Monday, March 22, 2010

Prodigal God (5): Party Time!

[This week, the message text is in notation, rather than complete text.]
03/21/2010 Bethany
Luke 15:11-32, message
John 12:1-8, children

The PARTY as
sign and instrument of RECONCILIATION
celebration of the SAVIOR
embodiment of the NEW COMMUNITY

Kenneth E. Bailey ("The Pursuing Father", Christianity Today, Oct 26 1998, pp 34-40) offers the perspective of a New Testament scholar who lived and taught in the Middle East for almost 50 years.

"qetsatsah" ceremony, exercised by the entire community
for those who lose the family inheritance to Gentiles
fill an urn with burnt corn & burnt nuts
break it in front of the offender and shout:
"JP is cut off from his people"

younger brother, intending to earn his way back
not fully appreciating the damage done
with no confidence that he can avoid being shunned
"I have sinned against heaven and against you"
words of manipulation by the Pharoah to Moses (Bailey)
father, planning ahead, "seeks" him, finding him at the edge of town
runs to him (what a mother would do, Bailey)
welcomes publically
no way the community can shun him when the father accepts him (Bailey)

the PARTY is the sign and instrument of RECONCILIATION
exactly what Jesus is doing w/ tax collectors and sinners
father in story has become the Jesus figure, the savior figure
in absence of the "true elder brother" the parable longs for
 
older brother throws a fit ... like son vs father shouting match at a big family wedding, in public view of the entire community (Bailey)
fit over definition of the feast (Bailey)
father: this son was lost and is FOUND – celebration of FINDING
older son: fattened calf for HIM – celebration of the SINNER
I deserved it, never got it
same logic as the younger son, who wanted to pay back:
earn what you get

We might say, it’s better to be a younger brother, better a rule breaker, because we think the party is thrown for him. It’s not – the party is thrown by the father in celebration of what the father has accomplished in reconciling his son. It’s not a banquet for the "comeback player of the year". "It is not our remorse [or the younger brother’s remorse] that forces God to set the banquet table . . . We cannot throw our own party" (Thomas Long, "Living by the Word: Surprise Party", Christian Century, Mar 14 2001, p 10).
this feast is not a celebration of sinners, or of our righteousness
"not worthy to gather up the crumbs under this thy table" (old communion liturgy)
this feast – the PARTY – is a celebration of the SAVIOR
The father: "My son was dead and is now alive ... we had to celebrate!"
JESUS was dead and is now alive – we have to celebrate the Savior!
 
Barbara Brown Tayler, "Living by the Word: Table Manners", Christian Century, Mar 11 1998, p 257: So if I were putting together a sinners’ table . . . , it might include an abortion doctor, a child molester, an arms dealer, a garbage collector, a young man with AIDS, a Laotian chicken plucker, a teenage crack addict, and an unmarried woman on welfare with five children by three different fathers. Did I miss anyone? Don’t forget to put Jesus at the head of the table, asking the young man to hand him a roll, please, and offering the doctor a second cup of coffee before she goes back to work.
If that offends you even a little, then you are almost ready for what happens next. Because what happens next is that the local ministerial association comes into the restaurant and sits down at a large table across from the sinners. The religious authorities all have good teeth and there is no dirt under their fingernails. When their food comes, they hold hands to pray. They are all perfectly nice people, but they can hardly eat their hamburger steaks for staring at the strange crowd in the far booth.
The chicken plucker is still wearing her white hair net, and the garbage collector smells like spoiled meat. The addict cannot seem to find his mouth with his spoon. But none of those is the heartbreaker. The heartbreaker is Jesus, sitting there as if everything were just fine.

This setting, imagined by Barbara Brown Taylor, pulls us out of the specific dynamics of the parable and connects us with the context: Jesus is welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners. The religious folks are offended: How can he be holy and keep company with sin?
The one exception to this holiness versus contamination perspective on the world would be someone who was so holy that they could not be contaminated by anyone (Citation, recently read). But who could that be? And if someone was truly that holy, why would they want to hang with sinners?

We know that supremely holy person was Jesus indeed, and that he did choose to eat with sinners and tax collectors. On the cross, he cries out, "my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He was rejected so that we could be accepted. He was forsaken so that we could be welcomed. He was abandoned so that we could be rescued.

So, this PARTY is the embodiment of a NEW COMMUNITY, a community of everyone who says "yes" to God’s invitation, a community that is not defined by our need to divide and define, in or out, black or white, rich or poor, foreign or American, sinner or "good Christian". It is a community that anticipates and experiences the reality that God will be "all in all" (1 Corinthians 15.28).
 
"Prodigal" God? Isn’t it the son? But "prodigal" means
recklessly extravagant
giving profusely
And the most reckless one in the story, the most extravagant in generosity, is the father. So too, Jesus has given himself away, emptied himself, become nothing, forsaken, abandoned, rejected.
This feast celebrates our Savior. This feast is the sign and instrument of Reconciliation. This feast is the embodiment of New Community.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Prodigal God (4): The True Elder Brother

Luke 15:1-6 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: 4 "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

Luke 15:25-32 "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.'"

03/14/2010 Bethany
Luke 15:1-6, 25-32 (message)
Psalm 130 (call to worship)

We’ve been using the resources of Tim Keller’s book and video The Prodigal God and looking at the story traditionally known as the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" and we have emphasized that it is a story about two sons, one is "very very bad" and the other is "very very good". Most of the time when we look at the story, we fixate on the sinful younger brother and his welcome home in repentance. But we forget about the "very very good" big brother, furious with the father for welcoming the younger brother home. Last week we made the point that he is lost – outside the salvation feast – because his goodness, his righteousness, is a barrier to the father’s grace.

Last week, we said that if we look only at the younger brother, we ignore a major character in the story AND we ignore the cost involved in bringing the younger brother back into the family.
Today, we start off with that cost. When the younger brother comes home, he prepares one of those rehearsed speeches of repentance. His planned speech: "Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Let me be like one of your hired hands." That is, let me earn my way back, let me prove my worth, let me foot the bill, let me make restitution. But, the father cuts him off mid-speech, denying him even the opportunity to offer restitution. He declares, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet."

The best robe? Aida, "My Strongest Suit"
Forget the inner me, observe the outer
I am what I wear, and how I dress
. . . Dress has always been my strongest suit
Clothing as a sign of social position
A ring for his finger?
The signet, check-signing authority – after he’s blown 1/3 of the estate!

What does it all cost? It cost the younger son nothing. And if all we look at in the story is the interaction between the younger son and the father, we’d assume the father foots the bill himself. After all, he seems to be the man in charge. But that’s why we must not miss what happens with the older brother, whom the father reminds, "Everything I have is yours". In the ancient Palestinian tradition, if the father divided the estate before he died, he still retained the rights to use it and profit from it, even though the son held the title. So, whose money was dear old dad giving away? Whose robe? Whose checking account? Big brother’s. Big brother is paying the bill. It cost him a lot to bring his younger brother back into the family, and he wants nothing of it.

So, note this: Forgiveness is free – to the younger son, but it is very expensive – to the older brother. Grace is free – to the younger son, but it is very costly – to the older brother. In recent years we’ve been reminded that "freedom isn’t free". We know what that means: Freedom is free for most of us, but it is not something to be trivialized because it has been paid for, generation after generation, with the greatest of sacrifice. In the same way, and even more so, the grace of God is free, but not trivial, not to be presumed upon, not to be cheapened by ignoring the cost that was paid.
 

But back to the older brother in the story. He had no interest in bearing this expense. He wanted nothing to do with the younger brother. He had no desire to be reunited with him at the feast. One of the questions we discussed on Thursday night was, "How would the attitude of the elder brother make it harder for the younger brother to come home?" (Keller, study guide). It is this kind of question that points out the power to this story. Because there is pain in every family story. Will we reconcile or remain apart? Can the "older brother" of the family get beyond himself to truly love, to reunite?

Remember the first two stories Jesus tells? The lost sheep is sought by a shepherd, the lost coin is sought by a woman. In each story, someone goes out to seek and save the lost. But not in this story. Yes, the father does run to greet the son when he sees him coming from far off. But the son is already on his way home.

So, as Jesus tells this third story, the story of the lost sons, folks notice the missing seeker and they know who should be seeking – the older brother. His role is to maintain and protect the family honor, to function as the goel, the redeemer, in the family system – the one who buys back family members (like his younger brother) from slavery, the one who avenges in the case of a blood feud. (Bruce Malina, Windows on the World of Jesus: Time Travel to Ancient Judea, Window 2, "Father, Son, and Daughter", 1993, Westminster/John Knox Press.)

In this story, we have a "very very good" older brother, but one who shows no concern for the heart of the father, for the family honor, for the redemption of his brother. He makes us long for a true older brother, one who is willing, in the words of Tim Keller, to "seek us and bring us back at any risk and any cost to himself" (notes for pastors).
 

Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus says of himself, "For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost" (Luke 19.10). Here in Luke 15, he is the one who is "eating with tax collectors and sinners" (15.1-2). He is our true elder brother – willing to "seek us and bring us back at any risk and any cost to himself" (Keller). (See also Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, p 1086, Doubleday 1985.)

And, we are named – all of us (even the ladies, for the purpose of this story) – the brothers of Jesus. Hebrews 2.11, "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." And, Romans 8.29, "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers."

One of the earliest hymns of the church is recorded for us in Philippians 2. Unfortunately, the music has not survived with the text. But the poetry reads, in part,
though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2.6-8

"Everything I have is yours," the father says to the older son. And, Jesus doesn’t grasp for it, doesn’t treasure it, doesn’t hoard it. He empties himself, he goes looking for us in the far country, he finds us and brings us back from our slavery. "For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8.9).

I love the lines in the ancient hymn, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded", attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux:
What thou, my Lord, has suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on my with thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me thy grace.

So, note this: Forgiveness is free – to the younger son, but it is very expensive – to the older brother. Grace is free – to the younger son, but it is very costly – to the older brother. And our older brother pays the price with joy.

What is there for us to do? It is free, after all. Worship. Bind ourselves in love to this brother who seeks and finds us. But, as Columbo says, "One more thing." Jesus emptied himself to make room for us in the house of God. "I go to prepare a place for you," he tells his disciples as he prepares for his death (John 14.1-6). It is time for us to empty ourselves to make room for others in the household as well. It is time for us to share in his mission.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Quid Pro Quo God

On a theme related to our Prodigal God series, an article sent me by my father describes the "quid pro quo God". Enjoy.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Prodigal God (3): Big Brother

Luke 15:25-32 "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.'"

Prodigal God (3): Big Brother
03/07/2010 Bethany
Luke 15:25-32 (message)
Psalm 63 (call to worship)
Luke 13:1-9 (children)
 
Most of the time, when we look at this story, the story traditionally known as "The Parable of the Prodigal Son", we concentrate on the account of the younger brother. He disgraces his father and family, squanders his inheritance in riotous living, and returns home to an incredible and unexpected welcome. One old preacher described his prodigal days with the phrases, "he rambled, he scrambled, he gambled". As Tim Keller, the writer of The Prodigal God, says, "Yes, there’s someone who is spiritually lost." It is easy to label that as sinful, and it is clear that his welcome home is an act of grace. But if we stop there, we miss out on the cost of that grace and totally ignore one character in the story, the "big brother".

"Big brother"? The phrase conjures up images of control and conformity – the perfect terms for the life and spirituality of the older brother! Keller tells us that the big brother, like the little brother, is spiritually lost. No, he hasn’t "acted out". No, he hasn’t sown any "wild oats". Instead of sin keeping him from God, it is his righteousness that becomes the barrier. In the context of most of our focus on this story – on the younger brother – this comes as a startling, and perhaps offensive, statement: The older brother in the story is lost. So, let’s take this question first, and then examine the implications for our own lives.

There are several elements of the story that reveal the lostness of the older son. First, the son, in his argument with dad, says, "For all these years I’ve been working like a slave for you" (Luke 15.29). In the theology and story of Israel, this is a reference to Exodus, to Israel delivered from slavery in Egypt. Years after the Exodus, the prophet Jeremiah declares, in question form, "Is Israel a slave?" (Jeremiah 2.14). We are, Jeremiah asserts, delivered and saved people. We shouldn’t go back to slavery, we shouldn’t give up on grace. Yet, big brother, who should have been enjoying the grace of the father, is living like a slave. He needs to be delivered, he needs to be saved.

