Come to the Party. Please.

So, we’ve been looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son for the past few messages.   I have a question to ask, not just about this parable but Jesus ministry in general.  That question is this – What is Jesus doing?   What’s he doing in his table practice, excessive hospitality,  his parables, his life, his ministry, just what IS Jesus doing?   JESUS, IN ALL HE DOES, IS SHOWING US WHAT GOD IS LIKE.

This is so important, do not miss this.  Please don’t miss this.  This question has haunted humanity for millennia.   We are here, we try to figure things out, we discover fire, invent the wheel, indoor plumbing, then we’re going to the moon.  But through it all, one question remains, it hangs over us.  Is there really a God, what’s he like, what about God?   All kinds of theories spring up, all kinds of religions, some come close, some not so close.   But, FINALLY, the question gets answered – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 ESV.  Can I get an Amen??!!   The logos, the logic of God becomes flesh, and in flesh and blood we can SEE what God is like.  Jesus is NOT saving us from God, that is bad theology.  Jesus is not saving us from God, He is revealing God.  Jesus is not saving us from the Father, he is revealing the Father.  Jesus never does anything but that which is an expression of the will of the Father.   Jesus and the father always act in concert with one another, never pitted against one another.  Jesus is showing us definitively what god is like.  Jesus is the true and ultimate word of God.

What is God like?  He is like Jesus. What does God do?  He does what Jesus does.   “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” John 5:19 ESV.    Everything I do, everything I say, every time I heal, every time I forgive, I do that because that’s what God does.  I’m only showing you what the Father is like.  You haven’t known, but now you do, I’m showing it to you.  On his last day he has this exchange with Philip – Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:8-10 ESV.  Phillip says show us the father, Jesus says what do you think I’ve been doing for three years??!!   If you’ve seen me in what I am doing, you have seen the father.  That’s the message.  Jesus unconditionally receives the sinner who comes to him because that is what God is like.

Let’s try this again – Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God, not to change the mind of God about humanity.  Don’t get this twisted.  Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us – “well I guess they’re ok after all, if you say so Jesus.”   No, Jesus came to change our mind about God.  As we look at Jesus and learn from Jesus and listen to Jesus, we finally begin to know what God is really like.

In the parable, the father requires no payment (no blood) and issues no punishment.  The Prodigal has already been punished.  His punishment is, he’s in the pig pen.  Sin has a way of punishing us, we are punished by our sins.  Sin is taking its toll.  He doesn’t like it.  The wages of sin is death, and he’s dying in that pig pen.  So he decides he is going to go back to his fathers house.

The Prodigal goes home, arrives at the fathers house, and there is no punishment and no payment.  He’s just pardoned by a kiss.  That’s all that is going on.  The Prodigal, if he will come home, will be welcomed and pardoned with a kiss.

The elder son, the angry brother, wants there to be punishment and payment.  But – you can’t pay it.  It’s gone.  He sold the land and livestock for cash, wasted it on prostitutes, wine, women, and song.  Sex drugs, rock n roll, some of you will shout Amen to that.  He did a bunch of coke, had a bunch of hookers, lost it all in Vegas, that’s it, it’s gone.  You can’t pay it back.  It’s gone.

But – what can be recovered is the relationship!!!   So the older brother is fussing about “all the stuff is gone, the moneys gone, what about the stuff!  All the land, all the livestock”…the Father says “Shut up about the stuff!!  It’s the relationship that can be recovered!!  That’s what we are going to recover, the relationship,  because that’s what matters.

There’s no payment, no punishment, there’s only reconciliation and an extravagant celebration.   Meanwhile, the elder brother cries out “He broke the rules, he broke the rules Father!!!”   The Father says “Yes, I know.  He broke the rules.  But I pardoned him with a kiss.  NOW COME TO THE PARTY!!!”   He broke the rules, disrespected the father, lost all the stuff, but the father pardons him with a kiss.  He is forgiven.  He’s pardoned.

Come to the party.  But the older brother refuses.  What, exactly, is the older brother doing here?  He is consigning himself to hell, the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth…

They’ve both been in hell.  The Prodigal Son has been in the pig pen.  “This is hell.  I’m going back to my fathers house.  Even though I’m not worthy.”  He goes back, the Father says “I don’t care about worthy.  Worthy, not worthy, you’re  my son!   Robe, ring, shoes, fatted calf, let’s have a party!”

The older brothers been sweating in the field all day.  They’ve been laboring st home as well, they’ve got a BBQ going (beef not pork).  There’s a band, the sun has set, it’s dark, they’ve moved all the furniture, and everyone is dancing.  It’s a party!   The brother comes home, says “What’s going on?”   He’s told by one of the servants tells him “Your brother came home, your father pardoned him by a kiss, killed the fatted calf, he’s so happy to have him home safe and sound, we’re having a party.

The older brother is angry, he won’t go in.  He argues with his father when his father comes out to him.  So what do we have?   We have the older brother, outside, in the outer darkness gnashing his teeth (can you picture it?).   “It’s not fair, it’s not fair!!”    So, who’s suffering? The elder brother is suffering.

If you want to, you can call this the wrath of god.  What’s really going on is simply that God refuses to act in a manner inconsistent with his mercy.  If the older son refuses to forgive, he will be excluded from the party (the kingdom of god).  Not because the father excludes him, but because he excludes himself.  You can call it the wrath of god if you want to, but what really going on is the father says “If you’re asking me will I act inconsistent with my mercy and punish my son, I will not.  We are going to celebrate his reconciliation and you are invited.  I urge you, I beg you, I plead with you, come to the party.  But I will not be manipulated to act inconsistent with my nature which is mercy.

Either the elder brother is good with that and says “yes Father, you are merciful and that’s a good thing, I come to the party.”   Or he will stay out in hell, in the outer darkness.  You see how this works?   That’s why we are taught if we don’t forgive we won’t be forgiven.  “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15 ESV. It’s not because god is petty and says “if you won’t forgive, I’m not forgiving you!”   It’s simply because when we will not cooperate with the nature of god, which is extravagant mercy, we exclude ourselves from God himself, and consign ourselves hell.

We must always position ourselves on such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes across to us as good news.  The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing and said ‘this is not good.”   The sinners and tax collectors said “this is the best thing I ever heard!

How do you position yourself in such a way that what Jesus announces and enacts comes to you as good news?   You stay poor in spirit and need of mercy.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.    Who’s more poor in being spiritual than the prostitutes, the sinners and tax collectors?   The get F – minuses at being spiritual.  Jesus says “Come to the table anyway!  This is for you too!”  REALLY?  “Yes, really.”   Sinners – “that’s the best thing I ever heard of!”  Pharisees – “that’s terrible, he’s compromising, he’s maligning the integrity of our faith.”  All those things Pharisees say.

We must always position ourselves in such a way that what Jesus announces in his beatitudes and enacts in his ministry strikes us as good news.  Be poor of spirit and in need of mercy, and it will always seem like good news to you.  But the moment you feel like a gatekeeper of the mercy of god, as though you are the immigration officer determining who gets in and who’s left out, who deserves it and who doesn’t, the moment you take up that position you’re about to miss the party and be left out in the darkness gnashing your teeth.

There are two kinds of Christianity in America.  There is compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  Both of the these have great energy.  Both can build churches, have movements, write books, have websites, podcasts, television programs, both have all of this.  Angry Christianity probably has even more energy, because it is easier to attract a crowd around anger than co-suffering love.

You find both kinds in this story.  The father and the angry brother in the story of the Prodigal son both have their sources of energy compelling them to act according to their own way.  The father in verse 20 saw his son from far off and was moved by compassion, co-suffering love, and he sprang into action, ran out to meet him, pardoned him with a kiss and threw a party.

In verse 28 the older brother heard this, became angry and refused to go in.  “I will point be a part of that!  That’s not fair, that’s not justice.  That’s not right, I won’t go.”

Two kinds of Christianity.  Compassionate Christianity and angry Christianity.  One says let’s kiss the leper, the outcast, the excluded, those who’ve been marginalized and told they don’t belong.  Let’s kiss the leper,  forgive the sinner, and walk the world as the pardon of a God.  Let’s have a party.

The other says let’s get mad about something and make sure the sinners know how mad God is at them.  Let’s have a protest, let’s protest something.

One says let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of god, and try to be a party of reconciliation.  The other says let’s get mad about something, tell sinners how mad God is at them, and have a protest.  Both can use the Bible.  Both have their bible verses.

There are a lot of energy in both kinds.  But only one gets endorsed by Jesus, only one reflects the Father, and only one gets to go to the party that is the Kingdom of God.  So, let’s kiss the leper, forgive the sinner, walk the world as the pardon of God and make what we do feel like a welcome home party and not mandatory sentencing.

Amen

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

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Welcome Home

More on the Prodigal Son…

It’s very easy to reduce the parable of the Prodigal Son to a two act play, but it’s a three act play, and the third act is the most important.  The first two acts, the Prodigal Son and the Compassionate Father, are really just setting up the real point Jesus is making.   So we can’t stop after the second act, we must go on to the third act, the Angry Brother.

