4th Sunday in Lent – C LSB #612
Text – Luke 15:24
For this my son was dead, & is alive again; he was lost, & is found. And they began to celebrate.
LOST & FOUND
In schools across the nation, the Lost & Found box has been a fixture for generations. Lots of things go in. Very seldom does anything get taken out. Appeals are made, “Please check the Lost & Found box to see if anything belongs to you.” Almost no one ever does. At the end of the year the contents disappear in some way or another, to make room for next year.
For some reason, it is embarrassing to claim items from the Lost & Found box. They’ve become like the lepers in Jesus’ day – untouchable. They’ve been rejected, left behind, lost & alone. There are human beings like that all over the world, even across our land.
We see them, homeless & living under bridges. They scrounge for food & clothing wherever they can find it. Many of them suffer from mental illness & have little capacity to function well in our fast paced, technology driven society.
We see them in nursing homes, confined to wheelchairs, or to their bed. No one visits, & hardly anyone cares. They’re moved around like pieces of furniture, shuffled here & there, fed, sanitized & accounted for in a daily process of inventory.
We see the lost in the womb of a mother & father who don’t want to raise a child. Many of them end up being crushed or torn to pieces so their ‘valuable’ body parts can be sold for research. We’re told it’s noble research to find a ‘cure.’
We see the lost in the endless assembly line of our public school system. Many of the students get shuffled through the machine, finally graduating with a debt load of six figures & not a job in sight that will pay off the loans. Along the way, they’re taught to create their own truth. Just make sure it’s a politically correct version of truth. Students come out of that system lost & confused with no anchor in reality, & with zero knowledge of what they are actually gifted to accomplish in life. The homeless, the unborn, the aged & the young, all of them are being left behind by our culture. That is true without even considering their relationship to our heavenly Father.
In the Gospel reading for this morning, we’re presented with a parable that has a lot going on. So it’s important to focus on the introduction that St. Luke gives to the three parables – the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Lost (or prodigal) Son. Listen again to these words:
“Now the tax collectors & sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees & the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners & eats with them.’” In the eyes of the Pharisees & scribes, the only more depraved thing Jesus could do would be to go to work feeding pigs.
Receiving sinners & eating with them was the equivalent of ending up in the Lost & Found box! So Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son because He isn’t just trying to save the people who are unclean. He’s also come for the purpose of saving the self-righteous. This parable addresses both groups, but mainly is a call for the self-righteous to come home.
The reason we get lost in the 1st place is due to sin. The reason people don’t want to find us is because of sin, their sin & ours. Jesus spent three years preaching, teaching & performing miracles across the land of Judea to seek & to save the lost. Then He willingly suffered the humiliation & excruciating pain of the cross in order to erase every sin.
It sounds simple enough, but you know from very personal experience that not all of mankind has bought into God’s answer. Sin has so corrupted who we are, that God Himself has to work miracles in order to turn anyone’s heart back to His love & to the beauty of His new creation. You see, in Christ, we become a totally new creation.
Let’s see if you can answer this question, “How many of the things in the Lost & Found box are able to get out of the box on their own?” Can this sweatshirt jump out of the box & search for its owner? Can this lunch box pack itself & then run off to find & feed its child?
Ever since Adam & Eve willingly disobeyed God, all people have been conceived in the lost-ness of sin. Once Adam & Eve fell, Jesus would have to come & find us, because we are lost & powerless to get out of the box. Our sin makes us blind & helpless & unwilling even, such that we actually run in the opposite direction from God.
Like the younger son, as soon as we’re able, we gather up all that we have & journey into a far country where we squander all that our heavenly Father has given us in reckless living. With the parable for today, in the younger son, Jesus reveals that greed & desire for independence are the motivating factors in the heart of sinners.
Yet, also in the heart of the older son, the ‘good’ son, lies the same greed & desire for independence:
“But [the older son] was angry & refused to go in. His father came out & entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, & I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.’”
