Sermon Texts: Luke 15:1-32
Fellow-redeemed: Grace be unto you and peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Gospel serves as the basis for this morning’s sermon.
Oremus: sint placentes sermones oris mei, meditatio cordis mei in conspectu tuo, Domine fortitudo mea et redemptor meus. Ps. 19.14 [19.15 Viuxta hebr.]
After you’ve heard them year in and year out, it’s sort of tough to hear the parables of Jesus with new ears. But the parables frequently turn on the point of what’s odd in them.
To get the parable of the sower, for example, you don’t focus on the seed or the quality of the soil. You focus on the strangeness of the sower, who takes his precious seed and apparently wastes it by tossing it on rock and on the path and in the weed patch. Only then does the point of the parable come into focus: it’s about the Lord, who without discrimination casts the seed of His Word on those we might call the deserving and undeserving alike. It’s about the generous grace of God and Christ Himself.
So it is today with the parables that lie before us. If you were to take out your ESV Bible you’d see them titled as follows: the parable of the lost coin; the parable of the lost sheep; the parable of the prodigal son—which is to say, the lost son.
But what’s odd in these parables isn’t what’s lost. What’s odd is the action of the woman and the shepherd and the father.
Because, face it, a coin’s a coin’s a coin. Especially in the barter society of Judea, a coin is of no greater value than the cucumbers you grow in your garden. And maybe even less.
But here, a coin goes missing. And instead of going out to the garden to pick an extra cuke for barter at market, the woman turns over her entire house in search of the coin. Completely unexpected. She finds no success. So she gets out her vacuum cleaner just in case she missed it somewhere. Vacuums the whole house. Under the couch. In the corners. Between the cushions on the La-Z-Boy. And then she empties out the contents of the vacuum bag. Sifts through the dust bunnies and clumps of hair from the hair brush. And voilà. The coin. Found! And in great joy she runs out the door to announce it to the neighbors.
When was the last time that happened at your house? A coin. Not your wedding ring. Not great-grandpa’s pocket watch. Not your left diamond earing. A coin. Worth less than a single cucumber growing in your garden.
And the shepherd?
Fact is, if the sheep has picked up wanderlust, he’ll probably get it again. In other words, the wandering sheep is really…a useless sheep. More trouble than he’s worth.
At most, he’s only 1% of the shepherd’s net worth. And 1% is a minimal loss. Let it go, man! And on top of it, he puts the whole flock at risk. But the shepherd, like the woman in her tiny house, drops everything. Leaves behind the rest of his flock. Finds his sheep and brings him back home like a stray cat. And fool that he is, he gathers his shepherd friends and says, “Let’s have a party.” When Jesus asks: “What woman wouldn’t? What shepherd wouldn’t?” The answer is: no woman would. No shepherd would.
But then we come to the prodigal son. That parable might put a more humane face on all this and make these strange and add seekers after things a little less strange and odd. After all, the prodigal son is the flesh and blood of old dad. And we all know how old dad is with his kids.
But not in the honor culture of Judea. The prodigal son didn’t just go off and blow his college fund. And live like old dad wished he hadn’t. No. He blew 50% of his father’s wealth. Not on a business deal that went south. But in Vegas. As if it were actually true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Now, no one’s sure of the exact accounting. But it might have been something like this: He blew 10% of dad’s fortune on girlie shows. 15% was taken by the house at the Bellagio. 25% paid out for call girls and crack cocaine. The prodigal ended up with a face like a meth head. Track marks up and down his arms. With polysyllabic diseases. Penniless. Hungry. Destitute. Just picture him. Picture him as your own flesh and blood. Today that’s not something you’d include in your annual brag sheet in your Christmas card. But in the honor culture of Judea, he destroyed not only himself; he even destroyed his old dad’s reputation.
But then look at what the father does. Exactly not what you’d expect. He stood at the end of the driveway day in and day out longing for that reputation-destroying son to get dropped off by the fool that picked up that hitchhiker. He kept the fridge stocked with beef tenderloin. Had the Brooks Brothers suit he’d bought for his son dry cleaned regularly. And kept the Allen-Edmonds shoes dusted and polished. All this for…that one.
No. If someone died and made us the ESV editors we’d rename all these parables. The shepherd who unwisely does the unimaginable for a single lost sheep. The woman who foolishly goes to heroic lengths for a silly coin. And the dad who to his own shame welcomes back the son who destroyed his reputation. For they are not about coins and sheep and sons, but about the shepherd, the woman, and the dad.
