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3rd Sunday of Pentecost

Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “father” What comes to mind when you hear the word “father.”  For many of us, if not most of us, when we hear the word father we think of someone who loved us, helped us, took care of us, taught us, corrected us, led our families, etc.  We thank the Lord for good fathers.  Yet, at the same time we also recognize that because of sin, the word “father” for many people, maybe even for you, fits in the same category as “traitor, enemy, dead-beat, lazy, or cruel.”  The reason is because some fathers completely ignore how God, the Father, wants them to be and to act.

And in many ways our culture and society today does fatherhood no favors.  How does our society typify an American father today?  How do movies and TV shows portray fathers?  Don’t shows often picture fathers as men who are kind of brainless, dumb, lazy, pushovers, comical, too busy for their kids, etc?  And then even on the news so often we hear about fathers who have abused their children, abandoned their families, cheated on their wives, imprisoned, are court-ordered to pay child support, etc, etc.  Ugh!  So if you have no conception or no example of who a good father is, father’s day can actually be quite depressing.

It’s for that reason why today we have all the more reason for thanking our true Father in heaven.  Why?  Because where the world around us, the society around us, the people around us so often fail in giving us what we need, God gives us what we need.  He tells us what a true father is.  In the face of some fathers who are failures, frauds, and fakes, God tells us how He is the real and ultimate loving Father.  In the face of a world that so often downgrades, despises, and disrespects fathers, God gives good and godly fathers the motivation and example to be good fathers.

That motivation and example comes from what God tells us in His Word.  Today we have the opportunity to look at one of the most well-known and well-liked parables Jesus spoke.  In it God gives us a picture of what He thinks of when He hears the word “father” and he does so using the image of an earthly father and son.

Let’s for a moment try to imagine what it would have been like to be the father in this parable.  You’re hardworking and you’ve managed throughout the years to build up a fairly large estate.  Your business has grown to the point where you’ve had to hire servants to help you tend the fields of crops, the animals, the daily chores.  But your joy and delight is not so much your business or home, but your two sons whom you dearly love.

Well one day as you are going about your tasks you see your son approaching.  You think, “Hmm, that’s strange, it’s not a normal time for him to be coming and it’s odd he’s not attending to his responsibilities, well whatever it is, it must be important.”  “What’s on your mind, my son?”  You ask.  Then your entire world is thrown upside down, he says, “Father, give me my share of the estate.”  What!  Did you hear right?  Did he actually just ask you for his inheritance now!?  What should you do?  He’s certainly not old enough to handle it; it would mean a significant loss to the family business, and perhaps worst of all is the rebellion aspect to this!  Essentially your son was telling you you’re better off dead, you mean nothing to him, he doesn’t care about you.

Wow, even though it cuts your heart you give him his inheritance and off he went.  Days, perhaps months, go by and you don’t hear anything from your boy.  You go about your normal tasks and yet something is missing.  Where’s my boy at?  Is he ok?  Is he in trouble?  Is he all right?  And then one day as you’re gazing down the road waiting and watching and wondering about your lost son…there he is!!  Your heart leaps to your throat, you fly through the door and down the road, you don’t care how foolish you look, you grab your son and hug him and kiss him.  “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son…”  You heard the words, glad to hear his humility and repentance, but there’s no time for that now, “Quick!  Bring the robe, the family ring, sandals for his feet, let’s kill the fattened calf and celebrate for my son was lost and is found!”

Wow!  This parable tugs at our hearts, doesn’t it?  Well, the application is obvious, God is the father in the parable and we are the younger son.

In many ways God has blessed us so richly, hasn’t He?  He’s given us food plenty to eat, He’s given us homes and the things we own.  Yet so often we use the things God gives us selfishly and sinfully.  We don’t appreciate His awesome gifts to us or what He’s done for us.  We use the things of our lives recklessly and abusively and wastefully.  We so often foolishly trot off into immorality and sinfulness.

