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)

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