Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent 

Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, "This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them! (15:1,2).

No one except God

Jesus asks the question, "If you had ten one dollar coins and you lose one of them in the living room somewhere, who would tear up the carpet, take the furniture out on the front lawn, in search of that one coin? And then if you find that dollar coin who would ring up friends and neighbours and throw a party because of your good fortune." The answer is simple - no one. What is a dollar coin, after all you have nine others? And why celebrate the finding of a coin with so little value? This is just ridiculous. (See Luke 15:8-10)

Jesus asks another question, "If you had 100 sheep and one silly thing gets lost who would leave the ninety nine sheep unattended 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! No shepherd worth his salt would leave the flock to the dangers of attacks by foxes and dogs. Why should the flock be put at risk for the sake of one sheep that didnít have the sense to follow the shepherd? (See Luke 15:1-7)

Jesus tells the story of a 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, sorting their socks, or visiting their mum. 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 dirty, alcohol smelling bums who are sleeping under bridges and in doorways, the 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 head down in shame, what does the father do Ė he throws him a party, the biggest party that anyone in the town can ever recall. The old man must be going a bit senile. It seems he is rewarding the son for his rebellious life and rude behaviour Ė well thatís how it seemed to his older brother.

And what parent wouldnít lose his/her cool when one brother canít see any good in the other; who complains bitterly that no one has ever thrown him a party. He really deserves it because he has worked hard on the farm while his brother was off having a riotous time. What parents 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 all the drop outs in Nambour to dinner;
this would be simply reckless and irresponsible.
No one would do this kind of thing; no one except God!

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.
Some people even have throw away marriages. If it doesnít work with one partner, just exchange him/her for another one.
By the number of child abuse and murder stories in the news, some people even regard a child as a throw away commodity.

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 does not 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, to repair the broken, to carry him/her back on his shoulders. Despite the throw away and replacement way of thinking, these parables give us a message that is loud and clear, "We are loved by a reckless and relentless God" and each individual has a value that cannot be measured in human terms.

His love is reckless because it will do anything and go to any length to save us.
His love is relentless because it never gives up.

God keeps on loving us at just those times we think he should have given up on us. Like the father in Jesusí story Ė the father kept on waiting and watching out for his son to return. He kept on loving him in spite of the hurt that he had caused his father. And when the son returned expecting to be treated at best as a servant, the son was amazed as his father tucked his robes under his arm and without shame ran down the road to greet his son and welcome him with open arms. He replaced his sonís dirty clothes that smelt like a pigsty with new clothes and shoes. He gave him a ring to indicate his restoration to the family as a son. The father was so overjoyed at his sonís return that he ordered that a lavish feast be held in his honour.

Now thatís love for you. The father still loved his son even though he didnít deserve that kind of a welcome. The father had never given up on his son, his love had never faltered as he waited looking down the road for just a glimpse of his son. The father didnít even put conditions on his sonís restoration to the family. If you do this or that then you can come home. No, he loved him and welcomed him unconditionally. He was prepared to take the chance. You might say he was prepared to take the gamble and trusted his wayward son even though the son hadnít done anything to prove his genuineness. The father was prepared to take this chance because he loved his son and forgave him.

Then there is the other older son who grizzled that his younger brother had been welcomed back with such enthusiasm. Look how the father loved him! He could do nothing but run down his younger brother down, in fact, he doesnít even regard him as a brother but "that son of yours". His brother hasnít done anything to deserve his fatherís love and this magnificent feast. In fact, he deserves to be tossed out for the way he treated his father.

The older brother is self righteous, arrogant, full of self-pity. Itís hard to love someone like that, but the father does. When many of us would have told him to get his act together and behave like adult, the father lovingly explains "we had to celebrate and be happy, because your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found." And then warmly invites him to join the celebrations.

Perhaps we should now return to the beginning of our reading where Jesus was accused of being friendly with those who were considered to be the dregs of society Ė outcasts like tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, those who had no morals and enjoyed doing evil. Jesus had no problem with the Samaritans who were despised by his fellow countrymen. Even the Pharisees are not out of the reach of the love of God and Jesus love for them is evident even as he hangs hurting and dying on the cross. Jesus tells the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son to highlight the amazing love of God. He wanted the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law and us to realise just how reckless and relentless it is.

It is at this point the love of God becomes offensive. Instead of giving the prodigal son a good tongue lashing and reading the riot act before he sets foot in the father's house again, he is simply loved. Would we do that? I hardly think so!
And again, because of the shepherdís love for the lost sheep he leaves the flock in the wilderness, risking everything for that one. Would we do something as crazy that? Never!
And again, God's 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. The shepherd who finds the lost sheep comes home crying, "I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!" When the women finds the coin she had lost, she throws a party to celebrate her find. When the wayward son returned home the father says, "This son of mine was dead, but now he is alive. 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 like the younger son, our hard heartedness and lack of love and compassion like 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.

It is something worthy of a party when we hear again this morning that Jesus welcomes sinners and outcasts. He was stripped, beaten, mocked and nailed to a cross because of his love. From the cross he looks down on all of us sinners and with his last breath says, "Father, forgive."

Now, let the party begin!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
25th March, 2001

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