“Breaking Free”

Luke 15:11-32closeLuke 15:11-32 The Parable of the Prodigal Son 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he spanided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (ESV) closeLuke 15:11-32closeLuke 15:11-32 The Parable of the Prodigal Son 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he spanided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (ESV) The Parable of the Prodigal Son 11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he spanided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. 17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. 25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’” (ESV)

Second in the series “Defying Gravity: Breaking Free from the Culture of More”

Last week, we heard about a rich young man who came to Jesus, seeking advice on how to gain life with God.  But he went away sad because he couldn’t break free of his wealth in order to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him.

Today’s young man is a character in one of Jesus’ parables or stories he told to reveal a deeper truth.  He is the younger of two sons of a loving and generous father, and he feels the force of financial gravity so much that he goes to his father and demands his inheritance early.  Can you imagine the anger and hurt that must have rocked that family?

In his parables, Jesus often put people in odd situations to make the point clear.  This young man wanted to pursue the kingdom of self. He may have felt like he was floating on cloud nine as he set off toward a foreign land, excited about his adventure.   Little did he know he was about to be sucked into a black hole.

NASA describes a black hole as a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot escape. Because no light can get out, they are invisible.  They can only been felt, not seen.[1]  The kingdom of self is full of black holes.

For some, money and the things and experiences it buys produce such a gravitational pull that they cannot escape.  One of the worst situations is to put a large amount of money into the hands of a person who is spiritually and emotionally immature.  That is exactly what happened to the young man in Jesus’ story.  On his own without guidance and with a lot of money, he went to a faraway land. Lacking impulse control, every option for spending his money looked equally good and so he spent extravagantly until every last cent was gone.

Only when he hit bottom – which for him involved being so hungry that the pig slop looked tasty – did he decide to go home.  He knew he deserved his father’s wrath, but he was desperate enough to go home and beg for a job on the farm.  As he walked the familiar road home, he was amazed and probably scared to see his father run toward him.  In his culture, it was considered undignified for an older man to run anywhere, so he might have thought, “Wow, if Dad is running toward me, he must be really angry. I’m really going to get it!”

Instead of experiencing wrath, the young son discovered his father’s gracious and generous spirit.  The father welcomed him back into the household with honor and celebration. It was kindness he did not deserve, forgiveness he had not earned, and love he did not expect.  His father gave him a new life.

Think of the changes that grace and generosity must have made in that young man.  He no longer thought about himself, but looked to the needs of others.  Extravagant living in a faraway place no longer seemed appealing; being with his father, doing his father’s will brought him joy. He would be kinder, more gracious and more generous.  And most of all, rather than simply being a receiver of his father’s generosity, he was now a participant in it.

The financial gravity that influenced the young son’s life can also affect us in many ways.  For instance, our prayers to God are often more about what we hope to receive.  We pray for guidance, good health, comfort, resources to pay bills, healing in relationships and many other requests.  It seems that we might be more interested in what we can receive from God rather than how we can serve God.  Do we pray, either as individuals, groups or as a church, about how we can reach the people who don’t know Christ and are not yet here, feed the hungry, comfort those who mourn, house the homeless, show mercy to prisoners and their families, or provide needed services to people in our community?  Perhaps the ratio of our prayers asking to receive to prayers asking to serve is too high.

There is a breakthrough moment when disciples of Jesus Christ realize the difference between being a receiver of God’s grace and being a participant in God’s kingdom.  When we begin submitting ourselves to the kingdom of God, good things happen.  This realization is life-changing.  It creates an identity founded in grace, and one way that is expressed is through generosity.  Generous people look at life and the resources they have differently than those caught in the black hole of financial gravity.  They care more about what they can give rather than what they can get.

They become stewards.  Stewards manage another’s property and have broad power over how it is managed, but they recognize they are primarily servants.  They don’t look to their own self-interest; they look to the interests of the owner.  Followers of Jesus Christ understand that they are stewards of the gifts, abilities and resources God has given them, and they are responsible to use them to glorify the Giver of the gift.

However, when we get pulled into the black hole of financial gravity, we forget we are stewards and instead believe that we are sole owners of everything we have. We think we are free to choose how we use what we have.  Financial gravity leads us to hold what we have or to spend it on our wants.

As a result, generosity suffers.  Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, researchers and authors of The Paradox of Generosity, asked Americans to report how much of their income they gave to all charitable causes, and they learned that, in 2010, 44.8% of Americans said they gave $0 for any charitable purpose.  That’s right – zero, not one dollar, nothing at all.  That means they turned down Girl Scouts, high school bands, the cancer society, the offering plate at church, and the Salvation Army at Christmas.  The report went on to say that another 41.3% gave away less than 2% of their income.

So they didn’t give money – they must have given their valuable time, right?  After all, time is money.  But the research revealed that more than 76% of people – 3 out of every 4 – said they gave no hours to any organization.

This lack of generosity is not about resources; it is about our identity.  We are recipients of grace, and stewards of God’s abundance entrusted to us.  As stewards, we must accept the challenge of setting aside money and time to invest in the work of God’s kingdom.  Many Christians strive for the goal of tithing or giving 10% of their income and time.  In the Bible, the tithe is set aside from the first and best, not given out of whatever is left over at the end.

God didn’t ask the people to tithe because God is short of funds.  God does not need our giving or tithing.  But God recognizes that the discipline of giving helps us grow in grace and faith.  As we give, we become God’s servants and participate in God’s Kingdom.  Generosity changes us.

How?  Watch this video testimony of a woman named Margaret as she shares how important giving was to her. [Roll video]

Margaret shaped her family’s life through generosity. The size of your gift doesn’t matter, but to experience the joy Margaret expressed, we must take up her practice. We are called to be stewards of all that we have and to be faithfully engaged in God’s service. But, too often, we let financial gravity keep us from it.

Too many Christians have not moved from being recipients of God’s grace to being active and generous participants in God’s Kingdom.  The problem is not a lack of desire; it is often that we feel we can’t give.  Two challenges will help us align our lives with God’s generous purposes.

First, this Saturday, Nov. 11, 12 noon to 3 p.m., we’ll be receiving things you’ve cleaned out of your house for the “Clean-Out Challenge.”  Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity will be on hand for your gently-used items.

Our new challenge this week is found on the Financial Planning Sheet in your bulletin.  If you don’t have a budget, use this as a guide to examine your family’s finances.  This is also a good opportunity to share with our children so they can begin to learn.  As it reads on the sheet, “generosity doesn’t happen by accident.”  There are areas for planning how to live simply, to reduce debt, to save money, to plan your giving, and to create an overall budget.

The younger son in today’s scripture thought that financial gravity had taken him too far from his father, but he discovered his father was gracious and generous.  You may think that your life in the kingdom of self has taken you too far away from God, but God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  Come to God through Jesus, break free from your self-centered life and experience the grace and generosity of God’s kingdom today and always.

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/…/what-is-a-black-hole-k4.html.  Accessed 10/31/2017.

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