Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Reflections from a Community Catalyst: (2) The Best of Mirrors

This week the groups from our little community plant here got together in one place for a Christmas service. We had another one of those insightful, humorous-if-you-look-at-it-the-right-way moments.

The message was brought by a man from another community that meets with us at times. It was all about the story of the prodigal son. For those who had grown up in church, it sounded pretty much like every other prodigal son sermon you have ever heard. (In fact, it may have been one that you have heard.) It was good. However, and as is often the case, there were a few of those special one liners thrown into the sermon that always cause a lot of people to shout amen. They are not Biblical, but someone said them once and now everyone likes to repeat them because (a) they sound cool and (b) they get a good response. In this case, one of those phrases was: “In the end, God always arrives punctually.” (OK, that doesn’t sound great when you read it here—but take my word for it—it is great in German.) His point was that God always steps in to make things right, to save the day. More on that in a moment…

Of course, the whole time he is preaching, I am thinking of how this story is a perfect example of the joys and pains of working with new/non-Christians vs. established Christians as seen in the two brothers in the story. Most people make the story all about the prodigal son, but it is really more about the brother who stayed home. The context of the story is Jesus justifying the fact that He preferred hanging out with sinners rather than religious types. The sad truth for most people is that the longer you live as a Christian, the more “religious” you become. You forget who you really are and begin to think you are someone, when in reality we are all prodigals who deserve nothing. We have to work at remembering this. We have to be reminded that we have not already “arrived.”

As the sermon drew to a close, someone stepped in to do just that. One of our brand new brothers asked for some clarification. He didn’t understand what the speaker meant in saying that God always steps in at the right time. The way he saw it, plenty of bad things happen in the world and if God—being sovereign—really did step in to fix all things nothing bad would ever happen. At least Christians would be spared. This set off a lengthy (and funny) scramble where most of the Christians in the room went to lengthy (and precarious) measures to show him how bad things had to be good things. How God’s reality and our reality were not the same. Etc. etc. In the end, all he really needed was for (a) that pithy phrase to be reconsidered and (b) for people to admit that they did not always understand how God worked. (The other thing that happens to a lot of us the longer we are Christians is that we forget it is all about faith and not understanding.)

The best way to avoid becoming the older brother in the parable is to spend as much time as possible with newly returned prodigals. They often show us the best reflection of whom we are and where we are headed.

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