Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Rest of the Story

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of the Prodigal Son. It's such a delightfully simple story that describes what it is like to walk away from God, and it so universally applies to everyone who has ever lived. However, when we recount the story, very often we leave half the story out. So for this week's lesser known Bible passage, I bring you "the rest of the story" of the Prodigal Son. The following is an edited version of a sermon I heard Dr. Mark Love present (cool name, right? "Dr. Love." He's a professor at Abilene Christian).

Colossians 3:12-17

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Well. These are familiar words. We are on familiar ground here. These are like smooth stones, these words. Our lives have passed over them so often that they've become polished and smooth. And they fit comfortably in our hands.

"Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus."

These words don't get lost somewhere in the back pages of Scripture, nor do we have to hunt and hunt to find them. We know these words. These are words to us like, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Or, "We are more than conquerors through Christ." Or, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son."

These are the kinds of words we needlepoint and hang on our walls -- right next to our family pictures, and our Norman Rockwell paintings, and our ceramic crosses, and our guardian angels. These are words that we could put on a T-shirt.

There is no doubt. These are words with which we are familiar. We know these words.

These are words that we could make our life slogan. "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus." And that's exactly what Rick did.

Rick printed out this verse and tacked it on his bathroom mirror and shaved under the words every morning. "Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus."

And so in the name of the Lord he went to church. And not just Sunday morning, but Sunday evening and Wednesday evening. And if anything was happening at church, Rick was there. He even gathered with a select group of disciples on Saturday evening to pray over the worship service the next day.

And in the name of the Lord he conducted his business. And Rick didn't just care about the bottom line; he was concerned about customers. And he treated everyone with respect, in the name of the Lord. And he didn't make a lot of money, but he made enough to feel blessed by God. And he made sure that he gave more than a tithe to the work of the church in the name of the Lord.

And in the name of the Lord he cared for his family. He cherished his wife, and showed it quite often, publicly and privately. And he adored his children in the name of the Lord. And with them, he didn't just spend quality time, but quantity time. And he loved his mother and father in the name of the Lord. He even loved his brother, Roger.

Roger had not lived as charmed a life as his brother, Rick. Roger had gotten his college girlfriend pregnant, and married her. They couldn't make it work, though, and they separated three years later. And the divorce devastated Roger -- the dream was over and he was separated from his young boy, as well. That is when he began his drug use. But when he was arrested for possession of illegal narcotics, Roger even lost the ability to visit with his son un-chaparoned.

So when Roger asked his brother Rick if he would be a host one weekend a month so that he could visit with his son, Rick obliged in the name of the Lord. However when Roger's ex-wife showed up to drop of their son, Roger would spend only a short amount of time with his son. He would then take off for God-knows-where for the weekend while Rick & his wife babysat his child. Whenever he decided to stick around, it became evident that Roger was doing drugs in his brother Rick's home.

Well, Rick had to confront him. He told him, "Listen, Roger, if this is going to happen, we're going to need some groundrules so that we understand each other. First, on the weekend your son shows up, you will be here with him. If you are going to be a parent, then you are going to be a father. And second, you will never, EVER do drugs in this house again." After a few more months of Roger not being able to live up to the ground rules, Rick put his foot down & refused to assist his brother.

A few more months passed when Roger called up his father to chat. After catching up on the latest events, Rick's father spoke up. "Son, there's something you need to know. Your brother, Roger, came home." Rick was speechless. "He was in bad shape, and so we've taken him in here. And all his credit cards were maxed out, so your mother & I paid them off. And his van was on the out's, so we've given the BMW."

The BMW ... ... ... ... ... the CHERRY RED BMW! They gave him the BMW!

All of this troubled Rick. So in the name of the Lord, he passionately reasoned with his father. "Dad, this is wrong. You're aiding his lifestyle! You're enabling him. It's time to show some tough love here. What he needs is some good, old-fashioned discipline. He's going to end up right back where he was a couple months ago. Why don't you grow a backbone and take a stand here?"

