SERIES: I GIVE UP… being judgmental
SERMON: Luke 15
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable…
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
Have you met my good friend, Bob? He’s so judgmental. This is probably not the kind of characterization you want in life, and yet it’s a label that Christians get all the time. And from what I can tell, there are many situations where that accusation is unwarranted and false, but at the same time there are also many situations where that accusation against us is right on the money. So, it’s probably a good topic for us to discuss.
God’s Word for today gives us a great opportunity to do just that from “The Lost Chapter.” No, this isn’t some section of the Bible that was found later on or under odd circumstances. We can be confident that won’t ever happen, because God has given us everything we need in his Word and his promise is that it will never pass away. It’s “The Lost Chapter” because Jesus tells three parables right in a row about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Today, we’re looking at the last parable of this prodigal, lost son.
First, a little background as to why Jesus told these parables. It’s in those first couple verses of Luke 15. Jesus’ ministry was always watched by a critical eye. For three years the religious leaders watched and selfishly muttered as Jesus was kind and compassionate to fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes and sometimes even foreigners. They thought if Jesus really was sent by God then he would be partial to the learned men and the strict religious elite, you know, the good ones.
But in Romans 2, God says he does not show favoritism, that he’s not judgmental. Jesus’ work is for all equally, and so he paid attention to the everyone, even those who society considers ‘sinners’. That doesn’t mean he neglected those who are full of themselves, confident that they are better than others, thinking they are closer to God, because that is also a very clear indicator that a person is a ‘sinner’ in their own self-righteous arrogance. Jesus’ parable beautifully addresses everyone equally, because I hope you notice that it’s not just the son who went away who was lost. The son who stayed home was also lost. So, let’s take a look at these two sons.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
This son thinks life with the father is dull and boring. He sees all the excitement and fun that could be his, if he just got out from the father’s restrictions. His sinful heart listens to the cry of a society that says, “This life can give you so much more. Go ahead! Don’t just look through the windows of your father’s house. Get out here and join the fun! Because only out here can your really live life to the full.”
Do you see how that is being judgmental? You are saying that you get to be the one who decides what is best for you. You are setting yourself over what your Father in heaven says. It’s judgmental to look at life with God as if it is missing something, as if God is holding out on you. It’s judgement to think that the desires of your heart or the call of this world would be better for you than the love and the protection of our heavenly Father.
There’s another bad example of being judgmental in the other son. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”
This son thinks he has been a good boy. He hasn’t looked at life in the father’s house as dull or restrictive. He hasn’t been enticed into all the fun and excitement the world offers. In fact, he’s been working hard, or slaving away as he says, for his father. How could it be even close to see who is better and more deserving of the father’s love?
It’s pretty obvious to see the self-righteous, judgmental heart, isn’t it? You are saying that you have decided what is good and what is not. You are setting yourself over others. You are putting confidence in works and looks. It’s judgmental to think for Father in heaven plays favorites like that. It’s judgmental to look at your life, your obedience, your opinions as the standard rather than the perfect standard God sets for us. It’s judgmental to be angry when others, who you think are worse, get treatment or privileges that you want or expect.
So both sons have the same problem. One might seem worse than the other, but both are looking in the wrong spot for what is right. One is looking out there (society/world) and one is looking in here (heart/head). Neither is looking to the father. One is serving his desire for fun and pleasure and one is serving his desire for recognition and reward. Neither is serving his father. One is lost far away from the father and one is lost in what looks like a closer position to the father. Neither is found to be with the father.
That’s what being judgmental does to us. It either makes you wander into a far-off place or it builds up a wall to God’s grace. Do you see it in your life? I sure hope you do, because it’s there. In this sinful heart it’s there looking for pleasures and excitement that seem to be missing from God’s house. In this sinful heart it’s there blinding me to the perfect standard God has set and instead setting a new standard that I have set where I should get more blessings and accolades from God than those ‘sinners,’ who should be punished because they are not reaching the standards I have set. In this sinful heart it’s lurking the same way it was for those two sons.
If you are trying to get rid of this judgmental heart, one thing that will not work is work. The son who wandered from his father and squandered everything from his father with pleasurable evils thought he could go back and work his way into his father’s grace. “I am not longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” The son who stayed and worked tirelessly thought his work had earned him more from his father. “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”
My work does not get rid of sin. Your work does not get rid of sin. Our work does not remove the heart that seeks worldly pleasures or selfish recognition. Our work turns us from the younger son into the older son and back again.
But there’s someone else’s work going here, isn’t there? Do you notice what the younger son says when the worldly pleasures do not satisfy him, he spends everything, and the deep need sets in? “How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” See, that’s not being judgmental. Calling sin what the Father calls it is called truth. Humility and honesty before God and others is called repentance. Trusting your heavenly Father to do what is best for you, trusting him to deliver you, and trusting him to provide for you is called faith.
Do you notice what happens before this son can even knock on the door and beg for a job? “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” See, this isn’t being judgmental. God’s love that looks and searches when everyone else says it’s not worth it is called unconditional. God’s love that does not seek to punish but restore is called mercy. God’s love that seeks to rebuild what he did not break is called grace.
Do you notice what happens to the pouting older son when he sees the younger brother getting what he thinks should be his? “So his father went out and pleaded with him… ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’” See, also here there is no judgment. God still goes to the proud and self-righteous and begs. God still goes to the arrogant and shows the bounty of his grace and blessings. God still goes to the judgmental and shows how his standard is different and better.
Both of these sons wander in different ways, and the father doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t view one as worse and the other as better. He sees how both have their problems, both don’t measure up to the right standard. Still, his love remains for both. He desires both to be restored.
That’s the kind of God you have, brothers and sisters.
While sinners like you and me wander off to the desires of the world again and again, God’s kindness does not waver. He watches and waits patiently, lovingly, graciously. While sinners like you and me stick our self-righteous noses in the air again and again, God’s kindness does not run out. He comes to us in Word and sacrament, begging for us to see what he has provided.
And what is that exactly? God’s kindness and love provided a promise to save us from his judgment. God’s kindness and love provided a Savior to fulfill all God’s promises. God’s kindness and love provided forgiveness for our wandering and peace to replace our pride. God’s kindness and love provided a home for us before we ever asked for it or realized we needed it. God’s kindness and love did all the work to get rid of our judgmental hearts. Jesus was punished like the lost and wayward should be. He was punished like the self-righteous and arrogant should be. Jesus gave us the place in God’s home, not because we were all out of options, not because we are so good at repenting, not because we meet his perfect standards, but because God’s kindness and love finishes what he started.
To stop being judgmental, to give all that up, Jesus doesn’t point us to either of these sons in the parable, does he? He shows us it takes a father’s love. He shows us what the father is willing to do for his children. That is the Father you have, brothers and sisters, one who showed you what love and kindness is and wants nothing more than you to enjoy it forever in his heavenly home.
When you are trying to be kind and compassionate, when you are trying to be humble and honest, when you are trying not to focus on your own standards and opinions, remember that your heavenly Father did all the work for you. Remember that changing our lives does not cause God to love us, but rather his love causes us to change. God grant it. Amen.