March 10, 2024 Sermon: He Set His Face Towards Jerusalem & Saw a Wayward Child

    03.10.24 | by Jennifer Parks-Snyder

    3/10/24  Sermon: He Set His Face towards Jerusalem and Saw a Wayward Child  Luke 15:11-32

    My major in college was psychology and one of my favorite studies to learn about was Alfred Adler’s birth order theory. The theory claims that the order in which a child is born shapes their development and personality.

    And so through years of research, psychologists have found these:

    Key birth order traits of firstborn children:

    • Responsible
    • Determined
    • Hard worker
    • Cautious
    • Timely

    Let’s face it, parents often pour attention on their first born, and they are extra careful with them because it’s new to everyone, right. However, when more children are added to the family, many times parents often expect more from their first born, setting an example to the younger siblings.  Therefore, many first born children go on to become leaders who set the way for others to follow like CEOs, astronauts, and doctors.

    Key birth order traits of middle children:

    • Adaptable
    • Generous
    • Competitive
    • Funny
    • Great negotiator

    Many times the middle child is the peacekeeper, who ends up negotiating between siblings and even parents, thus they are able to relate to different people of all ages with ease. Middle children tend to work in jobs like nursing, law enforcement, and public service.

    Key birth order traits of youngest children:

    • Risk-taker
    • Outgoing
    • Dependent
    • Persistent
    • Free-spirited

    Adler claims the youngest are assured of their place in the family and can be very creative and even daredevilish. The youngest gravitate toward artistic and outdoor jobs, as well as careers in journalism, advertising, and sales.

    And let’s not forget the:

    Key birth order traits of only children:

    • Mature
    • Loyal
    • Confident
    • Cautious
    • Curious

    Only children are surrounded by adults from birth, therefore they become a small person, not children. Only children tend to be intelligent and creative but also stubborn and set in their ways as they  tend to put pressure on themselves more than others. Their jobs are the same as those of first burns, as leaders.

    Now saying all that, Adler admits that there are other factors besides just birth order that influence one’s personality such as parental attitudes, culture, age differences, and confidence.

    We heard this text this morning and obviously we see the family dynamics at work. An older, pleasing son, working on the land that will one day be his, and some will go to his younger brother. The younger, risk-taking son, knows his inheritance won’t be as much as his older brother’s and has decided he wants to go live his own way, NOW. He asks for his inheritance, proclaiming himself to be cut off from his father for good. And then there is the faithful, devoted father to both, giving them each love and support in different ways, but both ways that offer grace. What is Jesus getting at with sharing this parable?

    To begin with, let’s look at its placement in the gospel of Luke. Since chapter 9 when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he knew he would be doing a lot of teaching to both his disciples and religious leaders of the day. In chapter 10 Jesus taught his disciples about just mercy and letting go of prejudices with the story of the Good Samaritan. In that chapter he also taught them not to worry but look to nature and trust God is caring for them. Then in chapter 13 Jesus takes on the religious leaders who are offended by his healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath, but he teaches them that is what the Sabbath is for, to remember the God who set the Israelites free from enslavement, so too does God set us free from our burdens and struggles.

    Now in this chapter he is being questioned by the religious leaders again, but this time it is about why he associates with sinners. Chapter 15 begins with this statement: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “These fellow welcomes sinner and eats with them.” In response, Jesus tells the story of the lost. First the lost sheep, how a shepherd leaves his 99 to find the one, as that one is just as important as the 99. And then he talks about the woman with the lost coin who cleans and searches until she finds the coin that is worth so much to her she celebrates with friends and neighbors on its recovery. Both lessons explain the that those who are lost from the faith, when they wander, or roll away, yet are found, they are celebrated, as they are valued.

    And then he goes into this parable of family dynamics, and this is addressing not only the question of sinners who choose to walk away from God and the faith, committing acts that are wrong, even illegal, but it also addressed the question of what must they do to be welcomed back? Certainly, they have to do something to become right again with God, right? Jesus teaches not so. Because as the younger son realizes how much better it will be to go home to his father, even to work as a hired hand, before he can even utter an apologetic word, his father runs to him, welcomes him back with a robe, a ring, and sandals, all symbols that the son is once again an heir. Pretty gracious, isn’t it? THAT’S THE POINT.

    Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and along the way he has attracted tax collectors and sinners. He doesn’t make them go to the temple and offer a sacrifice. He doesn’t stop them before he has dinner with them and asks something from them, rather he extends grace, doesn’t he? He welcomes them, has dinner with them, heals them, rescues them, and in such acts, he makes God known to them. The God waiting on the porch for them to return.

    As for the religious leaders, well they are the older son, who scolds his father for letting the younger son come back with no restitution. verse 30, when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Those first born and their rules! And yet this is what the father says, Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”

    Here’s the lesson we can ponder today: What are we missing if we can’t be grateful for a gracious God? Meaning, if God loves me, regardless of what I have done, shouldn’t I celebrate that God loves everyone the same? Including the lost sheep, the hidden coin, the reckless sinner, the distant sibling? And isn’t that why we honor and praise God? 

    To be honest the religious leaders knew this too, but in their want of controlling, seemed to have lost this understanding. Consider how the law they studied came from Moses, who had his time of waywardness, yet God called him to set God’s people free. Or Elijah, the prophet the religious leaders were waiting to return, he certainly got a little lost when he hid in the mountains, even tried to hide from God, and then sought early retirement. He was lost, and yet God found him, saved him, transformed him, just like Moses. Both praised and honored for what they did, but what they did to become founding fathers of the faith was all by God’s grace.

    To recognize and celebrate such grace that was given to us and offered to all, Randy Maddox, Wesleyan scholar, says is responsible grace- we recognize the grace God has given us, our salvation, is a gift that calls us to respond and to take responsibility. Meaning we use that grace to address the practical problems of life and thought of the Christian community. [1] Therefore, we put the grace of God to work transforming our lives. Transforming us and how we see and interact with others. I like how  John Wesley wrote “Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you and God will give you more grace” (from his sermon “On Working Out Our Own Salvation”).

    Who is it you need to be gracious to? Is it a family member? A neighbor that disagrees with you? A co-worker or fellow student that challenges you and sometimes you wish they would get lost. Let’s be honest here, that’s what the sacred space and time is for. Maybe today we all need to hear the good news that is transforming:  just as you have been given grace, so may you recognize and celebrate the grace offered to them, too. Of a God who is always seeking, searching, waiting at the porch, to extend mercy and welcome the lost.