“There is Plenty to Go Around” Luke15:1-3, 11b-32
– God is an abundant giver. God gives believers everything. So why should we be stingy or upset like the older brother? Rather, let us be joyfully generous like God.
Today’s scripture passage from Luke demonstrates that God lavishes blessings on us that are so abundant, that even when God gifts someone with special blessings, it does not diminish the blessing gives everyone else, not even one little bit! Jesus explains that this is true about God by telling a story. The story is the teaching parable that we just heard about a father and two sons.
Jesus teaches this parable in response to a bunch of super-religious Israelites, who were grumbling because Jesus was hanging out with and ministering to people that were notorious for breaking God’s laws. You see, Jesus, was teaching in and out of villages on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. He was being followed by large crowds and he was eating with sinners.
Some of the Pharisees, who were very careful and obedient in their worship of God, started grumbling. The Pharisees were not happy that Jesus, was associating with known sinners, Here is Jesus, who was a traveling Rabbi, teaching in and out of the Synagogues, and he was dirtying himself by associating with low life’s. The Pharisees probably felt like Jesus should spend his time teaching an performing miracles with the Pharisees, not the sinners! The Pharisees did not remember that there was plenty of blessing from God to go around.
And it is in this context that Jesus told the parable about a man and his two sons. The parable is often called the parable of the “prodigal son,” But the parable is mostly about the Father. The father in this sermon is abundantly generous.
This week two members of the Stewardship committee and I went down to San Antonio Texas to listen to a bunch of speakers talk about one thing… Generosity. Sure the presenters spoke on many different areas of stewardship in a congregation, but the thread that runs through all of them is this… GOD gives to us with extreme generosity, so we don’t have to be afraid to share what we have. We can follow God’s example.
This scripture passage about the Prodigal son was used at the Stewardship Conference last week It also happens to be the scripture that I previously picked for this Sunday. Perhaps God really wants me to bring this message to you this morning!
As I speak, I want you to think about something. Think about which son in the parable you identify with the most. Are you most like the younger brother in the story? Or are you most like the older brother in the story?
If you want to say, I identify most with the father in the story, I’m sorry but that is not a choice. Because the father in the story is meant to represent God. A generous God.
To start, the younger brother, insults his father. He demands his share of the inheritance before the father is even dead. And to add insult to injury, he wastes all of the inheritance money on loose living. It would be as if an 18-year-old from Monroeville demanded that her parents must pull out her college fund and her share of the parents’ IRA, and then she moved to California to live it up. Even today this would be considered completely insulting, reckless, and contemptible.
The older brother, apparently stays at home and works productively for the family business. He is the good one. Obedient, respectful, conservative. The older brother honors his mother and father as God commands.
In Jesus’s parable, the father lets the youngest child go. I can’t imagine ever doing that for one of my sons, but for some reason, the father complies with the younger son’s request. God is much more generous than I am, apparently.
But something bad happens to the wayward son. He runs out of cash, and a severe famine hits the land. No one is quite as generous to him as his father was. So he ends up feeding slop to the pigs as a job to survive. Not exactly a dignified job, even today. However, for a young Israelite man, this is the LOWEST job because in Leviticus 11:7 God declares pigs to be unclean animals for the Israelites. For the young son, hanging out with pigs, eating pig food is about as close to rock bottom as he might ever be.
And, like most of us who hit rock bottom, he made a choice. The choice was to return to his dad. The son knew that his father was an overly generous man. After all, his father gave him his share of inheritance before he was even dead. Further, the son knows that even his father’s servants had extra bread to eat. Maybe his father will take him as a servant?
Now put yourself in the father’s shoes for a minute. Your son is always your son. I have a hard time imagining that any parent would let their child starve to death. Even if she cleaned out her college money and blew it all partying in Hollywood. Even if she insulted you to your face. Could you let her starve? I would think not, so the act of providing some basic needs for the prodigal son is not actually that amazing… Even considering the insult and disrespect.
But the Father does not simply meet the son’s basic needs for survival. The father lavishes his lost son with affection, and spends money throwing him a party. In short, he treats the son to a feast… And he does not even make the son grovel and apologize! It is like he forgets the offense. The father is over the top generous to his youngest son.
Meanwhile, the older son comes home. Presumably from hard work in the fields. He hears a party going on! But when he finds out what is going on, he responds with anger. He never got to throw a party! His father asks the older son to come to the party, but the older son is indignant. He is furious at the food and attention his unworthy, punk of a brother is getting from his father! After all, the older son was the good one. He followed the rules. All the father can do is remind the oldest son, “listen son, you are always with me, everything that I have is yours! But we have to celebrate your brothers return. Because it is like he rose from the dead, he rejoined the family.
Now, are you still thinking about which of the two sons you identify with most? Personally, I identify with the younger son. But many of you who have worked hard to obey God for most of your life, may feel more like the older brother.
In the parable, as Jesus told it to the crowds, I believe the older brother is supposed to be the Pharisees. The Pharisees where the good church people. No wonder they thought, “How dare you eat with the sinners, Rabbi! You should be eating with us, we work hard to keep God’s commands. The sinners don’t care about God’s teachings!”
The prodigal son in the parable represents the sinners that Jesus was eating with. These people had consistently sinned against God. By being with Jesus, and believing in Jesus, the sinners had returned to the family of God! And God, like the father in the story, wants to party with sinners who change their minds. God wants to give them more than they deserve.