Did you catch that the older son did not want to celebrate with his father, but with his friends? The desire for independence is the very root of sin. Every Sunday our heavenly Father invites us to celebrate with Him, at Holy Communion, & the feast is the forgiveness of our sins. Do we long to be at this banquet?
At this feast, Yahweh Himself reaches down in to the box & He pulls us out. Our Father in heaven lifts us up, dusts us off, washes us clean, & places upon us the robe of righteousness, earned for us by the blood of His Son. “And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, & he began to be in need. So he went & hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, & no one gave him anything.”
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise & go to my father, & I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven & before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose & came to his father.”
Such is the way our heavenly Father often deals with us. He allows us to go our own way, & discover, if need be, by painful experience that the only real freedom involves obedience to Him. The younger son had a great time for a while. He thought he’d found freedom & life, but living in this box is not freedom. The box is always where sin leads.
This parable is often referred to as ‘The Prodigal Son,’ because the younger boy squanders his wealth lavishly. Yet the real prodigal is the father as he welcomes home his son after the boy returns from his rebellion. The father clothes his son in the best robe, has a ring put on his finger & sandals on his feet. Then the fatted calf is killed so they feast & celebrate.
The second part of the parable focuses on the older son who could not comprehend the mercy of his father. This part is an indictment of the Pharisees & Scribes. They could not comprehend the mercy of Jesus that led Him to receive & eat with sinners. This part rebukes those who begrudge the father’s forgiveness & generosity toward sinners.
What good is faithfulness & dedication if a sinner is celebrated in a banquet at his homecoming? Is living a good life good for nothing? Those kinds of questions easily come to mind when we’re confronted with a decision to forgive.
Can we forgive as God does? Can we receive God’s blessing as pure grace, as something
we also do not deserve? The Pharisees & Scribes regard Jesus’ forgiving spirit as an attack on the validity of the Law. We can describe that by saying there’s a Law/Gospel paradox going on here that a legalistic attitude cannot grasp. It’s very much like the way people are loath to reclaim something from the Lost & Found box. Those things should be rejected.
The father’s response to the younger son’s return, instead of rejection, is immediate, unequivocal action to restore a relationship, a covenant, that was broken by his son’s callous rejection & selfishness. This made the older son livid. Jesus ends the parable with the father’s words to the older son:
“Son, you are always with me, & all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate & be glad, for this your brother was dead, & is alive; he was lost, & is found.”
Those are words of invitation to each & every one of us as well when we are struggling to forgive. The parable closes in that way because the true ending is still being written by all who hear these words of Jesus. Do we take offense at our heavenly Father’s forgiveness of sin, or do we welcome it? To welcome it is to confess our own need to be forgiven.
That paradox of Law/Gospel should not always be easy to resolve. God works through that tension to shape & mold us into the children He originally created us to be. In this sinful world, getting you & me out of the Lost & Found box is a process. As they say, it’s not just a destination, it’s a journey. We are already a new creation in Christ, but we are not yet complete.
And since we are that new creation, we have been given the ministry of helping other people to be reconciled to our Father in heaven as we have been. Yet, who is it that did & still does the reconciling? The focus of this parable isn’t exclusively on the one, or the two sons. The focus is on the father, & on His loving mercy & kindness, which motivate Him to forgive:
“What was lost is found, what was dead is alive!” That is a tight summary of the entire
message of God’s Word. “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
That applies to anyone, young or old, homeless or yet unborn. It applies to those who have had abortions & to those who have performed them. Come home. Amen.
As rebels, Lord, who foolishly have wandered far from Your love – unfed, unclean, unclothed – dare we recall Your wealth so rashly squandered, dare hope to glean that bounty which we loathed? A feast of love for us You are preparing; we who were lost, You give an honored place! “Come, eat, drink, & be no more despairing – here taste again the treasures of My grace.” Amen.
 Luke 15:28-29 ESV
 Luke 15:15-20a ESV
 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet