Sermon #1: Justification By Grace Through Faith – Pastor Brad Doty

 
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
 
Today begins our preaching series on the six core theological principles of the Lutheran Church. As we as a congregation studied Together by Grace in our Bible study: Deeply Rooted Bearing Fruit, we learned about these six core theological
principles and it made sense to preach specifically on these principles. You may not know it, but these principles are woven into the work we do and the sermons we preach. These concepts are not new, but it is beneficial for us and our faith to learn what they are. Today we look at the principle Saved by Grace through Faith. We do so by looking into the story of the Prodigal Son. We reflect on the love and grace of the father to his son, and we look at how he got there and what it means for the son to receive the father’s grace.
 
I am going to read this story again, and as we hear the story of the Prodigal Son, I want us each to close our eyes and put ourselves in the story. We may have heard this story before – similar to listening to stories told around a campfire – but today we’ll listen with new ears. As I read, think about how it might feel to be the son? The father? The brother? Listen to the story in full, meditating on the feelings or emotions that arise as you walk through the journey with these Biblical brothers.
A reading from Luke (15:11-32):
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your
son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might
celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
 

As you put yourself in this story, what might it have felt like to be the son? The father? The brother? The citizens of the country for whom the son worked? I invite you to share your thoughts with someone around you. God’s grace isn’t always fair, actually is almost never fair, which can be hard at times and hard to understand or accept.

A seminary professor was curious about the different ways that we read scripture. As we know, our social location – our physical place, our economic situation, our race, our gender, our upbringing, our family system, our generation and age – all of these things shape how it is we read and understand scripture. The seminary professor in our story was curious about cultural differences and wondered how we might read this story differently than our global companions. She started here in the United States with a group of seminary students. Having read the story of the Prodigal Son, she asked one simple question: “Why did the son need to return home?” … and so I pause here to ask this you, “Why did the son need to return home?” I invite you again to think about this and share your thoughts that with same person.

This professor gathered her answers from the seminary here in the United States, then traveled to two other companions, asking the same thing. She found herself as a guest lecturer in Moscow, Russia and on Sabbatical in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and in both of those contexts she asked the same question: “Why did the Son need to return
home?”
In the United States, the answer was overwhelmingly “because he squandered his property.” In a context that holds individualism and hard work as deeply-set values, this is no surprise. The Son was responsible – or irresponsible – for his limited means; in squandering them was led back to his father in humility.
In Russia, the professor found a different answer among seminary students, just as overwhelmingly consistent in that context as “squandering” had been in the U.S. In a context and culture that had endured years of systemic decisions, made by outside, topdown policy and governance, the answer was simple: “because a severe famine took place throughout that country.” An outside force; a natural and far-reaching cause. This was the reason that son needed to return home.
And then she found herself in Tanzania. She asked once again why the students thought that the son needed to return to the father. And once again, overwhelmingly, the community replied in mass: “because no one gave him anything.” In a context in which community and hospitality are utmost cultural values, the source of the son’s need (his pain, isolation, and suffering) was because of the lack of care provided by the people around him.
The incredible thing about this story is that all of these answers are explicitly found in the text. This story helps us to see that our cultural values, our generational ideals, our deeply-set worldviews all shape the ways in which we hear the Word of God. These factors also deeply affect the way we hear and view God’s grace. What feeling and emotion did you have if you took the perspective of the older son? Did you question or not accept the grace given by the father to the younger brother?
The Lutheran perspective and understanding of grace is defined in our second reading: (Romans 3:23-25)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his
grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as
a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.”
We are in need of God’s grace and forgiveness and there is nothing we can do to earn God’s it. Rather, God gives it to us as a gift. How did God give us grace as a gift you ask? He did so through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Jesus took on our sin, all of the wrong we have done to God, to ourselves, and to others, and paid the price for our punishment when he died on the cross. This is the thing about the story of the prodigal son. The father did not have to
welcome his son back; his son had already separated himself from his father. He took all that was his, including his inheritance, and left, never to be associated with his father or family again.
When he lost it all, he then realized how much he needed his father. He didn’t realize the value of his relationship with his dad until he didn’t have it any more. We are not much different. Has there been a time in your life when you separated yourself from God, our father? Has there been a time when you have not realized the value of your relationship with God? It happens and we aren’t proud of it; in fact, it can still happen.
Eventually you came to yourself and realized you needed God and came back to God by praying, reading the Bible, or coming back to church. And guess what; when you came to yourself and went back to God, God saw you still far off. In fact, God was right there with you and God was filled with compassion and love. God embraced you and
welcomed you home.
May you, this day, feel God’s embrace, experience God’s love and know His saving grace, which you receive through faith. Thanks be to God! Amen.