My Notes from last talk at Leeds Met Mission week.
Morality ladder – If God is at the top as the only perfect being, where would you put the following people? Hitler, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth, Amy Winehouse, David Beckham, you? Where is the cut off point at which you please God and why?
Hope fully that little activity gave you something to talk about. It’s an interesting little conundrum isn’t it. Who pleases God and how? Who is moral? How do you make it right if you’ve got it wrong? I want to think about that for a few minutes this evening, where does God set the bar? Who does he love? Who does he view as moral?
Jesus tells a story in the story is a man “a man who had two sons”(11). It’s a story that confronts us with three ways to live and ends with a shock.
Life without God
This man has two sons but then comes the shock(v12), the younger son wants to leave home, and not just move out and get his own place but he wants his share of the inheritance. What he effectively says to his dad is this; ‘Dad, you’re not dead yet but I can’t wait that long, can I have now what will be mine when you are!’ That’s what he’s saying; I am wasting my life waiting for you to die before I can do what I want so why don’t you give me my inheritance now! You are holding me back, I’m missing out, I wish you were dead!
And having been given his inheritance the younger son leaves, he gets as far away from his father as he can(13) and begins living it up. He lives and spends recklessly, wildly. He joins the young wealthy socialites, the ‘in crowd’, he throws himself into the party life. He lives life how he wants trying to eek out every last second of fun to give it meaning.
(14-16)But soon the money is gone and he ends up doing a demeaning job and life isn’t fun anymore. His pursuit of pleasure, living his life his own way, deciding right and wrong for himself leaves him in need. It leaves him empty and longing for home even though he knows he can no longer be a son, notice that his plan is to go back to his dad and ask to be a servant because his dad can’t love him after what he has done, he is just too bad!
It’s a picture of the story of the Bible, God creates a world and gives it to us to enjoy in relationship with him, but we want the world but not the relationship. We want to be free to pursue what we want when we want it.
It’s an idea captured in the song from a couple of years ago Bonkers by Dizzee Rascal:
I wake up everyday it’s a daydream
Everythin’ in my life isn’t what it seems
I wake up just to go back to sleep
I act real shallow but I’m in to deep
And all I care about is sex and violence
And a heavy bass line is my kind of silence
Everybody says I got to get a grip
But I let sanity give me the slip
Some people think I’m bonkers
But I just think I’m free
Man I’m just living my life
There nothing crazy about me
Some people pay for thrills
but I get mine for free
Man I’m just living my life
There nothing crazy about me
Freedom matters and freedom is about doing what I want when I want it, about getting thrills, it is about self determination.
I guess we wouldn’t put it as bluntly as that. But we can be just like this rebellious son. We share his view of God as a harsh disciplinarian who limits fun, who I need to escape to be free and really live life? But when we find things are empty and we think about God we can feel too bad for God to love, we think like this son God could never love me now.
That’s the first way we can relate to God, we can live.
Being very good
At first glance the older brother seems the opposite of the younger brother. He stays and works for his Father, he doesn’t squander the inheritance, he doesn’t rebel.
I think that’s the way we think morality works, I’d guess we think God loves the very good. We earn God’s favour by being very very good, that we tot up brownie points to make it into heaven.
But(27-30) notice something about this good son, he may have been very good but he has exactly the same problem as his brother he just expresses it differently. He doesn’t want relationship with the father either, he just wants his father’s riches, but he goes about getting it by being very, good.
His wrong attitude is shown when his Father welcomes back the younger son, it is just too much that his Father would welcome back such a rebel, because his father should only love good, hard working sons who have stayed on the farm!
The older brother is a picture of another way we can wrongly think we relate to God, by being very, very good, thinking that we earn God’s favour. Older brother types think that what God wants to hear from them is “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.”
They believe you can save yourself, that if you just try hard enough, if you are good enough, if you go to church enough, if you serve others enough, if you are moral enough you will be good enough.
Yet where is the older son at the end of the story? The good moral person is outside the feast – the place of welcome and relationship. Why because he will not accept the Father’s gracious welcome to the feast, because he is furious that God could show grace to rebels.
But fundamentally if that is us our problem is that we haven’t understood the nature of our problem. You see God’s standard is perfection, Jesus says elsewhere it is to love God with all you heart soul mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. We fall short, we may be better than so and so but no amount of goodness can make up for that failing.
Am I an older brother? Do I think relationship with God is based on performance, on my being very good, that I can earn it? Jesus is warning here that we can’t!
But there is a third way to live, and that is to live accepting the gracious love of the Father.
The father in this parable is utterly astonishing in his love and graciousness isn’t he? (12)He gives his younger son what he wants when he wants to leave, he doesn’t force him to stay. He longs for his return and welcomes him with open arms and lavish love, not making him grovel or apologise but graciously giving him relationship. And with the older brother, he doesn’t rebuke him for his harsh words or lack of respect rather he goes out and asks him to enter the feast, to have relationship too. Those actions for a Father are costly.
God’s love and acceptance are free and you can never have been too bad to return, but you have to accept it. God offers grace to both the lost sons. Is that how you think of God?
This is the third of three lost parables Jesus told. The first(3-7) is about a lost sheep, the second a lost coin. In each something gets lost, is found, and ends with feasting and celebration over that discovery. But there is something missing in the story of the lost sons.
In the other two someone searches for what is lost, but in the third no-one goes to search. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says this “The Son of Man (himself) came to seek and save what was lost.” Jesus comes sent by the Father to seek lost sons, whether they are lost because they have overtly rejected relationship with God and are seeking meaning in pleasure, or they are lost trying to save themselves by being very, very good and earning a place in heaven.
He comes to find the lost but he also comes to pay the price of forgiveness. God doesn’t stand waiting looking for us to return he sends his Son to find us and bring us back. To pay the price for our rebellion and make us right with God. That was the Pharisees problem they knew sin had to be dealt with, how could Jesus welcome sinners without dealing with their sin.
Once a month in our house the credit card bill plops onto the door mat. It contains details of all the spending of the previous month and tells us the date it must be paid for.
Jesus is not letting sinners off here! He is not saying sin doesn’t matter. But rather he is saying because we can’t make ourselves right with God he will pay for the price for us. As he dies on the cross he pays for the rebellion of those who repent and believe in him. He gives us his perfect record and relationship with God.
Not so that we can get the inheritance, but so that we can enjoy relationship with God. Heaven is not the prize God is! The feast is a picture of restored relationship.
Do you see the three ways to live; you can reject God and live life but at some point you will come up empty, you can live life thinking you are earning credit with God but it will never be enough because the standard is perfection, or you can accept God’s grace freely given to you in Jesus, and live with him as your king.
God is waiting for you to return whether you think you are too bad or too good. He sends his son to bring us back not to be slaves, not to work our fingers to the bone to earn eternal life but to accept the free gift of relationship with the Father, of becoming his loved child.
What will you do with that gift?
Some of you here tonight may want to accept that grace that God gives, you may have realised that you’ve rejected God either by living life how you want, or by thinking being good would be good enough. I’m going to pray in a minute and you may want to join in with that.
Some of you may want to know more, on your table are feedback cards please sign up to look at who Jesus is. Or Maybe you think what I’ve said is a load of rubbish, why not right that down as well.
Father God, I recognise that I need your forgiveness for the way I have lived my life. I am sorry for putting myself at the centre and living in your world as if I was in charge. Please forgive me. Thank you for sending your only Son into the world to live in my place and to die in my place. Thank you that Jesus has experienced the judgement I deserve.
From now on I want to follow him as my Saviour and King, so please help me by your spirit, day by day, to do whatever Jesus says.