Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Text: Luke 15:21-25
"Father" the son said, "I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer fit to be called your son." But the father called to his servants. "Hurry!' he said. "Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast! For this son of mine was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.' And so the feasting began.

Only God

People do some incredible things. You have heard of and probably been involved in 3 legged races? Well, in 2004 a team of 19 people completed a 20 legged race over 50 metres in 16.88 seconds. Imagine the coordination and team work required to get 19 people with their legs tied to the persons next to them without falling into a heap on the ground or even breaking an ankle or a leg.

Sometimes you hear of incredible actions that people take in order to save the life of another person Ė people running into burning planes, diving into swirling water, climbing down dangerous cliffs in order to rescue someone they donít even know. We like to hear stories of incredible adventures like this.

Jesus liked to tell incredible stories as well. He tells one about a woman who had ten one dollar coins but she lost one in the living room somewhere. When her looking and sweeping donít bring results she takes the furniture out onto the front lawn and tears up the carpet in search of that one coin. When she finally finds that coin she rings up friends and neighbours and throws a party because of her good fortune Ė a party that probably cost her more than the coin she found.

Who would do something as crazy as this all for the sake of a small coin? The answer is simple - no one. (See Luke 15:8-10.)

Jesus tells another incredible story when he asks, "If you had 100 sheep and one silly thing gets lost who would leave the ninety nine sheep unattended and at risk and go searching for the lost one? Goodness knows where it might be. Who would do that kind of thing? Again the answer is simple Ė no one! (See Luke 15:1-7.)

Another incredible story Jesus tells is about the man who wanted to have a huge party. He spared no expense, got the best caterers in town, hired a band, and sent out invitations to all his friends. One by one they began to make excuses. They are busy - cleaning out the garage, checking over their tax returns, providing a taxi service for their kids, or catching some zzzzs. They are all to busy.

The man gets real mad. So he goes out into the streets and parks. He invites anyone he comes across Ė a rough bunch of teenagers smoking marijuana in a park, the grubby, alcohol smelling bums who are sleeping in doorways, street kids, even a prostitute standing on the street corner. In fact, he invites anyone with nothing to do on Saturday night. And they came. And when they're all there the party begins. (See Luke 14:16-24)

Now who in their right mind would do something like that? Again the answer is simple Ė no one!

And then Jesus tells the story of about a young lad who is rude and callous to his father. He demands his share of his inheritance and leaves home. He goes so far away the father loses all contact with him. Perhaps it was just as well because the young lad got into all kinds of trouble Ė gambling, alcohol, drugs and prostitutes - a parentís worst nightmare.

When the son comes home with his head down in shame, what does the father do? He throws him a party, the biggest party that anyone in the town can ever recall. Everyone said that the old man must be going a bit senile. Itís not right that he is rewarding the son for his rebellious life and rude behaviour. And besides what about the other brother? How unfair is it that he gets nothing for all of his years of faithful service. The old man must have really lost the plot - this is going to lead to a family fight. What parent in their right mind would do something like this Ė none? (See Luke 15:11-32).

These stories of Jesus are just a bit over the top.
No one would leave 99 sheep in danger to search for just one;
no one would consider it worthwhile turning the house upside down for just a dollar coin;
no one would dream of inviting thieves, rapists, murderers, prostitutes and gangsters to dinner.
No one would do this kind of thing; no one, that is, except God!  Jesusí stories tell us what kind of God we have and in almost every case itís clear that God's ways are not our ways.

We live in a throw-away society. If the toaster breaks down Ė we throw it away and get another one.
If we lose a pen and it might even be our favourite, we donít waste too much effort looking for it; we simply go to the newsagent and get another one.
If we lose some change from our pockets, not to worry, it wasnít worth much. We wonít even miss it.

It would seem that Jesus told us these stories about God in direct contrast to the throw away world that we live in. If someone is lost or broken God doesnít throw away or replace. You could say that God has an obsession about each and every one of his children.

