03. July 2022
“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” So you have learned to confess the Fourth Commandment. The sons of Jesus’ parable dishonor, neglect, disobey, hate, and forsake their father, each in their own way. The younger demands his father’s possessions and leaves him for dead. He rejects what his father taught him. The older son keeps up appearances while remaining home, but has the same hatred and despises the father, too, while he waits for him to die. Both care more for the material wealth of their inheritance than the greater inheritance which is their father’s care, love, teaching, and providence.
Jesus tells this parable under a specific context: All the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus is speaking to those who do not understand the gifts He freely gives. They are scandalized by the distribution of the inheritance that is seemingly wasted upon those who do not deserve it. These “tax collectors and sinners” are not worthy to be called “sons.” They have spent years, decades, centuries, even a millennium dishonoring, squandering, and neglecting the gifts of God. Of course, in their complaint, they have failed to see how they are no different from these others.
This weekend our nation is given to celebrate the Declaration of Independence ratified by our founding fathers on July 2nd and celebrated on July 4th. Our nation’s fathers left in our care a great inheritance, one which they fought for with their blood, sweat, and tears. The Revolutionary War had already begun more than a year previous at the battles of Lexington and Concord. Of course, you learned all this and more in your school civics class or in your naturalization courses to become a citizen.
But you’ll note that we call those revolutionaries who revolted against the English crown our “founding fathers.” That makes us their children, fellow citizens of the new nation that they declared. As children, we receive this nation, its constitutive texts, and the liberty, rights, powers, and authorities granted as our inheritance, a gift.
Our founding fathers confessed this nation and its constitution to be a gift from a providential and loving God. And what have we done with this gift? Have we continued to honor these authorities, serve and obey them, love and cherish them? Do you believe that God gave to them the gift of good government and that is an inheritance to retain and preserve? Or do you believe that all that is a lie promoted and propagated by wicked men, like those indoctrinated in today’s schools, churches, media, and political discourse?
And the further scandal is that you who receive this nation with thanksgiving, waving your flags and igniting your firecrackers while Tchaikovsky plays have only nodded your heads toward its history but are just as willing to dishonor, reject, and deprive yourself and others of the freedoms God has granted through the imperfect and yet blessed founding fathers. You have allowed the creation of a fourth, unelected, and unconstitutional branch of bureaucratic government to be created. You accept taxation that is many orders of magnitude higher than those for which the founders rebelled. You have forsaken your liberties for simple comforts, a nanny state, and deceptive safety.
How could this have happened? How have we arrived at a time in history where we celebrate our nation’s founding but have failed to preserve anything resembling its essential character except on paper? Like we confess in the Fourth Commandment, we don’t believe that God has given us our parents and other authorities as a gift. We don’t believe that God commands honor, serve and obey, love and cherish them. And we fail to confess with the Scriptures that family, tribe, and nation are good gifts from God. St. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” The consequence of our disobedience is that we lose our inheritance and the promises attached.
But our earthly fatherland of nation isn’t the only inheritance that has fallen into dishonor, disgust, disrepute, and disease. The gift of the family has collapsed under the oppressive demonic lies of sexual freedom, cohabitation without marriage, no-fault divorce, voluntary childlessness, abortion and euthanasia on demand, and rejection of biological sex. We have dishonored our fathers and grandfathers with our rejection of what they taught us. They would be disgusted by our ready willingness to forsake the gift of family that they gave us and taught us. Our failure to love and cherish the inheritance of the family which they gave us is the rebellion that has undermined our nation. As the universal witness of the Scripture testifies, a healthy tribe and nation is dependent on healthy families.
How could this have happened? How could we have forsaken the inheritance of a godly family and a godly nation? It’s quite simple, actually. We have rejected the inheritance of God’s Holy Word. We are a people who no longer know, believe, and trust in what Jesus has said, as He spoke through the mouths of the prophets, evangelists, and apostles. We think we know better, are more enlightened, and more progressed than our backward-looking fathers who trusted in Jesus and listened to Him. But in rejecting our fathers, we have rejected the inheritance that they preserved for our good use. We have rejected Jesus’ Word which is our greatest inheritance.
But all is not lost. You, your family, this congregation, and this nation may be wandering like a lost lamb, in open rebellion like the younger son, or living a double life of hatred like the elder son. But your heavenly Father is yet moving heaven and earth to repent you, change your heart, and remove all your false beliefs, shame, and vice. Just like the lost son said, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.’”
The Father has brought you like all your fathers before you before this altar today to confess your sins, how you have rebelled against both the earthly and heavenly inheritance that is yours. You confess that you have rejected the government, family, and congregation established for your benefit. And even more, you confess the reason for your rejection of His gifts. You confess that you have “despise[d] preaching and His Word.” God the Father has repented you so that you may once again “hold [His Word] sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
And what does that Word give you to hear? That you are a sinner, deserving nothing wrath and punishment? Yes, but that would only leave you like the lost son wallowing in the muck with the pigs. No, His Word calls you home. Because you know God the Father not by His wrath and judgment, but by His patience and mercy. Perhaps He might at least make you one of His servants? And coming home, a most surprising thing happens!
“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
Our open rebellion against our fathers and squandering of the inheritance they bequeathed to us cannot separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. Our refusal to hear God’s Word and gladly hear and learn it can. Because that Word is life and light. When Jesus speaks with the Father’s authority, He reveals all our sinful rejection. But more than that, He reveals the love of God the Father in giving His Son for the bloody atonement of our sin and the sins of the world. His Word restores what we have forsaken. His Word clothes us again and again in Jesus’ righteousness. His Word sets before us a feast of forgiveness, the body and blood of the Word made flesh, Jesus. His Word resurrects the dead to life again. His Word forgives our rebellion against the heavenly inheritance we have wasted in prodigal living and restores them to us again.
And by this Word and the gift of the Spirit, your heavenly Father will begin to renew, restore, and resurrect your family, tribe, and nation in fear and love. His forgiveness, received here in Divine Service from font, pulpit, and altar will have its way with you and spill over into all your vocations. He makes you a faithful child through repentance and forgiveness of sins, so that you may honor your fathers who came before you and within your vocations be honorable inheritors for those who come after. That’s why “this Man [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin