Like A Slave

canstockphoto8132906The is the last of a four-part series on the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Read Luke 15:11-25

We have now concluded the fun part of this story. This is the part we like, the part about being found after having been lost, about becoming alive again after having been given up for dead. The part about coming home after having run away. The part about salvation, redemption, renewal, reconciliation, forgiveness, new robes, rings and fatted calves.

This is the part we like. I’ve heard sermons where this is as far as we got, didn’t even read the rest of the story. Ended it right here. I’m sure I’ve preached some of those sermons.

But it’s this next part that really gets to the heart of what Jesus wants to say. It’s the next part that addresses the situation that Jesus finds himself in.

He didn’t tell the parable because somebody came up to him and said, “Man, I’ve really screwed up. I squandered my inheritance, I’ve sinned in ways I’m too embarrassed to talk about, and worst of all, I dishonored my father. All I want is to go home, but I can’t, I just can’t.”

No, he told this parable because the people who went to church every week, served on the committees, gave 10% of their gross to the church, went on the mission trips, planned the youth parties, dressed up in an Easter bunny suit for the big Easter egg hunt, sang in the choir, and knew their Bibles backwards and forwards were upset because Jesus spent more time with other people than he did with them.

And by other people I don’t just mean people who never did any of those things, but, you know, those people.

You know who I’m talking about. The ones who are an embarrassment, the ones who make the sanctified feel indignant, the ones who seemingly thumb their noses at God and do all sorts of things normal people wouldn’t do.

Those people.

“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Do you believe it? He not only welcomes sinners, but he eats with them! Gasp! To share a meal with someone, to welcome them as your guest or to accept their invitation to be their guest, that’s no small thing. It signals acceptance.

And he does it while they are still sinners. He doesn’t demand repentance before he accepts them. He just accepts them. You look at the times that Jesus has meals with people, and he never demands repentance beforehand.

He doesn’t with Zacchaeus the tax collector, nor with Simon the Pharisee, nor with Judas the betrayer or Peter the denier.

He just accepts them. Sometimes they repent, and sometimes they don’t. Such is the nature of grace. It invites repentance, but never tries to coerce it.

You’ve probably noticed in the parable that the younger son, while he is still in the far land, prepares this wonderful speech, rehearses it all the way home, and his father won’t even let him finish.

Before he can finish his father starts planning a party.

“You had me at hello.”

This is what the Pharisees and the Scribes are so angry about, this acceptance of sinners and tax collectors. This is why Jesus tells the parable. And this is the point in the parable where Jesus gets to his point.

Fasten your seatbelts, because it’s about to get bumpy.

Read Luke 15:25-32

“The scandal of the Gospel is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in.”

–Rachel Held Evans

Most of us here don’t feel like it was much of a scandal when we were let in. Not a scandal at all. Most of us feel like we pretty much earned our way in.

Not really, because we know, unlike some, that you don’t earn your way in, you’re invited in, but it wasn’t that hard of a decision when they issued us the invitation.

I mean, I’ve been attending church since I was born. Never dropped out. Never. Not in high school, not in college, never.

When I was growing up it was popular for people to give testimonies of how they came to Christ, and, man, some people had testimonies!

They did hard drugs, or they slept around. There was a guy named Nicky Cruz who used to be the leader of a New York gang, man, had a switchblade and cut people. Then he traded in his switchblade for a cross and went around sharing his testimony, because he had a testimony!

I was 10 when I was baptized. I didn’t really have time to build up a sordid past.The worst thing I had to repent of was arguing with my brothers.

So, yeah, of course I’m in. That’s a no-brainer. A scandal? No way.

So look around you. There are very few people in here that any of us would consider it to be scandalous that they are here and are accepted by all of us, to say nothing of God.

Not scandalous at all.

“The scandal of the Gospel is not who it keeps out, but who it lets in.”

So who is Rachel talking about? Who is Jesus talking about? What people are out there whose acceptance among would it be scandalous? Not just as visitors or people on the fringes, but as people welcomed and accepted by us as a part of us?

The ones we’d rather keep out because it feels wrong to let in?

There, that feeling, right there—don’t push it down, keep it on the surface, keep feeling it.

That’s the older brother feeling.

That’s the one the Holy Spirit wants you to deal with. That’s the one you need to repent of.

There’s a couple of things we need to pay attention to in this part of the parable. One I noted last week.

The first word out of the younger son’s mouth is “Father.”

The first word out of the older son’s mouth is, “Listen!”

And he spits it out. “Look here!” It’s a command, and it’s not very respectful. It’s the kind of thing you say when you are feeling superior, when you feel like you are right and the other person is wrong.

“Look here, dummy!”

Then notice that when the father is ordering the servants around to get the party going he says, “This son of mine.”

But the older son says, “This son of yours.” Not, “My brother.” It would have even been something if he had said, “My no-good blankety-blank brother.” But he doesn’t.

“This son of yours.”

He doesn’t call his father, “Father,” nor his brother “Brother.”

There is only one person in the story who has broken relationships, and it’s the one who thinks it’s a scandal to let certain people in.

Even the younger son, while he was in the far country, still knew enough to know that his father was still his father. The relationship was still there, even in the far country.

Following Jesus is about healing the relationship between us and our father, and between us and our fellow sinners, our brothers and sisters in humanity. And this older son, the one at home, the one who is obedient, the one for whom it’s not a scandal to be accepted—he’s the one with the broken relationship.

It’s better to be outside in the far country and to know who your father is, than it is to be home on the inside and to not be able to even say the word.

But look at what he does say.

“Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you.”

Like a slave.

That’s how he has been working. Like a slave.

Not like an heir, which is what he is. He’s the firstborn son of a wealthy man. There was no one more privileged in Israelite society than a firstborn son. He was due to get a double portion of his father’s property. That means 2/3 goes to him and only 1/3 to his punk little brother.

And since that third is already gone, all that’s left is his. That’s what his father is reminding him. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

He’s an heir who is working like a slave.

You see the irony, don’t you? Little Brother offers to come home and work as a servant, not as a son; while the Big Brother, who is the heir, works not as an heir but as a slave.

It’s just so sad.

You’ve heard the saying, “Once you’ve worked in a sausage factory you’ll never eat sausage again”?

Well, I sometimes warn people as they move into the inner workings of the church, “Welcome to the sausage factory.”

It’s messy in here.

It’s hard, it’s sweaty, and it’s tough. Sure, there are rewards, but there are risks.

You can get resentful. You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, that in any organization 20% of the people do 80% of the work? It’s true. They’ve studied it and verified it. Businesses, non-profits, volunteer organizations, churches, 80% of the work is accomplished by 20% of the people.

You know what I’ve noticed? The people who are in the 20% dispute the principle. They say it’s not true, at least not in their organization or church. They scoff at 20% do 80%.

They’ll say that it’s more like 10% do 90%.

And they say it with an edge.

“People just want to come to church and get entertained, but nobody wants to do anything.”

“We can’t get people to volunteer for anything!”

“I put an announcement in the bulletin that we needed help, and no one has called me!”

“What we need in this church is more commitment.”

These are the dedicated of the church, the ones are work hard.

They are serving in the church, they are here all the time, every Sunday, serving on committees, giving 10% of their gross to the church, going on mission trips, planning the youth parties, dressing up in an Easter bunny suit for the big Easter egg hunt, singing in the choir, and studying their Bibles.

Working hard for God. Working really, really hard.

Like a slave.

There are two things I want to say to you.

First, thank you. You really do work hard, and without you, this place would fall apart. Things wouldn’t get done.

Bible classes would have no one to teach them, and there would be no one to greet the visitors, no one to take up the offering, no one to plan the budget, no one to clean the building, no one to plan the mission trips, no one to set up the communion each month, no one to mow the grass and mulch the beds.

Without you, we’d be sunk. So, thank you.

And secondly, always remember that you are an heir, not a slave.

That you are a son, not a slave; a daughter, not a slave.

That you are a brother or a sister, not a slave.

Remember as well that your brothers and sisters, both in the church and outside the church, are in fact your brothers and sisters.

Not “this son of yours.”

Please remember that. Because otherwise, you’re going to miss the party. It’s going on right now. People, undeserving people, are being fitted with new robes and eating fatted calves.

Don’t stay on the outside. Come on in. Everything belongs to you. There’s a robe with your name on it, and enough veal to go around.

Please, come join the rest of the heirs.

Come be found.

Come find life again.

The life of an heir.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / pastordavisjunocom

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