Sermon Lent 4 – March 14, 2010

March 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm Leave a comment

Lent 4C
Messiah Lutheran Church
March 14, 2010

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

So cry out Greek Orthodox Christians in worship,
in praise of the Holy Trinity.
The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
is worthy of all praise, worthy of all adoration,
worthy of all worship.
The final chorus of Handel’s Messiah
sings out words from the book of Revelation,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain,
who hath redeemed us by his blood;
to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
In joyous times we echo those words in this place,
“Worthy is Christ, the Lamb that was slain,
whose blood set us free to be people of God.”

Why is it indeed,
that so often we are not as concerned
with proclaiming God’s worth
but rather with discerning and calculating our own worth?
Today’s Gospel is a well-known story about prodigal sons,
who are obsessed with questions of their own worth.
The younger runs away so as not to be a slave,
for he is worth more than that.
The elder stays home and works like a slave,
in hopes that one day he will be recognized as worth more than that.
But when the younger comes home,
broken by his experience
and proclaims, ouketi eimi axios,
“I am not worthy,”
he is finally able to receive the joy which belonged to him from the beginning.

Luke starts his story with grumbling people.
The Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling
as Jesus allows the tax collectors and sinners to draw near and listen to him.
In response, Jesus tells two stories,
one about a lost sheep, the other about a lost coin.
Have you ever lost something that was important to you?
A wallet, perhaps, or a set of keys,
or an important paper or book?
Have you searched high and low,
invoked St. Jude and St. Anthony even though you’re not Catholic,
and finally found the thing in the last place you looked?
You might not have thrown a party,
but maybe you called or texted a friend or relative,
“I found it!”

But more to the point,
have you ever lost a child,
looking around, swearing you had just seen him,
calling out his name more and more loudly,
beginning to panic?
Do you remember when you saw him through a crowd,
panic on his face,
and how you rushed to him and hugged him,
and wanted to yell and scream at him
but bought him an ice-cream cone instead?
Maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that,
but you get the idea.
The joy when you find what you had lost or who you had lost
cannot be described.

God cannot lose anyone.
But we can lose ourselves.
We can lose ourselves in grumbling about our worthiness and other’s worthiness.
The Pharisees and scribes were grumblers,
but so were the younger and elder sons
in Jesus’ parable.
Grumbling, the younger son thought was worth more than working at home for his dad.
So did the elder son.
Grumbling, the younger son devised a plan to get what he deserved.
So did the elder son.
Neither one of them got what they thought they wanted –
but at least one of them was eventually able to rejoice with his father.
It was the one who stopped being entitled to what he wanted, stopped grumbling,
and started humbling – humbling himself without expectation of status.
The younger son’s return may have been motivated by self-preservation,
but it was steeped in a realism about his actions.
He knows he is not worthy.

The elder son is not there yet.
He still believes that his indentured servitude has made him worthy
of the attention of his father, the status of a beloved son.
As long as the fatted calf was still in the stall,
he could still believe that eventually he would get what he was worthy of.
And even with the fatted calf dead and carved up for serving,
he still thinks that he is worthy,
and so cannot go in and enjoy the feast for someone who so clearly is not.

Why do we grumble so, against others, and against God?
Why do we complain about what we deserve to have,
and what we shouldn’t have to put up with?
Like the younger son, we grumble when love calls us to wait for what we think we want,
to go without so that others might have,
to stay with the community rather than have our own lives to ourselves.
Like the elder son, we grumble because our work leads to no personal recognition,
because we must bear with and put up with people who are difficult.
We grumble when service is slow, when traffic is bad,
when someone changes something we thought was just fine.
Church members grumble against each other.
So far from grumbling, the heart of worship is the cry, Axios!
Worthy are you, O God!
Not worthy am I, but worthy are you,
because there is no grumbling in you.
There is only love, which sorrows when people are lost,
which runs out to find them and rejoices when they are found.

Think about it.
If you believe you deserve the good things in life,
is there really any joy when you get them?
Or do you accept them as your due,
and think about what else you deserve;
do you grumble about those things you lack to which you are entitled?
But if only God is axios – worthy,
then we can be filled with joy in every situation,
because we are always with him,
and everything that is his, is ours.
We can see ourselves and others
not as worthy or not worthy
but as lost or found.

And what makes God worthy?
Not simply because he is mighty or righteous,
but because he is compassionate.
Because God rejoices when he finds the lost.
Because the Son came into the world to seek and to save the lost.
So we cry, Axios! Worthy is God
of our praise, of our service, of our adoration.


Entry filed under: Sermons.

Sermon Lent 1 Signs of the Times

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