The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Life's Not Fair

A Sermon inspired by the story of the Prodigal Son parable in Luke 15

To listen to this sermon, click here.

I’m Lost.
Maybe you can help me. 

I always thought that God was fair- the kind of ruler whose Judgment is spot on- never to harsh or to lenient- but perfect. God’s decision making skills, God’s leadership, and God’s authority are all never wrong.
But this story- the one from Luke- this “parable” - is about a dad who is a wimp- and about two kids who grew up with a wimp for a dad.
People have been trying to say what this story is about for forever.
Each time someone “figures out” what the story is about, they change the title.
For example, we call this the story of the prodigal son. But some bibles title the prodigal son and his brother, some, this as the forgiving father- and still others, the father and his two sons.
What does this tell me? That we don’t exactly know what this story means.
That’s why I’m lost. Maybe you can help me. 

When Ashley and I were in premarital counseling, we took the Myers Briggs personality test. The same one that I had to take before going to seminary, and the one that Pastor Rinn and I talk about almost daily when we are talking about how to pastor to all of you. 

In that test, Ashley and I came out as exact opposites. Like many clergy before me, I am an ENFP. Like many science-minded people before her, Ashley came out ISTJ.
The pastor who did our counseling encouraged us to go home and- question by question- analyze our differences. 

There is one question that still to this day that we still talk about.

You ready? 

Would you rather have a boss who is fair or kind? Think about it-
At its core, this is a fundamental difference in thinking. On the one hand, a boss who is fair, keeps stability in the office by treating everyone equally all the time. On the other, a boss who is kind, treats every situation and difference as a case unto its own.
Ultimately, the answer about the boss question is really about you- not your boss. Are you fair or kind? Hopefully you lean toward one of those.
If we dig deeper on this self-understanding- we find another truth-

Do you generally treat all people the same, or all differently? 

Are you the scientist, grouping people and ideas into categories to insure order and stability, or are you the artist who refuses to be defined by limits, rules, or laws?

Are you the goody-two-shoes or the prodical?

Are you an older brother or the younger?

And, once you’ve answered that one: think about this- which one is God?
Ultimately, God can’t be both. 

This is the core problem in the story of the prodigal son- of the forgiving father, or the father and his two sons- however you define the parable.
There are two sons. The youngest- the one who is entitled to less- takes his share of the inheritance and leaves. He loses it all. The older son, stays, works hard, and assumes that he will be his father’s favorite because he assumes that his father is like him- fair- not kind.
The younger son- who lives- and indeed- thrives- on the kindness of others- finds himself penniless. So he finds someone in a faraway land to give him a fair job- go feed the pigs. The younger son says- I will go ask for forgiveness, and perhaps I can be a hired hand- not a son, not a slave- but dad’s kindness for me will get me somewhere in the middle.
He goes home. His father runs to him. The father- who gave his son the inheritance BEFORE he died, now welcomes the deadbeat back home, BEFORE the son ever apologizes. The father is a chump.
If I were putting titles on this chapter- I’d be inclined to call it, “The enabling father” or “Two generations of chumps.” As a father myself, I am appalled by this guy’s laissez- faire parenting style. 

That older brother- that one who worked the fields- he wanted his father to be fair to both brothers, regardless of the circumstances. And that’s not what he got. He got –for lack of a better word- screwed. 

NOT ONLY did his brother leave him in charge of the house, the fields, the animals, and their aging father, but NOW his brother comes home, his father welcomes him back. 

So that’s why I’m Lost.
Maybe you can help. 

If I really think about it- if I let my anger at the unfairness fester- I realize that everything that is left on the farm now, contractually, belongs to the Older son- so when the father tells the servants to kill the fatted calf, he’s going into the Older brothers life savings!
It’s one thing to enable the dope, but throw him a party? The greek word for party is euphraimo- like euphoric. Over a dead beat son who came home without an apology? I agree with Craddock when he says
Of course, let the younger son return home. Judaism and Christianity have clear rules to allow sons to return home, but where does it say that the return should include a banquet with music and dancing? Yes, let the prodigal return, but to bread and water, not fatted calf; in sackcloth, not a new robe; wearing ashes, not a new ring; in tears, not in merriment; kneeling, not dancing. Has the party canceled the seriousness of sin and repentance?

I’m lost, maybe you can help me. 

I don’t understand this story. Honestly- I want to give up. This is the most ridiculous parable I’ve ever heard. 

Actually- there’s another parable that bugs me. You know the one about the lost sheep- and the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to look for the one. What is that about? Is it FAIR to risk the safety and security of 99 to find one? Of course not! Isn’t one sheep within the margin of error? 

The idea of this parable- I think- is that the shepherd is driven by his emotions. In an effort to be kind to the 1, he is irrational and unfair to the 99. 

Obviously, these parables are supposed to help us reflect on God, and how God treats us. But I find myself thinking that God does not usually reward the ones who do all the hard work. In this story, God- the father- rewards the opposite- bad behavior- the same thing with the 99 sheep- he rewards stupidity.

This is the problem that Paul writes about to the early church. The people hear that grace is free, so they keep on sinning. God’s a sucker. Everyone gets grace who wants it. We can take our inheritance, squander it- and recant on our death bed.
It seems to me- that we should all be under the same rules- or laws. And that anyone found guilty before God should have to pay their consequences. Period. End of Sentence.
But that’s just what I think

It’s not what I know.
What I know is that if God were fair, and treated us all the same, we would be condemned, because the law always condemns.
What I know is that if I got what I deserve, I might as well enjoy the fatted calf now because it will be the last happy moment of my existence.
What I know is that I am the sheep that wandered away. Lost and confused, I got what I deserved. Going after me is to seemingly reward stupidity.
What I know is the terrible truth about all of humanity. We all want to believe we’re the righteous brother. But we’re all wrong.
We are all prodigal.

What I know- wretched man that I am- is that I need someone to deliver me, to welcome me, even when I don’t deserve it, and even when I’m not fully repentant.  

What I know is that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him. 
What I know is that I’m not, no will I ever be, worthy of Christ’s sacrifice for my sake.  
What I know is that I’m lost.
Only God can help me.  

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