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”

This is a three act play because there are three characters, and there are three characters because in the whole problem that necessitated Jesus telling this story, there were three actors.  There were the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to Jesus.  There is Jesus who is receiving them and eating with them.  And there are the Pharisees who were upset, offended and angry about it.

The sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes are the prodigal son.  Jesus is the one enacting the will of the father, he’s playing the role of the father.   It’s the Pharisees who are acting out the role of the angry brother.

In the parable, the elder, angry brother sees the extravagant hospitality of the father as an injustice.  For the elder brother justice must involve punishment or it’s not fair.  In his estimation it’s not fair, he won’t come to the party, and because of this he will not experience the kingdom of god.

The Pharisees talked about the Kingdom of God all the time.  It’s what they were waiting for, they wanted the Kingdom of God to come.  But because they didn’t understand how the Kingdom of God would come, when it actually was coming through what Jesus was announcing and enacting they missed it.  They didn’t enter into it.  This is why Jesus says to them …“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Matthew 21:31 ESV

But look at what the story tells.  We have an ungrateful, profligate sinner younger son who insults the father in many ways, squanders his resources, comes back home, and is graciously, extravagantly received as if he’s coming home a hero.  A robe, a ring, shoes,  a fatted calf, a big party.  We look at this, but what is it?  Is it reconciliation to be celebrated? Or is it injustice to be protested?

This story can be told in such a way that you will be sympathetic with the angry older brother.  Some might already be.  Seriously – all he ever did was think about himself.  He brought shame and disgrace upon the family, sold off part of the estate, and wasted it on drink, prostitutes and partying!!   He was just living recklessly, having a good time, then when things get bad he comes crawling back home, and we treat him like he’s a hero??!!

How many, when we read it like that, think “Hey, that older brother has a point!”  That’s the little Pharisee in each one of us. And yes,   “He’s got a point!

The Pharisees thought of justice as punishment instead of reconciliation, and that was their undoing.  The Pharisees missed the Kingdom of God because when it actually arrived it looked like a welcome home party instead of mandatory sentencing.  Their idea of the Kingdom of God is when people get what’s coming to them!!  It’s about time!   Getting their just desserts!!!   That’s what the Pharisees are looking for…

But instead of mandatory sentencing, it’s a welcome home party, and they just could not recognize it as the kingdom of god…

More to come.

John Lewis

The Prodigal Father

Good morning and Happy Monday!   Back to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.   Starting with Act 1 of the three act play that is Jesus’s parable, focused on the Prodigal Son himself.

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

There is a wealthy landowner, who has two sons.  The younger son is ungrateful.  The younger of the sons loves neither his father nor his life in his fathers house.   He approaches his father and asks very inappropriately for his share of the inheritance NOW.  Basically, he is saying to his father “I wish you were dead.  I don’t want to wait for you to be dead.  Give me my share NOW.”  

The inheritance was the land and the livestock.   This request is very inappropriate, even more so in that time and culture than now.  But the father does not resist the wishes of his younger son, and says to him “This is your portion of the land and livestock.  It is now under your control.  I give it to you.”   So then the younger son did something even more inappropriate.  He sold the land and livestock.  He wanted cash.  You are not to do that, the land must remain in the family, but he sold it so he could have currency.

He’s sold the land and livestock, he’s flush with cash.  He breaks with the father and leaves, not only his family but his people and religion.  He goes into another country, goes to live among the Gentiles, the pagans, those who don’t know God.  He lives there as a profligate sinner, squandering this money he had not earned, that was rightfully his fathers.   He had taken his portion of the land and livestock, turned it into money, and now he squanders it on wine, women and song.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll!!  You know the story.

And yes, you do know the story.  You know what happens, it’s always this way.  The money runs out.  Hard times come, this son is in a bad way.  He goes and gets himself hired by a gentile pagan landowner who gives this broke Jewish boy the glamorous task of feeding the pigs.   You can almost hear the shock as Jesus’s audience catches their breath.  He’s a servant of a pagan gentile, he’s feeding the pigs, he’s even starving for the very food he’s feeding the pigs.

Now Act 2.  The compassionate father.  But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.   AMEN!!!   So the prodigal son has hit rock bottom in the pig pen.  He’s come to his senses.  His motives appear to be nothing more than self preservation.

He begins to make his way home.  He knew he wasn’t worthy, he was just hoping to be hired by his father as a servant, because even his fathers servants eat better than he does right now.   But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…how is this possible?    It’s possible because the father is looking for him, that’s how!!!   And when he sees him, he feels compassion, co-suffering love, that’s what compassion means, co-passion.   Com – together, passion – suffering, he feels the suffering of his son, and his co-suffering love rises up inside him, and he runs to his son, and he throws his arms around him and begins to kiss him.

