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Sermon Library

Duration:33 mins

This evening we begin the Season of Lent, a season of preparation for
Easter. Often in this season we focus on confession and penitence. That is
important work and we will certainly engage in it both tonight and once again this
year. However, too much focus on confession and penitence tends to lose sight of
forgiveness and love. The good news of the Gospel is that we are not lost in our
sin. It is the gift of forgiveness that bonds us together as brothers and sisters in
Christ, that unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection. It is the gift of
forgiveness which flows like a fountain from the heart of God, from the crucified
Christ, and truly transforms the church and the world. So, this year our
Wednesday night Lenten services will explore the theme: “Forgiveness – A
Fountain of New Life.”
We begin this evening with a parable about a Father who has two sons. So
let us hear this Word of God recorded for us in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15,
verses 11-32.
11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to
his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he
divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he
had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute
living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that
country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the
citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly
have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him
anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands
have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to
my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before
you;
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired
hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father
saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed
him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I
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am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly,
bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals
on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son
of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to
celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he
heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going
on.
27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf,
because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go
in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father,
‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never
disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might
celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured
your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said
to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to
celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he
was lost and has been found.’”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our
hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer.
Amen.
As Christians, we know that forgiveness is important; even a vital part of our
faith. And yet for something so essential we do not agree on how it should be
practiced. For example, in her book Forgiveness: A Lenten Study, Marjorie
Thompson writes:
- Some urge forgiveness as a Christian duty under all circumstances, while
others argue that certain conditions must be met before forgiveness can
be meaningful or effective.
- Some see forgiveness as a matter between particular individuals, and
some regard it as meaningful only in the context of larger human
communities.
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- Some believe forgiving is the surest route to healing for the injured,
while others hold that therapy cannot be the essence of Christian
forgiveness.1
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Those are some of the competing claims and interpretations we must
consider as we seek to understand and know this most powerful gift.
So, how might this parable help us begin?
The characters and circumstances are pretty clear:
We have a younger brother who asks for his inheritance today, essentially
treating his father like he is already dead. He actually receives it and predictably
goes and wastes it all. At rock bottom he decides to come back home.
There is the father who divides his estate between his two sons before his
death. When the younger son returns, he runs into the street to welcome him home
and orders the fatted calf killed for a whole community homecoming celebration.
Later he leaves the house again in search of another missing son.
There is the older brother who receives his two thirds of the family estate
and works diligently, all the while apparently keeping tabs on the comings and
goings of his younger brother. This one is incensed at the celebration his father
throws when the prodigal returns and then insults his father by refusing to come
into the party.
That about covers it, right? So who needs forgiveness?
Of course, it’s the younger brother. After all we know this as the “parable of
the prodigal son.” He is the one who treated his father as dead, who wasted all the
money, who tries to make a confession to his father, “Father, I have sinned against
heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Yes, he
needs forgiveness.
But … who put the idea to go into his head in the first place? Who let him
know there were other towns out there for an inquiring young man? Why didn’t
his father try to stop him from going in the first place? This father is obviously not

1 Marjorie Thompson, Forgiveness: A Lenten Study, 2.
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a rule follower himself. Could he, could others, bear some responsibility for this
son’s wayward ways?
Could the Father possibly need forgiveness? It is unheard of for a man to
divide his estate between his sons before his own death. He is supposed to be stern
and demanding and yet he runs to meet his prodigal son in the street. He orders the
fatted calf to the killed, sandals for the boy’s feet, a robe and a ring. Does he not
remember that he gave everything he had left to his eldest son? This father is
giving away what is not his to give. Surely he needs forgiveness too.
And we cannot forget the Father’s other son. He hears the revelry and
refused to go in. Resentment, perhaps for years, has taken root in his heart until
the point where he explodes when his father comes to him. Have the servants and
his friends been egging him on? Did he ever ask his father for a goat to share with
his friends? Was the not the goat his in the first place after his father divided the
estate? He cannot even bring himself to claim his brother as his own – instead he
tells his Father, “Your son!” Surely he needs forgiveness.
And then perhaps the most important question of all, where in the world is
mom? Surely she could have straightened all this out a long time ago.
Suddenly this parable and the question of forgiveness, what it means, and
who needs it … has gotten a lot more complex.
We have six more weeks to go in this series, so we are not going to work out
all the details of confession and forgiveness, mercy and justice tonight. But let me
at least say this:
Forgiveness is never just an individual, solitary event. We all live in a
complex web of relationships and friendships, of love and distrust, of
miscommunication and self-interest, of hurt and reconciliation.
And just like our lives, this parable does not come to a nice and neat resolution
with a bow on top. No the Father who runs to welcome the prodigal home and
who goes out again to find his other son in the street, says “We had to celebrate
and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was
lost and has been found.” My friends, we are dead in our sin, but forgiveness and
new life are offered to you and to me by the only one who can raise the dead –
Jesus Christ. As Marjorie Thompson writes, “forgiveness is the healing stream
flowing out from the crucified Christ over a world that does not know how
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desperately it needs the healing.”2 We all so desperately need it, to receive it and
to grant it. And in Christ that fountain can make us all clean.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray:

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