Second, over and over in the Scripture and in Jesus’ teaching, salvation and life in the kingdom of God is described as a feast or party. The prophet Isaiah promises, "On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food" (Isaiah 25.6). When Jesus eats his last Passover meal (a celebration of the Exodus deliverance) with his disciples, he says, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22:15-16). And, here in Luke 15, we are twice told of the "joy in heaven" over "one sinner who repents". What’s going on at the feast of the father? They are rejoicing over "one sinner who repents" . . . it’s an image of heaven! And the big brother is outside, refusing to go in, arguing with dad.

One of the great questions we were asking on Thursday night at our Lenten dinner discussion was, "Why was the big brother so unhappy that his brother had returned?" It is obvious to me that the folks who ask that question just aren’t big brothers, in the sense of this story, or, if they ever were big brothers, they got over it. Good for them. But when I hear this story, as often as I read it, I respond to the younger brother with indignation and disgust. He’s arrogant, rude, shameless, self-absorbed, out of control, stupid, lacking discipline. Good riddance! My heart doesn’t break for him, I don’t find myself moved with love or compassion. Dad is far too nice. I’d be saying, "Don’t let the door hit you on the way out."

In my imagination, the younger brother has made a habit of coming home in the wee hours hung over, with a girl or a friend – equally inebriated – in tow. In my imagination, he sleeps in, skips out on farm chores, shows up only to eat and sleep, then heads out to paint the town red. In my imagination, the first times this happened, dad was sleeping uneasily on the couch, jumping up when the kid got home, saying, "Where were you? Why didn’t you call?"

But that is not the dynamic this time. The father says, "This son of mine was dead and is alive again" (Luke 15.24). He expected to get a newspaper obituary in the mail – alcohol poisoning, bar fight, accident. No "Where were you?" Only, "He was lost and is found".

Now, my imagination of the younger brother before he leaves home is, quite simply, "not in the book". What we have, however, is a rejoicing father and an angry big brother. The big brother is angry because he’s never gotten this kind of treatment for all his years of compulsive goodness. Dad reminds him, "All I have is yours" (that is, since the little brother already got his inheritance, everything else goes to the big brother). We don’t know the big brother’s response – Jesus leaves the story unresolved – but the father’s statement raises one more objection. The lavish feast, a feast likely thrown for the entire community (how else do you eat a calf?), is at the expense of the big brother’s inheritance! And, what if the father has in mind to make this younger brother an heir once again? Would he go that far? Again, the story doesn’t take us there, but you can almost hear the adding machine in the big brother’s head. As Keller emphasizes, he wanted the father’s wealth, but not the father. His younger brother was not just a disgrace to the family but also an expense he did not want to bear . . . and he refuses to be in the same family with "this son of yours" (Luke 15.30).

The older brother is lost. He refuses to be in a family with a sinner, and God welcomes sinners. Keller says it this way: "The difference between a religious person and a true Christian is that the religious person obeys God to get control over God, and things from God, but the Christian obeys just to get God, just to love and please and draw closer to him. Some people are complete elder brothers. They go to church and obey the Bible– but out of expectation that then God owes them. They have never understood the Biblical gospel at all. But many Christians, who know the gospel, are nonetheless elder-brotherish. Despite the fact that they know the gospel of salvation by grace with their heads, their hearts go back to an elder-brotherish ‘default mode’ of self-salvation" (Keller, notes for pastors).

What are the characteristics of "big brother spirituality"?
Anger
Slavish obedience
Judgmental toward "younger brothers"
Superior ... and judgment creates a barrier
No assurance of God’s love – "you never threw me a party" (Keller)
Earning - deserving - meriting is not consistent with assurance that we are loved just so
Bitterness toward God when things don’t go "our way"
Story: Salesman ... good Christian but unsuccessful compared to unethical colleagues. God is not a vending machine – 10 prayers, a month of perfect church attendance, and tithing . . . and you get the outcome you desire.

Big brother is lost, only he doesn’t know it. And that makes his condition all the more dangerous for him. Nevertheless, the father goes out to plead with him. And Jesus ends the story with the invitation. It is his way of saying to us that the door remains open even if we are going to debate with him. It is his way of saying to the Pharisees, whose role in the story was played by the big brother, that their righteousness may be a barrier between them and God but that they were still invited into the kingdom.

