October 28th, 2018

The Church of the Prodigal’s Father
Luke 15:11-32
Week 3 of 3: The Parable of the Prodigal Son

How many of you grew up making soft drinks with a product called Fizzies? For those of you who didn’t, let me explain about Fizzies.

When I was a kid, we used Fizzies to make a drink similar to Kool Aide, but unlike Kool Aide this drink was carbonated. You made the drink by dropping Fizzies tablets into a glass of water. Fizzies tablets were a lot like Alka Seltzer. When you dropped them into the water they fizzed, thereby creating a carbonated drink.

Fizzies came in a variety of flavors and each flavor turned the water into the appropriate color. Cherry Fizzies turned the water red, Lemon Fizzies turned the water yellow and Grape Fizzies turned the water purple.

Okay, now that you know about Fizzies, let me tell you about my friend. My friend, Dennis, loves nothing better than pulling a good practical joke. Not too long ago, he told me about a prank he pulled in his hometown Baptist church. He pulled the prank on his friend who was being baptized.

Nothing seemed odd as the baptismal service began, but that quickly changed. Just as his friend got into the baptismal pool something strange began to happen. The water began to bubble and turn into a dark shade of purple. Unbeknownst to the minister or the baptismal candidate, Dennis had stuffed the boy’s pants pockets full of Grape Fizzies.

As you can imagine, that particular baptismal service was one the congregation did not soon forget. Dennis didn’t forget it either. In fact, that was the last day Dennis ever set foot in a Baptist Church. You see, after church that day, the minister took Dennis to his office and told him he had made a mess of something sacred and that he did not want him back in that church again. As Dennis puts it, “When I got kicked out of the Baptist church I vowed I’d never go back again,” and as far as I know, he hasn’t.

Dennis is not the only one who refuses to set foot in a church. There are a lot of people in our world who would rather be caught dead anywhere else than to be found attending a church, especially a Baptist church.

Why do these people avoid church? They avoid church because the church has made them feel unwelcomed. Maybe they were divorced, and a pastor treated them like second-class people. Maybe they had an addiction, or maybe their language wasn’t the cleanest in town. Maybe their sexual orientation made them unacceptable. Some of these folks may have even tried church once or twice, but many will never try it again.

Somewhere along the line, we Christians have given the wrong impression about church. Somewhere along the line, we’ve given the impression that church is a showplace for saints, but that’s not the New Testament concept. The church in the New Testament was not a showplace for saints, but a sanctuary for sinners, a place where the worst people came to find refuge, forgiveness, acceptance and love.

Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at the parable of the Prodigal Son, examining the relationship between the loving Father and the wayward child. But there’s another character in this story we’ve overlooked. The prodigal son had an older brother and while the loving father was ecstatic about the son’s return home, the older brother didn’t like it at all.

Listen again to this story from Luke 15:11-32.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

In today’s sermon, I want us to use this parable to see two views of church. One view is characterized by the Prodigal’s Father. The other view is characterized by the Prodigal’s Brother. Let’s see the difference between the two churches.

I. The Church of the Father Picks Sinners Up While The Church of the Brother Knocks Sinners Down.

Notice the two different responses to the return of this prodigal son. When the prodigal son returned home, the loving father had only one thing in mind, “What can I do to make my boy feel welcomed?” Almost immediately, the loving father did everything he could to help the prodigal son realize he was loved. He put a ring on his finger, a robe on his back, and a brand new pair of shoes on his feet. Then the father hosted an elaborate party to welcome his son home. Never once did the loving father do anything to make the boy feel guilty, berated or condemned.

But the response of the prodigal’s brother was much different. Instead of making his brother feel welcomed, he did everything he could to make him feel unloved. He refused to speak to him or to come to his party. And when the father tried to get the older brother to at least say “hello,” he reminded his father of how little his brother deserved.

I believe this story is the picture of two churches. I believe the church of the Prodigal’s Father does all it can to help sinners feel loved and accepted, but the church of the Prodigal’s brother does just the opposite. The church of the brother loves to talk about how bad the sinner has acted. This is the church that loves to pass resolutions stating how deplorable the sinners are and how much they should be punished. Unfortunately, these days a lot of Baptist churches fit well into that mold.

Not too long ago, I saw a car covered with Christian bumper stickers. One warned other drivers that if the rapture came, his vehicle would be unmanned. Another sticker encouraged others to “Honk if they loved Jesus.” But the one that caught my attention said, “Jesus is Coming Soon, and When He Does, He’s Gonna Kick Butt.”

That bumper sticker told me more about the guy in the car than it did about Jesus. It told me that the God he followed found some kind of joy in kicking and condemning sinners. But that’s not the kind of God I find in the Church of the Prodigal’s Father. The God I see pictured as the Prodigal’s Father is not the butt-kicking kind of God. He’s the kind of God who wants to forgive and forget and to celebrate the lost son who has finally come home.

