This was my sermon, given at Green Mountain United Methodist Church as part of an ecumenical “Pulpit Exchange.”
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: . . . 11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” 20 So he set off and went to his father. But 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. 21 Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22 But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ “
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
I am so pleased that it’s been a full ten years now that the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have enjoyed full-communion partnership. That is significant for lots of reasons, not the least of which is that we can do this kind of pulpit swap without worrying about kickback from our respective bishops.
But also, together we are making a statement to the world that unity in Christ can be celebrated in the very midst of our diversity. Even when you note our distinctive histories and practices, we have much more in common than we have differences. That matters.
Far too often the world only sees the church expressing division and disunity. They only notice our self-righteous declarations of correct doctrine. They only pay attention to those times of arrogant positioning on narrow biblical interpretation. In the face of that, together we are proclaiming to the world unity in Christ. And if they take a look at the Methodists and the Lutherans, they will see what a celebration of unity in the midst of diversity looks like.
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that in our world this message of unity and common purpose is far more important than any message of division or exclusion.
It seems to me that we set an example for the rest of the church as we recognize the diversity among us and still joyfully celebrate our unity in Christ.
It seems to me that in the midst of divisive activity meant to exclude certain people, we can boldly proclaim that by the grace of God we are One Church that has room for all.
And the United Methodist Church, through public statements by the Western Jurisdiction, the Mountain Sky Conference, the Council of Bishops, the Commission on a Way Forward, and notably the actions and voice of this congregation, are claiming the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.
We in the ELCA, and specifically we at Lutheran Church of the Master proudly stand with you in support and admiration as you boldly proclaim on Green Mountain that God’s love includes everyone—without exception. Regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, documentation, political views, religion, or anything else that to some may divide, you reveal the risen Christ by lovingly including anyone. I’m proud to stand in this pulpit today.
You walk in good company. Not only with Methodist tradition, but also with scriptural consistency of God’s radical, extravagant, all-inclusive love. Today’s text is just one of many that make clear the radical love for all of God’s people. I want to turn to that now.
A father loves both his sons. Even though they are as different as night and day. The younger son is selfish and disrespectful. He’ll get a share of the property after his father has died. But asking for his share of the family property before then is way out of line. The father doesn’t have to grant the request—some would say he would be foolish to do so. It not only is reckless, but makes the father (and the whole family) look untrustworthy to the entire community.
Yet the only thing this parent hopes for is the return of this child. If you notice, the parent doesn’t wait for this prodigal to repent or make amends or prove they won’t do this foolish thing again. No, the point is that this parent’s love for their child knows no limits, no boundaries, no conditions. If this horrible child is loved this much by their parent, how much more is the Divine love for any of us. Without limits. Without boundaries. Without conditions. Love that seems foolish, extravagant, beyond reason. Love that has to be celebrated with a party. Love that restores this child, not just into the periphery, but to full status as part of the family—complete with rings and robes and sandals. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Family, and whether this child deserves it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of this loving parent. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that we are called to reveal to the world.
There’s also the elder child, the self-righteous one who clings to their resentment and anger. They think this inclusion of the unworthy sibling is unjust—even unrighteous. From this child’s perspective, their parent’s love for the younger one shows a disregard for faithfulness. Yet, this elder one knows better than anyone how radical God’s all-encompassing love is. They are offended and scandalized by this love. Because it goes beyond sensibility, beyond righteousness. Unconditional love is going to be offensive to some. Because it includes people some of us would rather not include.
So this loving parent reaches out to this child too. They affirm this child’s place in the family and invite this one also to come to the party. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Family, and whether this child deserves it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of this loving parent. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that we are called to reveal to the world.
As we strive to love all people the way God loves all people, we can’t help but be One Church.
Both children are included. Both have a place in God’s love. Whether any child deserves it or not isn’t the question. Because all are invited. All are included. All are loved. There is One Church, and whether any of us deserve it or not isn’t the question. The only thing that matters is the waiting arms of a loving God. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s the image in which we are created and that’s what GMUMC is revealing to the world.