Jesus challenges religion. When we’re lost, we need to be found – we don’t "find" ourselves. When we’re righteous, we still need God. Our good deeds don’t earn entrance to the kingdom of God. Jesus challenges religion because it puts control, false control, in our hand. And, religion killed Jesus. The religious experts and the political establishment, neither wishing to give up control, conspired together to arrest and execute him.

As he died, Jesus called out, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23.34). As Keller writes, "Knowing what he did for us must drain us of our self-righteousness and our insecurity. We were so sinful that he had to die for us. But we were so loved that he was glad to die for us. That takes away both the pride and the fear that makes us elder brothers" (notes for pastors).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Language of Limits

My reading has entered Jeremiah. In his "call story", Jeremiah objects to God, saying, "I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy" (1.6). The LORD replies: "Do not say, 'I am only --'" (1.7). It is the language of limits to say that "I am only --". It doesn't matter what we "only" are, because we are never alone. When God is for us, "who can be against us"? (Romans 8.31).

Iditarod

Today is the kickoff to my favorite winter sporting event - the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race! It is a feast of wilderness beauty, brutal endurance, daring gambits, ancient tradition, and powerful dogs.

The race can be followed through the Iditarod race site, the Anchorage Daily News, and KTUU television. Check it out!

More from Moltmann

Some quotes from Juergen Moltmann's autobiography, A Broad Place:

On serving a rural church as pastor, after finishing his doctorate: With my doctorate, I at first felt a fool standing in the pulpit in front of this farming congregation. But earlier [childhood] I had lived with workers and famers in 'the hard school of life', and it was out of these experiences that I preached, not from my Gottingen lecture notes. This congregation taught me 'the shared theology of all believers', the theology of the people. Unless academic theology continually turns back to this theology of the people, it becomes abstract and irrelevant (p. 59).

On visiting the Maidaneck concentration and death camp near Lublin, Poland: At the time I wanted to sink into the ground for shame, and would have suffocated in the presence of the mass murder, if on one of the roads through the camp I had not suddenly had a vision. I looked int o the world of the resurrection and saw all these dead men, women, and children coming towards me. Since then I ahve know that God's history with Auschwitz and Maidanek has not been broken off, but that it goes further with the victims and with the perpetrators. Without hope for the 'new earth in which righteousness dwells' (2 Peter 3.13), this earth, which has suffered Treblinka and Maidanek, would be unendurable (p. 84).

On lectures on medical ethics, science and faith: Two special aspects emerged: on the one hand, to develop out of the mutual influence of theology and science a doctrine of wisdom that comprehends them both, and on the other, to take up the problems of the disabled . . . . The disabled are not a burden, nor are they a threat to the non-disabled; they are an enrichment for human society (p. 89).

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kazue Sawai Plays Midare (JAPANESE KOTO)

Sounds from my youth ... Just about wore out my dad's Kimio Eto album, including this classic koto work.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Prodigal God (2): Lost Boys

Luke 15:11-32 Then Jesus said, "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.'"

Prodigal God (2): Lost Boys
02/28/2010 Bethany
Luke 15:11-32 (message)
Psalm 27
Luke 13:31-35, children

Last week, we began our investigation of the story we know as "The Parable of the Prodigal Son" by examining the audience to the story and the two stories that immediately precede it. This week, we’ll investigate the first conversation in the story, the conversation between the younger son and the father. I encourage you to go deeper with into Scripture with the Thursday night Lenten dinner & discussion group and with reading the book, The Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller, whose resources contribute to this message series.

I title this message "Lost Boys" because the story is about two sons, not one. But in doing so, I make allusion to two different kinds of lostness. One is to the lostness of the "Lost Boys" of the Peter Pan story: They are actually good guys, but they are still lost, still far from home. The other allusion, not as widely known, is to a book by that title by James Garbarino, at the time of publication a professor at Cornell. The subtitle? "Why our sons turn violent how we can save them." Two kinds of lostness, just like the two sons in the story. The "good guy" older brother in Jesus’ story, it turns out, is just as lost as the "bad guy" younger brother. He’s been living at home but missing out on the feast.

In my personal reading in Isaiah, I have found descriptions of both forms of lostness (Isaiah 57:10-13). The lostness of the younger son:
You grew weary from your many wanderings, but you did not say, "It is useless." You found your desire rekindled, and so you did not weaken.
Our desires leading us on "many wanderings" ... exactly where the "pursuit of happiness" can take us. We’ll only find ourselves at home when we are found by God.

The lostness of the older son:
I will concede your righteousness and your works, but they will not help you. 13 When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
How are righteousness and idols connected? In a self-sufficient spirituality, a spirituality in which we "earn" our way. But an invitation to the kingdom feast is a gift, not a reward. But you are born into God’s family by a work of the Spirit, you don’t gain leverage over God by works.

Luke 15:11-12 "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.

Wow! I’m at the point in life at which, from time to time, my parents will ask what of their stuff I’d like to have. The first time they mentioned that, it was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t want to "go there", and still don’t.

But this younger son has no trouble hitting fast forward with his dad’s life: "Give me my share of the inheritance now. Wish you were dead. See ya!" The normal response by a father in a traditional honor-shame society would be something along the lines: "You wish I was dead? By the time I’m done with you, you’ll wish you were dead." Even if no violence was involved, the father would be expected to disown and disinherit the son. But not this father. This father does what the son requests. He dies, he divides his possessions, and the son leaves. What the son does not realize, the unintended consequence, is that, while the father actually lives on, albeit through much pain, the son begins to die. When the son returns at the end of the story, the father celebrates and exclaims, "This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" (Luke 15:24, and see 15:32).

What’s wrong with this younger son? His loves are out of order, disordered, inordinate. As Tim Keller says, "He loves the father’s things, but not the father." Did he want the wealth for the sake of status, of freedom, of pleasures? We’re not told. But he loved the wealth enough to wish his father dead. "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10, and see Hebrews 13:5). Our loves, when out of order, get us into all kinds of trouble. We love our honor, and we bristle and fight to protect it. We love our job, and we enslave ourselves to keep it. We love our family, and we’ll become violent in its defense, or we become incapable of saying "no" to our children. Jesus made the audacious statement: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). That is, to follow Jesus, your disordered loves, even loves for good things – and love of wealth can hardly be considered love of a "good" thing – even loves for good things must be laid down at the cross and set in order by God. We must lay down every idol, everything that we put in the place of God in our lives.

On this particular, there is not much difference between the two sons. The older son, just like his younger brother, loves the father’s things more than the father and is willing to humiliate dear old dad publically at the great feast. The older son displays this lack of love when he declares, "For all these years I have been working like a slave for you" (Luke 15:29). Sometimes, though very rarely, our boys might express some minor displeasure at the chore they are being asked to do. We’ll call them "Cinder-fella" and tell them, "This is why we had kids." The truth is that our desire is to raise sons, not slaves. But the older brother valued stuff more than sonship.

What’s wrong with the father? He doesn’t do the predictable thing, the socially acceptable thing. He doesn’t banish his son, disown him, beat him. When the son leaves, he leaves on his own. The father doesn’t hunker down and protect himself. Instead, he subjects himself to pain, humiliation, and loss. If he does the predictable thing, his son will not just be dead but the father will be "dead to him", a wall will be erected that may not be possible to open. This father kept the door open. I love what a wise woman said to King David about reconciliation with his banished son: "But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him" (2 Samuel 14:14).

Like the brothers, our loves get out of order. Like a married person, or a someone in a committed relationship, who gets too close emotionally to someone else, our loves are out of order. Maybe we protest: "But nothing’s happened." But something has happened. Our loves are out of order. We’re controlled by what we love, whether it is the career, or the kids, or our peers. We can kill ourselves with work, but the job will never return the favor. It is idolatry. As Isaiah says, "When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!" That ain’t happening any time soon!

God has done for us what the father in the story did for the son. Instead of disowning us, instead of visiting us with judgment and vengeance, he delivered us, "he was wounded for our transgressions", he took the nails in his hands. And, as Jesus died on the cross, his only remaining property – his clothing – was divided among them, divided between us. Because of this, we can know true forgiveness, we can come home to God and discover the door already open to us, discover the one love that can forever capture our hearts.

John Newton, the writer of the hymn "Amazing Grace" also wrote these lines:
Our pleasure (younger brother) and our duty (older brother),
Though opposite before,
Since we have seen His beauty,
Are joined to part no more:
It is our highest pleasure,
No less than duty’s call,
To love Him beyond measure,
And serve Him with our all.
(From Tim Keller’s notes for pastors and Prodigal God, the book)