Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Morning After the Night Before The Rest of the Story, Part 2

You have all felt the feeling or have heard of someone who has.  “The dreaded morning after the night before.”  You hadn’t intended on staying at the party that long, you knew that you had to get up the next morning and yet there it was.  As some people say, “It is what it is.” 
The year I graduated from High School, I was still a year from becoming a Christ follower and I spent part of that year with my Dad on a commercial fishing boat.  I was the youngest member of the crew and I wanted to run with the big boys.  And there were nights when we were in port that we got back to the boat a little late and my father had little or no sympathy for our shenanigans and in the morning he would arrive in our rooms and announce, “Gentlemen if you are going to dance you are going to have to pay the fiddler!”  And it seemed the later we had stayed out the night before, the more work he had for us the morning after, or maybe it was just my imagination.  Maybe you’ve been there, or maybe you can only imagine.

In the scripture that was read this morning we heard events that led up to a party, a party that most of us are familiar with, it is the story that Jesus told of the prodigal son. 
Last week we looked at the story, and it begins with these words. Luke 15:11-12 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. 
There were two sons in the story, two because three would have been too many and one would have been too few. 
Last Sunday we focused on the younger son, the one we know as the Prodigal Son.  How he asked his father to divide his estate. 
Tradition tells us that the estate would have been divided with the older son getting the bigger half, in this case he would have received 2/3 and the younger brother would have received 1/3. 
Which would be fair if you were the older son but maybe wouldn’t seem so fair if you were the younger son.  But of course that goes back to “It is what it is” as well.
Of course along with the 2/3 that the older brother would receive he would also be responsible for his parent’s well-being as they got older.  The younger son on the other hand would get his 1/3 with no strings attached.  
I don’t know if the older son wanted his share up front or not, but he got it, and with it he got the responsibility of dealing with Ma and Pa.  Now what the sons received was not necessarily just money, although that was a good part of it.  But the most important thing that the sons received was control over their destiny.  Up to that point they were still under Dad’s control but with their inheritance they obtained their freedom.
The father was saying, “I love you my son, enough that I’m ready to let go”
Now we can draw a parallel here with the gift of free will that we are given by God.  God is saying, “My child I love you, I love you so much that I never want to be separated from you, and I would never hurt you, and there are times I wish I could keep you from sinning.  But I loved you so much that I gave you your freedom, even if you use it to be separated from me.” 
This man loved his son more than words could express and even though he probably had an inkling of what might lay ahead for his youngest he loved him enough to give him the freedom to choose his own path. 
This is of course an analogy for the free will that our heavenly Father gives us, the freedom to make good choices or the freedom to make bad choices.  But it is a freedom and they are our choices.  Well I'm sure you know the story and if you don’t you can probably guess what happens next: Jesus continues the story in Luke 15:13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 

