Just Mercy – The Merciful Father
Rev. Donnell Wyche – June 21, 2020
I’m continuing with our sermon series on mercy.
Today I want to consider the story that tells in Luke 15.
For many of us it’s a familiar story and is the basis for the Rembrandt painting that’s in our church lobby. It’s a story of two sons and a Father. One son prematurely declares his independence, demands his inheritance, and leaves. The other brother stays and fulfills his obligations. When we see the story only through the lens of the prodigal son, we can miss the image of the Father that is Jesus is offering.
But catch this,
20But 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. (Luke 15:20)
The Father in the story is compassionate, forgiving, and hopeful. He’s hoping that his son, whom the Father has assumed is dead, will return to him again. And when the son returns, the Father lavishes grace, mercy, and forgiveness on this wayward son.
A spiritual friend of mine alerted me to something about this story that I had missed when he asked me a simple question, “Would this story be so striking if it had been a mother instead of a father?” That question caught me off guard and I have not been able to look at this story any other way since. Isn’t it funny that we expect mothers to love us this deeply, this fiercely, and this completely. Always welcoming us with open arms. Always hoping for us to live our best lives, and to be our best selves. And isn’t it interesting that this, the picture of a fiercely loving mother, is the image that Jesus uses to describe the Father.
Sit with that for a moment…
This son by asking for inheritance effectively says to his father, I wish you were dead.
He takes his portion of the inheritance and squanders it.
13“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. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
What was he expecting when returned to this father?
He wasn’t expecting forgiveness.
He wasn’t expecting restoration
He wasn’t expecting mercy.
21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But that’s what we see right in the middle of his attempt to repent, the father interrupts with mercy.
22“But 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. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
I love that Jesus includes the older brother in this story as he reveals the trouble that many of us have with mercy. We want justice.
25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
The older brother complains that “this son of yours” has squandered everything. The father pleads with the older brother to see his younger brother as he does, his brother was dead and is now alive again. This is an echo of the story of resurrection, this is story of Easter. This is resurrection life. This is what God does, God brings us back to life again. The merciful father sees this younger son as he is, someone who is worthy of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
But the older brother isn’t having any of it. I’ve done what I was supposed to do, but you haven’t given me anything.
Listen to the merciful father’s reply,
31“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. ” (Luke 15:31)
What did the father say? My son, you are both my children. Then he says, “Everything I have is yours.”
Friends, we need an image of God that welcomes the renovation of our heart by the Spirit of God so that we might become the people of God. We need an image of God that welcomes us, loves us, nurtures us, protects, and encourages us to live kingdom-inspired lives. We need the tenderness of compassionate father to consent the renovation that we need. Remember it is,
4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4)
Greg Boyd says that,
“Your picture of God is the most important thing in your life.” – Greg Boyd, author of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God quoting A.W. Tozer
We need to repent of our images of God. We have to invite the Holy Spirit to revised our pictures of God. We need an image of God as a loving, forgiving God. We need the Spirit help to see God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience at work helping us to live risky lives.
We need the Holy Spirit to help us trust God more. To trust God right up to the point where we are certain, but as soon as we are certain, we have to realize longer need God.
This will allow us to do the right thing not because we fear punishment, but because we are loved. That we will act with kindness not out of fear, but out of love. Remember, we cannot earn God’s love; his love is a gift.
Mercy flips the script on our “courtroom justice” tropes because it places judgyness and selfrighteousness on trial
Because guilty or innocent is not the end of the story or the deciding question
Our invitation is to acknowledge our own guilt (as well as our acceptance and forgiveness by God) which is central to how we understand our role in responding to others’ sin or guilt.
Mercy invites us to give up on trying to achieve or defend a status of “innocent”. Instead, we are invited to accept that the “forgiven” is as high a status as we’ll ever get.
Doing mercy requires compassion
Doing mercy requires faithfulness
Doing mercy is part of the pursuit of justice (not an alternative to justice)
Doing mercy is an inspiring call to action because it accepts that mercy is an act of vulnerability: we’ll get hurt, and we’re most able to see the need for mercy in the shape of our own wounds.
When we do mercy, it decenters our own pain & hurt that makes us defensive or want others to suffer, opening us up to see a different story and live out different behavior
Think of it this way, if we aren’t practicing mercy by catching stones, then we are probably throwing them. (Consider the older brother in this story)