Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the third Sunday after Trinity 6/20/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity3 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and epistle lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Third Sunday after Trinity, click here.
As it was last week, today we need to back up just a bit to understand exactly what’s going on. The parable of the Prodigal Son, which may just be the prince of all the parables, does not stand on its own. Rather, it comes last in a short, tight set of three parables told to a wide-ranging audience. The Prodigal Son begins in verse 11, but the scene opens at verse one:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1
Jesus’ first reply to this is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. It’s a short, simple story. One sheep wanders away from the 99, and the faithful shepherd risks everything to go find him and bring him home.
With only the time it takes to inhale, Jesus then launches into the Parable of the Lost Coin. Like the first parable, it’s brief and direct. A woman with 10 silver coins, which was about 10 days of wages, loses one coin. And she goes on an all-out hunt until she finds it.
In both stories, the message is God’s desire to bring back all who have been lost and scattered. Both stories reveal the rejoicing of the company of heaven when someone repents. And both stories end with a feast – for what was lost has been found.
Together, both of those stories only add up to seven verses – compared to the 22 verses that comprise the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There’s no math to do, really. The point is simply that everything was leading up to this great parable.
And yet, it might be helpful, just for this year, to let the parable go by a different name. After all, it isn’t very often that we get this text on Father’s Day in America. And it may only be a matter of time until Father’s Day is stricken from our calendar altogether.
But this momentary rebranding isn’t for the sake of the opportunity itself. It’s because this parable is not chiefly about the prodigal son, any more than the other two parables were about coins or sheep. This is about the good and gracious God who desires to have His children home again. So, maybe this year we can call it the parable of the Gracious Father. The titles, like the verse numbers, aren’t inspired – so we’ve got some freedom in this. Look at the parable again and see how crucial the father’s role is. Even though he already provides for all his children’s needs, the gracious father generously gives his son his inheritance early.
Even though he has made his home a beautiful place for them to stay in forever, he will not make his children prisoners. The gracious father, who will not force his son to stay, lets him go his own way.
Later, even though his son was a long way off, and even though it’s far beneath the dignity a rich, old man to run after anyone or anything, the gracious father, in divine compassion, runs after his son, with even more zeal than the shepherd and the woman sought their sheep and coin.
The son is right to say that he is not worthy to be his father’s son, but the gracious father refuses to let him negotiate his way back into the house. He will be received back freely as a son. No deals, trades, or excuses.
Maybe you were afraid and did not trust Him. Maybe you thought He would be too harsh, and you feared Him. Maybe the world and its pleasures deceived you into eating pig food, and the embarrassment is so great you don’t want to show your face.
Whatever it is, those things you have done or those things you have left undone; whether your sins are of thought, word, deed, or all of the above; because of Christ’s perfect life, His atoning death, and His triumphant resurrection for you, all is forgiven. It is cast into the depths of the sea.
This is the God who pardons iniquity and passes over transgression. He does not stay angry forever but delights in steadfast love.
Jesus has gone far from His heavenly home to find you. At the cost of all He has – even His own life and breath and body and blood, Jesus has purchased you and won you back. He has reconciled you to God the Father and brought you home.
Now we rejoice with all of heaven’s host as the lost are brought back home again. Now is the time for robes and rings and steaks.
Of course, the grace of God is so extraordinary, it makes some people not want to party. Like last week, the parable is a live interpretation of what’s happening there in front of everyone. Remember how this started. The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. (verse 1) But the Pharisees think this is beneath the dignity of a rabbi – to receive sinners and eat with them. These things were not pleasing to the Pharisees. They would prefer sheep to find their own way home. And the woman? If she had tithed, as she was supposed to, that coin would never have been lost in the first place. As for the father, he should have employed that son until he paid back every cent.
They are the older son in the parable. They are bitter at the father’s grace. They refuse to go into the festival of grace where the company of heaven rejoices. Instead, they sit outside and complain: “Why doesn’t dad reward my good behavior? Doesn’t he see how faithful I’ve been?”
What is faithful is to rejoice in God’s mercy. What is faithful is to praise the Father for His generosity. What is faithful is to celebrate the return of the lost and the resurrection of the dead. What does that look like?
Fathers, you are not good dads because your children are perfectly behaved. As fathers, you are called to model the grace and mercy shown to you by your heavenly Father, who spared no expense, even His only-begotten Son, to graciously welcome back the wayward and erring.
You aren’t good dads because you can put in a brand-new kitchen by yourself, or single-handedly replace your deck. You called to make your houses loving homes, adorned with compassion and patience. But if you can do any of those first two things, see Paul Stiller after the Service. He’s got a few really good ideas to share with you.
You are not good fathers because you are strong, have a sweet beard, or are a grill master. God the Father could exhibit His strength but chooses to show forth His mercy. He declares a feast not to celebrate Himself, but to serve His children. You learn to do all these things as you continually receive mercy from your Heavenly Father.
Whether or not you are a father, you are a son or a daughter; and this parable tells you how to live as a faithful child of God also.
You don’t come and negotiate with God to receive you back. Instead, like fathers and everyone else, you receive His grace, mercy, and forgiveness and amend your life. And when you do amend your life, even though some sin will always beset you, you don’t pretend as if you are the good boy or girl who always does the right thing. That would just be a ridiculous attempt to try and ask the Father to hire you back as a servant. You are His child, and you can’t be anything else.
So, here you are. The lost have been found. The dead have been raised. And the feast is prepared for you.