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Sunday message, 6 March 2016 (Lent 4) -Prodigal son, extravagant God

Readings: Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32

MESSAGE

I don’t really like it when preachers quote long definitions but I couldn’t help it today:

Prodigal ˈprɒdɪɡ(ə)l/ adjective – spending money or using resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant. “prodigal habits die hard” synonyms: wasteful, extravagant, spendthrift, improvident, imprudent, immoderate, profligate, thriftless, excessive, intemperate, irresponsible, self-indulgent, reckless, wanton

In some interesting research, Mark Powell asks the question of certain contexts. North America, Russia, and Africa: why did the Prodigal Son end up where he did?

  • The answer from Russia? Famine.
  • The opinion from Africa? Nobody helped him.
  • And North America? He squandered his living.

(Perspective matter. Mark Allan Powel, What Do They Hear? Bridging the Gap Between Pulpit and Pew.)

If you insist on calling this lost son “prodigal” then it may well be that you are more American than you think.

Like the titles in the NIV pew bible (which I’d rather you not read out by the way – because they were never there) – when we label something we pre-determine meaning.

Yes – this son spent his money on the wrong things. But extravagance is actually a characteristic of God. In creation, in salvation, in grace and love for us.

In case you think I’m losing the plot here – think back on last week, Isaiah 55.

I know I didn’t say anything about it, but it really was the backdrop to the repentance we were talking about. It’s not just what we turn away from when we change direction. Or like this son when we come to our senses. It’s whom we turn back to.

This son turns back to a generous father who throws a banquet and blesses him beyond what he deserved.Next week we will look at more extravagance in the passionate expression of a woman’s gratitude to Jesus.

So back to Isaiah 55. Listen again:

Isa 55:1  “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Isa 55:2  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

The gospel in the Old Testament. Grace. And doesn’t your heart sing for joy when you hear these words:

Isa 55:10  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, Isa 55:11  so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isa 55:12  You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

The younger brother could have wasted his money in generosity to others. Instead he went on a quest to find himself and life’s purpose. He only found both when he had nothing.

Like our idea about survivor’s arrogance last week – we are in danger when we think that we have been successful (not unemployed, sick or in prison) because we are better or more deserving. We often only get it when we have lost it all – when we are empty-handed.

The older brother in the meantime had everything. And saw none of it. He focused only on being grumpy. There was no attitude of gratitude. After ranting and raving because of the extravagance of his dad towards his brother, dad simply says this:

Luk 15:31  “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. Luk 15:32  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.’

We had to celebrate. It’s what I call the party imperative.

  • He was lost and is found.
  • He came home, basically. Like that little girl in the paper this week.

Have you?

And as a last thought? I wonder if the older brother eventually came home too?

Amen. 

Sunday Sermon 6 September 2015 – Heart, Mind and Wallet

Readings

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Luke 11:1-13
2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Sunday Sermon

There are at least three conversions in the Christian faith and experience.

Here they are.

1.    Conversion of the heart.

The powerful reading from the Old Testament today is clear:

Deu 6:5  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deu 6:6  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

New hearts  – changed and softened hearts, come up through the scriptures.For example here are some of these passages:

Jeremiah:
Jer_24:7  I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Jer_29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Ezekiel:
Eze_11:19  I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Epistles:
Rom_10:8  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:  Rom_10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Eph_1:18  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Eph_5:19  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Gospels:
Mar_12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Mar_12:33  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Luk_6:45  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Acts:
Acts_2:37  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

We need our hearts changed!

2.    Conversion of the mind

A well known passage from Paul us this one:

Rom_12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I loved the reminder at Alpha this week – from St Anselm – “I believe in order to understand.” Reformed tradition has often focussed on the mind first.

The Creeds begin with “I believe…” Not “I am passionate about” or “I love”…

And the Creed has a list of intellectual propositions:

  • Who God is (Father, Son Holy Spirit)
  • What he did (incarnation, death, resurrection, Ascension)
  • When he will come again
  • What he will do (judge)
  • Where we make sure that people understand these teachings (the church)

Those same passages about the heart also include the transformation of our minds, and our engaging of our thoughts and reasoning in our love and service of God.

Gospels:
Mat_22:37  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Luk_10:27 
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Romans:
Rom_8:6  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; Rom_8:7  the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

The mind, not just the heart, is to be transformed by the Spirit.

Interestingly there is a third conversion to consider:

  1. The conversion of the purse, or wallet.

Greg Laurie writes this about our third reading 2 Corinthians 8:7 – about giving. here is the main verse: 2 Co 8:7  But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The story is told of Sam Houston, hero of Texas history, who gave his life to the Lord in the later years of life and asked to be baptized. He was taken down to a little country stream, and the pastor said, “General Houston, you should take your glasses off because I am going to immerse you in water.” There also were some papers in General Houston’s pocket, so he took those out as well.

Then, just as he was getting ready to go into the water, the pastor noticed that General Houston still had his wallet in his pants. He said, “Well, General, you might want to take that wallet out of your pants. It is going to get wet.”

Houston responded, “If there is any part of me that needs baptizing, it is my wallet.” So Houston was baptized, wallet and all.

Maybe some of us need our wallet or cheque book or credit cards baptized. As Martin Luther said, “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse.”

The Bible speaks a lot about money. Greatest hot topic. You can’t avoid it.

  • How’s your heart?
  • What is your mind focussed on?
  • And is God and his kingdom at the top of your list when you open your purse? Or log on your internet bank account, or get out your cheque book?

The Epistle reading (letters) about the church in Macedonia is one of many passages about giving.

Paul admonishes them to “excel in the this grace of giving” (verse 8)

What does grace mean? Gift! Excel in the gift of giving.

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. . . . For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

The Gospel of Luke continues in chapter 11 – reminding us that God is Father – with all the best connotations of that word and role for us as his children:

Luk 11:1  One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luk 11:2  He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.

The best is yet to come from this generous giving God – after whom we model our lives. We take after him!

Luk 11:9  “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luk 11:10  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luk 11:11  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luk 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
Luk 11:13  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The best gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit – is given by this Father. The gift of his presence and power to make a difference in the world.

The first chapter of Acts is worth hearing again: Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Are you fully converted?

Heart, mind, wallet – a life for the Father, the Kingdom, and the Good news!

Amen.