The Father’s Promise
THE FATHER’S PROMISE
Kid’s say the dardnest things don’t they? There is an innocence and excitement about little kids. They lack the filters that we as adults learn to have. And because they are cute and don’t know any better, or so we adults say, they can get away with saying a lot. I googled “funny things kids say” and here are some things I found from thoughtcataloug.com .
“My son when he was 6: “Dad, can we get a cat?” Me: “Your Mom is allergic to cats, so no.” My Son: “When Mom dies can we get a cat?” Me: “Sure.”
“This morning, my wife told my 3-year-old daughter that owls were nocturnal. My daughter responded, “Yes, owls are not turtles.”
“Son and I are playing catch. I have a terrible throw that sails over his head. I say, “Sorry, that was a bad throw.” He stops, gives me a kind look and says, “No daddy, that was a wonderful throw.” Then takes 2 steps towards getting the ball. He stops again, turns back around and says, “When we say something nice, even when we don’t mean it at all, that’s called being polite, right?”
Kid’s make us laugh. Children bring us joy. And with the Baptisms of Brayden and Dillion today we are reminded of that joy. We are reminded of the promise that children have. We are reminded of the promises that we make to our children may we be parents or congregation members. And we are also reminded of the weight of those promises. We are reminded that despite our best intentions that we are raising children who will one day become adults who make their own decisions. And sometimes, as the parable of the Prodigal Son suggests to us, those decisions can fly in the face of everything we have taught them to value. I am not a parent. But I often marvel at the weight of being a parent. We read this story and I would suspect many parents fear their kids becoming the prodigal. Maybe we have been prodigals ourselves, learned our lesson, but are at a loss to impart that lesson upon our children. If we are too strict they might turn away. If we are too permissive that might cause them to stray as well. I felt called to depart from my usual preaching series on Matthew today because I think the Parable of the Prodigal Son has something to say to us today about hope, about children, about Baptism, and about the promise that the Father has for us. So today I want us to understand three things;
- What does it mean to go off to a distant country?
- What does it mean to come to one’s senses?
- And What is the Father’s Promise?
First, what does it mean to go off to a far off or distant or far off country as this passage says? While we may read this passage and are somewhat able to relate the prodigal son’s excessive behavior, unless we know Middle Eastern culture we can’t truly understand how shocking the prodigal son’s actions are. In Middle Eastern culture it was expected that sons wait till their father passed away before they could claim their inheritance. So the younger son in coming to his Father and asking for his inheritance is basically saying to his Father, “ you are dead to me. I am done with this family and everything it stands for.” The Father would have every right to disown the younger son right there. But instead he grants his son’s request. Note here that in the Greek the son asks for the Father’s “property” but the text tells us that the Father gives the son “his life.” Indeed, the Father’s wealth, like most in an agricultural society was tied up in the land. The land was his life. His family had probably been tied to the land for generations. He couldn’t just cash in his 401 K. In a very real way he had to give up his life for his son. Instead of turning away from his son the Father sacrifices what would be 1/3 of his property.
The scripture tells us that the prodigal son went to a far off country and spent all he had on wild living. This term “far off country” means a place beyond the sea. A place where Jewish traditions and morals were not recognized. A place separate from everything the younger son was taught to value.
But we should note that one does not have to travel to a foreign country to be far away from our Father. Perhaps the Parable of the Prodigal Son isn’t the right name for this parable. Perhaps the parable of the two lost sons is appropriate. Because we see too that the elder son, though he still works on his Father’s estate, does not know his Father’s heart. He is lost too. Unable to rejoice when his wayward brother returns home. In a way the Elder Son is in a far off country as well. In a way he is even worse because he has easy access to the Father but it is his pride that gets in the way. Often before we head off to a far off country, before relationships collapse, we are already in a far off country in our hearts. Many in the church I think fall more in the line of Good Sons and daughters. We’ve worked hard, we have followed the rules, and we want to be around others who have done the same. Grace is great when it is given to us but it offends our sense of justice when it is given to others. We don’t think there is enough grace to go around. Indeed, the prodigal has squandered 1/3 of the families wealth, leaving the remaining 2/3 to be divided up between the younger and the Elder. In the eyes of the world there is good reason for the elder son to be angry. As Matthew 20:15 puts it the Lord asks us, “are you envious because I am generous?” The scriptures tell us that if we are there may not be a place for us in God’s celebration. Doesn’t matter how hard we worked. The prodigal in this passage is willing to receive Grace but the good son is not. We know the fate of the prodigal. The scriptures leave open the fate of the good son.
Next, what does it mean to come to oneself? It means to repent. To change one’s mind. To stop seeing things as the world sees them and start seeing things as God sees them. Romans 1:24 tells us that most often the way God brings us to repentance is to hand us over to our sins. Often the greatest punishment is to get what we want because what we want isn’t good for us. Indeed, the younger son’s predicament is clear. He is broke, left feeding pigs, something that no self-respecting Jew would do. He realizes that even his Father’s hired hands are doing better than him. This reminds us of the first two steps of alcoholics anonymous. First, admitting that we are powerless and second we come to believe that there is a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity. But again we should note that while the prodigal is the most obvious character in this story in need of help he isn’t the only one. The good son needs saving as well. Perhaps even more since he doesn’t recognize it. Our society generally gives us too roads to follow in the way we live life. We can either discover our true selves or follow the rules. This parable shows us a third way. We can follow our Father. We can believe in his promise.
Finally, we see the promise of the Father. The promise of the Father is this, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found.” The promise of the father is that all he has is ours if we would only celebrate, if we would only recognize that we too are lost. The promise of the Father is that despite our mistakes nothing can diminish our inheritance. And what is the promise of the Father? What is the inheritance that we as believers are entitled to? Before he ascended into heaven Jesus told his disciples, “behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49) He is of course referring to the book of Acts. To the coming of the Holy Spirit. Our inheritance is that we should be given our Father’s life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To summarize the prophet Joel in the last days the Lord promised to pour out his Spirit on all flesh so that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
When we baptize with water, as we have done today, we point to the promise of the Father, the promise that we will be and are filled with the Holy Spirit. As the Book of Order, our church’s constitution points out, “ In Baptism, the Holy Spirit binds the Church in covenant to its Creator and Lord.” Baptism, “is the sign and seal of God’s grace and covenant in Christ.” When we Baptize children, as we have done today we witness to the reality as the Book of Order points out, “ that God’s love claims people before they are able to respond in faith.” Our text today says that while the younger son was still far off his Father saw him. The word here for “far” is the same used for “far off country”. Some scholars have even suggested that the text is suggesting that the Father was looking for him, perhaps even saw him, while he was still in a far off country. And other parables of Jesus tell us that Christ seeks us like lost sheep. He the good shepherd who will leave the fold to save the one may we be in a meth lab or a church pew. Let us not fool ourselves today. Water cannot save us. I can’t get a super soaker out and save you though that would be a good excuse to have a little fun. As Peter tells the crowd in Jerusalem after Pentecost, repentance, coming to see ourselves clearly that we may see Jesus clearly, is what is required. In the words of Peter the Father’s promise can be summarized as this, “ Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit.