Psalm 130, Luke 15:11-32
September 24, 2017
Back in the ‘70’s, when we did Bible study in our youth group, our pastor would often ask us to “identify” with the characters in the biblical stories. In other words, “Which person in the story do you think you are most like?”
I have to admit, I wasn’t very good at that. The stories seemed to be disconnected from my world, and I often didn’t see myself in any of the characters. So I would usually fall back on the “safe” answer and say I “identified” with the people listening to the story. Yeah, I know that’s a “cop out.” But maybe not. It did give me the ability to start to see these stories the way I try to get you to see them now. That is, I try to get you to see them from the people’s perspective, without knowing what we know!
Well, I’m going to do the same thing today. I’m going to ask you to think about who you identify with, in this story. And no! You can’t say “the people listening.” No cop outs here!
This is “The Tale of Two Brothers.” And I say that intentionally. Because, if you look at your Bible, it will have a header on the page which says, “The Prodigal Son.” That’s how we know this story. But as you’ve heard me say over the years, I believe this story is about both of these brothers. It may even be that the elder brother is the focus of this story.
Remember that he has just as many “speaking parts” in this story as the younger brother. And the story is told to – and about – the Pharisees and scribes who were “murmuring” against Jesus. They were upset because he was reaching out to the “tax collectors and sinners.” And don’t you love how tax collectors were given their own “category” of sinfulness!
I believe those Pharisees and scribes were the elder brother in this story! And they knew it! So this is not just a wonderful story of Grace and redemption. It is! But, it is also a story about the reaction of those who couldn’t come to grips with that kind of Grace, and who believed they were not receiving the same kind of love.
So the question today is, which of these two brothers do you identify with? And in doing so, I’m asking you to think about the beginning of your faith journey.
Just like there are these two brothers, I believe there are two kinds of “faith beginnings.” There are those who have dramatic conversions. And there are those who are “raised in the Church.” And they are more like the elder brother. They have always been with God.
That’s my story. I have seen and read about all kinds of dramatic “conversions.” And there is something very inspirational about such stories, from the Apostle Paul to Nicky Cruise, to Ebenezer Scrooge, to personal friends I’ve known. Those are compelling stories!
I also have to admit that I have felt at times like I had missed something. Why can these other people have those kinds of important moments, and not me? There’s something appealing and even foundational to those stories. We humans like milestones. We celebrate anniversaries of all kinds of things. So why not faith?
I’ve even been asked from time to time, “Do you know when you committed your life to Jesus Christ?” And I really don’t! I know I have committed my life to Jesus, I just can’t really say when it happened! I can tell you when faith started to become important to me. But it was a process. For me, it was more like C. S. Lewis, who came to faith during a ride on a train. As he says, he didn’t know where along the route that commitment was made, he just knew that when he arrived at his destination, he had made it.
Maybe that’s your experience. Maybe you are like the elder brother, too. Maybe you even feel a twinge of “indignance” toward the “younger brothers” who have made a mess of their lives, and who are maybe not deserving of a party! Of course us elder brothers need to remember that that’s the nature of Grace! Nobody deserves a party! Grace is God giving us a party anyway.
Then again, maybe you are like this younger brother. Maybe you had, at one time, made a mess of your life. Maybe you were one of the ones Jesus described as “having been forgiven much!” Maybe you can point to a specific time and date when you changed, and when you made a commitment to Jesus Christ. Maybe you even had some kind of “Damascus road” experience, where you were knocked off of your donkey.
Maybe that is the more “dramatic” kind of “faith beginning.” It’s been said that, for some people, it’s when they are beaten down, when they are lying flat on their back, that’s the time they start to “look up.” Maybe that’s you. And maybe for your “conversion” there was a dramatic day and time. I think that’s great! Your joy might possibly be even greater. For you, it might be like the parable Jesus told, where his conclusion was, “Those who have been forgiven most, often love God the most!”
If that’s you, please know here that the danger is that you could be like the seed that fell among the stones. As Jesus said, you accept it with joy, but the soil is shallow, and the faith, like the plant, can wither. It can be the case that those who are quick to receive, are also quick to abandon. If that’s you, you need to be on your guard.
Well, to both kinds of Christians I would say the same thing today. Remember. That’s the point of this message. That’s what I want you to be thinking about in the weeks to come. And as you do, think about what the “spirit” said to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2. After giving all kinds of accolades about them “keeping the faith,” the spirit said this. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” That can happen to Christians with either kind of background. So to all of us, the spirit’s counsel is, “Remember, then…”
So that’s what I want you to do. Remember. We’ve been including a simple form in the bulletins the past month or so, giving you a place to write down some of your faith experiences, and stories. I encourage you to think about these things, and to remember “from whence you have come.” Maybe you were “beaten down” and looking up from the flat of your back. Maybe you have been with the Father all along, and everything he has is yours!
Remember what God has done for all of us! Remember and celebrate your faith. God’s grace truly is amazing!
Eternal God, by whose love we were redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, help us to be people who reflect the light of your love to others. Help us to be the people you call us to be! For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen!