4th sunday of Lent,2016
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Pastor Sarah Stadler
In Luke chapter 15, Jesus shares a series of lost and found parables.
Sheep are lost and found. Coins are lost and found. Sons are lost and found. Jesus shares these parables because 1) tax collectors and sinners gathered around him and 2) the scribes and Pharisees were grumbling. What they were grumbling amongst themselves was: This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them. The scribes and Pharisees had their own ideas about who was acceptable, who was worthy to eat with Jesus, who was worthy to listen to Jesus…because that is, of course, what the tax collectors and sinners were doing—listening to Jesus. They were listening to Jesus while the scribes and Pharisees grumbled amongst themselves. I have to be honest that it’s difficult for me to read this story without becoming sarcastic. Because don’t you just hate it when people listen to Jesus? I mean, really, what right do people have to listen to Jesus, especially if they know they need help—these sinners, especially if they are looking to make changes in their lives? Come on. Only the really good folks, the folks who do what God wants, the folks who are already on God’s path, only they should be listening to Jesus. Seriously.
So we can see why Jesus told this parable, a parable I am going to call the parable of the lost sons, a parable usually called The Prodigal Son. Jesus told a parable of lost sons, one who knew he was lost, one who could not see he was lost.
A man had two sons. The younger son knew he was lost. The younger son demanded his inheritance from his father, left his family, left his homeland, squandered his wealth, endured a famine, was left destitute by all neighbors, friends, and strangers, and finally realized he was as lost as lost could be. Trudging home, he planned to acknowledge his unworthiness before his father and humbly ask for forgiveness. How did his father respond? His father, relieved that he had found his lost son, could only run out to greet him, greet him even before he heard his son’s confession, hug him, kiss him, cloth him in the finest robes of the house, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. His father, relieved that he had found his lost son, could not help but celebrate with a fatted calf and music and dancing. The younger son knew he was lost, and then, he was found.
But when the older son heard the music and dancing, the older son who did not know that he was lost approached his father in anger and reminded his father of all his work over the years, of all his obedience, of how little his father had given so that he might celebrate. The older son who did not know that he was lost forgot all the years of home and family and shared work and play. The older son who did not know that he was lost could not see the abundance of his father’s love for him, could not see the pouring out of the father’s resources for the sake of the older son. All the older son could see was a burning jealousy and a desperate insecurity. But the father said: Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. Or in other words: Though I have killed the fatted calf for your brother, I have shared my whole life with you and love you just as dearly as I love your brother. The older son did not know that he was lost, but still, he was found.
Some of us know we are lost, lost in addiction or depression, lost in unhealthy relationships or materialism, and some of us, let’s be honest, believe that we never were lost. Some of us have endured great hardship like the younger son and cannot deny our lost-ness while others of us may have played by the rules our whole lives only to find ourselves lost in anger and bitterness and resentment. Some of us remember that moment when we came to ourselves and realized how far gone we were; others of us have believed only the good lies we’ve told ourselves about ourselves. So, to make this easy, let me tell you: we’ve all been lost at one time or another. We’ve all veered away from where God would have us go—whether that is literally walking away from someplace God had called us to be or whether that is leaving behind love and embracing hatred or indifference, hardness of heart or impatient spirits. We have all wandered away from God, so we’ve all needed to be found. And here’s the good news: God always finds us, and oh, what a party God throws in our honor!
But back to the tax collectors and sinners, back to the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus told the parable of the lost sons because there they were, some of the sons who knew they were lost, sons who needed to hear the gracious, loving word of the father, tax collectors and sinners who were daily reminded by a hostile culture that they were unworthy and of little consequence in the eyes of the world. Surely, Jesus’ words came as a healing balm, as rain on parched soil. But Jesus is a little sneaky. He does not share the parable of the lost sons simply because here were some younger sons in the crowd; he shared the parable of the lost sons because here were older sons, the ones who didn’t know they were lost. Here were the scribes and Pharisees, older sons who just as desperately needed the love and grace of God as the younger sons but who were closed off to even knowing their own lost-ness, closed off to their own need for God’s love and grace. Jesus’ words most likely sailed right over the heads of the scribes and Pharisees, but unlike my own sarcasm in the face of this story, I imagine Jesus told the story because he wanted the scribes and Pharisees to feel loved, forgiven, found.
We who are lost, whether we know it or not, we who are lost will be found by God.
My own story of being found is the story of my coming here to Grace. After graduating from college and seminary, I went to serve a congregation in Iowa and then made my way here despite the fact that I didn’t want to live in Arizona, a fact about which I was quite clear both with God and the bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod. I came to serve here because it was obvious when I came and met you all that I belong here, that you are my people. I have long felt on the margins of the church, in high school because I was asking questions about God none of my peers were asking, in college because my whole world was blown apart by my religion classes and especially my exposure to liberation theology. I came to seminary after a year of Lutheran Volunteer Corps where my assumptions about race and class were challenged, and when I entered seminary excited to further explore those things I had begun to see, I was frustrated by the complacency I found in many classmates and professors. And then, going to live in a small town in Iowa, I struggled to be who I was in simple ways—not because anyone was mean or inhospitable, necessarily, but simply because I was different. I felt frustrated, angry, hurt, marginalized, lost. God was probably saying to me like the father said to the older son: Daughter, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But I couldn’t see it, eternally asking: what would you have me do, God? Where are you in the church? Why is it so hard to be part of the church, especially as a pastor? Now, the questions don’t end, but the answers make more sense because I’ll tell you honestly: I know that I’m loved. During my time at Grace, God has found me, and I have come to know the love of God incarnate—in the care of friends and family, in the community we share here, and especially in the ministry we get to do together in Jesus’ name. We who are lost are all on the margins together here, and in that, we are found together.
So, the tax collectors and sinners, scribes and Pharisees, the son who knew he was lost, the son who could not see he was lost, you and me and all of us, at times we are lost. But the good news is that God finds us, loves us, runs to meet us, kills the fatted calf, celebrates with music and dancing. As the Father and Mother of us all proclaims: these daughters and sons were dead and are alive again; they were lost and are found! Thanks be to God! Amen.