He doesn't want to lose a single one. Each one is irreplaceable and if one becomes lost, God will go to any lengths to find the lost, to repair the broken, to carry him/her back on his shoulders. In contrast to the throw away and disposable attitude to things that donít work anymore or we donít want any longer, these incredible stories of Jesus give us a message that is loud and clear, "No matter how broken we are or how unwanted we may feel, we are loved by in an amazing way by God". Each individual has a value that cannot be measured in human terms.

Godís love is reckless because he doesnít care what he has to do to help us and save us. He will do anything.
His love is relentless because it never gives up.

At some time most dads are called on to do the impossible. I can recall being confronted by a teary eyed child holding a favourite toy that was broken. I could see that it would be much easier to throw it away and buy another one, but the love in my heart and the trust my child had in me to be able to fix anything, led me to reach for the glue and spend hours putting the pieces together. My fixing never made the toy perfect again, but as far as my child was concerned, everything was okay again.

God's love is like that, only much better. He will do anything and wonít stop until everything is right again with us and the fixing that God does is perfect. His love makes everything right again.

Thatís like the love of the father in Jesusí story Ė he kept on waiting and watching for his son to return. He kept on loving him in spite of the hurt he felt in his heart. When the son returned expecting to be treated at best as a servant, what a welcome home he got! Dad replaced the ladís dirty clothes that smelt like a pigsty with new clothes and new shoes. He gave him a ring to indicate his restoration to the family as a son. The father was so overjoyed that he ordered that a lavish feast be held in his honour.

Now thatís love for you.

But as much as we might admire that kind of love it all seems so unfair Ė and the older son was quick to point that out. He didnít mind having his brother home again but what he really objected to was the fuss his father was making. He complains about the feast his father had prepared pointing out that nothing like that had ever been done for him.

Can you understand how he was feeling? I can! When itís all said and done, fair is fair. You donít reward bad behaviour. Reward those who deserve it.
God's love is unfair.
Why should the rebellious son be given so much love Ė he didnít deserve it?
Why should people whose sins were so obvious be treated so lovingly by Jesus Ė that just isnít fair?
Why should Jesus show so much love and care for a prostitute and a tax collector when there were so many Ďbetterí people who deserved his love?
Why should the thief on the cross next to Jesus be given the assurance that he would be in Paradise with Jesus Ė he didnít deserve it?

We find it hard to be as generous as that. In fact we are inclined to want to give people what they deserve.
But thatís not the way God sees things. His Son left the security of heaven and became one of us, he suffered and died for us, he risked everything for us, even though we donít deserve it. Only God can love in such a reckless and relentless way. Sinners are given a warm welcome. It doesn't matter what they have done, it is quite clear, Christ died for the ungodly, for everyone, regardless of what kind of sin we are involved in.

Itís no wonder there is a lot of partying in Luke 15. Whenever something that was lost was found there was a party. When the shepherd finds the lost sheep; when the woman finds the lost coin and when the lost son returns home, there is the call, "Let us celebrate and be happy"

We are deep in the Lenten season, a time when we acknowledge our sinfulness, our rebellion and rejection of God much like the younger son, and our hard heartedness and lack of love and compassion like that of the older son. We are aware of the terrible affects that sin has in our lives and the havoc it causes in our world. Like the younger son who sat in the pigsty, we realise just how much we have offended our Father and how unworthy we are to be called his children.

We become aware of how often we have failed to be God's sons and daughters and not lived the life we have been called to, ignored our role as God's servants in church and community or have let sin take control of our lives. The love of God calls us to turn away from every distraction and to come home to him and feel his love and support. No matter what our sin or what is happening in our lives at this very moment, we are always welcome home. Who can love even the unlovable? Who would even want to do something like that? Only God!

Thatís what Good Friday is all about. God allowed our sin to nail Jesus to a cross because of his love for you and me. During the remainder of Lent and then Good Friday focus on the cross and see again just how powerfully and wonderfully God loves you.

That love is something worth celebrating!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
18th March 2007

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