Wasteful Grace

RCL Year C  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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I want to do a poll by a raise of hands. I want you to think about who this parable is most about. Is it about the younger son, the father, or the elder son? So take a moment to think. How many people think it’s about the younger son? And how many about the father? Now how many think it’s about the elder son? Oftentimes, when we read stories from the Bible and especially parables like this or the Good Samaritan we tend to place ourselves in place of one of the characters and when we do that we then tend to think the story is about that person. I truly believe that this story actually has equal emphasis on all three men in the story even if we don’t want to see ourselves as the older son. The older son in my mind is the one who basically cries out, “That’s not fair”. So to help illustrate that in our modern lives I want us all to take a look at this clip from AT&T.
I really think that commercial illustrates the way in which we, as people, think about this world and our relationships with one another. That is an overgeneralization, but at the same time we see it all too often happening around us. Clearly AT&T is using that way of thinking to draw customers to their company. Look at all these other phone carriers being unfair to you, we’ll be fair to you. We get upset when we don’t feel that things are fair. Think about buying something from a department store of off of Amazon and the next week you happen across the item again and now it’s on sale. I know I get ticked when I see things like that happen. I am sure that many of us are keeping an eye on gas and it can be irritating that yesterday you got gas for $4.59 and as you drove to church today and passed that same gas station it’s now $4.52/gallon. It’s not fair, and because it’s not fair it really makes us upset.
So it’s about the older son being upset. He has been faithful to his father and has been a loyal customer as the AT&T commercial puts it, or in his case a loyal son. His loyalty has gained him nothing more than what he has always had right before him. His wasteful brother, which if you notice he won’t even call him his brother, after losing everything is given even more and given it extravagantly and overflowing with abundance. Yeah…that’s not fair.
It’s also about the younger son basically doing everything wrong for a long time, and he brings it upon himself. We don’t get him saying that this or that was unfair, but you could perhaps see how his life went from a great extravagant party to being a hired hand who can’t even afford daily bread for himself. That probably didn’t seem very fair.
It’s thirdly about the father. Things aren’t fair because he has two sons that don’t seem to appreciate him. The younger son essentially wishes his father dead at the beginning of the story by wanting his inheritance right then and there. The older son who doesn’t recognize the love and stability the father has given him his entire life. The older son has never had to want for anything, and yet when he sees more (a bigger lollipop) being given to the other son, he complains at how terrible and unfair his life is. I think anyone who has been a parent can appreciate what the father is going through as I am sure we have heard the phrase, “that’s not fair” from our children.
Let’s take a look, though at what the father does. The father provides for both his sons as best as we can assume up to the point when we are drawn into this parable. The father then let’s his younger son go away from him with all that he should need for his life. He suffers the shame of being asked to pass out his inheritance before his death. He then welcomes the same son back and gives him every essential thing, and then some, he could need: the best robe he has to offer, a ring, sandals, and more food than he could possible eat, though I bet he probably overate by a lot that day. Not only that but he goes out to meet his son as soon as he sees him on the road, he ran to him. He is the patriarch so people should be coming to him, he should never have to go to them.
Then after the celebration has started the elder son shows up and once again the father goes out to talk with the other son. Not only should the father not have to go out to the son, but he shouldn’t leave the party as the host. Yet he does, and he does his best to convince the elder son to come and celebrate with everyone because the family has been brought back together. For the elder son, as we mentioned at the beginning, he declares all of it as unfair. The unfairness makes it unbearable. The father pleads with him to see the importance of the celebration whether it is fair or not.
The celebration is what is really at the heart of the story. Just like the two parables that come before it. We talked about the parable of the lost coin on Wednesday and how important celebrating was. The parable before that is the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd celebrates when the lost sheep is found. It doesn’t really matter if this or that is fair, we should always celebrate at those things in life that are worth celebrating. And if we look at this story as the parable it is then we need to understand that if this story is about celebrating then what are we celebrating? We are celebrating what the Pharisees and the scribes accuse Jesus of doing…celebrating with and having dinner with tax collectors and sinners.
This story is about celebrating the prodigal. No, I don’t mean the prodigal son…I mean the prodigal grace that is shown in this story. Prodigal can mean wasteful or reckless spending, but it can also basically mean the opposite as extravagant or lavish. I think this story is celebrating the wasteful and extravagant grace of God. Wasteful? Isn’t that a horrible way to describe grace? Not when we realize that grace is overflowing and never ending. When we realize that grace is for you and for me and for all the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus also sits with to celebrate their being a part of the dinner party. Celebrating their inclusion in the kingdom of God. When we realize that the father in the story is willing to do whatever it takes to make both sons know they are loved and cared for no matter how they unfairly treated their father.
That is the story of God. God welcomes any and all people into God’s family. No it’s not fair, its grace, wasteful grace. God never promised to be fair, God promised to be loving and forgiving. God doesn’t care where you came from, or how long you’ve known God. Jesus says the same thing to the faithful person as he does to the criminal on the cross that is crucified with him, “today you will be with me in paradise”. That is the kind of wasteful, unfair kind of grace that God hands out to the world. It is the kind of grace we all need and it is for God and for us to give as freely and wastefully as we can, so that this world can know how much God has done and will do to show God’s love and care for all creation. Amen.