This sermon was given at St John’s Meadowfield on 6th March 2016.
Readings: 2 Corinthians 5:16-end; Luke 13:31-end (The Prodigal Son)
The title of this week’s sermon is “Paul: God is merciful, but will he take me back?” And after that Gospel reading, which we probably know pretty well, the answer seems relatively obvious. A man is given good things by his father, he mucks it up and spends the gift without respect. He ends up in the pigsty, and then goes back to his father and begs forgiveness, and his father receives him with open arms. This parable, we’ve been told ever since we were nippers, paints a picture of a God who will always forgive us and take us back.
Well, yes. That’s true. But there’s actually a lot more going on here besides.
Our reading from Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church began, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” Paul is acutely aware that human beings are rubbish at seeing the bigger picture, especially when someone has done something wrong. When we are hurt or upset, or someone we love has been hurt… Those are the times when we are most likely to forget… that we usually know… only half of the story.
But Paul says, “From now on,” we Christians, must “regard no one from a human point of view.” We must try to see them as God sees them. We must try to see the bigger picture, even when we are hurting or upset.
And to make this point, he uses the example of Jesus. [We knew Jesus, as a man, from a human point of view… But now that he has been crucified, he has risen again, and ascended to the right hand of the father…. We know there was a lot more going on there than we realised.] So he says, “If anyone is in Christ,” a Christian, “there is a new creation.” When a person becomes a Christian, the whole world changes for them. “See, everything has become new!”
When we confess ourselves as Christians, we admit that seeing the world with our own eyes is not enough. We are called to try and see things with God’s eyes. We are called to see all people, whatever they have done, as known and loved by Jesus, who went to the cross and tomb… For them, whatever they have done.
Now, this passage from Corinthians has been put this Sunday with the Prodigal Son, because it is a gloss… It explains what Jesus’ words mean for us.
Ok, the parable says that God will always forgive, but why? And what does that mean for me? And Paul writes this amazing sentence, and I suggest you follow it along at v.18. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
In his own, slightly confusing way, Paul is saying, that God… is not… a God who always forgives. God… is not… a God who always forgives. God is more than that. God has sent us Jesus, the Christ, and through Jesus he has already reconciled the world to him. God does not need to forgive us today, because God, in Jesus, has already forgiven us. Just hear that again. God is not a God who always forgives… Because in Jesus… He has already forgiven… everything.
And that, my brothers and sisters… is grace.
Let’s turn back to the parable. At v.18 the son resolves to say sorry to his father, to ask forgiveness. But before he even has the chance to speak, “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.” Before the prodigal son has even had the chance to apologise, the father has already… forgiven him everything.
And this is what the parable of the prodigal son, is all about.
Christians are called to see forgiveness in a different light, to see forgiveness, not through human eyes, but through God’s eyes. For God does not count our trespasses against us. He does not sit like a schoolteacher waiting for us to apologise before continuing the lesson, or like a judge waiting for us to serve our sentence. In Jesus, God has already forgiven us. And when we ask for forgiveness, we can know it has already been given. This is why we usually sing the Glory be to God on High… straight after our confession! Before the day you were born… God had already forgiven you… everything.
And we who have received such amazing forgiveness, forgiveness we do not deserve… Must show that same forgiveness to others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
In Jesus Christ, his life, his death, his resurrection and ascension… God has already forgiven us, before we had even been born. God has shown us his Amazing Grace. And he calls us to show it to others too.
Now, let us rejoice, for our Jesus was dead, and has come to life. We were lost… and, by grace… we have been found. Each one of us, and forever. Amen.