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Monday, August 4, 2008

The Other Brother (Luke 15)

August 3, 2008
Sermon by: Carter Robinson
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“The Other Brother”

It is good to be home… Glad to be here…

Sometime after college I remember Luke 15 being called the “lost chapter of Luke.” After studying all types and forms of biblical criticism in College I thought they were referring to the fact that maybe this chapter of Luke was lost for a while in history and only found on later biblical sources. That it might have been an addition later to the book of Luke. Because I remember in college that my professors taught that some books, even gospels were added to later. I deeply pondered what happened to Luke 15 and what brought it into the Bible.

I felt pretty dumb when I realized that Luke 15 was called the “lost chapter of Luke” because Luke 15 has three stories in it, the parable of the Lost Sheep, the parable of the Lost coin, and the parable of the Lost son. Henceforth Luke 15 is the Lost chapter of Luke!

In seminary I took a Friedrich Nietzsche class. I can’t say it was a pleasure to take the class, in retrospect I wonder why on earth I took, it. But I did learn a lot in the class, and I guess since I am talking about it in this sermon it was worth it.

If you don’t know much about Nietzsche please don’t waste your time learning about him. He was a German Philosopher in the late 1800’s. He is famous for making the statement that “God is Dead.” Needless to say he was not a Christian.

You see in this story the younger son basically kills his father. The son does not want to wait until his father lives out his life to its fullness and then with sadness because of his father’s death inherits his part of the family’s wealth and fortune. No this son wants what is coming to him right now; he wants his father to be dead so that he can enjoy life NOW.

How often are we like this young son, we want everything that is coming to us, and we want it NOW! We are not willing to wait for normal procession of time, but we ask for everything now. We want our cake and eat it too, some might say.

Now once this son gets what is coming to him he doesn’t stick around, he doesn’t follow what his father had planned for him. He heads out for a good time. The NIV says the son spent all of his money in “wild living,” the Message Translation by Eugene Peterson says that “undisciplined and dissipated, the son wasted everything he had.” You see the son for all intensive purposes had killed his father, so he no longer needed to follow the teachings his father had taught him.

This is where I think Friedrich Nietzsche was trying to talk about, even though he had no clue, God is dead, because we kill God. Every time we want something before it is out time, every time we go off on our own and stray from God, every time we sin, we kill God. Ok, we try to kill God, we never do, God is bigger than that. But here comes the good news… The truth that no matter how hard we try, we can never kill God!

As we continue with this young son’s adventure we are told that after all of his money was spent there was a famine where the son was living. And since he had spent all of his money he had nothing. We can only assume he made no real friends while he was in the area. I am sure he had many friends when he had money, but once his money was gone so were his “friends.” -- I am sure we all know some fair weather friends -- The son had no other choice but to find work to make money to survive.

As this son was feeding pigs, pigs, remember we are talking about Jews here. What do Jews think of pigs… They are unclean. Obviously this son was not working for a Jew, it was forbidden for all Jews to have pigs because they was unclean. In Jewish literature it was said “Cursed is the man who rears swine.” Feeding swine would have been the lowest possible thing a Jew could do. We are told though this son goes even lower. The son is so hungry that he longed to eat the pods he was feeding the filthy unclean pigs. This would have been such a degrading thought, it was beyond degrading for the son. No doubt this was as low as the son could have gotten. When he was at the lowest possible point in his life he came to his senses.

The son realizes that his life is horrible. The son realized that he has wasted his life that he for all intensive purposes was dead. He realized he was going to die, without someone’s help, he was going to starve to death, he realized that even if he was a servant in his father’s house, he would at least get three meals a day and not be starving to death wanting to eat “pig slop.”

The son decided that it was time to head home, and the son probably spent the whole journey home preparing his speech for his father. “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 men.”

Isn’t it ironic, just 6 verses earlier the son more or less killed his father wanting him dead so that he could go have fun with his inheritance. Now the son is putting his hope in his father to save him, save him from starvation, save him from the death that he earned by his wild living and wasting everything that he had.

Doesn’t it sound familiar? When our lives are going the way we want them to, we are good on our own, we don’t rely on our Father in heaven. Many times we even try to kill our Father in heaven by going our own way, and doing whatever we want. We want to be the god of our own lives.
How quickly do we change our tune once everything starts going wrong in our lives! Because once everything goes badly we want our Father in heaven to be God of our lives, we want to turn to Him, we want to trust Him.

The beauty I believe of the story of the Younger Son comes in verse 20: that while the Son was far off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him, and the father RAN out to his son, threw his arms around his son and kissed him.

AFTER this, the Son recited to his father his speech that he spent the whole journey preparing: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

We get no verbal response from the father to the son. We just get actions. And we are taught that actions speak louder than words.

I have no doubt that the younger son was shocked completely by the response of his father. The Father responds asking his servants to: “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it 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.” And we are told that they began to celebrate.