The son begins his prepared speech – ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’   But the father is hearing none of this!!   The father starts barking out orders to his servants “Wait a minute, wait a minute!  Go get my best robe, my most expensive robe, this boys in rags!!  Go get the family ring, the boys lost everything.  He has no shoes, come on servants, get some shoes on him here!  We’re going to have a party, you know that fatted calf we’ve been waiting for something to celebrate?  There’s never going to be a better reason to have a party than this!!”  Hear me now…that’s what the Father does.

Jesus wants you to know, that what the Kingdom of God is like!!!   Why is Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors?   Because that exactly what the Kingdom of God is about…


We call this the story of the Prodigal Son.  Prodigal is an adjective.  It means “spending money recklessly and extravagantly.”  The son ran off to the far county, and he was living prodigally, spending his money recklessly and extravagantly.

But now that he’s come home, who’s being Prodigal?   Who’s spending money extravagantly and recklessly?   THE FATHER!!!    You could just as well call this the Parable of the Prodigal FATHER, who when his son comes home says I’m going to spend money extravagantly and recklessly because we have to celebrate.  Jesus wants you to know that’s what the kingdom of God is like.

Isn’t what Jesus told us over and over?   “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 ESV.

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”  Matthew 18:12-13 ESV

“”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 ESV.   If that’s not spending extravagantly and recklessly, I don’t know what is.  He’s Prodigal, I tell you!

John Lewis

Indiscriminate and Irresponsible

The parable of the Prodigal Son.   The greatest, most famous parable Jesus ever told.  It’s the gospel within the gospel.  This is going to take a while, so I will probably be in the story for at least a week.  At least it’s a story we all seem to like, amen!

This story still captures our imagination.  Shakespeare refers to this parable more than anything else in the gospels because Shakespeare knew a thing or two about telling a good story.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon chose the prodigal son to be the text for his much anticipated 1000th sermon.  Some of our greatest artwork has been inspired by this story, including Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg Russia.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story where we see the kingdom of God being announced and enacted.  That’s what is happening in the parable.  Jesus gives the parable to those who are angry with how he’s announcing and enacting the kingdom of god.  The actions of the father in the parable are what Jesus is doing in real life.  Jesus is saying “what the father in my story does is what I’m doing because that’s what my father in Heaven is like.

Don’t forget context of the story.   “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” Luke 15:1-2 ESV.  This should be a familiar plot line by now.  This is a recurring plot that is what drives the drama.  First – in Luke Jesus is constantly going from meal to meal and table to table.  This is how Jesus primarily announces and enacts the kingdom of god – by healing people, casting out demons, and especially by sharing meals with all the wrong people.  Jesus is enacting the kingdom of God in this manner, and the Pharisees are constantly resisting it.  They don’t like it, they are uncomfortable with it.  They feel Jesus is acting inappropriately.  They see Jesus as offering an indiscriminate and irresponsible hospitality.  This is what created the drama and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees.  He just eats with anyone.  (Amen to that!   Even me…) Even those who’ve been formally exiled, excluded from the synagogue because they are sinners.  Jesus is completely bypassing the prohibition against eating with those types of people and is welcoming them at his table.

Now, there were arrangements made in the law for restoring these people.  But they needed to go about things in the proper manner.  Go to the chief priests, go the temple, offer their sacrifices and go through the rites of purification.  But Jesus just ignored all this.  He lets anyone come to him, he eats with them, and then he even dares to proclaim them as forgiven.  He’s dangerous, he’s endangering our purity.  He’s compromising the integrity of our faith.  This is the argument of the Pharisees.

To which Jesus responds says once upon a time…and gives them three stories.   One about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, both of these are pretty good stories.  But then he gets to the story about a lost son, and it’s way more than pretty good…

It’s the gospel in the gospel.  It’s the finest story Jesus ever told.  It’s a three act play, each act focused one of the three primary characters in the story.  The Prodigal Son, the compassionate father, and the angry brother.

With this, I will stop for today, you can read the entire parable below if you like.  I will look at act 1 of this three act play, about the prodigal himself, next time.

“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'””

Luke 15:11-32 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.15.11-32.esv

John Lewis

An Easy Yoke?

I’ve been working on this since Monday, guess I’m slowing down in my old age.  This may be something of a counterpoint to the point I made last time, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   Or, at least part of a solution, a cure,  to the unholy lives we lead while claiming to have the Holy Spirit within us.  This, as always, comes from Jesus, the one who died, was buried, and was raised in resurrection on the third day.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” Matthew 11:28-30 ESV.    So the same Jesus who tells us “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14 ESV, also tells us his yoke is easy and his burden is light.   The same savior who tells us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, do unto others, and don’t be angry, tells us that his is the easy yoke and the light burden.

