The Parable of the Lost Son – Luke 15 (NIV)
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “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….
…17 “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! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ ,,,
…“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.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate…
Today’s reading is an excerpt from a sermon by a radical Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Radical is a bit of an understatement; you can read more about her and watch a video of her speaking to a youth rally at this Thinking Out Loud article from last July. Nadia blogs at The Sarcastic Lutheran, where you can not only read today’s full text, but also listen to this brief sermon (about ten minutes) on audio. To do both, click here. Nadia begins with a story of a time she thought her child was missing; and continues…
…[I]t’s vulnerable to have a child. To create or adopt a child is to leave yourself vulnerable to a broken heart in the way nothing else can. Which is why I started wondering this week about the vulnerability of God.
There is much talk out there about the strength of God and the mightiness of God and the awesomeness of God. But what of the vulnerability of God?
That God would breath into dust and create us in God’s own image….that God would bring humanity into being as God’s own beloved children was to leave God’s self vulnerable to a broken heart in a way nothing else could have. What a risk God took creating us. Giving us enough freedom to be creators and destroyers. Giving us enough freedom for us to make a mess of everything and act as our own Gods and to also trust in God and love each other…
…I’ve always heard this parable, one of the most famous stories in the Gospel, titled the Parable of the Prodigal son. But out of everything we could say this story is about – why do we say it’s about the wasteful extravagance of the younger son? Why is that the focus when it’s not even that interesting?
I mean, It’s actually common for young people to leave home, waste their lives and their money for awhile until they have no other option but to come home to the parents they didn’t treat very well when they were leaving in the first place. Maybe we make this a story about the wasteful stupidity of the younger son because it’s a story we are more familiar with than the alternative, which is this: if the word prodigal means wasteful extravagance, then isn’t it really the story of the prodigal father?
Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to give his children so much freedom? Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the Father to discard his dignity and run into the street toward a foolish and immature son who squandered their fortune? Isn’t it wastefully extravagant for the father to throw such a raging party for this kind of wayward son?
But, see, I love that kind of grace.
I personally love that Jesus tells this story of the prodigal father in response the to Pharisee’s indignation that Jesus would eat with tax collectors and prostitutes because, when it comes down to it, give me a church filled with awful sinners over a church filled with pious Pharisees any time.
Some of us might find the grace the father shows to the younger son to boarder on offensive, but the thing that really gets me in this story is how wastefully extravagant the Father is toward the older son. The kid who never left him. The one who has always done everything right. The kid who is clean cut and went to college right out of high school and came back to work in his father’s business. The kid who always signs up to do jobs at synagogue but resentfully notices all the slackers who show up and never help at all. The kid who feels entitled. The kid who can’t stomach going into a party to celebrate the return of his screw-up of a brother. I can’t stand that older brother even as I cringe at the ways I may be a little bit like him. You know what’s wastefully extravagant in my book?: the fact that the Father says to that kid “all that is mine is yours”.
What risk God takes on us. Children who waste everything in dissolute living. Children who begrudge grace being extended to people who so clearly don’t deserve it. But this is a risk born of love. God risks so much by loving us which is why, tonight anyway, I prefer calling this the Parable of the Prodigal Father.
Because it is here we see that your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources. But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue. It is not determined by being nice, or being good or even, and I struggle with this, but it’s not even determined by how much you do at church. Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God. A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. Amen.
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