18 August 2019 Anno Domini, the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
The Prayer of Collect for the Day
9thSunday after Trinity
GRANT to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Before going into the beauty of this Parable of the Prodigal, let us first examine the reason for our Lord’s telling of it. The Scribes and Pharisee had a head-knowledge of Holy Scripture, but their hearts were far from its meaning, beauty and compassion. They always felt themselves more righteous than any others especially the publicans and common sinners. In fact, the scribes and Pharisees were no common sinners, but were, instead, GREAT sinners whose pride separated them from the common. The older son at the end of this parable represents those same scribes and Pharisees who murmured against our Lord at the beginning of the chapter (vs 1-3).
The Collect points out, rightfully, that our works are nothing worth if not performed to the glory of Him who died for us.
The Gospel Text for today’s sermon comes from the 15thchapter of St. Luke, verses 11-32. For the benefit of those who will be reading these notes instead of hearing them, I will include the entire text by individual verses in the body of my sermon rather than print the entire text at the beginning. We all have Bibles, so perhaps this will simplify our understanding.
Here is another of my favorite passages of Holy Scripture. It is the third series of Parables in this chapter that address “lost” things – the first is one lost sheep out of one hundred (Vs. 4-7). The sheep might be compared to a baby Christian who has not gotten his roots deeply set in the Word of God ere the winds of doubt and temptation assail. He has little vision to see the road ahead, and wanders off from following the Shepherd. Once lost in the rocky crevices of the mountain plain, he is terrified and begins to bleat. His Shepherd is the Good Shepherd and He never loses a single lamb placed in his charge. The second example is that of a lost coin – one silver coin out of ten – that a lady misplaces. All those who are lost without the church are precious to the Lord. The lost have no conscience of being lost. They are as good as dead – just like the silver coin. They cannot even bleat for the Good Shepherd for they are “dead in trespasses and sins.” That lost coin can in no wise find itself, so it is like the sinner who is without hope unless he is found by the good woman (the Church).
Now the third example is you, and me, and all who call themselves Christians. Do not make the mistake of assuming, ladies, that this Parable is just about some errant son – it is about the errant daughter as well. If we belong to Christ, we are all equally the sons and daughters of God the Father. I understand this parable quite well because I have traveled the same road that the Prodigal traveled and, thank God, I have also returned by way of that same road. I have wasted my substance in riotous living, found myself alone and devoid of a friendly soul, wandered to the depths of the pigsty, and then, thank God, came to myself and arisen and returned. If you are honest with yourself, you, too, may have done all that the Prodigal did unless you are a very unusual son or daughter of Adam. The prodigal, unlike the lost sheep and the coin, knows his Father well, has a conscience to think, and goes into a far country away from his Father with intentional resolve.
Let us go back in time to that day when Jesus, confronted by the murmuring scribes and Pharisees, looked deep into the hearts of all men and spoke this Parable. His mind could see every human heart and every prodigal that had ever lived, or will ever live. Being the Master of all Truth and Wisdom, He condenses all of those prodigals into a single account, so much more accomplished at the art of example than any Shakespeare that ever lived – or any other. “A certain man had two sons.” (Luke 15:11) This is every man – every father, but especially, God the Father. The two sons are you and me, and every daughter that has seen the light of day.
The man is a good Father, and He loves His sons dearly. The younger son is a rebellious boy, just like you and me, who resents the authority of his Father over him. “And the younger of them said to hisfather, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.” (vs. 12a) The boy believes that he deserves a reward for which he has never labored or sacrificed. He believes the wealth of his Father falls to him simply by accident of birth. How many of us cry for the blessings of God, but deny His Sovereignty over us? I venture to say everyone who hears this sermon does so to some extent. The Father looks at His willful son with love and disappointment; but His disappointment does not abate His love for his rebellious son. “What can I do to awaken my son to his great need?” the Father must have asked. Surely, He could have denied the boy’s request, but would that have awakened him to his dire shortcomings, or simply hardened his heart in the matter?
“And he divided unto them hisliving.” (vs. 12b)God the Father has no obligation whatsoever to bless us, but He chooses to do so. This old Hebrew father has no legal or ethical constraint to grant the boy’s request, but he grants him his prayerful request knowing that the boy will fare badly on his own. Why? Because the only way that we can have our dull eyes opened, often, is by having all, losing all, and then coming to our right minds. It is coming to the last rung on our ladder. So what does the son do?
“And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” (vs. 13) This son was in a great hurry to get out from under his Father’s thumb. “And not many days after” he gathered up his newfound wealth and left his Father, his brother, and all that was his Father’s. That is what we do when we have known God and, yet, embark off on a far journey to satisfy our own lusts and desires.
