I went to church Sunday, the same church that has so thoroughly shunned me. The church in which the small group that used to meet in my home organized against me to disappear like a fart in the wind. (No. Really! Just when I was expecting people to show up for the regular meeting, no one did, and despite the fact that my name had long been included in the email circular, I was not notified but apparently every last one of that group was except me, because NO ONE showed up at my place even by mistake.) The church where the shepherd told me that I can “scream at the top of my voice” yet they “will not listen to me.”
Yeah. That one. I went there Sunday for worship.
And though my attention was quite divided between the sermon and my unruly children, I managed to catch a fair bit of it. The topic? The Prodigal Son. It was part of a series “we call ‘Belong'” in which on this particular Sunday, the flunky preacher gave the homily since the senior preaching minister was out of town (I think).
Now, I gotta say:
The preaching where I go to church is generally really good. The flunkies are the weakest link in our preaching program usually, and still they do a pretty good job of it, in my estimation. I will divulge that even though I did not major in homiletics, I have coursework at both the undergrad and grad level under my belt, so I have read and practiced the discipline some. Thus I have somewhat of a trained ear in such matters, and I can be, and usually am, a bit critical of what I hear.
This is not to be confused with the hill-billy-ish critique I grew up with when I was young and would hear my grandpa and my older cousin listen to preachers on TV and then critique how doctrinally sound (or rather unsound) those presentations were. No. I was trained by our senior preaching minister too. I know SOME of what he teaches, and have the critical ear to hear whether a presenter is adhering to those teachings or not.
There is no doubt that Sunday’s presenter handled both the text and the sermon in ways I would not. In fact some of his subpoints and illustrations I could almost object to outright. But his overall point was really good, even if he failed to support it skillfully – point being, I could be nit-picky with the guy, but I am jumping past that with my main gripe here today. Instead of looking at the homiletical missteps our preacher made, I want to look at the BIG PICTURE a moment.
The BIG PICTURE
The series is about BELONGING. Many good statements were made about belonging to this assembly. Gracious statements which depict the LOVE of God for each one of us, no matter how much we may struggle with even believing that God would want us.
Got sin? You belong here!
Struggling with doubt?? You BELONG HERE!!
Feel beat up by the world or by life??? YOU BELONG HERE!!!
These are not exact quotes, but I trust they represent accurately (maybe even better than originally spoken) the sentiment and invitation the speaker wanted us to hear, AND I whole heartedly concur with the notion!
And then he launched into his homiletical analysis of The Prodigal Son, a boy who so deeply and utterly did not deserve to belong with his family in his father’s house, but who, based on no merit of his own, was welcomed back home and to a PARTY of celebration so completely by the father who LOVEs his son anyway.
I thought so.
Just one problem.
Despite the fact that a huge push was made at the opening of the sermon to make each and everyone one of us in attendance feel, sense, KNOW that we BELONG HERE, I kept thinking: yeah… everyone except me! I am the one shunned, scolded, and abandoned by the leadership of this assembly!
Was it on account of my asking my father for my inheritance even before he is dead?
Was it on account of the way I spent the money??
Was it because of all the loose living???
I mean, The Prodigal Son openly betrayed his father, lassoed him into supporting his own betrayal, AND lived an utterly immoral life unworthy of his father’s name! But he was welcomed back with open arms! (and a party!).
What did I do that was so bad???
I confronted this assembly and the leaders there about teaching the church NOT to give to the poor and went on to insist that we actually OPEN OUR DOORS to those beggars, bums, and prophets on the streets of Lubbock who did exactly the kind of thing The Prodigal Son did. And I even said it is appropriate to throw them a PARTY!!!
But my suggestion that we throw them a party was ridiculed.
And in THAT BIG PICTURE I have some REAL GRIPES with the sermon.
Here’s the thing (and it’s a phenom I am discovering is fairly common across the Christian world): We preach good sermons. In fact usually the sermons are a LOT better than this one last Sunday. And they frequently portray God’s endless LOVE for the poor, the needy, the downtrodden and even support the idea that we as a Body of Christ are intended to be open armed to such lost souls!
But the moment we step back from the worship hour and break up into our small groups and Bible classes, or even just go our separate ways to our individual homes, we totally discount every ounce of that message which was so skillfully and beautifully preached.
I think the church has kidnapped the Prodigal Son.
Wonder if there is a ransom note.