The inspiration for this sermon today came to me from Henri Nouwen’s book “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” Nouwen, who was a catholic priest who was a professor at Yale, but left Yale to serve as Chaplain of a home for mentally handicapped people, wrote this book about his encounter with Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

The painting shows the younger son kneeling in front of his father and his father embracing him lovingly. The son who has a shaven head who has no robe on has one foot that is bare and the other sandal is so warn that his heel is revealed.

You see, the son’s appearance shows that he is no longer a part of the family, and that he has nothing left in life, not even a good pair of sandals, which are important because people at the time walked everywhere.

What the father sends to servants to get his younger son are not random items, they all had very special meaning. In my research I found the special meanings they would have had for a Jew in this time period.

The robe is the garnet that the son would have been wearing before he left home, his new robe, the best in the house shows his re-instatement as son.

The ring, the second item given to the son it is a symbol of authority, especially royal authority.
The final item that the son was given was a new pair of sandals. They show that a person was a free person, and not a slave. And even more than that only the master wore their sandals in the house, all the guests took their sandals off at the door of someone’s house.

The son who came home was willing to be satisfied by just being a servant of his father, but instead the son was completely restored to his position as son and heir. What an amazing feat by the father, who had no obligation to his wayward son at all.

Lastly, if not enough that the Father had not already done enough for the young wayward son, the father throws a huge party. Maybe the biggest party the father had ever thrown in his life, for this son who strayed and came back home. What a great story of God’s love and compassion for the lost. It makes us all really food good inside right?

We can now say Amen, end of story right?

Maybe not, even though it is easy to end there and be happy for the younger son and just think of how loving and great God is because He accepts us back even when we sin and turn against him. Even when we kill God in our minds, He will come running out towards us and reinstate us as Sons and Daughters of the kingdom.

But, what about the Other Brother?

The older brother, missed the wonderful scene of the homecoming of his younger wayward brother. The older brother did not get the chance to run out with his father and greet his younger brother and welcome him back into the family! The brother was dutifully out working while all of this was going on. Actually the older brother was out working the whole time his younger brother was out spending all of his inheritance wildly.

The older brother as he came near the house he heard the amazing party going on inside, he was probably concerned and he asked one of the servants what on earth was going on. He didn’t understand because his father has never thrown a party like this before! The servant replied to the older brother: “Your brother has come, he replied, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound!”

Now I can honestly say I have no clue how that would feel. Being an only child I have never had to experience sibling rivalry. I have never had to compete for my parents attention, it was always only mine. But I can say I think I can understand that this older bother would have been jealous and upset with his younger brother, who has squandered part of the family fortune and gone out and had lots of fun while the older brother was left home working. The older brother’s response to learning what the party was about was anger and because the older brother was angry he refused to go in and enjoy the biggest party that his father had ever thrown!

How many times have we missed great opportunities, missed out on great things because we were upset, because we were jealous, because we were bitter!

We continuously see more and more of the father’s goodness and love in this story. When the Father hears that his elder son was refusing to go in to the party. Once again the Father goes out, reaches out, but it was to the elder brother this time.

The Father goes out and pleaded with his son to come in and enjoy the party with everyone else. I can easily see myself in this story outside the house “pouting” not enjoying what is offered to me because I am upset.

The older son responds to his father’s kind request with harsh words. He says to 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!” You can just hear the bitterness in the son’s voice towards his father, the older brother won’t even recognize that his younger brother is even his brother; he calls his younger brother, “This son of yours” to his father. How degrading not even to acknowledge your own family as family. Obviously this older, elder brother was full of bitterness towards his younger brother.

The father refusing to let this son slip away into complete bitterness the father replies with love and kindness. “My son, 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!”

The interesting thing about this story is that we know that the younger son was reconciled to the Father, but what about the elder son. This story leaves us asking, did the older brother go into the party and accept his younger brother back like the father did, or did the older brother continue with his bitterness.

We have two story lines to look at this morning. I personally can relate to both story lines. I myself am the younger brother, and the older brother all in one!

First we will talk about the younger brother. He is easier to talk about I believe. He is the one who went off, was disobedient, who didn’t follow his father’s words, and squandered his life on his own. He was disobedient and sinful.

I can relate to this. I can admit that I have strayed from what God wanted me to do in my life. I have left the right path for my own path at times. I am not going to bore you with the details of my straying this morning. Even though I am sure my parents would love to hear about it.

I think that each of us though, if we are completely honest with ourselves, will admit we have strayed. We all have been like this young brother at one point in our lives or the other. We all have gone astray and wished that God was not there. We all have our little secrets that we want to keep from God. This is what it means to be the younger son. To stray and to sin. Fortunately God does not leave us there.

The second part of being the younger son is the beautiful picture of reconciliation. In all my waywardness I have come to the realization that I am wrong and needed to turn around and go back to The Heavenly Father.

The good news is that each time God is there running towards me with open arms. Jesus Christ gives me his robe, puts a ring on my finger and gives me sandals to wear. I am restored as an air to the kingdom of God. That is the good news!

If there is anyone who is still living their own life, still living for yourself, still living a wild lifestyle. I tell you this, God loves you, Jesus Christ, savior of the human race, is running towards you with open arms, ready to accept you into the family, into the inheritance of the kingdom of God! And God is ready to throw one kicking party to welcome you in too!

That is the easy part of the story this morning, the story with the happy ending. Let us now turn our attention to the other brother.

The comedian Buddy Hackett once said: "I've had a few arguments with people," "but I never carry a grudge. You know why? …… While you're carrying a grudge, they're out dancing."

That is what was literally happening in the story that Jesus tells today. But why was this older brother included in the happy story of the lost son. This is the third Lost story in Luke and the others neither the other sheep or the other coins complained about the lost sheep or the lost coin, but the brother is up in arms about his lost brother!

You see it is easy to be the one reconciled to, it is easy to be the one that is the center of attention, trust me I know like I said I am an only child! It is harder to be the other one, the hard working one, the one behind the scenes who never get noticed for what they have been doing all along. That is probably how the elder brother was in this story. This brings in the sad part of the story. We don’t know if the elder brother ever joined the party, we don’t know if the elder brother carried this heavy burden of bitterness for the rest of his life, maybe even dying a bitter old man.

I read a story this week about two monks. One day, two monks were walking through the countryside. They were on their way to another village to help bring in the crops. As they walked, they spied an old woman sitting at the edge of a river. She was upset because there was no bridge, and she could not get across on her own. The first monk kindly offered, "We will carry you across if you would like." "Thank you," she said gratefully, accepting their help. So the two men joined hands, lifted her between them and carried her across the river. When they got to the other side, they set her down, and she went on her way.

After they had walked another mile or so, the second monk began to complain. "Look at my clothes," he said. "They are filthy from carrying that woman across the river. And my back still hurts from lifting her. I can feel it getting stiff." The first monk just smiled and nodded his head.
A few more miles up the road, the second monk griped again, "My back is hurting me so badly, and it is all because we had to carry that silly woman across the river! I cannot go any farther because of the pain." The first monk looked down at his partner, now lying on the ground, moaning. "Have you wondered why I am not complaining?" he asked. "Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down five miles ago."

This is the truth of bitterness. Bitterness is the second monk who cannot let go. We hold the pain of the past over people’s head like a club, or we remind them every once in a while, when we want to get the upper hand, of the burden we still carry because of something they did years ago. But by doing so we are bound by our bitterness, by our hatred, and eventually we can not go on because of it. Only by giving up our bitterness can we truly be free.

Now why did Jesus include the older brother in the parable, in order to see that we must go back to the beginning of the Lost Chapter of Luke. It starts: “ now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

You see these Pharisees and teachers were the elder brother in the story. They are Jews, they are the chosen people of God, and they are jealous and bitter that Jesus has come to the sinners and lost ones. The Pharisees are so bitter that they eventually have Jesus Christ crucified.

I said earlier that I am both brothers all rolled into one. As a sinful human I am automatically the younger brother, but you see I am also the older brother because of where I came from, where I was born and raised, I am just like the Pharisees.

I don’t remember this, but I am told, and of course it is true, that Dr. Katibah baptized me. Now this was before there was a Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. But once there was a good shepherd this was and is my church home. I have grown up here, I remember the white house, and especially the cool slide that was outside the white house. Now if you are confused or if you think I am talking about where the president lives. The white house is where GSPC started, a little white house that was over there. It was where worship was held and everything. There are pictures around somewhere and I would suggest looking at them, they are very entertaining!
But I have always been in this church. I have spent most of my life when I wasn’t straying, working hard. I have been working towards the kingdom of God. This summer actually represents ten years since I served on Summer Staff for Son Servants, which started my life of Ministry. Ever since then I have known that God was calling me to ministry, and ever since then I have been working as a youth director, DCE, studying in seminary, preaching, doing everything I can working for God and his Kingdom.

I can honestly admit that I sometimes get upset, bitter, even angry when I look around and see others who have not spent their time serving. Who have spent their lives squandering their lives receiving blessings from God. When I see all of their dreams come true while I seem to struggle, to always have something going wrong. While they seem to have an easy life, while they seem to be getting all the parties in life while I am out in the field working.

Yes I too am the older brother in this story. I am sure I am not the only older brother here today either. It is hard to see change come, to see new leadership in the church. Hard to accept that God is using others who might not look like or act like we do. We have been here all the time, but now there are new people coming in being welcomed in and we are no longer the center of attention.

I am sure that most, if not all of us are carrying some type of bitterness this morning. It is also a human tendency. I encourage all of us to give it up, give it to Christ.

You see the good news once again is Father God, Jesus Christ comes running out to us and invites us in. We are invited to give up our bitterness and join in the party.

The question is can we come into the party and enjoy it with everyone else, or do we harbor such bitterness that we stay outside and miss out on the joy that God wants for us to have?
Jesus Christ comes running to all of us, each and everyone. How do we respond?

Let us Pray:

Lord God, that you for sending us Jesus Christ to save us from our sins, thank you for showing us how to live our lives for your good will. Help us to turn to you when we do stray, help us not to carry our bitterness towards others, but give it all to you. Lord help us in our dark hours even though we ignore you so very often. Help us to see with our own eyes you running towards us with open arms. Amen

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