“And when he had spent all.” The only thing we own in this world is what our Father has given us. We have no wealth of our own at all since ALL belongs to God. When we strike out away from our Father’s House, we will soon expend the daily Manna He gives and exhaust ourselves in barren places. “And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.” (vs. 14) Wherever we go away from God, it is a ‘far country’ of unloving strangers. Whenever we obey our own wills and not the Will of the Father, there will result a famine in that land to which we have fled. The want for bread is not nearly so dreadful as the want for spiritual fellowship with our Father. A famine of the word, as Amos says, is far more severe than a famine of bread and water. (Amos 8:11-12)
If we take a chunk of our Father’s money and go out to a far country – say, Las Vegas – we shall have many friends as long as the largesse remains; but once gone, so are all of the doting friends. Their faces now become sharp and condemning. Just as sodium is never found in its pure form in nature, but always joined to some other element, so the son who is not joined to his Father, must join himself to others – others who only use and do not care for him. “And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.” (v.15) There is no real love among the Godless. This young Jewish son found himself in the most deplorable of conditions for his faith – feeding the pigs. I will remind you that the Father knew all that was happening to His son just as God knows every second of your life, but He lifted not a finger to bring him home. Why was this? We shall see in due time.
Once famine strikes at the heart, it is unrelenting – never lessening, but always increasing from misery to misery. “And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.” (v. 16) Once we have known God as our Father, separation from Him becomes unbearable. Our hunger for righteousness becomes ravenous. God did not put us in this deplorable state: we did it to ourselves without Him. No man will lift a finger o alleviate the suffering of the poor in the Far Country of the World. It is a terror to be ravenously hungry and to know that no man cares enough to give us a crumb from his table. As the Prayer of Collect truly asserts, “. . . cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Lord does not bless us in Far Countries from Him.
There are five profound matters that come to light which the son acted upon when he found himself in extreme depravity of soul:
1) HE CAME TO HIMSELF: “And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!” (v.17) It is my opinion, and I believe one supported by Scripture, that all who are apart from God are out of their right minds. The son finally “came to himself” and recognized his total lack of worth in this “Far Country away from his Father. Everyone who comes to Christ must first recognize their depravity and great need.
2) HE RESOLVED TO ARISE AND CONFESS TO HIS FATHER: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”(v.18,19) Every repentance of man begins with a resolution to arise. Certainly, a sinner can sink no lower than he has already sunk. The only way to move is up toward God and His Savior.
3) HE ACTED ON HIS RESOLUTION: The son did not pay mere lip service to his resolution – he ACTED upon it! “And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (v.20) Here is a picture of whose beauty I can barely imagine! We know that the Father is completely aware of His son’s debauchery, yet He never sought to bring him back. If He had sought the son to bring him back before he had reached the end of his rope, nothing would have been learned. The Father waited and watched in pain of soul. Every rebellious sin we commit as Christians is like another lash over the back of Christ. The son returned! His Father has sat watching the horizon patiently for days, then weeks, then months, and then the months turned to years. But with failing eyesight, He watched. Suddenly, a figure emerged over the distant horizon over which the road wound upon which his son had left long years before. The figure was dressed in rags, walked with a stumbling step, smelled of the filth of the pigsty, was bearded and gross of appearance – no one would have recognized this figure as the handsome young boy who so proudly marched away on the road of prodigality years before – no one EXCEPT the Father. His loved told Him who this fellow was at such a long distance. God loves us so much that He knows and recognizes us even when we are in desperate sin. The Father could no longer sit and wait. He waited when His son was going away, but when he was returning, this was a joy to the old man’s heart. God cares that we are headed in the right direction even if we are yet a long way off from being at His side. Sin is a DIRECTION and so is RIGHTEOUSNESS. The Father hugged a filthy, flea-bitten son who stank to high heaven.
4) HE CONFIRMED HIS RESOLUTION BY CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE: “And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” (V.21) It is only when we recognize our unworthiness that we can please God. It is HIS worthiness upon which we must furl our flags. The Father, just as He knows our hearts, already knew, without words, the heart of His son. He did not even hear the verbal confession of His son – the spirit had shouted the news to His heart from afar.
5) HE IS FORGIVEN, RECEIVED, AND RESTORED: “But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put iton him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on hisfeet:” (V. 22) The Father does not quibble over the depth of our sins and disloyalty when we have returned to Him with broken spirit and contrite heart. THE ROBE: He takes that precious, blood-bought Robe of Righteousness that Christ purchased at our Redemption and covers our filthy rags of sin and pungent odor. That covering represents forgiveness, justification, and acceptance. “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.”(Isaiah 61:10a) THE RING: This is literally a signet ring which conveys the authority of the Father upon the son. As believing Christians, we too have that authority conveyed upon us. In labeling sin as sin, we express not our own opinion, but the law of God. SHOES: I have seen disturbing pictures of late of the senseless and cruel murder of captured Iraqi soldiers by ISIS. Most were lying in a ditch to be shot, and shoeless. Why? It has been a tradition as far back as King Cyrus that the shoes of captured prisoners be taken to prevent their escape. Shoes are a sign of liberty, and Christ is the Perfect Law of Liberty.
The Father arranges a feast for all who return to Him in love and repentance. “And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (v.23) There is rejoicing in Heaven over the repentance of a single sinner. (V. 7)
“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (v.24)
Time does not suffice to bring out all of the beauty inherent in this Parable, or to expound upon the final verses. That will be food for a later time. But each of us should read this parable and, in each place the prodigal is mentioned, insert our own names. It will be an eye-opener.
If you are whiling your days away in a Far Country (no matter how far away that country is), come to your senses, resolve to arise, then follow up by arising; return to your Father, confess your sins, and be restored.