Sermon, Prodigal God week 6 (Final)
Sunday September 2, 2012. St Petri
We Had to Celebrate
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
We have had a pretty good look at this parable of Jesus from several angles. We have looked at the story of the younger brother, then we put it into its context with the story of the elder brother. We have then seen these two lost brothers and their loving Father in the context of the three parables Jesus tells in response to the Pharisees mumbling and accusing.
With each angle came another important part of Jesus’ message. Is there any more to say? Well, yes. To wrap up our journey we look at this parable in the widest of terms. We need to see the story in the context of the whole Bible.
In this parable, Jesus, who is steeped in the OT scriptures, is giving us the essence of the whole Biblical storyline in one vivid narrative. So, in this parable we really get a 360 degree view of what the Bible is all about. We learn about 1) the human condition, 2) the divine solution, and 3) the new communion.
1. The human condition—verses 13-17.
The younger brother’s sin ( that is; his wanting to be his own god and the hurtful, self-centred behaviour that comes from the sin under the sin) turned him into an exile from his home. He had disgraced his family and the entire community would have been outraged. He would have had to take his money and go far away, and he did.
In the pursuit of being his own god, which took him a long way from his home with his Father, he became an image of the human race. Remember, we are created for life with God in his garden of Eden. Our true home is in the presence of God, “walking with him in the cool of the day”. But we have lost our home. We are all exiles.
We are exiles from “home”. But what is “home”. It’s the place where you can walk around in tracky pants and no one cares! It’s the place where blokes can take their shirts off while working in the sun out the back and no one minds. It’s the place where you don’t have to explain yourself much and where you can be “you”. “Home” is the place that truly fits and suits us.
We were made to be at home in God’s grace and love. We were created to know God closely and serve God freely in love; to live in his presence and enjoy his love and beauty, to be truly ourselves and know him fully.
However, since that first bight of the forbidden fruit and the deception of the Evil one, we wanted to be our own saviours and lords, and therefore we now wander in the world and experience what the philosopher Heidegger called unheimlichkeit. The word is translated as “eeriness” or “uncanniness” but literally it means “away from home.” Heidegger is referring to the anxiety and spiritual homesickness that comes from never feeling at home in the world, never feeling like we truly belong; that we are fully known by the one who created us or by other people, no matter how close we may be to another person.
As we know from our own experience and from Jesus, this world doesn’t address the fullest needs of our heart. We long for a love that can’t be lost, for escape from death, for the triumph of justice over wrong. But such things will never be found here completely.
But our idolatry does bring its moments of truth. We have moments when we realise we are placing our soul on something or someone that cannot take its weight. Then younger brother realised this in his lostness. He “came to his senses”, Jesus says. The younger brother realised that he needed to go home, but how? He realized he was an outcast, so why would they receive him back? Still, he went home.
2. The divine solution—verses 31-32.
The centrepiece of the parable is a feast. The father throws a feast, filled with “music and
dancing” and the greatest delicacies, to mark the reconciliation and restoration of his son. He
says that when the younger son came home, “we had to celebrate.” There was no choice. Why is the feast so important?
In the Old Testament, meals are critical for community: meals ratified covenants, celebrated victories, and mark all special family occasions and transitions, such as births, weddings, and funerals. But there were special feasts that needed to shared regularly in God’s community. Remember, a feast was established to mark the greatest event in the salvation history of God’s people to that time—the Passover.
But we don’t need to be people of the first century to grasp all this. It is at meals that you
most feel at home. In a meal your body is getting what it needs—the pleasure and
nourishment of food and rest. But also, at meals your heart is getting what it needs—
laughter and friendship. Even today, if you have a family reunion or some kind of
homecoming—you eat. And it is at those great feasts that no matter what else is going
wrong in our lives, we feel almost at home.
The feast in this parable tells us that God will bring us home some day and we will all be home together. As Jesus says: “Many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11). Because of our true elder brother, God will someday make this world home again.
The younger brother did not expect to be brought back into the family, he did not expect a
feast, since he had sinned. But that is what he gets. And the elder brother objects. Why?
Because meals signified acceptance and relationship, the religious leaders forbid believers
from eating with “sinners.” To eat with someone was to receive him, virtually as family.
How could you do that for someone who has rejected God? Besides that, didn’t everyone
know that you become like the people you love and spend the most time with? If you eat
with sinners, it was reasoned, you would become a sinner.
But Jesus shattered this belief and its practice, as we see in Luke 15:2. He eats with the notoriously wicked and the marginalized. How can he do this? How can sinners be included in the feast?
3. The new communion—“this brother of your was dead and is alive again.”
Jesus leaves his own true home (Phil. 2), wanders without a home (Matt 8:20), and is finally crucified outside the gate of Jerusalem, a sign of exile and rejection (Heb. 13:11-12). Jesus experiences the exile that the human race deserves. He is alienated and cast out so we can be brought home.
On the cross, Jesus loses fellowship and communion with the father. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:45). He is forsaken and “cast out” of the family, so that we can be brought in.
As we can see from the parable itself, Jesus calls younger brothers to repent. He does not only eat with them for the sake of “inclusiveness” or just to defy convention—rather he calls people to change.
We share his meal – the Lord’s Supper. It is a “foretaste of victory”, a meal of forgiveness and life when we somehow commune with all the saints who have entered their rest – a here and now sign of the home to which we heading together by faith in Jesus – the meal and the host of the meal.
So we have to celebrate! We have to sing and speak and hear and enjoy the feast of life we share!
We celebrate because Jesus is creating a new community of forgiven sinners, in which anyone can be a part. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter what your race or class or background is. Any repentant sinner can come and be a brother and a sister, because of the death and resurrection of our true elder brother, who took our exile and punishment upon himself.
The death and resurrection of the Son, and the love of the Father, create a new community of men and women who regularly break bread together to celebrate and receive the new life and common union they have through Jesus. That’s why the local church is still the hope of the world, because Jesus is present where two or three are gathered and in the meal and in his people gathered for the life of the whole world.
Friend, you are home here with the Lord and all his people. This parable is the whole bible summed up by the Master of the story. We have been given that 360 degree sweep of who God is and what he is doing in us.
We thank God for his work in us these 40 days. It has been one more season of God building us into his new community. We are free to enjoy the feast of life we share together as he constantly empowers us and sends us to seek and welcome older brothers and younger brothers, alive in his promises, energised by his presence at the feast. Amen.