Lent 4c

Preached: March 17, 2013

Your Heavenly Father's Uncompromising
Compassion Welcomes You
Luke 15:11-32

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Jesus speaks to us through these words recorded in Luke 15.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“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. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“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! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 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.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“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. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 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. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’” (Luke 15:11-32 NIV).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

The church basement was filled with a forest of legs, as the two-year old apprehensively searched. Then he sees the familiar suit pants, bolts forward, and grasps them tight. As he looks up, terror fills his face. “That's not my daddy!”

That seems to happen to a lot of young children at least once. But notice how a little child knows to run to his or her daddy. Do we seek our heavenly Father as eagerly and fervently, clutching his pants leg?

Jesus' parable pictures our heavenly Father's uncompromising compassion. His fatherly heart goes out longing to draw sinners away from their sins and back to himself. See his great compassion watching, waiting, longing for his lost son and then welcoming, celebrating, rejoicing at his return. That same uncompromising compassion welcomes you, dear friend. So beware of rejecting his compassion, part one. And rejoice in his words of welcome, part two. For you see, your heavenly Father's uncompromising compassion welcomes you.

A. Beware of rejecting his compassion

Jesus' parable shows the father's compassion toward both of his sons. Sometimes this is called the parable of the lost son, but we could rightly call it the parable of the lost sons. For both of them were lost in their own ways and the father's heart went out toward both. Such compassion!

At the request of the younger son, the father hands out the inheritance to both of them. Then the younger leaves. He turns his back on his father's care and compassion. All those years of the father providing, all the training and upbringing, all the love and kindness forgotten. He's going to live life his way.

In that far off land, he follows his heart's desires and soon his money is wasted away. Then tough times hit. Famine strikes. None of those friends who hung out with him stood by him now.

But things had to get even worse before he came to his senses. He hires himself out to feed pigs, and remember how the Jews felt about pigs. And yet even this didn't earn him enough to eat. He was so hungry he would have eaten the pigs' food.

Finally he sees how fruitless and pointless his life was. He sees how rebellious and ungrateful he has been. He sees what great wrongs he has done. He has sinned against his father and against God. He certainly deserves this suffering and far worse. How unworthy he is!

But he remembers his father's compassion, and we'll have more to say about that in part two. But let's jump ahead to the other son.

Do you see how the older son was lost as well? Oh, he never left home. But he was as far away from his father as the younger son had been in that distant land. Listen to what he says, “Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders” (Luke 15:29 NIV84).

How does he feel about his father? Does he love his father and welcome his compassion and kindness? Not at all! His words accuse his father of being an unfair tyrant, making him slave away, depriving him of fun in life, not even letting him celebrate with friends. And notice the pride in his words. He claims to have never disobeyed. “I'm the good son. I deserve the inheritance. I'm worthy of it. At least I'm not as bad as your other son, and look a how well you're treating him.” How lost!

Which of the two lives in you? As I examine my own heart, both of them present a danger. Heed the warning: Beware of rejecting the Father's compassion.

Like the younger son, we're tempted by the lure of this world. And even if we don't outright leave the church, there's an attitude we need to beware of. It looks at our sins, especially our pet sins, and says, “It's no big deal. God's compassionate. I can just keep doing this little thing. He doesn't care. He'll forgive me.”

Such an attitude wants God to compromise with our sinful desires. But his compassion is uncompromising. Notice the younger son did not in any way ask his father to condone his sin. He recognizes he own wrong and fault, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Luke 15:18 NIV84). He sees the evil that his sin is.

Confess the evil of your own sin, dear friend. Even the sins that come so easily make us guilty. Don't manufacture excuses. We daily sin much. And in this life we will never be perfect. But that doesn't mean we need to like our sin or excuse it. Rather confess, “I have sinned against heaven.”

And likewise, beware the attitudes of the older brother. Even as we try to excuse our pet sins, like the older brother we can self-righteously condemn those who have fallen into other sins, which we label worse. Or how often do we view God's Law not as our happiness and delight but as a burden that takes all the fun out of life? Being a Christian starts to feel like were slaving away, and if God would just lighten up a bit, we could have a lot more fun, like all the other people out there.

Take a little time and see how the various attitudes of the older brother infect your own hearts. How often we fail to cherish God as the gracious, compassionate Father he is! Even when he sends the difficulties and troubles in life, he is acting in kindness and mercy. Here too we confess: “I have sinned against heaven.”

But the parable doesn't stop with those words, does it? For Jesus wants you and me to rejoice in the Father's words of welcome.

B. Rejoice in his words of welcome

Look at the Father's uncompromising compassion that welcomed back the younger son, the prodigal son. Just as his compassion did not compromise by condoning the sinful life, so also his compassion does not compromise by lessening the welcome home or making it conditional. His compassion does not compromise by putting his son on probation or waiting to see if he's really sorry. Not at all! His compassion welcomes him back fully and freely as his own dear son. Nothing is compromised in showing his welcome. He has the best robe put on him. He has a ring put on his finger and sandals on his feet -- honors reserved only for a full-fledged son. He orders the fattened calf butchered. They will feast and celebrate. In no way does he cut the welcome short. His compassion is uncompromising in fully welcoming his son back. For he was dead but is alive. He was lost but is found.

The older brother, though, wanted the father to compromise the welcome home. In fact, he probably wanted no welcome at all for the other son. But notice how great the father's compassion for his older son is! He goes out and pleads with him. He reminds him of how his fatherly compassion has always been with him. He had not short-changed him in any way. Do you hear the deep compassion as the father pleads with his older son? “My son ... you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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” (Luke 15:31, 32 NIV84).

Dear friend, hear the father's uncompromising compassion pleading with you. Hear his call and rejoice in his words of welcome. No matter what you've done or where you've come from, leave behind the world's sinful ways. Rejoice in your Father's words of welcome. Leave behind the self-righteous attitudes of the older son. Rejoice in your Father's words of welcome.

Rejoice in his words of welcome by believing. Believe that he welcomes you as his own dear child. For you were reborn into his family through baptism. Believe that he clothes you with the robe of Jesus and his righteousness. Believe that he accepts you as his own dear son or daughter. Believe and do not doubt.

Rejoice in his words of welcome by leaving. Leave behind the sins that so often entangle. Leave behind the desire to do it your way despite the Father's will. Leave behind the hunger to fill yourself with the empty pods that this world offers. Rather live to the honor of your Father, keeping his name holy.

And thirdly rejoice in his words of welcoming by imitating his uncompromising compassion. Unlike the older son, don't begrudge God's generous forgiveness toward repentant sinners. What blessing to serve our God throughout our life! What joy to be able to celebrate with the angels in heaven when a sinner repents! What gladness to open our arms in compassion, just as our heavenly Father does!

For you and I too were once dead in sin, but now have been made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. We too were once lost in the darkness of unbelief, but Jesus has found you. Rejoice in his words of welcome. Run to your heavenly Father and clutch his pants leg. For his uncompromising compassion welcomes you.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313