But it doesn’t seem or feel so easy to us, does it?   As G. K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”   Even those of us who profess faith in the risen Christ find his commands and teaching exceedingly difficult, difficult to the point that we just throw up our hands and declare ourselves to be “only human”.   And, being “only human”, Jesus couldn’t possibly have expected us to live as he showed and taught us, could He?   And so, we have our excuse and our reason for throwing up our hands, declaring ourselves “only human”, and not even trying.   And so we choose our heavy burdens, anxieties, and fear over his easy yoke and light burdens…

We lament the “cost of discipleship”, the high price we must pay as followers of the lamb.  But, as Dallas Willard points out in his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, there is a far greater cost of non-discipleship, is there not?  As Soren Kierkegaard told us, “It costs a man just as much or even more to go to hell than to come to heaven. Narrow, exceedingly narrow is the way to perdition!

It is in choosing non-discipleship, in choosing unrighteousness, that we choose a life of burdens, failures, and disappointments.  A life filled with toil, a life filled with endless problems which never get solved.  We choose to live this way.   We call it normal human life.   As Willard says, “The “cost of discipleship,” though it may take all we have, is small when compared to the lot of those who don’t accept Christ’s invitation to be part of his company in The Way of life.”   As Christ said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV.

Jesus gives us an alternative to this hard, burdensome life apart from God.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.   As the apostle John tells us in 1 John For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.  But do we take these statements seriously?  Do we believe them?   Do we believe that Jesus has the easy yoke and the light burden?   I mean, it may have been easy and light for Him, even all the way through the cross, but we are, after all, only human.  These things seem anything but easy and light to us.

We all know, no one denies, that the world would be a better place if we could all just start following the teachings of Jesus.   And just because we don’t understand, it doesn’t cancel his offer of an easy yoke and light burdens.  The offer still stands for our souls to find rest (here and now, not off into into the heaven we are just dying to get into).

Maybe the problem is, we try to carry out Jesus commandments, to live as Jesus did, on a case by case basis.  We read his word, we hear the sermons, we know we are called to love and pray for our enemies, and turn the other cheek, but then, when the time arises and someone offends us or sins against us or otherwise harms us, the phrase “what would jesus do” goes right out the window, and now I’m standing up for my rights, looking out for number one, and defending myself.  I turned the other cheek once, now it’s time to start knocking heads!!  Hurt me once, shame on you.  Hurt me twice, shame on me.   We get pushed around a little, and the real spirit at work within us shows it’s ugly head.  But it’s ok…all of our sins are forgiven, right…

We are saved by grace, amen!!??   Of course…but that does not mean the power to live as we now want to live is automatically infused into us.  We don’t say a sinners prayer and are instantly transformed into christlikeness.   Our salvation moment is just a beginning, not an end, amen!

Think about it like this – it’s like an athlete who wants to become better at his sport, whatever it is.  Michael Phelps did not decide he wanted to be a gold medal swimmer, then based on that decision show up in Sydney, hop in the pool, and win 8 gold medals.  No, he decided he wanted to be the best swimmer he could be, a gold medal swimmer, and hopped in the pool over and over again in training, with his whole life focused around that point, to every day get a little bit better.   And he kept training, he kept training.   And so every four years, we watch the culmination of the life led with that goal in mind, a life led with the point of becoming a great swimmer.

This is true for everything we do in life, is it not?   A teacher, an engineer, a public speaker, a musician, a surgeon.  If we want to get closer to that which we aspire to, we must adopt lifestyle practices which will allow us to get better at that which we want to do.  We must read, study, practice, submit to menial tasks which, at the time, don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the goal we have in mind (wax on, wax off!).

The same is true of the Christian life.  A baseball player or football player who expects to decide today to play without any practice or exercise in preparation for that game, who expects to excel at that game, is no more ridiculous than a Christian who expects to be able to imitate Christ when put to the test without appropriate exercise and preparation for godly living.

If you read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus himself had spent his whole life in preparation for his ministry.  Despite an audacious birth narrative, he grew up secluded in a lower class family in a backwater town.  Yet, at the age of twelve in the temple, “…all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”,Luke 2:47 ESV.   There were so amazed that he immediately returned to Nazareth for eighteen more years of preparation, being subject to all the demands of life and family.

After he was baptized, he spent the first month in solitude and fasting.  During his ministry He alone much of the time, in solitude and prayer,  often all night, preparing to serve his disciples and the masses.

It was out of great preparation that Jesus was able to lead his public life of teaching and healing.  He loved his closest companions, his disciples, to the end even though they often disappointed him and at times seemed incapable of entering into the life he was calling them for.   It was out of great preparation that Jesus was then able to die his death unsurpassed for its great intrinsic beauty and historical effect.

So, what’s my point?  This is the key to the “easy yoke” Jesus talks about.  We can’t just try to live as Jesus did by the seat of our pants and call upon his power “in the moment,” or on the spot.  We will surely fail.  If we want to live as Christ did, we must live as Christ lived all of his life.   Like with any human endeavor (though this would not be an entirely human endeavor), if we want to become anything more than we are, we must undertake the disciplines and the lifestyle that will make us into what we aspire to be.   If we want to be better at baseball or basketball or any other sport, we must undertake the discipline of practice (we’re talking about practice!) and lifestyle to become a better athlete.  If we want to become successful in business, we must devote ourselves to the discipline and lifestyle associated with that goal.  If we want to be the type of people who become more full, devoted disciples of Christ, who react as he did in the moment, under pressure, then we too must give ourselves over to the discipline and lifestyle shown to us by our Teacher.

We can’t expect to become people who go the second mile, turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies, or suffer patiently and hopefully if we are living our lives just like everyone around us.  This is just as silly as thinking I can go straight from Pizza Hut to the swimming pool and swim like Michael Phelps.  If we try this, we are bound to fail and leave the way of Christ “difficult and left untried.”

Jesus never expected us to simply wake up one day and be the type of people who turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, go the second mile, or bless those who persecute us.  But Jesus does expect us to follow Him.  These responses are characteristics of Christlikeness which Jesus gave us as an example of the new kind of people we will become as we seek first the kingdom of god.

Jesus invites us to a life where loving enemies and turning the other cheek will seem like the only response we should make.  It will seem the only sensible thing to do.  For someone living as Jesus shows, the more difficult thing would be to hate the enemy, to turn away the one who asks, to curse those who curse us, to be un-Christlike.  True Christlikeness comes at the point where it is difficult not to react as he did.

Im going to finish here.  We must remember that the way to run a marathon is NOT to simply go out and run 26.2 miles.  You will never make it.  The way to become a great violinist in NOT to go out, buy a violin, and break into symphony #5.   No, to do these things we must enter into certain disciplines and lifestyles where we can become the kind of people capable of running 26 miles, hitting a baseball, or playing the great compositions.

Or, for that matter, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Becoming the kind of person who is moving from being only human to fully human.   I will be coming back to this periodically, to explain how activities such as solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service, and celebration (some of which are activities I myself are have not yet tried) are an essential to our salvation journey and deliverance from the power of sin over our lives.  There is a way to the easy yoke Jesus is describing, but it will take some practice and discipline to get there…

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.””  Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 ESV

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3 ESV

http://bible.com/59/1jn.5.3.esv

John Lewis

Chills

Just had a random thought enter my mind during my prayer time this morning. I’ve never thought about this before, and this thought line may be totally undeveloped for now, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway.

Just had a thought about this particular verse of scripture – Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. This same verse appears slightly differently in the gospel of Luke as well – “”And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” Luke 12:8-10 ESV

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Ok, so here’s the thought I had this morning, and it’s a very serious thought. The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven…if we are Christians, who claim to have been “saved”, who claim to have communion with the holy, risen Christ, who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who claim to have been indwelled with the Holy Spirit, yet we walk in the world as the same angry, selfish, obnoxious person/people we were before…is that not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Is not the worst blasphemy we could possibly make the blasphemy of an unholy life lived in the name of the Holy Spirit?

This gives me chills. People know who I am. They know that I am a Christian, one who believes in Jesus Christ, who believes he is the way, the truth, and the life. But – is what they see from me in my life and the way I carry myself on a daily basis blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? Do they see me loving my neighbor, am I one who prays for those who would be my enemies? Do I even love my own wife and children, brothers and sisters as myself?

Chills.

How about the church as a whole?? Does the church blaspheme against the Holy Spirit in our day to day interactions with the “world” around us? Do we, as a church, walk in a spirit of protest and confrontation, or in the spirit of love and reconciliation?? Which of these spirits is of the Holy Spirit? Is one of these spirits a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

We think we know what “sin” is. But these are words straight from the mouth of the sinless one. These are not my words, they are the words of Jesus, the one we claim to follow yet ignore his teaching. All those “unwashed masses”, Jesus says all their sins will be forgiven them, but those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Again, am I guilty, in my own life on a daily basis, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Mark 8:36 ESV. Sometimes we think we have all the answers, we know every sin known to man, and we can tell the “world” all the things they are getting wrong. But, as Jesus also said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 ESV. How many of us point out every speck of dust in the world’s eye, when we can’t even see past the redwood tree in our own eyes? After all, it may be we who are guilty of the only sin Jesus says is unforgivable.

Chills.

“”Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.””

Mark 3:28-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/mrk.3.28-30.esv

John Lewis

What Happened To You???

What Happened To You???

My first message this week, and it is still Easter week, so…

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

Psalms 16:9-10 ESV

Psalm 16 is one of the Old Testament texts Peter drew upon for his Pentecost Sunday sermon as he preached upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The events central to Pentecost occurred in the upper room.  Very near to the upper room was the tomb of David.  So as Peter preaches this sermon, he could quote from psalm 16, and then he could point to the tomb of David which was right there.  “”Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” Acts 2:29 ESV.  And he could point at the tomb of David as he preached.  “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.” Acts 2:30-31 ESV.  And since his tomb is right there, apparently he was not talking about himself but messiah, who would not be abandoned to the grave, who would not see corruption, who would be raised in resurrection.

At His death, Christ descended to the dead, as we confess in the apostles creed.   You (hopefully) are familiar with the creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.  I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord.  He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended to the dead….”.  This is a very mysterious aspect of apostles creed.  Some traditions have simply taken it out, because they don’t want to deal with it, don’t understand what it means to say Jesus descended to the dead.

Peter says he preached to captive souls.  Paul in Ephesians says he liberated captive souls.  But they kind of whet out appetites but don’t tell us all we want to know.  But they do make hints and allusions to it.

Greek Orthodox Anastasis (resurrection) icons always picture Jesus in resurrection not alone, but bringing others with him.  The idea that Jesus went into death and rose again by himself is kind of a happy ending to the story,  but leaves death unchanged.  Greek Orthodox icons have it right.  They always depict Christ with others, specifically pulling Adam and Eve, representing all humanity, out of their graves.  It is the iconography of Jesus actually conquering death.

By death, Christ entered into death to fill death with himself, so that now to enter into death is to encounter nothing but Christ.  This is scripturally sound, theologically sound, and worth meditating on.

Today we are going to focus on this scripture – you will not abandon my soul to Sheol.  The gospel, very simply, is the story of Jesus Christ.  It’s the story of Jesus, not a formula, not an equation, not four laws and a sinners prayer.

The gospel in its fullest form encompasses the whole story of Israel, including the Old Testament, finding its fulfillment in Christ.  Christ, the true Israelite, the seed of Abraham, the Son of David who sees the whole project into completion.

The gospel in its most succinct form is death, burial, and resurrection. The gospel in its clearest form is Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  It’s death, descent, and resurrection.

Salvation comes by believing and enfolding our story into the gospel story, so that our story and the gospel story mix together, becoming one new glorious story.  That’s why formal entrance into the Christian faith involves the sacrament of baptism, which is many things but certainly a witness to the reality that we have died in christ, we are buried in Christ, and raised in newness of life in Christ.  That which is the central story of Jesus, death, burial and resurrection, now because we are in Christ by faith, that becomes our story too.  We too have died (to something), entered all the way into death, and been raised to newness of life.  In other words, you have your own Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  But not just once, but many times throughout your journey, as you do it in Christ, there will be many occasions where the gospel pattern gets repeated in your life.  Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday.

You will experience deaths.  This is not bad news, it’s just news which you know already, that you will experience deaths.   That is the pain of loss, relationships lost, stations and situations in life lost, sometimes even certain beliefs might be lost.

You will experience burial, that sense (not reality) of being abandoned by God.  My god, my god, why have you forasaken me?   We know Jesus prayed that from the cross.  Every one of us has felt that very thing.  In theology that’s called the cry of dereliction, where Jesus experiences the sense of abandonment upon the cross, you have experienced that same thing.

But you will also experience resurrection, being lifted up from death and Sheol into newness of life.  You will be raised, but remember, you will not be the same.  When you go through that pattern of life, because your story is enfolded into the story of Jesus, and you go through a period of death, burial and resurrection, when you are raised you are not just escaping by the skin of your teeth, you are coming through the whole process and now you are different.

Remember Lazarus?  Lazarus was raised, but he was the same.  Lazarus being raised after four days is not what happened to Jesus.  It was a mere resuscitation. It was very dramatic, but it was simply resuscitation.  Jesus was not resuscitated.   Jesus’s resurrection was not merely Jesus coming back from the dead, “I got out, I escaped!”   No, that’s why in those Orthodox icons it’s not just Jesus escaping by himself, but it’s Jesus destroying death itself from the inside.  Lazarus just escapes, then returns.  Jesus destroyed death, went through death.  The resurrection of Jesus was a whole different order. If the resurrection of Jesus and the  raising of Lazarus were of the same order, then Lazarus was even more impressive because he was four days dead, Jesus only three.  But that’s not what’s going on.

Easter is Jesus Christ going all the way into death, not escaping death, but breaking through to the other side, breaking into a new world, a new age, a holy realm beyond the reach of death.  Then he beckons us to follow.

When Jesus is raised, it’s very important to understand that he was changed.  He is still Jesus. But he’s not the same.  He’s still fundamentally the same person, but he is changed.  We see this borne out in the fact that Jesus was almost always difficult to recognize.  Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener.  The Emmaus Road disciples mistake him for a stranger.  When Jesus appeared to the eleven on the mountain in Galilee, some of them doubted.   It was possible to wonder “is this Jesus?”   When the disciples had breakfast with him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we are told they didn’t dare ask “who are you?”   “Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.” John 21:12 ESV

The point is, it was hard to recognize Jesus after the resurrection.  They identified him by his actions and certain things he did, but it was not as simple as instant facial recognition.  They didn’t recognize him at first.  “Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea.” John 21:4-7 ESV.   They recognized because of the miracle they had seen…

In our own lives, as the gospel pattern of death, burial, and resurrection is played out over time, people may sometimes have a hard time recognizing you.  They might even ask “who are you?”   They didn’t ask Jesus, but they might ask you.  They might say, you’re not really you anymore.  “You’re not the real ___________!!   What did you do with that guy i knew?”  But isn’t that the point?   Isn’t the point to become a new person in Christ?  The point is not just to escape a certain situation but only come back the same, but to become a new person in Christ.  We are buried as one kind of person, but be raised as another.  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol.

There will be times on your journey, if you stay on the journey (not everyone stays on the journey), all kinds of things will happen.  There will be times when your soul will descend to Sheol.  You might be able to avoid Sheol, if you don’t stay on the journey, and you get lucky and events in life work out to you favor, you may avoid the experience of Sheol.  But you will never change, and that may be the greatest tragedy of all.

There will be times in your journey, if you stay on the journey, when your soul will descend into Sheol.  Holy Saturday is part of the gospel.  We like to go straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, but there is a whole day in between.  That day may seem bleak.  But Easter does come, amen and hallelujah.

There will be times when your soul will descend to Sheol.  What is Sheol?   It’s the same thing as the Greek Hades.  It’s the place of the dead.  It might best be best communicated by Homer in the Iliad and the Odyssey, where it’s this dark, dismal, subterranean abode of the dead, filled with shades and ghosts.  They are listless spirits, everything is dull and grey.  They wispy, listless spirits with no purpose or meaning, they just wander around forlorn and lost.  That’s the biblical concept of Sheol, it’s this place where nothing makes sense, there seems to be no point to it, all the spirits are grey, listless, without any meaning.

There will be seasons where your soul will descend to Sheol, that’s what we generally call depression.  Things are grey, they don’t make much sense.  We get this feeling like what’s the point, your life doesn’t seem to have a clear defined meaning that makes sense to you.

There will be times when you feel like you’ve lost everything, it may feel like you’ve lost your faith, your hope, maybe your love.  You may feel dead.  You may feel dead to the things that once gave you comfort and provided meaning.

In Sheol, your soul will feel abandoned by god, but you will not be abandoned to Sheol.  Yes, Sheol is a thing that happens to us.  To you who believe, the promise is that god will not abandon your soul there.  You’re not going to be stuck there forever.  God will not abandon your soul to Sheol.

But Sheol does a work. You don’t do anything.  What did Jesus do on holy Saturday?  Nothing.  He was there in a tomb.  But Sheol for us may have a purpose.  In Sheol death is doing its work if decomposing what ought not be, but, again, God will not abandon your soul to Sheol.

In the ambiguous third day (when we go through these things we can’t just look at the calendar and count three days), God will raise your soul from Sheol.  Holy Saturday is not the end, Easter Sunday is the end, but it’s not so much an end as a new beginning.  Yes, your soul will from time to time go down to Sheol, but God will not abandon your soul there.  Just wait, your soul will be raised from Sheol to newness of life.  But it will be a new you that is raised from Sheol.  You might be hard to recognize.  People might ask what happened to you??!!  That’s the outsiders testimony of someone who’s gone down to Sheol, but God has not abandoned them, he has raised them them up to newness if life, and people are going to have say, “What’s happened to you, you’re not like you used to be!

“Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

Psalms 16:9-10 ESV

http://bible.com/59/psa.16.9-10.esv

John Lewis