Sermon on Luke 15:1-3,11-32
4th Sunday in Lent
Lost and Found
Text: Luke 15:1-3, 11B-32
There seems to be a fascination in our world with being lost. Doing a quick perusal of movie titles quickly reveals this truth: Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park: Lost World, Lost Treasure, Land of the Lost, Lost in Translation, The Lost Boys. That’s not the end of it. One of the most popular TV shows of all time is currently in its sixth and final season. This intriguing show (which you might find your pastor watching on Tuesday nights) is simply called Lost. Whether it’s finding something lost, being directionally lost, or being lost in your life, we just love a good lost and found story.
We’re not the only people intrigued by a good “lost” story. Jesus knew that, and so he used stories of things lost to drive home important points. The opening verses of Luke 15 give us the setting: “Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ The Jesus told them this parable.” The Jewish leaders couldn’t believe the kind of people that Jesus was teaching and associating with. The sick, the poor, the needy; tax collectors, prostitutes, fisherman—they couldn’t believe that Jesus would even dare to look at such “sinners.”
So Jesus decided to teach them a lesson with a few parables—a few “lost” parables. First Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep, about a shepherd who left his 99 to find the one lost. Then he told the parable of the lost coin about a woman who turned her house upside down just to find one coin. But then Jesus told a much longer parable, one that has become one of the most popular of all time. It is the basis for songs, plays, musicals, and even a Veggie Tales movie. Today we’ll explore this amazing story of
Lost and Found
Jesus immediately introduces us to the three main characters of the story. “There was a man who had two sons.” The younger one apparently had enough of family life. The status quo of being in a kind and loving family with an easy and comfortable life was no longer appealing. He wanted to go and live it up. So, “The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’” This was not the usual course of action. Just as it would be unusual today for someone to cash in on their parents’ will before they die, so it was also unusual back then. But the younger son, who was set to receive the smaller inheritance, wanted it all right away. The father obliged.
But this son apparently didn’t care about whatever possessions he had received. Whether it was land or cattle or gold or aunt Edna’s antique desk, the son cashed it all in so he could go and live the good life. Verse 13 simply tells us, “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” We don’t exactly know what this “wild living” entailed. We do know that in verse 30 the older brother indicates that prostitutes had been part of this “wild living.”
Today we might imagine this son running off to a place like Las Vegas. We could see him taking his fat wad of daddy-money and sitting at the craps tables at the Bellagio. After a five star dinner he catches a risqué show. Then he parties it up on the strip, picking up several ladies along the way. We could imagine him hiring a stretch limo, or even a helicopter, to take him and his lady of the day over to Hollywood. They attend a red carpet event, schmooze with the celebrities, and party even harder with the mucky-mucks.
Whatever it was that he did, “[He] squandered his wealth in wild living.” It was gone. All of it. He had absolutely nothing left. After all the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, there was nothing left to show for it but his empty wallet and pockets. No money? No parties. No money? No ladies. No money? No friends.
To make things worse, their economy tanked: “After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” He was forced to work. But he had nothing. No job experience. No references. Not training. He was forced to menial labor for a farmer feeding his pigs out in the field. He was so hungry that even the Mediterranean carob tree pods in the slop looked good to him. If only he could go back to his father. Even his father’s slaves had food to eat. But who would take this squandering, foolish, indulgent, prodigal son now? All he could but hope to do was to fall at the feet of his father and beg, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” This son was lost.
Worldly thinking only results in the pig pen and pig slop. How many Americans today can relate to this son? We buy luxurious homes and extravagant vehicles. We waste more food and water than most people of this world have to eat and drink in the first place. We buy a Big Mac meal but get full and throw half the burger and fries away. We make sure we have stainless steel appliances and HD TVs. We double dip on our mortgage so we can make renovations to our homes beyond what we could ever pay back. We travel where we want when we want. We do what we want. We say what we want. But then when famine strikes as it did for the son—for us it might be an economic famine—now we all wonder why everything is gone. Just like the son we worry about surviving. We worry about just trying to scrape by.
Jesus once said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?” What good are all the gadgets and gizmos that we buy? What good are all the toys and tools? The computers and cars? Can we take any luxuries with us when we die? Gourmet meals feed our bodies, but do they nourish our souls? Does enjoying every minute of this life guarantee us joy in the next life? Absolutely not.