But, God also loves the Pharisees. Yes, it is true. The Pharisees are made out as the bad guys in the gospel stories, but many of them had tried to keep God’s law 100% since the time they were old enough to be responsible. Following the logic of the parable, everything that God has is given to the Pharisees… So why should they grumble?
Well, why do we grumble? Why do we grumble when we work hard to make a living, and we see some people mooching off of the public welfare system? Why do we get upset when the government taxes us to provide services for those that don’t contribute money into the system?
The reason is this: I don’t think we really believe that there is enough to go around. Do we serve a generous God? I think most of us would agree that we do. But do we really believe it? Deep down, do we really believe that there is plenty of God’s love, and provisions to go around?
If you identified more with the younger son in the parable, like me, you must recognize that God is abundantly generous, right? Or else you would not have come before God in the first place. Well here is something interesting. When you returned to God after a period of being unfaithful, or not acknowledging God, you are like the younger son who asks God “can you please treat me like even one of your hired servants?” As soon as you are restored to God’s good graces, guess what? You become like the older son because God restores you to the family.
So, we have access to all that God has. God says that we will be with God always. God gives us everything, even up to his own self being crucified. And unlike worldly resources, God never runs out. There is plenty to go around.
So no one who believes in Christ can be jealous of new converts. No one should feel bad because they may have grown up in the church and been pretty Good all their life. It is always exciting and fun to hear about Atheists, or agnostics, turning and believing in the good news, that Jesus is our Lord and savior. But don’t be jealous of their story, because all that God has belongs to the older brother. The whole time that the younger brother was away from the family, the Older brother enjoyed the abundance with the Father. The older brother didn’t miss out on the blessings of being in the family for a time.
So no matter which brother you identify with, the older or the younger, the point is this: That there is plenty to go around. Don’t withhold love from sinners who repent. Not even those who sin against you. Deep down, the only reason to hold a grudge, or to be jealous, is because you really don’t believe that there is enough to go around. God makes sure that there is plenty of all things to go around.
I used to think that God’s generosity was a good, but I thought it only applied to intangible things like love, and glory. I read in the bible that God was also generous with material provisions, but I didn’t really believe it. Even after I put my whole life in Jesus’s hands I didn’t really believe it. You know how I know this? Because I wasn’t generous with my time, my talents, and my money. That is right. I used to be stingy. Jesus tells us through the parable this morning that God is always with us, and gives us everything He has! But do we believe Jesus?
We read in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” If that is true, then one mark of our spiritual maturity is that we, just like God, are abundantly, ridiculously generous. Discipleship, and stewardship, are exactly the same thing. In Matthew 6:21 Jesus says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus tells us that where our money is, our heart will follow. That is exactly the opposite of what stingy people who do not give money think. People who don’t believe Jesus think that whatever moves their heart, or whatever cause they feel is worthy, is where they will give their money.
Jesus tells Christians to do the opposite. Jesus says give money, and your heart will FOLLOW your checkbook. So in a sense, if you don’t give to the church, you actually don’t believe God. You don’t believe that there is plenty to go around.
And I’m not just talking about Hillcrest Church. I mean, the entire community of those who worship and believe in Jesus all over the world.
The same thing is true of those who can’t be bothered to give their time, or their talents to the church. But money has the best effect when sermonizing, because “Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” This one idolatry of money causes more shame in believers than any other topic I know. So if you want to know if you are taking discipleship of Christ seriously, look at your bank statements. How much of your gross income do you give? 10%. 8%. 3%. 1%?? According to data presented at the conference last week. Presbyterians nationwide average less than 2% in charitable giving.
I will tell you this: giving is a transformative process. Jesus commands it. Our friendly 10% giving number that we strive for is actually from the Old Testament, before Jesus even made it possible for us all to possess the Holy Spirit. 10% is what the Pharisees would give to the church. Are you as generous as the Pharisees?
One thing I was encouraged to do by the leaders at the conference is to tell you that I, myself, am a tither. That means that if you check my giving record at the end of 2016, you will see minimum 10% of my gross salary is going to show up in the general fund of Hillcrest Church. My salary is the Presbytery minimum which is public information. It is about 50K. So that means in actual dollars, you will see offerings of $5K if you look at my total giving for 2016. Now, I am not required to give this much. I do this in an attempt to model being generous. And this practice of being generous, has changed my life, and has grown my faith more than any other spiritual practice. If you hear me tell my story, you will understand. But we don’t have time for that now!
I tell you that I tithe, not primarily to shame you, but to make a simple statement, I try my best to practice what I preach. I am not going to preach being generous without doing my best to be generous. And I hope that you will follow me in your lives, as we all are being transformed to be life Jesus. The more we work this out on this side of the grave, th7e more glory God will get in eternity! And that is the real goal of why we sacrifice for Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew 16 “If anyone wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” And I will tell you, giving money generously is small in comparison to giving your life on a cross for your brothers and sisters.
The true motivation for being generous is because we serve an abundantly generous God, who gives lavishly and more than we could ever want. We should not be Jealous of those who seem to be enjoying wealth and blessing, while we sacrificially give. God’s is lavishly generous to all who follow him regardless of the timeline. May we strive to follow his example and also give generously.