and to decide what we think about them based on the label. We do it all the time and we do it even when we are not aware that we are doing it.

It is bad enough when we attach these labels to other people but even worse when we do it to ourselves. And when we realize we are doing it to ourselves, very often something changes inside. There is an aha moment, a revelation of the soul that we are lost, dead and can no longer go it alone.

The aha moment for the deadbeat son plays out like this – But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

When he comes to himself. This is the key moment; he now knows how dead he is.

Stripped bare of all notions of self he is naked, dead and any sense of self-reliance, righteousness or pride is gone. He knows, in his bones, in that moment, that he is a loser.

Cut off from any sense of self, cut off from his family, cut off from home.

It is precisely in this moment of time the loser son becomes a winner.

By simply turning towards home, back to his father with a good speech prepared, he begins the journey back into the winner’s circle.

And he has no idea what that really means as he makes this move towards home. He comes to himself. We could say he repents.

Maybe repentance is as simple as realizing we are lost, and we need to go home.

  • No matter who we are,
  • no matter what we have done or left undone,
  • we need to go home.

Henri Nouwen says in his book, Return of the Prodigal Son,  “When I look through God’s eyes at my lost self and discover God’s joy at my coming home, then my life may become less anguished and more trusting.”

Even as the lost son makes this move, he doesn’t fully grasp what it means. He thinks he will be no more than a hired hand once he gets back to the Father’s household and he thinks that will be enough.

He has no idea that once his father sees him, he will have his sonship fully restored.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.

The response of the Father blows me away. Every time I read this parable.  While the lost son is still far away, the Father sees him, the Father is filled with compassion, puts his arms around him and kisses him. An amazing welcome home.

The Father isn’t interested in the son’s speech he says, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

The loser becomes the winner. This son of mine was dead and is alive again.

  • When life changes, we feel like a loser.
  • When faced with challenges we don’t think we can handle, we feel like a loser.
  • When we fall short of our own personal expectations of behavior, we feel like a loser.
  • When other people make us angry or hurt us, we feel like a loser.
  • When we judge ourselves as being unworthy, unlovable, unforgiveable, we feel like a loser.

But let me ask you; who gets invited to the party in Luke 15?

  • Whether you like it or not.
  • Whether you believe it or not.
  • It is the losers, the lost, the dead who get invited.

It seems this is the only ticket that will get you in because for this party, this celebration, the lost, the losers, and the dead are precisely the people Jesus is looking for.

And you know who they are, the tax collectors and the sinners.

This party is a celebration of God’s grace.

An extravagant demonstration of God’s love.

It is, my dear sisters and brothers, the only way home.

Where losers become winners and where dying is the only pathway to life.

Thanks be to God. Amen

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