“God’s Love shall Prevail”

Luke 15:1-13, March 27

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


Fourth Sunday in Lent

“Hear now the words of Jesus from the gospel of Luke chapter fifteen, verses one thru thirteen.”

Luke 15:1-13

1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 

2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 

5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 

6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 

8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 

9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 

10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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.

“Having heard the teachings of Jesus, let us consider what this lesson is telling us of our faith journey’s today.”

“God’s Love shall Prevail”

A lost sheep, a sinner adrift in debauchery, and a misplaced silver coin, each representing the heartache of being lost. Each leading us to a story about a man with two sons, and “the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.” /Luke 15:13/ The first three parables speak of the importance of seeking out and finding that which is lost. The all too familiar allegory of the ‘Prodigal Son’, draws our attention to the pain a parent bears… when one of their offspring goes out into the world and lives in stark contrast to what the parent has sought to instill, into the character of their beloved child. Too many have spoken of this tragic reality in their lives. Too many, come to their wits end trying to bring them back into the fold!

In each of our examples we are forced to recognize that when one is lost there are still others that need tending to. The remaining ninety-nine still need food and water.  They still are exposed to their natural enemies; yet the story focuses on the necessity to seek the one that is lost as that one is the one in jeopardy. The woman who still has her nine gold coins will drop everything and search for that one lost coin. Each of these two allegories rally around the point that the shepherd and the woman having the silver coins shall rejoice over having found the lost. In the same manner “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” /Luke 15:7/ As we first view these accounts, it seems right and easy to piously proclaim that the found, the saved one is the one to rejoice over, verses the many who were not lost, who did not need to be found or rescued. Therefore, Jesus went on to share the story of the prodigal son, for it more clearly beings to play into the feelings of the younger son’s older brother. With this in mind, let us look more closely.

“But when ‘the younger son’ came to himself’ 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. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 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. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” /Luke 15:17, 20-24/ The lost son is found! Most surely the father welcomed him and rejoiced over him. But what of the elder son who never strayed from the teaching of his father? “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 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. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’” /Luke 15:25-30/ Many of us can surely feel for the older son, the dedicated son, the son that has always was always there for his father.

Good church goers like each of us here in this sanctuary, and those that our listening to our broadcast today, we may also be a bit jealous of the attention paid to those that seem to drift away, get lost in their all too human lives; leaving you and me to hold this church and its ministry together.  We have not gotten lost in the trappings of one or more of the deadly sins: Pride, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, sloth, Envy and Wrath. Like the older son we all know anger, rage. Who among us does not have a nodding acquaintance with jealousy and resentment? How many of us long to have a lazy day or have been intolerant of others? Self-indulgence and an insatiability hunger for just one more, of most anything, especially if it is known to be too rich for us, are all things that we each have experience with. Ah yes, the one we all have hidden behind the dark corners of our private lives; that desire to have that which another already possess. King David wanted to possess ‘Bathsheba’, the wife of one of his soldiers. Look to the full account in the book of Second Samuel chapter eleven. No, it is not too far a stretch from our comfortable seats in this sanctuary today, or your office chair or recliner as you watch and listen to this broadcast; to consider drifting into the arena with any one or more of these sins. Indulgences such as these could ultimately take our blemish free journey of faithfulness and lead us astray – until we too trip over the trappings of this all too human world.

Thankfully, in the allegory of the Prodigal Son, the older son also has a Father, much like our Heavenly Father, whom has a forgiving heart. The older son is touched by the loving gesture of his father that day; the day he rebuked him for having welcomed his wayward brother home.  The older son’s jealousy and anger had taken over his words as he spoke. Surprising, the story takes a twist, as Jesus wants to be sure we all can identify with someone in this parable of the Prodigal Son. “Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 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.’” /Luke 15:31-32/ Jesus ends the story there. It is up to each one of us to finish it. Like the shepherd who went to find his one lost sheep, Jesus is telling us that we all are precious in his sight. God sent his Son Jesus to not only save us from our human weaknesses, but Jesus also came to offer his sermons, his sermonettes, through his parables, his allegories, and teachings so we would come to know of the way in which God was seeking for us to follow. God, incarnate, personified within Jesus, came to be sure that all who are lost or become lost are offered a way back into the fold, the community of God’s beloved children.

Indeed, God’s love shall prevail! Sadly, it does seem virtually impossible at times; which I think we all can agree. Consider the harsh realities of our own time period. We are now witnessing yet another senseless war, with millions displaced and thousands killed. Here at home most of us seem shocked when we learn that the annual death tolls on our own highways… still ranges around ‘forty thousand’. Let us not forget the staggering numbers of people suffering severe and long-lasting injuries from car accidents. These are but a few of many all too real statistics, facts that most of our society simply take as everyday life. We could bring in the death tolls of the Covid-19 pandemic – but you already know that. Or the tragedies families deal with all the time surrounding Cancer, Heart Disease, Alcoholism, Diabetes and Dementia. At times, it does seem that it is impossible that God’s love shall prevail. But it does! It absolutely does!

No, neither myself or any reputable clergy person or heath care professional can answer the why questions we all ask in the time of crisis. Nonetheless, there are thousand upon thousands of stories of God’s loving presence in times of life events. The accounts are out there to be heard if you ask the questions of others in the right way. I worked with a retired pastor while I was in Sebastian. She dedicated her retirement years trying to collect those stores.  She sought to get groups in churches to meet; groups that offered safe places for people to speak of these sacred moments. Many shared memories were recorded as modern miracle moments. Spiritually focused moments where the presence of God’s ever-present love was felt and seen by those who dared speak of them. Prayerfully, my retired pastor friend, her studies will not fall into the files of unread accountings as the years past, long after her work is done. We need to continue her work, uncovering more and more of Gods miraculous love.

Do you remember how our lesson opened this morning as Jesus began his teachings surrounding these famous allegories? Listen again and consider his audience of skeptics in the crowd. “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow, he welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” /Luke 15:1&2/ Thankfully, Jesus’ devoted disciples and those who sought after the truth of his words, shared these accounts over, and over again, despite the grumbling from the scribes and Pharisees. Because of the faithful believers who were there with Jesus we know of his words. As we seek out the true signs of God’s love, we need to have faith in the promises of the scriptures ‘so when our time comes’ we shall join with those who came before us. Without fear… we must open our hearts looking toward the moments that give us glimpses of the awesome power of God’s prevailing love.  Love which surpasses all understanding and continues even in the shadows of death. We need always hold onto the parables of the lost, as they are raised up as the ways of God through the teachings of Jesus. We are called to reach out to the lost and light a pathway for them to come home.

Amen.

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