Updated: May 6, 2022
Delivered at Christ Church, Alexandria, VA on March 27, 2022
Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Video of the sermon available at the bottom of the transcript
I speak to you in the name of the + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Good morning! My name is Theodore Somes. I am the seminarian here at Christ Church. It has been a pleasure to be with you all since this fall. I have learned so very much and been so loved by many of you. It is my honor and privilege to be able to bring you the message today.
I think it is probably easy for you to imagine, being a young seminarian, that I was very involved in the church when I was a child and a youth. I started out my vocation within the church as an acolyte, the same as you over there. My loving and faithful parents dragged me, sometimes tooth and nail, to Sunday school. I grew older and became involved in youth group – and in this youth group there were people that really challenged and nurtured me. Around my freshman year of high school, I started to ponder the unconditional love of God.
One of the questions that I had was, “If God loves everyone for no reason, why does it matter?” – in other words, in my high school brain weirdly obsessed with theology and political theory, is God’s unconditional love not the most worthless thing if we all get it no matter what? In a sense, is that love the most inflated currency in the world - spent without any sort of rationality, given to even the worst budgeter, a blank check for anything we wanted to do with it? What is the point of me living a righteous life if others get the same love and live sinfully?
“If God loves everyone for no reason, why does it matter?”
This question bothered me so much and for years. The lavishness of the father’s love and the way that God’s love was described made no sense, even when I so clearly felt it and witnessed it firsthand. I knew it was happening and yet I could not comprehend.
My questions echoed the elder son in this parable, who upon the return of the prodigal son and seeing the lavishness of his Father’s love, essentially asked “Dad why on earth are you doing this for my brother when I have been so much better?”.
My objections to the love of God were the same. One of my friends at seminary echoed my concern and said, “Theodore, this story should really be called the stupid father, because who on earth would give all that away.”
It was not until much later in experiences where I saw people give themselves to others freely that I understood “unconditional” love to be different from love without any reason. Doing something for or with no reason implies a denial or ignorance of other factors. It is in fact, exactly the purpose – to simply do something for the sake of doing it. God does not do things for no reason. It is against the very character of God to do that.
On the contrary, the word unconditional implies full knowledge and understanding of the conditions at hand. It accepts and acknowledges what is at stake, what the decision will mean, and how it will affect the person offering something unconditionally.
The father in this story knew exactly what his son did. He knew his sins and trespasses. He knew his transgressions. He knew the conditions of the situation. And he extended love despite all that it meant. It wasn’t love without reason. It was love despite every reason not to give it, with full knowledge of why the son shouldn’t receive it.
“If God loves everyone for no reason, why does it matter?”
It is not a love without reason – and this story is not even about the prodigal son. It is the story of the forgiving father. There was simply nothing the prodigal son could have done to earn the forgiveness of his Father and that is entirely the point. Despite everything his Son did, the Father was ready to forgive his child who bore his image. This is a story about what the Father is giving us knowing every single thing that we have done. It is not love without reason. It is love despite every reason not to give it.
Just like the Father in this story, we serve a God that is broken open and offered to us. We serve a God who gives us all the possessions we haven’t already squandered and spent away. Every cut that we inflict, every sin that nailed Christ to the cross he feels and yet he gives us all of the love knowing the conditions. A love that knows the conditions and still gives freely. It is not as if God does not feel pain. I disagree with any notion that does not admit the weeping of Christ on the cross or his hunger in the desert was as divine as it was human. God weeps when we deny his love and rejoices when we accept his offering to us. In doing this he proclaims our own resurrection – “he was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
And as such, this story points to God’s ultimate goal of restoration and resurrection. In offering this love, the father ends the harmful cycle that sin creates. It is a story about doing the thing that sometimes makes the least sense but does the most good. In offering joy rather than vengeance, the father ends any legacy of the harmfulness of the Son’s action.
Vengeance would have been the rational response. Damnation and punitive punishment is the response that most of us would likely have invoked. It is in fact how we often view justice. Many of us would not have blamed the Father for returning the actions of the Son by seeking some sort of retribution. The correct response, in fact, for many of us – for someone who steals, engages in prostitution, embezzles – is some form of punishment.
Yet, the Father denies the chance for sinfulness to prevail in his own legacy. He does not deny that the son has done harm, in fact he tells the other brother that the prodigal son was dead. But this resurrection is cause for celebration. The ending of this cycle, the fullness of restoration and resurrection from complete of brokenness and sinfulness was something to celebrate.
As we are in the season of Lent, repentance is an essential element of this story. There is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing by the prodigal son. The forgiveness of the father would not be witnessed by the world without the act of coming back to the Father’s house in a stance of penitence. In doing this we witness how God runs to those who want to draw nearer. God is not slow to restore his creation to the glory we are created to be. He sees beauty when we see destruction. He knows us and still loves us.
Our obligation from this story is twofold. Just as the Father does this for us, the children that run away time and time again, as the Bride of Christ we must turn and do this for others. Just as Christ breaks himself for us, we are called to do the same; to end the cycles of poverty, violence, neglect, racism, family struggles – take off your ring and the sandals on your feet and give run to those that have wronged you ready to forgive them.
This time of Lent offers us the perfect opportunity to offer forgiveness to that sibling or friend that certainly doesn’t deserve it in our eyes. It is time to show love to someone who never knew how to love you the right way. It is time to give freely the love that has been freely given. It is our sacrifice to the world, to love and serve the world with hearts and actions that people are not expecting.
The second obligation is the orientation of our hearts towards God. We must take a posture of repentance for when we are wrong – knowing the consequences of our actions, and knowing what separation from the Father means. It is a time for us to acknowledge the words in Our prayer book – “Again and again, you called us to return.” These are the words of the Father to all of his children, prodigal and economical – come home. And in this sacrifice of thanksgiving that the father made for his son’s return, we celebrate thanksgiving similarly today as those words are still echoed.
Let us love not without reason, but without condition, repent freely and proclaim restoration and resurrection to the world in the name of the + Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You can watch the sermon here: