Scripture: Luke 15:11-32
Pastor Tom Millner
SpiritSong Worship Center
February 14, 2010
This week I was reading a story about a New York bag lady who attended a worship service at a Manhattan rescue mission. As she approached the preacher in the soup line after service she said; "My name is Edith and I'm ready to give my life to Christ. I never knew before today that my name is in the Bible." The preacher warmly replied; I'm delighted you are giving your life to Christ, but I have to tell you that Edith is not a name found anywhere in the Bible." She responded, "Oh yes it is, you just read it a few minutes ago!" He opened his KJV Bible to Luke 15 from which he had been reading. The woman pointed her dirty finger to verse two. "See, there it is! Jesus receiveth sinners and eatith with them. See I told you, Jesus receiveth sinners and Edith with them." And the good news is that He receiveth sinners and Edith, and Joan, and Edward, and Tom, and anyone else who comes to Him.
Our study today begins as Jesus is sitting with a bunch of tax collectors and other "sinners" gathered around him. Jesus had a way about him – associating with the not so "in" crowd of the day. After all, according to the Pharisees, if He was a good Jew (a respectable Rabbi), he would not be keeping company with the likes of these people. Jesus had been using an instrument of analogy that is called a parable for quite a while in His ministry. In most of these, there's a theme of God pursuing what had been lost or displaced -the lost sheep, the lost coin, etc. In this section, He is trying to bring home again to the right religious positively pious pontificators of His day, the message that God's table is big enough for all to feast! All too often we hear that God's blessing of grace and mercy is available only to a select few who measure up to a strict standard of behaviors. That thinking is "right" with the world, but wrong at the table of grace. In this parable, God is the father; the younger brother is the "sinner" and the older brother the "keeper of the Law." Let's look at some of the points Jesus was making in His illustration.
- God keeps no one hostage:
Verses 12-13 "'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 is equivalent to saying "I'm not willing to wait around for you to kick the bucket, so just give me now what you plan to give me at your death so I can go do my own thing." By the rules of that society, that son was eligible for about 1/3 of the value of the estate and the older son about 2/3, simply by virtue of birth order. The father granted the son's request (much to the angst of the older son). The father let him go, gave him no mandate, no pre-conditions for return. It was like saying "very well, son, thy will be done!" The older brother was not forced to stay. He stayed on his own accord.
- God gives us freedom to make choices:
This guy seemed to make all the wrong decisions. He ceased the day and lived the good life until all the wealth ran out. He didn't invest it wisely for his future, but instead lived for the moment. He wound up feeding the pigs for some fellow, hoping to get some morsels for himself. That was the worst place a Jew could find himself. Pigs were "unclean" animals. To be near or to touch a pig rendered one unclean as well and unacceptable for worship or association with those who were "clean." How many of us go about our merry little way making unwise decisions ourselves, then wind up with the pigs and say "why did you let this happen to me, God?" Or better still; "what are you going to do next, God?" God doesn't punish that way. The consequences of our decisions are just that –consequences. Consequences are not God's divine retribution handed out to those who disobey him or turn away from Him – they are the result of our decisions. We have developed somewhat of a "blame" society wherein we look for blame in our circumstances that are not to our liking. "If I haven't gotten my way", we reason "it must be the result of what someone else has done or not done." This son did not do that. The scripture says "he came to his senses." He owned his behaviors and decisions. He blamed no one.
- God looks for our coming home!
Recognizing that he did not deserve to be treated as a son, the man decided to return home to seek to be a servant. He realized that he had squandered his father's wealth and generosity and that he was not worthy to be called a son. But the father saw him from a distance far away and ran to meet him. The father was on the lookout for his son – he was looking for his return. Not only that, but the father ran to meet him on the way. This was a new and different twist than the righteous ones were expecting. In a similar ancient story, the father severely punished to son upon his return. In Deuteronomy 21: 18-21 "If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." This was the conventional wisdom; but not the Good News of God's grace and mercy to all. Jesus was telling a different story – a fulfilling story of restoration and love.
- God celebrates our return!
The father threw a party and a feast for his son's return. All the best was prepared for him – new clothes, new shoes, and a new ring restoring his birthright. So it is with us. God gave His very best for us – himself – in loving sacrifice so that we can be spiritually clothed in God's finest – the righteousness of Christ. Every time we think we are undeserving, not good enough, too broken, too far from Him – He waits patiently with the best of everything to celebrate at our return to Him – our coming home!
- God can't be held in our debt!
The older son was self-righteously angry with the father. After all, he had been there, worked dutifully, remained faithful – or had he? Had he stayed for the love of the father or for the expectation of the inheritance? His attitude was not the one of gratitude. Instead of joy over the brother's return, he was angry and bitter that he had not been feted with a party with his friends. He was the one deserving because he was the one who had been faithful, he reasoned. We are not deserving of God's gift to us because of what we do – we are graced with God's gifts to us because of His mercy, and His alone. Grace costs us nothing – but it cost Christ everything! We can't behave Him into our corner. Every time we try, we move further away from Him.
Whether we worship in the chamber of the first self-righteous church or the false sanctuary of "I did it my way," we're each a long way off. When we turn in direction of home, knowing that we're not deserving, He runs to meet us with His finest. There's room at the table for all God's children!