By Pastor Mark
There is, perhaps, no more insidious temptation in the church than that of being the older sibling. Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with older siblings. They are, after all, the responsible ones. They meet deadlines, they are good with details, they are moderate, and keep the world running on time (read that Pastor Courtney!) The younger kids (and especially the youngest) are spoiled, irresponsible, wildly creative, have no idea what a deadline means, are busy destroying systems that work perfectly well, and the only thing they practice in moderation is, well, moderation (read Pastor Mark!) Both gifts are great, both are needed in the kingdom of God. Both, however, can easily be carried out to an illogical extreme.
In the Gospel lesson today Luke has Jesus hanging out with people of “doubtful reputation”. Jesus actually hangs out with these people and treats them like “old friends.” He’s hanging out with those younger, spoiled siblings. And, of course, the more responsible older sibling is ready to pounce, grumbling about Jesus’ behavior that they find so offensive. Jesus lets loose with some of the best known parables. They are stories punctuated by a sense of loss, followed by a joyful recovery, followed closely, of course, by a party. Lost, found, party! That’s the theme running through these famous stories. In our reading for today we skip right to the third and perhaps best known of all, the story of the Lost Son.
We think of the story as the Prodigal Son. Ha! When it comes to extravagant living and celebration, the youngest son in this story is a piker! Something is much more seriously wrong with this parent. Jesus starts by having the youngest son tell his father to drop dead. How, after all, do you receive an inheritance? And this strange father gives it to him. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what is going to happen to half of a large estate when it is given to a younger sibling. It is going to disappear. And it does, (so far, so good for all of the responsible folks out there) the younger sibling is acting exactly to expectations.
Then, things turn desperate for the younger brother. He looses everything, and then can’t find enough to eat. But he comes to his senses. He remembers his loving parent and decides to go, throw himself at his father’s mercies and hope he will be allowed to stay. This crazy parent is having none of it. He runs to greet his son (Middle Eastern men do NOT run!) He brushes off his son’s speech and proceeds to throw a party. He was lost, he’s been found, we need to party.
Now, back to the older sibling. In that culture he has a life-long responsibility to restore his young sibling to the good graces of their parents. It is the older sibling’s responsibility. The father has done a great favor to the older child by doing the work himself. And the older sibling’s response? Grumbling. I once was at a church training event and the leader said that the problem with the church was that it was filled with older brothers. The message of this parable seems to be that no one, absolutely no one is beyond God’s reach or redemption. How could they be?
We need the gifts of older, wiser, responsible siblings. They are a great balance to wild, unpredictable younger ones. The problem comes when they somehow aren’t able to celebrate. We are never right when we ostracize some group of people, point our fingers at them and proclaim a word of judgment on behalf of God. These are precious children of God, created in the image of God, and when the come to their senses and once again seek out the loving mother who gave them birth, we need to celebrate with them. Lost, found, party!
Quotes for the Week
“I remember when I was a little boy my father didn’t love me; he couldn’t. He loved my older brother but he couldn’t love me somehow, at least not in a way I could understand it. Keith Miller
Each one of here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding. Reverend McLean “A River Runs Through It”
“If you want to know how your girl will treat you after marriage, just listen to her talking to her little brother. Sam Levenson
“God writes a lot of comedy . . . the trouble is, he’s stuck with so many bad actors who don’t know how to play funny.” Garrison Keillor
“I have two older sisters and one older brother and hold them largely responsible for the trouble I got into growing up. I believe as the youngest child, that is my right. Suzanne Collins
1st Lesson 2nd Corinthians 5:16-20 (The Message)
16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.
21 How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God.
Gospel Lesson Luke 15:1-3 & 11-32 (The Message)
1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
The Story of the Lost Son
11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
Questions for the Week
Are there people you have a hard time accepting?
Why do you think it is so difficult for you?
Does God really love us no matter what we do?