Of Likes and Loves (Luke 15:11-32)Pastor Jon Truax, May 7, 2017
Part of the General series, preached at a Sunday Morning service
“Of Likes and Loves”
Luke 15:11-32 (The Message)
I want to give you fair warning: This morning’s sermon is going to be a little different. For one thing, we’re going to jump around a bit. That’s okay, because, in honor of Youth Sunday, it’s about relating to today’s young people and sharing the gospel with the next generation. That’s often how they learn: by jumping around, multitasking, keeping it mixed up, and working in a complex mosaic instead of a simple picture.
I want to start by explaining why you should care about connecting with young people today. I mean, why go to the trouble of making an effort to understand the next generation and communicate with them about Christ? It’s not easy; sometimes it’s not comfortable. But it’s necessary and important. The Church of Jesus Christ across our country has experienced a problem in recent years in reaching and retaining youth and young adults. There is a missing generation – or even two – in many congregations. Our inspiration for this endeavor of crossing the generation gap is the apostle Paul who knew a thing or two about relating to others different from him and why it was so important.
Paul wrote in the 9th chapter of I Corinthians (which, by the way, we are studying in “Crazy Grace” at Community Connection): “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
Already we can see that Paul is using one of our two sermon words: “Like.” He is saying that he became like a Jew, like a Gentile, like whoever he was trying to reach at that moment in order to win them to Christ and see them saved. So, even if you’re not a young person, I would challenge you to become “like” one this morning out of “love.” We’re going to talk about “likes and loves” this morning, two words which are really used a lot by people of all ages.
Of course, “like” is often used in ways of comparison, as in a simile. I will use it that way a lot this morning. But “like” also means to have affection or fondness for, to enjoy. In that sense, “like” is a word that has enjoyed quite a resurgence of popularity lately. I blame it on Facebook which has a “like” button.
Maybe you’re like the people in that commercial who post pictures literally on their wall and say, “I like that one!” But that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of it works!
Some people really get into racking up the “likes” on their social media pages. They want their things to be liked so that they will feel liked. I think what we really crave, however, is to be loved. Like and love are related, but not exactly the same thing. I remember asking the profound question in Middle School – “Does she like me, or does she like like me?” That extra like makes all the difference.
We “like” and “love” so many things. I’ve heard it said that one of the problems of our age is that we “love things” and “use people” when it should be the other way around. We should “use things” and “love people.”
Have you ever thought about what it must be like to grow up in today’s world?
Every year, the faculty at Beloit College in Wisconsin make up what they call the “Mindset List” to help their teachers realize what incoming freshmen have in their backgrounds and in their minds as a result of when they were born.
For instance, this past year here were some of their observations. Keep in mind that all of the youth in our youth group are even younger than the ones describes by these factoids:
Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Frank Sinatra, Phil Hartman, Matthew Shepard, and Sonny Bono.
Since they arrived on this planet, eBay has always existed.
Grandpa has always been able to reach for the Celebrex.
West Nile has always been a virus found in our country.
Vladimir Putin has been calling the shots at the Kremlin their whole life.
The Sandy Hook tragedy was their Columbine.
Cloning has always been able to be done.
For as long as they can remember, the United States has been at war.
Serena Williams has always been winning Grand Slam singles titles.
SpongeBob SquarePants has always been on TV.
The Ali/Frazier boxing match for their generation was between the daughters of Muhammad and Joe.
Each year they've been alive, the U.S. population has grown by more than one million Latinos.
Catholics and Lutherans have always been in agreement on how to get to heaven.
India and Pakistan have always been nuclear powers.
They disagree with their parents as to which was the “first” Star Wars movie.
NFL coaches have always had the opportunity to throw a red flag and question the ref.
Bluetooth has always been keeping us wireless and synchronized.
X-rays have always been digital allowing them to be read immediately.
Snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport.
John Elway and Wayne Gretzky have always been retired.
The Ravens have always been in Baltimore and the Browns have always been in Cleveland.
They have never seen billboard ads for cigarettes.
Robots have always been doing surgery.
Finally, those graduating from high school are about as old as internet memes. One thing that I’ve noticed about young people today is that they especially like “memes.” How many of you find “meme” to be a new word? A meme is defined as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation. More specifically, a meme is a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.” They’re usually a picture on the internet with a funny caption. In fact, you’ve already seen one today! This is a meme.
I consider “memes” to be a form of communication, almost like a metaphor, simile, or parable. A meme describes in visual and humorous form what something is like, and the attraction is the pull of recognition or truth that we see in it. I think if Jesus were preaching and teaching today, He would be using memes alongside His stories and parables.
One of our youth lessons this year was a way to re-imagine the Parable of the Prodigal Son that Tabitha read for us this morning through the use of memes. I tried to create memes that capture the emotion and the feeling that Jesus is attempting to convey through the parable. We need to emotionally “feel” what the action of the story is “like.” Let’s take a look at how we did that a few months ago...
The parable begins: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.”
What is this conversation LIKE? It hits us like this popular meme which has the tag line, “If you could just give me my share now, that’d be great.” By saying this to a father in ancient Palestine, the son is basically telling him that he wishes he were dead already.
Unbelievably, the father obliges his youngest son. What happened next? “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”
Bad luck, right? This meme has been called “Bad Luck Brian” and conveys a sudden turn of events that dooms poor Brian. In the case of our prodigal son, just as he spends all the money he had, the far country he is living in lands upon hard times.
“So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”
This meme from Toy Story has Buzz and Woody surveying the landscape and contains the line about something that is “Everywhere.” In this case, back home, the younger son knows that there is food, food everywhere – even his father’s servants have more than enough food.
So he should simply return home, right? But, like one does not simply walk into Mordor (shout out for Lord of the Rings here), one does not simply return home after having left like the prodigal did.
So the prodigal says to himself, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
Fortunately, the next meme that our Prodigal experienced is known as Good Guy Greg. His father is the good guy in this parable. He is waiting and watching for his son. The Bible says, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
Even though the prodigal came back penniless, he found grace and was welcomed back home. His experience here is like the success kid.
But remember: this man had two sons! As Morpheus from the Matrix might point out, “What if I told you…this parable is really about the other son?”
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in.”
Instead of being a Good Guy Greg like his father, the older brother is more like this meme known as Scumbag Steve. Even though his longlost brother has returned home, he simply doesn’t care. He’s not about to go in to the party and join the celebration.
“So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’”
I’ve talked with many people over the years who feel a kind of sympathy for the older brother here – even though we know we’re not supposed to. He was a good son, slaving away for his father all those years without reward, and is shown up by the wayward prodigal. He seems to have a point, doesn’t he? We may feel like this meme of John Goodman, “Am I the only one around here who feels sorry for the older brother?”
The parable concludes, “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 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.’”
It’s when we get to this point of the parable that we realize that this story about a father and his two sons isn’t really about them at all. It isn’t a nice little story about running away from home or family harmony or sibling rivalry. It’s really about us, about our relationship with a forgiving God, and our relationship with one another.
The Father in the Parable loves both of his sons though he probably didn’t like either of them very much at times. One son rejected His love at the beginning of the story; the other son rejected His love at the end. But I believe there is hope for the prodigal son as well as the older brother.
It may be the same with us. Whether we are older or younger in our community of faith, whether we are the runaway black sheep of the family, or the stay-at-home dutiful “good son” in the church, we have business with God and with one another. We must accept forgiveness for ourselves as well as offer it to our brothers and sisters. We need to pass on the love of God as we have received it.
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