The younger son chose to leave home and he chose how he would spend his money and if you are familiar with the parable you know that there came a time that after he had spent all his money he had to take a job tending pigs to survive.  And that’s where we pick up the story in Luke 15:17-19 When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.” 
And that’s exactly what he did. He chose to go home, where his father greeted him with open arms threw him a party, told the servants to get him the finest outfit to wear and a new pair of shoes and presented him a ring to wear, probably the family crest.  And a good time was had by all, not.  Luke 15:25-28 Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in.
This is where it gets interesting because normally at this point in the message the Pastor is all excited about the kid returning home and expects everyone else to be excited and starts talking about what a jerk the older brother was.  We hear about the need for forgiveness and the need for grace and how the older brother was harbouring bitterness in his heart and probably had served his father out of a sense of obligation and without love.  And the story often digresses and we feel sorry for the younger brother and really start to dislike the older brother.
Can I make a confession here?  Sure I can, I wouldn’t have gone to the stupid party either.  I know that probably makes me petty and spiteful but I don’t care, one of my childhood heroes used to say “I 'yams whats I ams, and dats all that I 'yams”
Christ told the story to illustrate how God loves lost people and the concept of repentance, grace and forgiveness.  We get that.  We understand that the Prodigal is the definition of the antihero. defines him this way
an·ti·he·ro [an-tee-heer-oh, an-tahy-] noun, plural an·ti·he·roes.
a protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.
But the hero of the story is the guy who didn’t forsake his parents, the guy who fulfilled his obligations and got up every morning and did the job that he was supposed to do.  There was no wild living, no partying, nothing to be sorry for. 
My daughter used to get frustrated when she would go to the Encounter Weekend at Kingswood University each fall and they would always have some student speak to the group of high school students, telling them how bad they had been with Cigarettes and whiskey and wild wild women, and how God reached down and touched them and brought them to Bible College.  And Deborah would ask, “What about us good kids?  It’s like we have less of a story.” 
And she is right and her first year at Bible College she did as only Deborah can do and positioned herself so she got to tell her story at Booster.  How the same God who was able to deliver people from their mistakes and habits was also able to keep people from making those mistakes. That when we pray “lead us not into temptation” that we can expect that God will answer that prayer. 
And let’s not forget when we celebrate the alcoholic who finally quits drinking that we should be celebrating the person who never starts as well.  That it’s wonderful when someone gives up smoking but let’s not forget the person who never took a puff to start. 
And while sometimes the church wants to hold up the person who has been rescued from a life of sexual misfortune we forget that the heroes are those who can walk the wedding aisle wearing white and not feel guilty.
So yeah, the older brother might have been a smuck but I don’t blame him. 
So you know the story, the father gets a fancy robe for the kid, a new pair of shoes puts a ring on his finger and throws him a party, ya-hoo.  And while Jesus finishes the story with the celebration that’s not where the story ends.
There Was a Price to be Paid
Fast forward a few hours later, the sun is just peeking up over the horizon, kid brother is enjoying sleeping in a real bed in who knows how long without a pig cuddled up to him and suddenly there is a pounding at his bedroom door.  “Go away” he hollers.  “Can’t go away” comes the reply “It’s time to go to work.” “Work?” Says the kid, “it’s still dark out, normally I'm just getting to bed.”
Now if the guy on the other side of the door had of been my daddy he would have said “If you are going to dance then you gotta pay the fiddler.”  But the guy on the other side of the door wasn’t my daddy he was the older brother.
You understand the story right?  Back at the beginning of the story that we read the father divided his wealth between his two sons.  The younger son got his third and he blew it.  The older brother got his 2/3.  So have you done the math?  Dad has 3/3, Older brother gets 2/3 that leaves 1/3 then younger brother gets 1/3 which leaves Daddy with Zip, nothing, nada.  He had given his sons all he had and his oldest son was given the responsibility of taking care of his parents.
Get the picture, daddy gave his younger son a beautiful robe, the older brother owned the closet.  The Prodigal son got a ring, the faithful son owned the jewellery box.  Yep, baby brother got the fattened calf the rest of the herd belonged to . . . you got it.
Not trying to demean the saving power of God.  I was a prodigal, I spoke at Kingswood when I was there and told how God had reached down and pulled me out of the miry clay and delivered me from cigarettes and whiskey and wild wild women.  I truly believe that when I came and repented of my sins and became a Christ follower that there was a celebration in heaven.
And my sin was forgiven but it had left its mark.   I craved cigarettes for years after I quit, don’t think I wished I had never smoked my first one.  If you never take the first drink you will never have a problem with an alcohol addiction and probably with any other drug.  For years we were taught that Marijuana was the gateway drug, the drug that opened the door to harder drugs.  New research is telling us that it not pot it booze.  And that often that first drink comes from the parents stash, just saying.
Remember it was Mark Twain who said  “It is easier to stay out than get out.”
I could never give my bride the same gift she gave me, and it made for awkward question and answer times when my kids were teenagers.  Yes there is forgiveness and yes we become a new creation, but in some cases you can’t unring the bell. 
If you lived a hard life there will be physical, emotional and spiritual consequences.  There are times you might wish you could turn back the clock and live your life over but you can’t.
There Were Things to Be Done The prodigal was no longer a Lone Ranger, only looking out for himself.  Now he was part of a family with all that entailed.  In the prodigal’s case there was work that had to be done around the farm.  Everyday things that being a part of the family involved.  Chores that had to be done, things that needed to be taken care of. 
Maybe big things like taking care of the herds and minor things like putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher and helping out around the house.  There are responsibilities that come with being a part of the family.  But there was also family time, together time. Having dinner with the family and the laughter and joy that come from shared experiences.
The kid didn’t just come home and pretend that he was still on his own, and that wasn’t a bad thing.  When he came home he was just looking for a job Luke 15:17-19 When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.””    And he was accepted back, not as a servant, but as the son he was. 
When we ask Christ to forgive us and accept His direction in our lives he gives us the greatest gift of all, a gift that can’t be earned and isn’t deserved, it’s spelled out in John 1:12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 
But that morning when the sons went to work they did different things.  Older brother had been doing this for years, he knew what he had to do and he did it.  Younger brother was starting from scratch there were things that needed to be learned or re-learned, relationships that had to be built or re-built.  They were both sons but they were at different rungs on the ladder, at different stages in their lives.
The analogy for our becoming Christ Followers is to become born again or to become children.  And just like there are stages in a child’s growth and progress there are stages in a new believer’s growth and progress.  In Hebrews 6:1-2 there is a warning that is addressed to mature believers but in that warning comes direction for new believers.  Hebrews 6:1-2 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
So those of us who have been on the way and in the way for years, we don’t have to be relearning the basics of Christianity over and over again.  Sometimes I wonder how many people are in programs like Alpha just need to grow up.  So for some of us it’s time to grow up, to learn to feed ourselves and do the work of the Kingdom.  Two mistakes that we so often make is expecting too much from our new believers and too little from those who have been around for a while.

However the implication is there for new believers that a foundation does have to be laid.  You do need to learn about repenting of evil deeds, and that means learning that some behaviour is unacceptable for a Christ Follower.  You need to learn about placing your faith in God and being baptized and you need to learn about the fundamentals of the faith.
They Were Both Honoured  The problem with the big brother wasn’t that he was spiteful or unforgiving it was just that he was human.  For better or for worse the burning question on our hearts is “What about me?” If you know the story he comes home hears about the party and goes to his room to pout, exactly what I would have done, but only after I found out if they had my favourite food, spiteful yes, stupid no.
And so his father goes to his room and begged him to come down and this is the brother’s response Luke 15:29-30 He replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
You know who was to blame here right?  Yep, the old man.  If what his oldest son said was true, and we have no reason to doubt it, then Dad fell down here by taking his son for granted.  He probably thought his son already knew how he felt and how appreciative he was, after all he had given him the farm.  And as parents and spouses and employers and teachers and as a church we can learn a valuable lesson from that. 
But whether it was verbalized or not he was honoured that way, he would have things that his younger brother would never have.
And for those of you who have “always” been Christians, you will have some things that those who come to know Christ later will never have.  Including making the trip without having to haul around a pile of baggage with you. 
But his Father was correct in his response as well Luke 15:31-32 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”  There does need to be a celebration of Grace when someone comes into the Kingdom.  It’s not a little thing it is an eternal thing.  There were lost but now they are found, there were dead and now they have come back to life.  Jesus said that the angels rejoice when one sinner comes to repentance, and we should do the same.
And remember it’s not how you start the race; ultimately it’s how you finish the race that counts.

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