Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Third Sunday after Trinity, 7/3/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity3 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Third Sunday after Trinity, click here.
You probably don’t know a lot about the Prophet, Micah. After all, he is considered a minor prophet; preaching and prophesying from the countryside, while the great prophet, Isaiah, wielded God’s Word mightily and quotably in Jerusalem.
Aside from his straight-line prophecy about the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem, you probably aren’t super familiar with much of what God said through him, either. But these three verses, which conclude his prophecy, serve to summarize who God is and praise Him for His great mercy.
In this hymn, Micah proclaims that God is utterly unique. Aside from the obvious fact that He is the only true God, there’s something else: He is righteous and He is just, but He is not what you would call “fair.”
Who is a God like you…? the prophet exclaims. You pardon iniquity. You pass over transgression. You have every right to be angry, but You won’t stay angry. You cast sins into the depths of the sea. But You pull sinners out of the depths of the sea. All because You promised.
This is the same God and Father that Jesus proclaims in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The name we’ve given to this parable can be a bit misleading. It might make you think that the son is the subject of the story, but he isn’t. He’s the object of the story in that he receives the action of the Subject, namely the Father. There’s a strange sort of grammar lesson for you.
But since school is out, and since all you kids miss it so much, here’s a vocabulary lesson: “prodigal” is not an adjective to describe someone with bad behavior, who is mean, rude, strong-willed, and quarrelsome; even though that’s often what we mean when we use the word.
The word, “prodigal” really describes someone who spends his resources wastefully, even extravagantly and recklessly.
Of course, the son in the story does fit that description. He unfairly asks for his inheritance money early, and his Father unfairly gives it to him. Though this was legally permissible, I call it “unfair” since the Father still happens to be alive.
In any case, the son then burns through the money as if it were going to expire, which is much easier to do when it is someone else’s money. And when there’s nothing left, he sees what real fairness is. He takes the only job he can get, and accepts the lowly wages of a master not so prodigious (i.e. wasteful, extravagant)
As he chews on carob pods, he paraphrases Micah and wonders: “Who is a Father like my Father? How many of my Father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!”
From this point forward, you could call this the parable of the Prodigal Father. He spends His dignity, running after his wayward son. He spends whatever He has left, receiving the son back into His home. He promises everything else to the son who is upset at the Father’s unfairness; for the Father is a reckless, lavish, extravagant spender.
He pardons iniquity. He passes over transgression for the remnant of His inheritance. He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in steadfast love. And it isn’t fair.
It would be fair for the Father to let the lost stay lost. It would be fair for the Father to let the dead stay dead. It would be fair for the Father to turn the son away. It would be fair for the Father to chastise the older son instead of reasoning with him. But He is not fair.
If God were fair, He would cast you into the sea along with your sins. But He isn’t fair. He’s your Father.
He has made you His own in Holy Baptism. He has cast you into the sea, and drowned your sins like hard-hearted Pharaoh, but He has pulled you out of the water: living, whole, and resurrected.
He has embraced you and kissed you. He has put the best robe on you, put a ring on your hand, and welcomed you home. He is not fair. But He is just – He does execute justice. He is the most extravagant spender, sparing nothing, even His only-begotten Son. He has spent everything on you.
As is the Father, so is the Son: prodigal. Prodigal Jesus pours out His precious blood on the cross for the sins of the whole world. He dies for every person, everywhere, at every moment: past, present, and future. There is no one anywhere or at any time for whom Jesus did not die.
His holy, precious blood, His innocent suffering and death, His perfect life – all is spent on the cross in lavishness and extravagance. Even though most people will reject it and refuse to benefit from it, He spends everything.
It’s not fair. But it is good. He counts nothing wasted.
You have a Prodigal God. And as His children, you ought never insist on fairness.
Rejoice when you behold Christ crucified, when you look upon the cross and see God’s justice, grateful that He is just, but not fair.
Do not turn again to a foreign land, far from your Father’s home. But do be a prodigal child.
Receive forgiveness and grace without embarrassment or shame. Love extravagantly. Forgive again and again and again, as if someone else paid for it, because Someone else did.
Rejoice when anyone who has made a hash of his life, is brought back home and clothed in the same righteousness as you. Welcome them home as you would your own child. For this is how you yourself have been welcomed.
And now it is fitting to feast, to celebrate and be glad. For you were dead and are now alive. You were lost, and now you are found.