Which is to say, they’re about God. They’re about the God who in Christ does the unexpected. The unimaginable. The foolish. The shameful. They’re about the God who loves His rebel creation. They’re about the God who gives undeserved attention to what should be ignored and forgotten. In short, they’re about the God who has redeemed you—you, a lost and condemned person—and gone to every length to do so. Gold and silver wouldn’t do it. No. For the task at hand, something far more precious. The holy blood of His beloved Son. The innocent death of God Himself. They’re about the God who wants to be your God in precisely that way. They’re about the God who can’t be your God in any other way than that—by giving Himself into death. Why? Because that is by definition the kind of God He is.
But they’re also about the God like that whom no one wants.
That’s what prompted these parables. The scribes and Pharisees were standing over there in their little corner watching Jesus. And they couldn’t take in and process and compute what their eyes were seeing: that Jesus is the kind of gracious God that receives sinners. And tax collectors. More useless than a stupid penny stuck between the cushions on the couch. More worthless than a wandering sheep. And just as bad as the prodigal son. It wasn’t envy that made them say it. Just like it wasn’t envy that made the other son upset that good old dad slaughtered the fatted calf.
It was their sense of dignity.
Because if God is God to me only in this way, that He must have mercy on me, it says something about me that I don’t want to hear. If God can be God to me only by sweeping the house and going out in the dangers of the night to find me, that’s a picture of me I don’t want painted. Not even by Christ Himself. I’d much rather have these parables the other way around. That God’s the lost coin and the lost sheep and I’m the woman and the shepherd and find Him.
But the entire Scriptures say differently. Adam and Eve didn’t create themselves and give themselves their reason and senses. God did. The Israelites didn’t free themselves from slavery in Egypt. God did. The blessed Virgin didn’t fill her womb with the Son of God. God did.
And you didn’t open the doors of heaven to yourself. God did. In your Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s just how God wants to be to you. Fellow-redeemed: any other supposed relationship with God is a pure fiction.
Just like the coin couldn’t polish itself up to be found by the woman, or change its denomination to make itself more valuable.
Just like the lost sheep couldn’t find its way back or rid himself of his wanderlust.
Just like the prodigal son couldn’t return with new-found wealth and make old dad proud by showing him a handsome ROI.
In fact, the more you try, the further you fall from God and grace. Because you deny God the ability to be God as He wills to be God: by having mercy and grace.
And that’s just why Jesus welcomes tax collectors and sinners. Lost, He found them. Having wandered into the great dangers of the world, He retrieved them. The Merciful showing mercy to the miserable. Having squandered everything, He was welcoming them back home. That’s how God wants to be God to you.
The only question is whether that’s what you want.
Imagine, for a moment, your ideal life. Is it a life of being welcomed back home? Where daily your sins are drowned in the water of your Baptism, the ring of sonship slipped daily onto your finger? Where through daily devotions you’re fed with the fatted calf, the life-giving Word of God? Where you sit at the banquet feast of the Father with everyone He’s invited?
Or is it somewhere else out there? Somewhere far away from this ring and calf and banquet? Maybe not among hookers and drug addicts, but at least not here, in God’s own house? Oh, I know. You do a good job of keeping up appearances. But don’t look at appearances. Look at your heart.
And see how it’s set in the wrong place. It’s desperately wicked. That’s the Old Adam still hanging around your neck. There’s nothing you can do to change it. You know it. That’s the problem. You’ve been a baptized for—how long?—10 maybe 40 maybe 85 years? And still after ten or 40 or 85 years your heart longs for something else?
This is this just the point Jesus is making: as long as you’re in this life and flesh, the Old Man hangs around your neck. And you remain a lost coin, a wandering sheep, a prodigal son.
And what a lost coin, wandering sheep, and prodigal son need more than anything is to be found and retrieved and welcomed home.
And so the mercies of God never cease. To be sure, they came to a climax, if you will, on Golgatha some 2,000 years ago. There the sinless heart of the Son of God was pierced through for your wicked heart.
But there, they did not cease.
They poured as water from His wounded side into the font that washes you of all your sin—even the inveterate wickedness of your heart.
They come to you as His true body and true blood in the Sacrament with sin-destroying forgiveness to give you a clean heart.
They come to you as Spirit-breathed words that speak you righteous and renew a right spirit within you.
All because this is exactly how God wants to be God to you: by finding you, though lost. By retrieving you, though wandering. By giving you the banquet of His Gospel, though your sin has left you starving, longing for pig-slop.
But the Pharisees and their scribes didn’t want to see themselves that way. And so they couldn’t be found, retrieved, or welcomed home.
Don’t make the same mistake. Instead, come to your senses and repent. Because the father welcomes you to the banquet. To the banquet of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.
God the Father grant it to you all through the Holy Spirit for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.