Tag Archives: prodigal son

Both Get Asked the Same Question


Text: Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Full Sermon Draft

The text is the prodigal son. Actually the entire 15th Chapter of Luke should be taken together, but the assigned text was just the last of three parables. I struggled this week to find the clarity. Part of that I think was that pastors, especially those who are trying to be orthodox, feel something different from this parable.

The orthodox preacher teaches law and gospel. Both of them have their place. The church since the reformation has been about a specific viewpoint on the gospel. And that viewpoint is neatly captured by the prodigal or by the hymn amazing grace. I once was lost by now am found. The focal point is all on the individual and the God they are being reconciled to. Now what gets taken for granted in that reformation mentality is the whole. The prodigal is reconciled to the family of God. The prodigal is restored to the church. But let’s call it the reformation on steroids, TROS eventually loses the church. What we have is a whole lot of people in churches of one. They have achieved a state they think of as wholeness between them and their god. And then the church attempting to shepherd that person in holiness points out that the law is how God intended things to be. But in TROS the reply is “that’s not my God” or “God didn’t mean that” or some such answer. And the communicant in this church of one, if the true church persists, starts shouting things like Pharisee, or unloving older brother. You just need to accept me, because god has.

That is a completely different order than what the prodigal did. The prodigal may have thought he was returning but keeping his “freedom” – “make me a hired man”. That prodigal at the state wanted to enjoy the benefits of the family while still keeping his little shack just outside and rejecting those parts of the family he didn’t like. But by the time he has arose (a loaded term) and walked the path back and felt the compassion of the father in his embrace that demand or caveat on the repentance is gone. The prodigal submits himself completely to the household.

The question that both sons get asked is this: do you trust the Father’s judgment and ways? Older sons must accept the repentance of prodigals because God has. God works on repentance and absolution. Neither of those does away with the law. What they do is demonstrate that we have all fallen short. But prodigals, those being restored to the whole have to submit to that household. It is not Pharisaical for the church to point out that partial repentance is no repentance at all. In fact that is called Shepherding. (Ezek 33:8-11)

God is about restoring his people, restoring a whole. But we do not define that whole. All we can do is exclude ourselves from it. Do we accept the grace of the Father to be part of his family, or do we stand outside. We can stand outside in a far country. We can stand outside within the walls demanding our way. Both are forms of slavery to our sin. Only in submission and repentance do we find freedom. Do you truth the Father’s ways best revealed in Christ and the cross? The decision is life or death.

Specific Grace – Relooking at the Prodigal Son – Lk 15:11-32

Full Text

There are a number of points I review and judge a sermon on. Being cut and thrust personality, I like criteria for evaluation that are as crunchy (vs. squishy) as possible. Coming out of a number of sources (CFW Walther’s Law & Gospel, Dr. Schmitt my Homiletics Prof at Concordia, Robert Dabney through T. David Gordon, St. Gregory’s Pastoral Rule and a few others) I’ve got three big criteria, and some small ones.
The big ones
1. Textual Fidelity – by this I mean did I fairly proclaim the text itself or did I abuse it to serve my own ends. Given our understanding of 1st century culture (or 10th – 5th century BC for the OT) and the original language, can I accurately translate the main point of the passage especially in the larger context it is set within.
2. Evangelical Tone – by this I mean is the Gospel prevalent. Have I pointed to Christ for the listener as the savior, or have I just shown them where He is accusing them and with-held the gospel?
3. Have a Point – does what I am saying have a purpose, or is it just meaningless air. Was it the equivalent of Chinese Food and you are hungry again 15 mins later, or might the hearer think about what was said beyond the confines of the hour.
Some smaller ones
1. Rhetoric – by this I mean the nuts and bolts of how the sermon was put together. Was it logical, did the structure move along, was the argument valid and the supports actually help
2. Audience engagement – did the length fit the audience, did the sermon address issues the audience would care about, was the physical presentation adequate
3. Instruction – was there something being taught, would the average listener go away with something new
4. Confessional expression – has the sermon strengthened a true confessional worldview of the hearer or helped to demonstrate that coherence of church doctrine and teaching, has it helped the hearer think theologically
Some of those smaller ones are really pre-requisites. Rhetoric and an understanding and appreciation of the audience are necessary things. We’ve all sat through sermons that were poorly delivered, didn’t move or the points didn’t make logical sense. This is usually a failure at the rhetoric level. The preacher’s toolbox wasn’t used correctly be it from lack of ability, lack of use or lack of time to prepare correctly. We’ve also all been in places where the speaker has completely missed the audience. They go on for 40 mins in a sit-com world of 15 min attention spans. The high-brow examples used with lunch-pail people, or the talk filled with emotional stories given to 50 something men.
I tend to be more intellectual, so I will find myself constantly checking that audience engagement line. Do I really need to use this $5 word? Is that story or support really as logical and easy a jump as I think it is? I’m also male, so I naturally shy away from the emotional content. I find I need to intentionally ask the emotional questions to force myself to look that way.
Assuming that I meet minimum standards on rhetoric and audience, then the big criteria take over.
That is a large lead up for the following observation. The sermon for last week (posted under Deep Lent below) I think failed to balance textual fidelity and evangelical tone. It had a point, and it was textually faithful, but the accusing function of the law overwhelmed the hope of the gospel. It was a sermon that would have been appropriate for an audience of unbelievers, but not for the gathered church.
In contrast, I believe this week’s sermon balanced things better. The prodigal son is a text that from my study last week I became convinced that most sermons are not being textually faithful. Most sermons want to use the characters as moral examples – “see, live your life this way or not that way”, or they want to proclaim the overwhelming grace of the Father. But the purpose of the text is an invite to see the world and yourself the way the Father sees it and you. It is an invite into the eschatological banquet. And that invite is a specific grace. It is not a cheap grace that just accepts you as you are. It is specific in that it requires repentance and acceptance of the Father’s view as real.