Introit Ps. 51:2–6; antiphon: Ps. 51:1
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Old Testament Reading Isaiah 12:1-6
You will say in the day [of salvation]: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.
“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
Epistle Reading 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 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.
Holy Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: . . .
“There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ So he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and 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 and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
I confess that for a long time I had a hard time with this parable. I always felt that the older brother got the shaft. I mean, he does everything right, but it’s his younger brother, an unappreciative fool who can’t make it on his own and comes home a failure, who ends up getting a party in his honor – and all because he says the right words. It just doesn’t seem fair!
Then I got married and became a father. And then, when hearing this parable, I would think about my own girls. What if one of them did what this young man did? What if Tina ran off, broke off all contact and wanted nothing to do with her family? Lorayne and I would be heartbroken. But if, one day, I saw her coming down the driveway, dirty and disheveled, her head hanging down… but coming home! – how happy and hopeful I would be!! How I would run out of the house to her!!!
It all depends on your point of view, you see. And that’s the point. With His story of the Prodigal Son Jesus is telling us how God sees things, how He looks upon us foolish sinners. He proclaims God’s great love, which leads to repentance.
Repentance: I focused upon it in last week’s sermon. It’s a good Lenten topic. I spoke of repentance as turning, for that’s what the word means. Repentance is admitting your sins and taking responsibility for them, turning away from them, and then turning to God for mercy. Today Jesus teaches us that repentance is being welcomed home by a good Father who loves you.
Is this what motivated the younger son to go home? Was he returning because he hated what he had done and longed for his father’s love? No. He was only returning because he was desperate and saw no other option.
“How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father.”
So, he left for his father’s house. He planned to say what he figured he would have to say – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” – but then, he would go on to say, “Treat me as one of your hired servants.” He wasn’t going home to a very loving and forgiving father. He was going back to a wealthy man who he hoped would hire him. His repentance would be just words, spoken to get what he needed.
Your repentance must be more than this. You’re confessing to a Father who loves you and whose heart goes out to you! Saying, “I have sinned against You and done what is wrong,” is not honoring God as your good Father if you’re not saying this because you love Him. It’s not repentance if you really have no desire, and are making little effort, to change and do His will. Not even we accept such repentance!
If tomorrow you heard Donald Trump say, “Look, I know I’ve called Marko Rubio ‘Little Marko,’ but I really didn’t mean anything by it. I really do respect him and believe he’s a good Senator.” would you believe him?
True repentance is saying, “I have sinned against You, Father, and done what is evil in your sight.” What I have done is not just a mistake, an error, a wrong. It is evil, because it is against a Father who is good and against commands of His that are good. Such is the confession we speak in church week after week: “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.” These are not just words to repeat. They are words to speak from the heart and live during the week, lest we turn away from our Father who loves us and lose our home with Him.
Did you notice the difference between the confession the younger son planned to make and the one he actually made? “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” he said. He did not ask to be hired. Why not? Because he suddenly realized that incredible love and generosity and forgiveness filled his father’s heart. His father ran to him – a shameful thing, to hike up your robes, expose your legs, and run. People would laugh at him! He ran, and to him! He welcomed him home as if he had done nothing wrong, had not dishonored him in any way! Suddenly, it hit the young man: he was utterly unlike and unworthy of this great man. He honestly confessed his sin.
And his father showered him with incredible love and forgiveness. He spoke not one word of rebuke. His sin was not mentioned. His father even acted to make sure no one else would mention it. He had the best robe – the father’s own robe – put on his son. His own impeccable reputation covered his son! Then, he threw a great feast for him so that the whole town might welcome him. He treated him as if he was good, honorable, and a joy to have with him. He joyfully welcomed him home.
See the love your Father in heaven has for you, and the blessed position you have in His house! Holy Scripture declares:
“God was reconciling the world to himself [in Christ], not counting their trespasses against them… God made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” And so, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5)
How great and incredible is the love your heavenly Father has for you! He sees your sin and knows far better than you do how evil and vile it is. He sent His Son to run to you, however, and gladly take your sin upon Himself. Jesus was despised and rejected, and endured the death of a despicable criminal, to spare you such punishment for your sins. In your Baptism He covered you with the best robe, His robe of righteousness. You are clothed with Christ and your sin is seen no more! He has taken you, wretched sinner though you are, to be His own beloved child! And now He spreads His feast of love before you and gives you, not a fattened calf, but His holy flesh and blood. It is a foretaste of the great feast we will enjoy forever in heaven!
How good is your heavenly Father, and how great is His love for you! Go home to Him. Don’t ever fear to repent or fail to repent. Turn from your sins and to your good and loving God, your eternal Father. His home is yours!
Turn also toward others with the love He has shown you. Look upon them as God looks upon them! He wishes to be their Father, also, and to welcome them home with you. For, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5) Do not to be a grouchy and resentful older brother. You represent a God who shares Himself and all He has with poor sinners. Share His love and forgiveness!
In your home; at your job; at work and at play – “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth!” (Isaiah 12) All to the praise of our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, His beloved Son and our Savior. Amen.