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The Wanderer

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The Wanderer Luke 15:11-32


It happened on a Christmas Eve in the middle of the city that never sleeps.

It was 10:30pm at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. 

Just half an hour before the 11pm service began the pastor (Tom Tewell) was getting a drink of water.  He was about to walk away when one of the church’s members came walking down the hall sobbing.  The man had been battling alcoholism, and was getting help through Alcoholics Anonymous.  The pastor asked him what was going on, and through the tears his friend said,

“You know I’ve been through a divorce and my wife has custody of our 2 daughters.  Just now I got word that my wife is not going to let me see the girls over Christmas vacation, and she promised.  The court gave me rights to see them, but I can’t afford to take her to trial– she knows that.  I’m facing bankruptcy, my whole life is broken.”

He continued, “I came here tonight to find help, some comfort, but it’s not going to happen.  I sat in the pew, and 2 rows in front of me sat a little family.  Father, mother and 2 daughters.  That could have been me, but I blew it!  I just lost it right there.  My drinking has ruined my life, and now I’m just gonna let it kill me.  I’ve been sober for three months now, but this is it.  I just can’t do it anymore.  I’m going to the bar, and I’m going to let the drink finish me off.”

The pastor knew he needed help right then, but didn’t know what to say.  It was quarter to 11 on Christmas Eve.  There was no one to call, no counselors available, and he had a service to lead.  Suddenly an idea hit him.  He remembered that recovering alcoholics are some of the most loyal people around.  He also remembered that the name of the man who founded AA was named Bill Wilson.

So he went out before worship, stood in the aisle, and welcomed everyone to the service. 

Then he said, “I’ve got an announcement to make, and if you don’t understand it, it’s okay.  But if you do, I really need your help.  If there’s anyone here tonight who is a friend of Bill Wilson, would you come to my study?  We need your help.  Any friends of Bill Wilson, I just need to see you for five minutes.”

One by one they got up from the balcony and from all over, and slowly filed into his study, dozens of them.  And at eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve, as he was going into the service, those folks had an AA meeting.  They prayed for that hurting man, and helped him stay sober.  One of them invited him to Christmas, others formed a small group that continues to meet.  That group formed on the spot, and galvanized into a place of grace and love in the church.

[TS] Today, I want to talk to you about being that sort of a community.  A place of grace.  A place where people in the toughest places they will ever face can find more grace than they could ever imagine.  I want to talk to you about how CGS can help spiritual wanderers become followers of Jesus.

1.  The Context of our Mission & Of this Story

This is a famous parable and we often call it the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”

But that’s not the name it was given.

Jesus’ opening line was (v.11): “There was a man who had two sons.”

-          As many verses about Elder Brother as Younger Brother

-          Jesus introduces this as a story about two sons

Why was Jesus Telling This Story?

Context: Luke 15:1-2  Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

·         Tax Collectors & Sinners = Younger Brother

·         Pharisees & Teachers of the Law = Older Brother

Sermon on this text titled “Jesus Pleads With His Critics”

Original hearers: not warmed, but confused and offended

Jesus’ Goal = Explode human categories on how to approach God.

·         We don’t approach God because we are good

·         The older brother’s obedience didn’t help

2.  Two Ways to be Alienated from God

What is SIN?

Sin, normal definition = breaking God’s rules for behavior

- Jesus goes deeper

This situation: Both want the father’s wealth, and resent the father’s control of his wealth

·         Younger Brother Rebels

o       I want to be my own Lord

o       I want to live life as I see fit

§         Parties, Prostitutes and Pig-Sties

·         Older Brother is just as resentful of his father’s control

o       Unhappy with the father’s use of the robes, rings, calves and goats

o       Looking for control by being totally obedient

ILL-          Flannery O’Conner character Hazel Moats, “there was a deep dark conviction in him that they way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.”

We know Younger Brother Lost-ness

Do we know Elder Brother Lost-ness

-          Trying to be good

-          Trying to read Bible

-          Trying to do everything right

Every revival shows that when the Gospel is proclaimed, every church has elder brothers.  They see the Gospel and repent, embarrassed to say that they were in the church for years and really didn’t understand the Gospel.

            ILL – John Wesley    

3.  Where is the Searcher in this Story?

  • Parable of Lost Sheep
    • the Shepherd leaves the 99 and searches for the lost sheep
  • Parable of Lost Coin
    • the Woman lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds it.
  • Parable of the Lost Son
    • who searches for the younger son?

There is something about Elder Brother Lostness that keeps them from reaching out to Younger Brothers.

·         They are keeping track of what they’ve done and what they are owed.

·         Economic approach to the faith.

o       I am doing X, Y & Z

o       Therefore I deserve ___________

§         I work every day

§         Therefore I deserve a goat with my friends

§         Actually, I deserve the ring, the robe and the fatted calf

·         Sometimes, tempted to do the minimum

ILL – Peter, Jesus and the Rocks

There is something about Jesus, and followers of Jesus, that is magnetic to Younger Brothers

Jesus was continually eating with “sinners” and tax collectors

At infinite cost to himself- Jesus came to seek and save the lost.

Heb 2:11         "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers."

If we do not see younger brothers around us, it’s because there is less of Jesus in us than we want to admit, and more of the older brother in us than we dare admit.

MOVIE CLIP : Jesus of Nazareth Ch 39 “A story of brothers”

- Matthew (Levi) in the yellow & orange: the younger brother, a tax collector

- Peter with the thick beard

o       Peter’s been angry that Matthew has been brought into the team of disciples

o       The tax collector shouldn’t have the same standing as me

o       Jesus shouldn’t be spending so much time with people like these

o       Jesus goes to Matthew’s Party, and Peter refuses to come.

§         The scene opens with Jesus in the room with the sinners, and Peter, the other disciples and the Pharisees standing in the doorway

4.  CGS Exists to Help Spiritual Wanderers

1) We Help Spiritual Wanderers By Preaching the Gospel

We preach the Gospel to Younger Brothers:

·         Repentance = for the bad things

We preach the Gospel to Older Brothers:

  • Repentance = for the reason you did the good things
  • Repent for the reason behind your goodness and your badness
  • Repent for trying to Get God to Owe You

We are all Beggars of the Gospel

C.S. Lewis.     “It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.  Surely, we must have a little, however little, light that comes from us?  Surely we aren’t quite creatures?  Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our NEED, a joy in total dependence.  We become “JOLLY BEGGARS”.

- Do we realize what it cost to bring the Sons Home?

The Father comes out to BOTH Sons

Jesus is not Older-Brother-is to Younger Brothers

Tim Keller:     Why are tax collectors and sinners not as attracted to our churches as they were to Jesus?  Is it because we are like the Pharisees?

Jesus is not Older-Brother-ish to Older Brothers

2) We Help Spiritual Wanderers By Addressing Their Needs

Crown Financial

Clean, Safe place for Kids

3) We Help Spiritual Wanderers By Giving them A Map to Follow

Conclusion: The Story of John Newton

Mother was a Christian

Father was a sailor

Both wanted John to follow in their footsteps

John chose to go his own way

-          Said NO to a good job from his dad

-          Content to live life they way he wanted

-          Pressed into service in the British Navy

-          Transferred to a slave ship

-          Began to buy and sell slaves

-          Got sick and ended up being sold into slavery himself

o       Begged father to save him

-          Worked his way to freedom

-          Denied a chance to come home

-          Bribed with a false inheritance

-          On the way home: STORM

-          Locked up with Thomas A’Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ”

o       His heart changed

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