But his father was taking a stand. He listened to everything Rick had to say, and then said, "Son, I respect what you have to say, but I'm willing to stand up for mercy here. And you may be right -- everything you're saying may be exactly right. But I'm willing to go to Judgment Day standing on the ground of mercy, rejoicing that our son has come home."

And as he hung up the phone, it hit Rick like a ton of bricks. He had become the Older Brother!

Not just biologically, or chronologically. He realized that he had become the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. While everyone else was lavishly celebrating the younger son's return, the older brother is standing outside -- resentful & angry. "You never killed so much as goat for ME, and you gave him the ring and the robe and the fatted calf."

"You gave him the cherry red BMW!"

Rick became angry. How could this happen? How could Mark go from "doing everything in the name of the Lord" to being the older brother? How does that happen? How does one go from "doing everything in the name of the Lord" to being the one on the outside of the celebration of his younger sibling's return home?

If there's anything we notice about the story of the prodigal son, it's the extravagance of the party. The robe. The ring. The fatted calf. The friends invited over. The great celebration in the text over one who was lost is now found. How do you stand on the outside of that, looking in? How do you get yourself to a place where you can no longer celebrate with the angels in Heaven?

(Remember, this is M. Love speaking ...) And you should know right now that even though I've changed a couple of the details of this story, this is my story. I was the older brother. My brother really got the BMW. All I ever got was a used Isuzu -- he got the cherry red BMW!

And here's the point. I've had to realize that it's possible to perform religiously and cut yourself off from the joy of the Kingdom of God. I've realized that it's possible to do everything in the name of the Lord and sentamentalize faith. To make it needle-stitch and hang it on a wall. To turn it into a Hallmark card, and let it run only around the perimeter of your life. So that Scripture becomes ornamental.

And it's possible that such religious performance can trick us into thinking that we're privileged, even superior, to those around us. It's possible -- it's frighteningly likely -- that our long record of religious uprightness can leave us with the Pharisees -- on the outside looking in. Embarassed by a father's extravagant love for wayward sinners. It's possible to go from doing everything in the name of the Lord to being the Older Brother.

But let's not blame Colossians 3 fo this. Because this is a text that wants to celebrate, too! And it would be good for us to find out how this text can take us beyond do-gooding and to a place of genuine joy. I want to pick out just three things that Paul says here:
  1. "Forgive each other." Paul says, "Forgive as Christ forgave you." Forgive each other. Look, I didn't fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I've been doing this long enough to know that there are people in this room who haven't forgiven. That there is something big hanging over you. Someone in your life that has wronged you and you have yet to let it go.

    And let's not pretend that ignoring that today isn't a shortcut to older brother status. If there is outstanding forgiveness in your life, GO ... take care of it. And when you do, don't be surprised if a party breaks out and you find yourself in the middle of one of the greatest celebrations you've ever experienced.

  2. "Clothe yourselves with love." Put the purple robe on someone else. Put the ring on their finger. Kill the fatted calf. Live for the sake of someone else. Clothe yourselves with love.

    And if you can find that place -- if you can get to the point where love reigns over everything that you do & love defines how you treat everyone you meet -- don't be surprised if a party breaks out and one of the greatest celebrations you've ever known happens.

  3. "And be thankful." Can you be thankful? Can you live a grateful life? Thankful lives are lived as if everything is a gift -- there is nothing we have that we have not received. In the Kingdom of God, thankfulness casts out the idea of anything being deserved. So the business of the cherry red BMW goes away.

    And if you can live thankfully, don't be surprised if a party breaks out and if one of the greatest celebrations you've ever known happens. And don't be shocked when your life gets filled with joy, in and out. And you no longer find yourself on the outside looking in at the party for wayward sinners that your Father is throwing.
Because then, we'll have more than praise. We'll ... have ... JOY.

Can the older brothers and sisters, those who do everything in word or deed in the name of the Lord, can they join this celebration & praise God today?


bob_turner said...

Did the sermon originally have inappropriate comments?

III said...

No, I just cleaned up the transcript a bit.

Matt said...

I guess you are refering to God only knows? Or did I miss something?