Matthew 25:14-30 & Luke 15:25-32

We can be lost in the Father’s House

The Gospel of Luke 15 begins like this, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  The Pharisees and the scribes were the religious leaders in Jesus’ time.  They complained to Jesus because they saw Jesus spending time with the sinners.  As a response to their complaint, Jesus told three parables to them.  Today’s text is one of these parables.  This parable is called, “the Parable of the Prodigal Son.”  Whenever we read this parable, we usually focus on the younger son.  He is the one who was lost and found again.  He is the one who was dead and has come to life.   Most of the time, he is the one received the spot light.

But today, we’re going to talk about the older son, who never left the father’s house.  When he came back from the field, and heard the sound of music and dancing.  He immediately asked one of the slaves what was going on.  Once he found that his father threw a huge party for his younger brother who had just come back home, he became furious and refused to go into the house.  To me, this older son was also lost.  Here are some of the reasons why I think this way.

First, the older brother never realizes who his father is.  Although he has always lived in his father’s house, he still considers himself as a slave.  When his father pleaded him to come and joined the party to welcome his younger brother, he said to his father in verse 29, “Listen!  For all these years, I have been working like a slave for you and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.”

Second, when the older brother complained to the father about his younger brother by calling him, “this son of yours,” he was corrected by his father.  The father said to his older son, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (vv.31-32).  In this story of the lost son, the father’s response is contrasted with the older brother’s.  The father forgave because he was filled with love.  The son refused to forgive because he was bitter about the unfairness.  At least he thought it was unfair for his father to welcome his younger brother even through he left home and wasted all the money he had received from his father as an inheritance.  That’s why he thought it was unfair.  This is so familiar to us from the mouth of children and immature or self-centered adults.  They like to say, “it’s unfair!”

In this story,  the older brother also represented the Pharisees and scribes who were angry and resenful against Jesus since he spent time with the sinners.  When our pride and self-righteousness get in the way of forgiving others and rejocing when others come to Jesus, we are no better than the Pharisees.

10 Dangerous Habits of Disconnected Churches  by Pastor Shannon Kiser at Riverside Church, Sterling, VA

Pastor Kiser said, “Many Churches in North America are completely disconnected from the people around them.  They are waiting for people to come to their church, and less and less people are finding their way to their doors.”

  1. People outside of our church may have no idea who we are or what we are about.
  2. Do we know how our commuity is changing, the struggles it faces and the needs that exist? Do we know anything about the lives of people that are not in our immediate circle? Many churches have assumptions about their community that may or may not even be true.
  3. We are afraid to take risks

It’s easier to continue with the status quo than to rock the boat.  It’s easier to go along with the desires of insiders than risk upsetting anyone.  It’s safer to do what we know than trying some new ministries.

But there’s is the good news; it doesn’t have to be this way.  Churches who are disconnected from their community can make shifts that have potential to remove these barriers.  Churches can find new energy as they engage in mission with people who are not coming to their doors.  Many church leaders are finding support and training in focusing ministry outward through Fresh Expressions.  Clergy and laity are learning how to be attentive to their community, and discovering how to love and serve their neighbors.  They are learning to foster a new church culture that takes seriously praticipating in God’s mission beyond the church walls.  One of the first steps doing this is walking our local community and pray for it, meeting people along the way and getting to know some things about them.  Do this at least one hour each week!  By doing this, we may be surprised what we may discover, and what God is already up to in our local community.

 

Second, How do we use our talents?

The master divided the money (talents) among his servants according to their abilities.  No one received more or less than he could handle.  The talents represent any kind of resource we are given.  God gives us time, gifts, and other resources according to our abilities, and  he expects us to invest them wisely until he returns.  We are responsible to use well what God has given us.  The issue is not how much we have, but how well we use what we have.

Jesus is coming back–we know this is true!  Does this mean we must quit our jobs in order to serve God?  No, it means we are to use our time, talents, and money diligently in order to serve God and His people more faithfully whatever we do.  For a few people, this may mean changing professions.  For most of us, it means doing our daily work, out of our love for God.

One of the three servants was thinking only of himself.  He hoped to play it safe and protect himself from his hard master, but he was judged for his self-centeredness and lazyness.  His master even took the one talent away from this servant and gave to other servant who could use it more wisely.  So, we must not make any excuses to avoid doing what God calls us to do.  If God is truly our Master, we must obey Him willingly.  Our time, abilities, ad money are not ours in the first place–we are caretakers, not the owners.  When we ignore, squander, or abuse what we are given by God, we are rebellious and deserve to be punished.

In contrast, the other two servants invested what they had received from their master.  They invested their resources and multiplied their investments.  As a result, both of them received the same praise from theri Master; “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 

So I want you to join me to think about this question.  How do we use our resources?  God has given us the buildings, people (laity and pastor), spiritual gifts, and some money as well as all other resources we can use from the districts and the conference.  Are we utilizing all of our resources wisely?  What would Jesus say to you and our church when He comes back?  I am sure that all of us want to hear from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servants!” But how can we multiply our gifts?  How do we know where and when God wants us to invest our resources?

Third, Fresh Expressions

To help you answer these questions, I’d like to introduce an article written by Rev. Michael Beck.  Michael is the senior pastor at Wildwood United Methoidst Church in Florida.  He is also a South Atlantic Coodinator Fresh Expressions US.  The church he served has grown from 30 members to 250 members who actively worship every Sunday and serve their community during throughout the week.

He said in his article, “The body of Christ is sick.  I am convinced  that in the new missional age in which we find ourselves, we spend most of our time going after a nail with a sledge hammer.  The US Church today, with its rigid institutionalism, has little flexibility and responsiveness.  Not only do we fail to engage and transform the culture, we often ignore it. New problems need fresh solution!”  Here are the steps he and his congregation used to revitalize his church and community.

 

  1. We need to begin with prayer. I can never emphasize too much about the importance of prayer! Jim Cymbala from the Brooklyn Tebernacle shared this in his book, “Fresh Winds, Fresh Fire”; “”If the times are indeed as bad as we say they are… if the darkness in our world is growing heavier by the moment… if we are facing spiritual battles right in our own homes and churches… then we are foolish not to turn to the One who supplies unlimited grace and power. He is our only source. We are crazy to ignore him.”  He also said, “Prayer begets Revival, which begets more prayer.”  Let us go back the tested wisdom from pastor Michael Beck.  He said that there are more things to do in addition to prayers.
  2.  We must properly identify and assess the problems and see them as opportunities to experiment with fresh innovative solutions. We have to first break out of denial and be aware of that what we have been doing is not working.
  3. Fresh solution requires risk. There is no way to play it safe.  All surgery, even common procedures, require a degree of risk.  However, the greater risk is not doing anything.  Without a fresh approach, death is imminent.
  4. One size does not fit all.  Each church and community have different resources, commitment and needs.
  1. We need the gift of desperation.  It is also important to discern the solution after going through intensive prayers, discussion, listening, and studying of your church and community. The body of Christ will not get better by simply ‘tinkering’ or ‘wish-washing.’  We need an innovative approach that will deal with the source of sickness such as doing better worship experiences, try different ways of spreading the gospel, recruit different leaders and train them . . . etc.  We need “the spirit of desperation.”  Without it, one could not reverse decline.
  1. We are our worst enemy. My stubbornness almost killed me.  When I was sick, I could easily say, ‘I’m fine, look all the numbers are up and to the right!  Look how our church is going.”  But beneath the facade of numbers, I was dying inside.   Sacrifice is the norm.  Innovation is risky; we will most likely experience great resistance especially from within our hearts and our churches.  Any church that turns their focus inward will slowly become a walled city, a secret garden of death.  In the work of revitalization, it has been Christian people who have put up the greatest resistance, not the people we are trying to reach with the love of God.

When we turn our focus outward to join God in mission to our community, the existing congregation can begin to expereince renewal and growth.  Rev. Michale Back and the Wildwood United Methodist Church have expereiced it.  Rev. Jim Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tebernacle have expereiced it!  I am sure, we too, can expereince renewal and growth if we believe that Jesus wants to renew his people―to call us back from spiritual dead ends, apathy, and lukewarm religion.  So let us ask God to ignite his fire in our soul–every one of us!  Let us get busy to try these wisdoms and Words of God into actions!