The Gospel in One Story *

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.

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Luke 15:1-10 and 11:32

 

If you had wanted to summarize a reading of the whole Bible in less than 90 days, say the whole Bible in one reading… how about this story: the whole gospel in one parable.

The last story of the three stories we read especially seems to sum up the gospel well for me. Jesus is saying, you want to know what God is like? Do you want to know if God is the holy God whose goal punish sinners and eliminate evil– or if God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? Do you want to know what the real God is like?… God is like this.

God is like this father… who lets selfish, arrogant prodigal children sometimes get what they ask for… God is like this father who (though we know it breaks God’s heart) will sometimes let them go off and suffer the consequences of their actions… because this seems to be the path – the hard path many sinners must make before they come to their senses.

But this God is also the God who stands there waiting and looking and longing and hoping for the lost son… the rebellious son… the “no good son”… to come home. This loving, extravagant God is waiting… with robe ready… a calf fattened for a party… this God is waiting, waiting for the sinner to come home.

An old hymn captures this theme… maybe you’ll remember it: [sung by the choir]
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
See, on your portals He’s waiting and watching
Watching for you and for me

Come home, come home
Ye who are weary come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling O sinner come home

So this is a story about what God is like. It is also a story about what we are like.

I’d be curious who you identify with most in the story. Is it the prodigal? The one at first known for his wasteful, extravagant living… someone who is selfish and self-obsessed, but who in another part of the story is sorrowful and repentant- You are someone who has a deep sense of sin… who knows you have let God down… sometime, somewhere in your life. Maybe thinking God could never forgive you for what you have done. Nobody else will. You have taken advantage of God’s loving nature.

And you know what it is like to be lost in this world… really lost…not only on a TV island… but lost in your life-aimlessly wandering and searching… having left home.  Someone who has hit rock bottom… finding that selfishness and the prodigal life end up nowhere-except with the pigs. Are you someone, or do you know someone like this?

Someone who would have found a friend in Jesus-because Jesus loved sinners. [congregation sings]
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see”

Or, do you identify with the older brother-the “good son” in the story. You do what is asked of you. You work hard, you follow the rules, you do everything the father asks of you. You have a good reputation as a good son and a good person. You join the civic clubs-you are well respected in the community.

The only thing, the ONLY thing, is that you do get mad when the subject of your younger brother comes up. There are so many ways you are mad. You are mad for him taking advantage of your Dad… you are angry at his attitude (does he really think the world revolves around him?) … you are mad of the kind of lifestyle he has chosen-you have heard about him-he left for the city… sleeps around… he even has a job feeding pigs… you can’t get much lower than that as a Jewish kid. In your secret moments, you wish he had never been born. The family is better off without him. “Good riddance I say. Things have been a lot more peaceful since he left.” But then, your Dad takes him back. Talk about mad.

“You thought I was angry before? Do you see what Dad does? My brother comes running home, like a dog with his tail between his legs… and while I’m out doing what Dad wants me to do… Dad is throwing a party. A party for my brother. A party. Talk about the last person in the world who deserves a party. It is him. Oh, I heard he was ready to repent… to say, ‘I’m sorry Dad’… but did he mean it? Words are cheap. Probably one of his scams. Want to know mad, I’m mad. Oh, I’m all for love… but shouldn’t he have to pay for it? And what about me. What about me. It’s not fair”

Anyone here identify with that brother? I can.

Sadly, some say the church is more like this older brother than like God. Few would identify the church as the church of the prodigal. They are not here of course. Churches don’t have a good reputation for welcoming prodigals. Hard to blame them: who wants to hang out with that older brother.

There is a young evangelical pastor in California who has written a book entitled, “They Like Jesus but Not the Church” His name is Dan Kimball. He hangs out with a lot of young adults who don’t go to church, even though he himself is a pastor. His book is about what he has learned from young people who don’t go to church about what they don’t like about church.For example, he says one of the things that people say to him about why they don’t go to church is because they think ministers are sort of creepy.

There are six main things that he hears over and over again from people who don’t go to church. In other words, this is the impression, right or wrong, people have of the church based on the culture. One of the six reasons they give is that the church is judgmental and negative.

The church has become in the eyes of many in the world, the older brother. In other words, we are more like the older brother than like God… or Jesus. The lost don’t want to come to church… it’s not that they are looking for a party… they are afraid of being shamed.

Do you know one of the key reasons we hear for people not coming to back to church after they have stopped coming? They are embarrassed… they think somewhere in their mind, that if they were to come back, they will be treated with judgment. How did they get that impression?

Well, if that is so…that is not good because that is not the way of God. Let’s change that.

Let me close with a story about what the way of God looks like from Fred Craddock. A story of joy and challenge to those of us in the church. Fred says for many years he preached a sermon on the story of the Prodigal Son without thinking about the party. He says,

I preached that sermon as though this was the wonderful, natural, easy, right thing to do. I had never thought about that party until a family up the street divorced and left three or four youngsters, girls, one of them attractive, prematurely mature, and about fourteen years old. [She was wild.]
She was truant at school, was into marijuana, always in trouble, always up before the judge, chasing around and hanging on the tail end of every motorcycle that went roaring through the neighborhood. She appeared before the judge so many times, , that the judge finally said “You’re going away to reform school…”
She was sent away to a detention home for girls. About the fourth or fifth month that she was there, she gave birth to the child she was carrying. She was fifteen at the time.
Word came to the neighborhood some months afterward that she was coming home.
“Will she have that baby with her?”
“Is she really coming home, back to our neighborhood?”

The day we heard she was to come, all of us in the neighborhood had to mow our grass.
We were out in our yards, mowing our grass, and watching the house. She didn’t show, nobody came, and we kept watching the house and mowing the grass. I was down to about a blade at a time, you know, watching the house, when a car pulled in the driveway-and out steps Cathy. She has the baby. She brought home the baby.

People in the house ran out and grabbed her and took turns holding that baby, and they were all laughing and joking, then they went in. Another car pulled in, then another car pulled in, and another car pulled in. They started parking in the street. You couldn’t have gotten a Christian car down the street, just cars on either side, and they’re all gathering there, you know.

Suddenly I got disturbed and anxious and went in my house. It suddenly struck me, what if one of them saw me down in the yard and said, “Hey Fred, she’s home and she has the baby. We’re giving a party, and we’d like for you and Nettie to come.” Would I have gone? “Well, I’ve got a lot of papers to grade and all.”

Would I have gone? If you lived next doo to the prodigal son’s father’s house, would you have one over to the party? It’s easer to (read) that story than to go to the party. 1.

I don’t know… But if we did go to the party… if we became a church full of people who would go to the party… or maybe even throw the party– then we would not be far from the ways of Jesus and Jesus says, we’d be very close to joyful kingdom of God. Amen.

1. Craddock Stories p 35

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