And just like any good father’s heart breaks when he sees his children act foolishly and harmfully, so does God’s heart.  He knows how susceptible we are to making foolish decisions and sinful actions.  He knows that our sins will end up hurting and harming us or others.  He knows it, but because of His love He chooses to treat us as His children.  You see, God will never force us into submission or force us as His slaves.  Rather, He dignifies and uplifts us by choosing to treat us as His sons and daughters.  He wants us to stay focused and flee temptations, but he doesn’t force us.

So unfortunately there are times when we run.  Run far away from him.  Like that son.  We flee from God.  Notice that the son went to a far distant country.  Why?  Why not stay in town where all of the people he knew lived?  Can you imagine him on one of the nights going to the bar and getting drunk, perhaps sleeping with a prostitute, and getting high and then stumbling to his home in the morning and running into dad?  Oh boy!  That would have take all the “fun” out of it, right?

Well there’s a spiritual application for us here too, isn’t there?  Often times when we need God the most, where are we?  Off in a distant country.  When we need God the most we’ve disconnected ourselves from Him the furthest.  We’ve quit our personal devotions, quit praying, quit coming to Bible class, rarely come to worship, and then our lives become a mess, a disaster and who do we often end up blaming?  Isn’t it God?  But He’s never left; He’s not the one off in the distant country.  We are!

And so as the son is slopping around in the pig slop and pig slop is starting to look quite tasty, you know he’s hit rock bottom.  And he comes to his senses.  His father’s servants are better off than he is!  So he decides to go back and ask his dad to make him a hired hand.  Now this son grew up in the father’s house, but had he ever really understood his father’s love.  He thought his father might accept him as a servant, but certainly he’s lost his position as son.  But he remembers his father’s kindness and knows that the solution to his problem has something to do with getting back with his father.  Difficult?  He had to admit he was wrong.  Worth it?  Absolutely!

God does the same with us.  He uses hard times, difficult times, times of loss, times of trouble and disaster to lead us to the realization that the solution has to do with getting back together with Dad.  We need to return to our Father.

And what a reception He gives us!  The father was out looking for his son, he was out each day, “Is my son coming back today?”  He had already forgiven him.  Then when he saw his son coming he ran out to him.  He acted humiliatingly, in that culture it was shameful for men to run.  Then he threw his arms around his son and kissed him.  He put a robe on him, sandals on his feet, and a ring on his finger.

There’s a cool detail about that ring.  In that culture the ring was the family ring, kind of like the family signature.  The ring was used to make transactions and business deals on behalf of the family.  By giving him that ring the father reinstated the son fully as a member of the family.  The same is true when God forgives.  When God forgives there are no strings attached.  It isn’t “If you try to behave better then maybe you’ll be my son again.”  It isn’t “If you promise to never do that again, then maybe you’ll be part of this family again.”  God’s forgiveness is full and complete.  When God forgives He makes you 100% part of the family, He’s adopted you into his family and made you his child completely and totally, no strings attached.  That’s forgiveness!

When we think of the word “father” ultimately God wants us to picture Him, to picture Him and His love and His forgiveness.  It’s only by knowing the Father that earthly fathers can be good fathers.  How can fathers be good fathers?  It’s remembering who they are.  Sinful human beings who have been forgiven by God the Father.  It’s reflecting and modeling God’s forgiving love in their lives and to their children.  It’s reviewing and passing on the truths of our forgiving God in His Word with their children and grandchildren.  Those are the fathers who are good fathers in God’s sight.

And by God’s grace it is in part because of that, because of faithful forgiven and forgiving fathers that we are here today.  It was 40 years ago this year when St. Mark’s first began holding public worship services in Bemidji.  Throughout the years God has used faithful fathers (and mothers and singles J) of this congregation to bring their families again and again to feast on the bread of life and drink the living water and hear the life-saving message of sins forgiven in Jesus the Savior.  Today we thank the Lord for those fathers.  Yet we are most thankful for the Father, our God who is our Father, who loved us so much to let nothing stand in the way of forgiving us.

So what do you picture when you hear the word “father”?  First and foremost picture your loving and forgiving Father in heaven and then live as His forgiven and forgiving child.  Amen.