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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Property Brothers

    2016-03-06 Lk 15 11-32 Property Brothers

    Before I get started, I've gotta give a shout out to our Maryville College Wednesday Afternoon Sunday School. 
    They helped me understand this passage like I had not ever before.
    Which is hard to do.
    Because as one of them said, "Oh yeah, I've heard this story, like, a bazillion times."
    Imagine how many times you have to hear it if you're a preacher.
    And then you have to preach it, knowing all y'all'r sitting out there thinking, 
    "Oh yeah. I've heard this story like a bazillion times." 
    Because when you hear anything a bazillion times, what happens?
    You don't listen.
    Because you don't need to.
    Because you've heard it all before.
    Again and again and again.
    Thanks, Religion.
    Find something cool and just run it into the ground.
    Repetition breeds ownership.
    You hear anything a bazillion times, from maybe a bazillion people, you stop taking it on faith.
    You take it as fact.
    You take it as law.
    You take it.
    You own it.
    You possess it.
    It's your property.
    In this parable, when you look past the going and returning, past the forsaking and forgiving, past the squandering and the squabbling, it's all about: the property.
    And the brothers.
    The property brothers.
    At our house, we watch a lot of Property Brothers.
    The females say it's because of the renovations.
    But I'm thinking Property Toothless Hillbilly Cousin-Brothers would not get the same ratings.
    What's the common name for this parable?
    The Prodigal Son.
    You've heard it a bazillion times.
    But there's another brother.
    Like a twin.
    Good twin, evil twin.
    But look closely.
    They're both all about the property.
    The younger brother, the Prodigal Son, we'll call him "Drew," (or maybe Prince Andrew) wants to cash out his inheritance early.
    Sadly, he has the lifestyle of Kanye West.
    Meanwhile, Older Brother, "Jonathan," (or maybe Prince William) slaves away, building up the kingdom and cooking up a stinking stew of resentment.
    Why's he so grumpy?
    Because, property.
    That fat inheritance?
    That fatted calf?
    That robe?
    That one ring to rule them all?
    That party by the pool?
    That's his.
    Because he's the Older Brother.
    And that's the rules.
    Everybody knows the rules.
    They're like property.
    Raising kids in the Old Testament was SO much easier.
    Back in the good-old days, we had rules.
    Children obeyed.
    Not just rules, there were laws.
    Laws everybody heard a bazillion times.
    Laws from God about your kids – what they got, and what they didn't get.
    To get this parable, it helps if you think like an Old Testament Jew.
    You'd have heard the story and thought: Oy vey! Deuteronomy!
    Anybody else hear the Prodigal Son and think, Deuteronomy?
    Of course not.
    But this parable is like Deuteronomy in story form.
    First Law of Children and Property: Oldest son gets all the good stuff.
    Even if you don't like his mom.
    Deuteronomy 21:15-17: 
    If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn.
    He must acknowledge as firstborn the son of the one who is disliked, giving him a double portion of all that he has; since he is the first issue of his virility, the right of the firstborn is his.
    Did you catch that?
    The Prodigal might even be a brother from another mother.
    Doesn't matter.
    It's the law.
    Firstborn gets the family name, the signet ring, the robe, the rights, the property.
    If that's not enough to make the Older Brother want to call 531-9400, take a gander at verses 18-21.
    I'm going to read from the King James
    The Old Testament just sounds better that way.
    If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard (looking at you, Mister Prodigal).
    And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
    First Law of Children and Property?
    Oldest son gets the goods.
    Second Law?
    Rebellious sons have short lifespans.
    If the Property Father had really read his Bible, this would not be the parable of The Prodigal Son.
    It'd be The Parable of the Righteous Only Child.
    But the Father – The Father – messes up everything.
    He breaks the law.
    The Father sins.
    He sins twice.
    First sin, he lets the younger boy live.
    Second sin, he illegally gives him his brother's property.
    The Father – the Father – is guilty, guilty, guilty.
    Father breaks not one but two very clear biblical laws handed down from Moses, printed in black and white, that everybody knows.
    And everybody hearing Jesus would have known the law, too.
    And gone [gasp!].
    Citizen's arrest! Citizen's arrest!
    But that's not the way we've heard the story a bazillion times, is it?
    There are songs about it.
    "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see."
    We've heard The Prodigal Son is embedded in us.
    We know it so well we own it.
    It's not about the property.
    It's about that grace.
    It's all about the homecoming.
    It's all about the mercy and the overwhelming love of the Father who breaks his own laws to welcome us home.
    We're predisposed to think like the Prodigal.
    To think we're the Prodigal.
    It's good news for us.
    It's ours.
    Is that really who it's for?
    Us prodigals?
    Well, hold on.
    Look back at the beginning of Luke 15, the intro.
    Luke says:
    Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him (him is Jesus).
    And the Pharisees and the scribes [the Pharisees and the scribes] were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
    So, Luke says, "so, he told them this parable."
    Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees this story.
    This story is not for the prodigals.
    It's for the Older Brothers.
    Jesus aimed it at the Pharisees.
    That's who you'd have been, if you were Jesus' listener.
    You'd have been one of the ones who went, "Bing! Deuteronomy." 
    You'd have thought Jesus – like the Father in the story – is just messing up everything.
    Look at Jesus.
    He's welcoming sinners.
    He's eating with the unclean.
    He's breaking God's law.
    And you would be mad, mad, mad that Jesus was stealing your intellectual property.
    Your spiritual property.
    Your entitlement.
    Your birthright from Abraham and Moses and all your faith tradition.
    You might even say, Jesus was stealing your God.
    Brothers and sisters, it's still all about the property.
    Property always gets us going.
    Sometimes it's physical property.
    Sometimes it's money.
    Sometimes it's furniture.
    But more often, it's intellectual property.
    Spiritual property.
    It's the sure and certain belief that you are absolutely, positively right.
    Because you've been over whatever it is a bazillion times and you just know.
    And maybe you ARE right.
    The Older Brother was right.
    Totally right.
    Totally within his rights.
    But Jesus wouldn't have told the parable if something wasn't wrong.
    There are days when I'm the younger brother.
    I want my property and I want it now.
    I want to be forgiven for my rash behavior and failure to think things through.
    And I am.
    The Bible tells me so.
    Jesus loves me in spite of me.
    That's my belief, my inheritance, my property.
    There are days when I'm the older brother.
    I'm the good boy who obeys the law and ought to get what he deserves.
    And I am.
    The Bible tells me so.
    Jesus loves me because of me.
    That's my belief, my inheritance, my property.
    Bless my heart, I'm two Property Brothers in one.
    Somebody call HGTV.
    I think in our hearts, we're all Older Brothers.
    We all want what's coming to us.
    We all want to be right.
    But in our hearts, we're all Younger Brothers, too.
    We all want to be forgiven.
    We all want to be welcomed home when we've messed up but good.
    I think that's a reasonable confession.
    Maybe a little too tidy, though.
    Because even if it's right, something's still wrong.
    At the end of the parable, the Wrong Brother's inside, feasting and dancing.
    But the Father and the Right Brother are still outside.
    The Father is pleading with the elder to come in.
    Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
    And then it ends.
    [deep breath]
    What does the Older Brother do?
    Does he go in?
    Does he stay out?
    We don't know.
    If you were the Older Brother, what would you do?
    How much do you like being right?
    What would it take to change the Brother's mind?
    In another part of the Bible, Jesus tells his followers his Father's house has many rooms, and that he goes to prepare a place for us – for ALL of us.
    That's a really big house.
    There's room enough for both brothers.
    There's room enough for you.
    And for you.
    And for you.
    And me.
    It's not our property.
    It never was.
    It's the Father's house.
    And he says, 
    "There's room enough for all."
    "Brothers, sisters: Come in."
    "Come home."