Yes, in this parable there are two kinds of churches. The Church of the Prodigal’s Father who finds joy in picking sinners up; and the Church of the Prodigal’s Brother who loves to kick butt.

There’s a second distinction between the two kinds of churches we find portrayed in this parable. And that distinction is this:

II. The Church of the Father Reclaims Family Kinship While the Church of the Brother Rejects His Next of Kin.

I must have read this parable a hundred times, but something new jumped out at me when I recently read this text. In verse 24 the father, referring to the Prodigal Son says, this son of mine was dead and is alive again. Without hesitation, the father claims kinship with the prodigal son by calling him “this son of mine.”

But the older brother’s language is completely different. In verse 30 the older brother addresses his father by saying, when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

Did you hear the difference? When the older brother referred to the prodigal, he refused to accept kinship by referring to him as “this son of yours.”

Interestingly, in verse 32, the father doesn’t let the older brother get away with denying kinship. Instead, he says, we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'" Quite subtly, the father reminds the older brother that, like it or not, he’s related to the prodigal and if he’s gonna’ be the son of the loving father he better get used to sitting at the table with his prodigal brother.

Earlier today we sang, I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God. I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by his blood. Joint-heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, the family of God.

Catchy tune, isn’t it? But have you ever stopped to consider what we really mean when we refer to ourselves as members of God’s family?

To better convey it’s meaning, I’ve written a second verse to the song. I’ll sing it for you, but I feel certain it will never make it in the new Baptist Hymnal. Here it is: I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God. I am here with divorced folks, adulterers and liars. Joint-heirs with gossips and with folks who act odd, for I’m part of this family, the family of God.

Yes, being part of the family of God means you claim kinship with all sorts of people. It means you claim kinship with people who have stolen, people who have cheated on their spouses, and people who’ve made messes of their lives. It means you claim kinship with gay folks, addicts, and even with Fundamentalists.

Now if you’d prefer, you can join the Church of the Prodigal’s Brother because the folks in that church get to pick and choose who they want as family. But let me remind you this, if you’re gonna be a member of the Prodigal Brother’s Church don’t disgrace the Father by claiming membership in his church, too. Because the truth of the matter is this; the Father considers the Prodigal as much a part of the family as he does you. So if you’re going to live under the Father’s roof, you better get used to loving Prodigal brothers – and sisters, too.

Writer, Terry Dobson, tells about riding a subway in one of the suburbs of Tokyo. As the train stopped at one station a man got on who was obviously drunk. As he staggered into the car he started yelling and screaming at the people who were in his way.

Dobson had studied martial arts and sprang up with the intent of disabling the man, but just before he acted another passenger on the train, an elderly little man smiled and said, “Hey Mister, come here!”

The drunk didn’t know how to respond.

Again, the little old man said, “Come here and talk with me.”

Finally, the drunk looked at his elder and bellowed, “What in the heck do you want?”

With a devilish grin the old man asked, “What’cha been drinkin’?”

“I been drinkin’ Sake. What’s it too ya?”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” replied the older man. “I love Sake, too. Every night my wife and I warm up a little bottle of Sake and take it out into the garden for a night cap before we go to bed. We watch the sun go down and see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree years ago and it continues to do well despite the poor soil.”

With a hint of softness in his voice, the drunken man responded, “Yeah, I love persimmons, too. . .”

“Do you and your wife have a tree?” questioned the older man.

“No,” replied the drunkard. “My wife died some years ago.” Then the big man began to sob as he said, “I don’t got no wife. I don’t got no home. I don’t got no job and I’m so ashamed of myself.”

Dobson goes on to say that when the train finally arrived at his stop, he turned back to look where the old man was seated. There beside him was the drunkard, with his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking his filthy, matted hair. He had conquered the drunkard, not with Karate, but with love.

Our world today is filled with Prodigals. Some are loud. Some are obnoxious. Some have lifestyles you may find repugnant. But there are two ways we can deal with these prodigals. We can hate them, berate them and condemn them to hell, or we can follow the example of the Prodigal’s father. We can run out to meet them with open arms and conquer them with our love.

Over a year ago, Pat and I began investing our lives in this church, and today, we’re proud to call ourselves members of Rutledge Baptist Church. Granted, there are other churches with more folks, more programs, better music and nicer facilities. But it wasn’t the crowd, the programs, the facilities or the music that drew us to you. We found a home in this church because we found The Church of the Prodigal’s Father – not a showplace for saints, but a sanctuary for sinners?

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I’m a part of the family of God, and I’m glad my Prodigal brothers and sisters are, too.