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Our Generous Father

October 12th 2014 by Joel Schultz

Today we hear the parable of the Prodigal Son. However, what we hear is that the parable is really more about the generous Father than the sons. As we consider this parable we will see what it means to have a generous Father and what that means for life as His children. Listen or read to find out more...

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Capital Campaign Inspire Sermon 2 – “Our Generous Father” – Luke 15:1-2, 11-32 – October 12, 2014

Most of us learned to call this story the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but really it is more adequately called the Parable of the Generous Father You see this father was generous to the point of not only giving his sons his property, but according to the Greek text, he divided his “livelihood,” indeed, his life itself among them.

When that son came and asked for his share of the inheritance, it was like saying, “I can’t wait until you’re dead. In fact, I wish you were dead now, because your money is more important to me than your life.” When I hear this text, I think of the 1989 hit by the rock band Queen, I want it all in which the repeat refrain declares: “I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now.” The younger son was part of the “me generation” before the “me generation” was born.

What do you think you would say to a son or daughter who came to you with that kind of demand? Would you cash in your 401(k), sell your house, give the kid your car, turn in a life insurance policy, and say, “Here, it’s all yours.”?

You know, they have little apps for your cell phone where I could give you a number and you could vote with a text message to my cell phone either “yes” or “no” whether you would give the kids the money or not. But I don’t think we even need to take a vote. The older brother probably voted for us. He is more like us or like we think that we are. He was the good guy who went to synagogue every week, who stayed home with the father, who obeyed the father’s command.

Everybody sees the younger brother as being a slave to sin. His slavery was to the sin of self-realization – doing what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, with what he thought was his. He leads a life of wine, women, and song, and winds up in a pigsty.

But the older brother was also a slave to sin. His sin was self-righteousness. He had everything. Don’t forget, the text says the father divided his living between them. In fact, as older brother under Old Testament law, he probably got an extra share. He complained when the father gave a feast for the returning son, but he could have had a feast anytime he wanted. Everything this generous father had was his, and most importantly, he was the son who was lived in his father’s house. But he hated every minute of it. In fact, in his mind he was a slave, because he thought he deserved more for being good than his brother.

Both these brothers were slaves, and what both failed to understand – until the younger brother “came to himself” – is that true freedom comes not in doing whatever you want with what you think ought to be yours, but in living as children of a generous Father and serving Him not out of duty or reward, but for the joy of being part of His family and participants in the work of witness and service He has set before us.

The younger son finally made that discovery when he “came to himself” and decided to return to his father in repentance and plead for mercy. Whether the older brother ever came to that point we do not know. Jesus left it as an open question for him, for the scribes and Pharisees to whom he told this story, and for us who, in most cases, are more like the proud older brother than the prodigal son.

Central to this story are neither of the brothers, but the generous father, who is always there to love the older son, whether he realizes it or not, and who is standing there waiting – no, running out to meet the prodigal on his return. Most of us would not do what the father did. But that’s the way God operates, and to those who do not understand His gracious love, it does not make sense. The brother who skipped town, blew all his father’s money on riotous living, and then has the nerve to come back home, is given a feast of the fatted calf.

St. Paul says in Romans Chapter 5 that such is the amazing love of God that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus is really the true older brother in this parable. Jesus does what an older brother ought to do. He seeks out the lost and rejoices at their return. He also become the model of what sonship is, namely… …Sharing in the father’s work. …Serving in joyful obedience.
…Willing to sacrifice for the joy of seeing one who was lost be found.

Children of a generous God joyfully share in their Father’s work. The motivation for living life as a child of God is because in Christ you already are one. Long before you were, God was at work to claim you. It is not what you have done that makes you His child, but God’s attitude and actions on your behalf.

Christ’s bloodstained robe placed on Him by the mocking crowds is what puts the father’s robe of celebration on you. The older son had everything his father could offer, but he spent his life grumbling about his younger brother every day and whining about how he had been treated unfairly for all he had done.

Those who know the freedom of being a child in their Father’s house are blessed, because they spend more time living out life rather than trying to figure it out. Their hearts are filled with more love than bitterness, more compassion for others rather than calculating what they are getting in return.

And so they follow the model of Jesus and serve in joyful obedience. The difference between a slave and a son is that the slave says “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” The son says, “I am accepted by God through the work of Jesus, therefore, I obey.” The question is not “What am I going to get out of it?” but “What can I do to serve my generous Father?”

Finally, following the model of Jesus means being willing to sacrifice for the joy of seeing one who was lost be found. Mercy and grace are always free to the recipient, but there is always a cost to someone else. The writer to the Hebrews (12:2) calls upon us to look to Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

Living as children of our generous God is sometimes risky, often involving more giving than taking. There are no guarantees of reward or even acknowledgement, but living that way is nothing more than taking Jesus seriously. It is letting go of time, talent, treasure, indeed, of life itself, and seeing ourself as a vehicle of God’s grace rather than being a storehouse of stuff.

Living, then, as Jesus lived, sharing the Father’s work, serving in joyful obedience, willing to sacrifice for the joy of seeing the lost return, is the heart’s response to God’s divine gift. Neither the scribes nor Pharisees to whom Jesus originally spoke these words, nor the older brother in the parable seemed to get the message. But the truth of the story still confronts us today. True freedom is to live as a child of a generous God.

We are embarking on an Immeasurably More campaign in which God calls us to be participants with Him in His mission. In that mission, He calls us to be children of a generous God, who gives us all we need both materially and spiritually. But following in the path of Jesus also calls for sacrifice, action, and obedience.

Nothing we do can merit God’s grace and favor. It is a free gift in Jesus Christ. But if we believe in the one who sacrificially served us, it changes us into people who share in the Father’s work, serve in joyful obedience, and sacrifice all to serve God and our neighbors – and we do it with the celebration of life as a gift of joy. Amen.

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