Monday, March 15, 2010

Always Mine

Here are my notes from yesterday's sermon focusing on Luke 15's story of the Prodigal Son. Some early thoughts were posted last Tuesday in A Hug From God.

As you read this, consider commenting on it...
  • What do you think?  
  • When we are honest, is it true that we are always the younger son?  
  • What difference would it make if we really believed that was true and lived with gratitude and praise for God's unreserved and undeserved love every day?
  • How would that make outreach to others more effective?
You can read the scripture this was based on by clicking here: Luke 15:1-3:11b-32

There are three main characters in Jesus’ story – the Father, the younger son who spends his inheritance, and the older son who just hates it when his younger brother is welcomed home.

Who are you?

I hope I will always know that I am the younger brother in this story. I hope I will always know that I am one sinner among many and that I have no rights when it comes to my relationship with God, except the rights God the Father gives to me as a gift.

Every time we come to the Lord we should say what we have in verse 21: “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.

That’s how we come to our Lord every time.

And every time we come he welcomes us: “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—put it on him—[put it on her]. Put a ring on his finger… put sandals on his feet.”

Slaves—and hired workers—they went barefoot. They had no robe and no jewelry. What this Father—what GOD is doing—HE IS WELCOMING this sinful son—and because this is God’s Word we know it’s not only about him—it’s about EVERY son and every daughter—it’s about you and me and the welcome WE get when we come home to him.

Let’s read the younger son’s words from verse 21—let’st read them together and change the word “son” to “daughter” if you are a daughter—let’s make it personal:
Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
I am no longer worthy to be called your _____.
Notice how the returning son can’t even make his whole speech. He can’t even get through the part he planned… look at verse 19… he had planned to say "...I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands..." But this Father—this DADDY God—he is SO ready to welcome us that he cuts us off before we get our planned apology done with. He sees our hearts and knows when we are ready to come home… He interrupts us with the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), the ring of commitment (Hosea 2:19-20) and the sandals—I can’t help but think of Jesus, stooping to wash his disciples feet and of Ephesians 6:15 where sandals or shoes are part of the armor of God.

So the younger son receives the Father's welcome.  The older son pushes it away. Sometimes we might be tempted to think of ourselves as that responsible elder brother—the one who has stayed home and worked all his life. But that son doesn’t have his Father’s heart. He’s like Martha in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 who just doesn’t take time to sit at Jesus’ feet. He’s just too busy being a good person that he doesn’t do the most important thing—to listen and learn from God’s heart. And there is NOTHING better for God than when one of us comes home.

Jesus aims his story directly at you if you are one of those busy responsible ones who thinks that you have some kind of rights with God. We talked about this two weeks ago when we addressed the sin of pride. If we are feeling prideful because of all the good things we’ve done for God we need to come in from the field, lay our tools down, and come with the younger brothers and sisters—“I am no longer worthy to be called yours… I am no longer worthy at all.”

And when we come that way, Jesus comes to us, the Father comes to us, and he says YOU ARE ALWAYS MINE—not because of what you do, but because I love you as much as the strays that I welcome. These others—these new people—they are your brothers and sisters—see my heart as I welcome you in spite of your pride—and then come and join the party of grace alone.

So there is a temptation for us who have been around the church for awhile to think of ourselves as deserving something from God, as if we were the dutiful elder brother and believe that I “never disobeyed [God’s] command.”

But there is another temptation too—a temptation that I have fallen for—to my shame—and that’s the temptation of taking the role of God in this parable—to think of myself—to think of ourselves—to somehow put ourselves in the place of the Father who waits and is ready to welcome those who come home.

In this church—in this building—in this gathering—it is not our job to welcome the lost souls home. There are lots of reasons for that.
  • It’s our job to tell other people—you and I—you and I are brothers and sisters—equally desperate for God’s grace. When we lead someone to the Lord Jesus, we never do it from a position of superiority or privilege. We simply let people know—I am a sinner—a dirty sinner—and I’ve found a welcome that I could never imagine… I’d love it if you could know that welcome too.
We’re not God. God’s love may be poured into our hearts—but we are very imperfect vessels for that love—the love never comes through us without being stained and selfish! Besides that...
  • ...You and I don’t know people’s hearts. If we think that somehow our church or our denomination is somehow responsible for checking people in, we will make terrible mistakes.

    We’ll either be legalists—thinking we can tell a sinner from a saint… OR we will be antilegalists - - - an “anti-legalist" is technically known as an "anti-nomian”... and that someone who doesn’t think the LAW of God is important. Nomos is the Greek word for “law.”
But when we look into the Law of God and see ourselves for who we are—full of pride and anger and laziness and all the other deadly sins—lust and greed and gluttony and envy—when we see who we are and who we continue to be as long as we live—and when we recognize that we are the YOUNGER SON in the parable—the one who has spoiled it all but is STILL welcomed, then we can come alongside the worst and the best of sinners and with humility and tears celebrate GOD'S welcome—not OUR welcome—no—it’s GOD'S welcome!—and God will never make mistakes with his law, or with his perfect gospel love.

Last year, during Lent*, we had people from our church get up and tell their stories, confessing their broken and sinful lives. I heard that some from our church thought that was inappropriate—that people should keep their problems to themselves. But if we do that—if we keep our problems to ourselves, and if we try to welcome sinners as if we were somehow all put together and clean, we will come off as judgmental legalists—or we will think we have to say there is no sin at all -- antilegalists -- that we are somehow accepted just as we are with no sorrow, with no repentance, with no change. But if we can tell the stories of our lives, about how God keeps finding me and you out in the far country, or out in the field where we think we are doing so well, and has come to us and has looked us in the eye, seen our filthy hearts and says “YOU ARE ALWAYS MINE!," then we can come and rejoice together with all our lost brothers and sisters—we have to celebrate and rejoice—because this brother—this equal brother—and this sister—I am the same as that lost sister—we have to celebrate and rejoice because they were dead like we were—and they have come to life—they were lost—just like me and you—and now they have been found.

For the rest of the Lenten season, let’s consider how we are just the same as all the lost ones out there… that we have no privileges that come with church membership or any so-called good deeds that we have done… let’s consider our brokenness and our sin—and rejoice at the welcome of a God who says to us—and to all those others who repent—you are ALWAYS MINE.


* I'd encourage you to go back and listen to John's testimony and other comments from last year's Ash Wednesday worship... You can find it at Not Proud - Except of My Lord.  Other testimony's from Lent 2009 can be accessed through Testify to the Lord.


  1. I enjoyed listening to the personal testimonies last year - it helped me to realize that I am not alone in my struggles in life and there is a light at the end of the tunnel- if you turn to the lord. Maybe those who disagreed are struggling themselves?

  2. Yes, I need to know I'm not alone. And, as to those who disagreed, I'm sure they also deal with their own demons and difficulties... maybe for some it did hit too close to home.