We might even think, “Well I don’t live like the prodigal son. I don’t live the Vegas lifestyle. Can’t we at least have fun in life?” Sure we can. God wants us to enjoy the blessings he has given. That might involve a few nice things here and there. But here is the real question for us to ask ourselves: Does my life, do my possessions, reflect that God is most important in my life? Compare what you put in the offering plate to your cell phone or cable bill. Compare your gifts to the Lord to your gifts to your garage. Do I spend more on burgers, pizza, and fun then I give back to God? Do I give my very best to God or to my living room? Do I spend hours and hours and hours working for myself but only a few serving the Lord? Do I spend all my free time having fun or with my family, but hardly any in communication with the Lord?
My family went shopping once when I was about 6 or 7. We went to a mega furniture store that was three or four floors high. Of course, I had to explore. But after weaving my way around sofas and beds and chairs, I quickly realized that I was all alone. I had no clue where my parents were. I began running frantically all over the store. I searched high and low on every floor. I was lost. I thought they had left me. I still haven’t forgotten that sick feeling in my stomach of being lost, abandoned, and all alone.
Brothers and sisters, that is what this lost son felt. But worse, that is just a small fraction of what hell is like. Hell is not just some hot place “down there somewhere” where the really bad people go. Hell is when God turns his back on you. Hell is when God abandons you. Hell is when our heavenly Father says, “You are no longer my child. I will no longer bless you. I will no longer be with you.” That is hell. And that is where sinners belong.
Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe you’re not like most Americans or like this prodigal son. Maybe you don’t struggle with worldly thinking. But you are still a sinner. Everyone is a sinner. The apostle Paul tells us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” You may not have indulged in this world’s pleasures, but you may have indulged in filthy language. You may have indulged in lustful thinking. You may have been hateful, vengeful, or spiteful. You may have gossiped. You may have lied. You may have cheated. You have sinned. I have sinned. We all have sinned.
We could only wish that means we end up in the pig pen with the pig slop. But no. Hell is where sinners go. When we sin, even in the slightest bit, we abandon your heavenly Father. When we sin, like the prodigal son, we go our own way. We do what we want, not what God wants. As sinners we are lost. We can only join this wayward son and fall at the feet of our heavenly Father and beg, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”
Thankfully, there’s more to the story. The prodigal younger son goes back home. He hopes that his father will acknowledge him. He hopes that his father might possibly welcome him back, at the very least as a servant. Verse 20 tells us what happened next. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Then verse 22: “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The real point of Jesus’ parable is not the wayward worldly sin of the son. The real point of the story is the incredible mercy and forgiveness of the father. He’s not angry. Not upset. Not vengeful. He doesn’t ignore him or say, “You’re dead to me.” He doesn’t ask for the money back. He doesn’t force his son into slavery. He is filled with compassion. He runs to his son and hugs and kisses him. He adorns him with fine things. He prepares the best of meals for the greatest of feasts. He celebrates that his son is no longer lost but is now found.
1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” The father in this parable is our heavenly Father. And God has shown us mercy and forgiveness beyond that of the father in the parable! He slaughters the fattened calf for us. Or rather, he slaughtered a lamb for us, the Lamb of God. We have sinned so greatly and so grievously against God. We have done so many wrongs in our lives. Yet he’s not angry. Not upset. Not vengeful. He doesn’t ignore us. He doesn’t ask for payment for those sins. This is all because he has directed that wrath and anger elsewhere—onto his Son Jesus.
While Jesus was on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus experienced our worst nightmare, and our worst punishment. God the Father forsook his Son. He turned his back and abandoned him. He left him on the cross to suffer hell. Any wrath and anger over our sin, any punishment or suffering that our sins deserve was all directed onto Jesus on the cross. Our heavenly Father has shown such incredible love by giving up his Son so that we could become his sons and daughters.
Just like the son in the parable, we bring nothing to the table. We have nothing to give God. We can only hope for the best as we fall at the feet of our Father in heaven and we plead, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But our Father runs to us and throws his arms around us. He hugs and kisses us. He celebrates. He says, “My child, look at my other Son Jesus. See the holes in his hands and feet. His suffering and death have made you my child. You are forgiven. You once were dead, but now you are alive. You were lost, but now you are found.”
Concl. I find “Lost and Found” boxes interesting. At the very same time the things inside of it are both lost and found. The sweater might be completely lost, but yet someone else found it. The sweater is strangely both lost and found.
If there were an eternal “Lost and Found” box, we sure would be in it. We are so utterly lost in sin. Our lives are filled with wayward actions that stray from our Father in heaven. But he has found us. He sent his own Son Jesus to shed his blood as payment for our sins. He has erased our wrongs. He has forgiven us. He is ready to throw his arms around us, embrace us, and welcome us to our home in heaven. We are both Lost and Found. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
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