Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with referring to today’s Gospel lesson as the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son—but—that’s not what Jesus says.
St. Luke writes: “So [Jesus] told them this parable…” (Luke 15:3).
This parable is singular—but three stories follow.
The gospel lesson for the Third Sunday after Trinity is either the first two stories (the lost sheep and the lost coin) or the third story (the lost son).
It’s not supposed to be all three—which is what was read today.
We read them all because Jesus told them this one parable. If nothing else, Jesus wants us to hear and understand them together.
And when we do that—the shock is maybe a little bit greater.
It’s shocking to us that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine for the one. It’s shocking that the woman searches diligently for the one coin. And it’s shocking that the son treats his father as though he were dead.
No student is upset with a 99/100. The shepherd should stay with the ninety-nine—if that’s not what we think, that’s how we live our lives. No one leaves the ninety-nine for the one.
And I would dare to say that most students would be content with a 9/10. The woman should relax, knowing the coin is in the house—if that’s not what we think, that’s how we live our lives.
How many of you have, in your homes, something of value—not just coins under the cushions, but something of real value—but you don’t know exactly where it is? If, God forbid, something were to happen, you wouldn’t know where to look for it?
And yet you stepped outside. You’re here. You’re not, still at home, searching diligently.
And even the most hard-hearted among us have to admit that a son treating his father as though he were dead is abominable. Appropriate for today, we all agree that a son should realize the gift that a father is and honor him—as the Fourth Commandment requires.
But it shouldn’t be shocking that the father gave his son a share of the inheritance prior to his death—that’s not only legal, it’s almost expected.
No one’s surprised when a father, semi-retired, hands the family business over to his son. Appeals can still be made to the father, of course, but he may still direct you to trust in the son’s judgment.
We’re not surprised by that.
What’s shocking is that the son disposes of what his father gives him.
The son, wastefully disposing his share of the inheritance, is no longer capable of caring for his father, should he be required to.
How can he honor his father, now?
The son treated his father as though he were no longer around, no longer to be cared for, as though he were dead—that’s the shock.
But equally shocking is what we saw this morning.
This father treated his daughter as though she were dead—by bringing her to Jesus—to church—to Holy Baptism.
The Word of God teaches us that baptism saves (cf. 1 Peter 3:21) and unites us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, “in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
We baptize adults because they’re sinful—in need of salvation—and God, using Holy Baptism as the means, saves.
Children, likewise, are baptized because they’re sinful—in need of salvation—and God, using Holy Baptism as the means, saves.
This is shocking, too.
As you may know, Toys R Us is going out of business, and, in some cases, their prices are at least a little bit lower than usual.
The last time I was in there, I happened to see that greeting cards were on sale—and there happened to be a few greeting cards under the heading “Baptism.”
I look at these wherever I find them. I picked this one up, and—how shocking—I read something like “children are born innocent.”
No, they’re not.
Holy Scripture plainly says:
“None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
And, prior to Jesus receiving you into the Church…
“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
It’s shocking to so many in the world that we confess innocent babies to be poor, miserable sinners, that, in the baptismal rite this morning, as we prayed in Luther’s Flood Prayer, that all sin in her, which has been inherited from Adam and which she has committed since, would be drowned and die, asserting that babies are not only sinful but that they even do sin.
That’s shocking to the world—but not to us—because we’ve read and believe the Bible.
It’s shocking to Christians, or at least it should be, that the plain words of Holy Scripture are ignored!
“All have sinned…” is pretty clear. “None is righteous, no, not one,” even more so.
For a son to treat his father as though he were dead is abominable—we agree.
But how about this—for a father to treat his son as though he were dead is a great act of love.
Or, as it happened today, it’s a great act of love for a father to treat his daughter as though she were dead— to bring her to Jesus—to church—to Holy Baptism—because of her need for salvation.
This is why the Gospel is a scandal to the world.
Our Father didn’t treat Jesus as though He were dead.
Our Father sent Jesus into the world, handed Him over into death, so that the world would be reconciled, redeemed, and forgiven.
It wasn’t a play for our entertainment—it was a sacrifice for our forgiveness.
“Greater love [has] no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Love, from our Heavenly Father to us, required Him to confess the shocking truth that the only way for the world to be saved was the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God.
Just so, love—from a father to his child—includes and requires the shocking confession that we are all, by nature, sinful and unclean—dead in our trespasses and sins—until we’re brought to Jesus—to church—to Holy Baptism.
In the parable that Jesus tells, that’s what He would have us learn and know first.
Jesus teaches the disciples, parents, and us all to bring our children to Jesus.
And while it’s shocking, prior to that, to confess our own children to be dead in sin and far from innocent—that we should bring them to church and Holy Baptism—to be made alive by the Living God—while that’s shocking—it’s the most loving thing that we can do—to tell the truth and do it.
Second, Luke records, as bookends to the parable that Jesus tells, the grumblings of the Pharisees and the elder son.
They grumble about the same thing!
The one responsible for salvation—our salvation—receives sinners and eats with them.
And as shocking as that is to the Pharisees, the elder brother, and the world, just so, I tell you, there is joy in heaven when one sinner is brought to Jesus—to church—to Holy Baptism—to repentance.
So let us poor, miserable sinners, together, rejoice in the Kingdom of God, extended today to Alice.
Let’s rejoice in the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
Let’s confess the shocking truth of the Word of God—that our Father in heaven treated His only-begotten Son as though He were dead—and, more than that, handed Him over into death—that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
As shocking as that may be to us and the world—it’s the very definition and means of God’s love to us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 3 Sermon, 2018
The Baptism of Alice Pearl Thompson
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt