How To Be Worthy
Jul 9, 2017 - Rev. Stephen Lohoefer
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- Which character in this story do you identify with most?
- What did you hear in this story that you’ve never heard before?
- How often do you find yourself believing that if you do good, God will give you good, and vice versa?
- What do the father’s actions in this story mean for you?
- Is it easier to accept God’s love for you when you mess up, than it is to accept God’s love for someone else when they mess up?
Do good, get good. Does that sound familiar to you? It’s a religious belief that developed over the course of history, one that was still prevalent during Jesus’ time, and, quite honestly, one that is still commonly held today.
The idea is that if you do good, you’ll get good. The reverse is also true: if you do bad, you’ll get bad. Listen to all the religious authorities, follow the law, and do all the “right” things, and you’ll receive blessings from God. Do all the “wrong” things, break the law, ignore the religious authorities, and you’ll suffer by God’s hand.
The problem is that this isn’t actually how God works at all. Not according to Jesus, anyway.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is hanging out and sharing a meal with all sorts of people. All sorts. Sinner and tax collector sorts of people.
And the religious authorities are grumbling about it. Because Jesus is hanging out with the sorts of people who shouldn’t be blessed with Jesus’ presence or regard; they should be ignored, excluded, and overlooked—marginalized for doing all the wrong things.
So Jesus tells a few stories. Parables actually, that help remind us what we’ve forgotten, and teach us what we need to know.
He begins, “There was a man who had two sons…”
Now, you may be familiar with the rest of the story. But there are a few things not to miss:
The younger son had done everything wrong. EVERYTHING. And because of all the wrong he had done, he felt unworthy to have a relationship with his father.
The older son had done everything right. Or so he thought. And because of all the right stuff he had done, he felt entirely worthy to be celebrated by his father.
The father not only welcomes and restores his younger son to right relationship within the family, he also reminds his older son that he never had a reason to grumble in the first place.
Both sons bought into the idea that if they did good, they would get good. But their father is way more concerned about their relationship with himself and with one another than with what they ever did or didn’t do.
Jesus’ words speak straight to the heart of what so many of us still struggle with today. Many of us find ourselves as the younger son—there is no way we can be loved or forgiven by God for all the bad that we’ve done. Others of us find ourselves in the story of the older son—we’ve done so much good, we can’t believe that others seem to get more good things in life than we do. Either way, we are so used to earning every good or bad thing in life—it’s all about what we do. Christ reminds us, teaches us, that God doesn’t work that way. That God’s love for us is not because of ANYTHING we do or don’t do—it’s because of who God is and what God has already done and is doing for us. Even more, a relationship with God isn’t something we can ever earn; it’s something that we have before us, if only we are willing to turn towards God, and join the party.