Promises, Predicaments, Prodigals and Princes

They’re in the church! ‘Right here among us. And in the community.

Our Camp Hopers will find them in the hills and hollers to our west. Marriage partners and families find ‘em right nearby. All around are folks and friends who suffer from ELDERITIS. It’s a malady so ancient Jesus saw and talked about it. Listen with care.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came near home, he heard music and dancing. The servants explained to him. ‘Your brother’s come home, and your father’s throwin’ a party since he’s back safe and sound.’ But the elder was angry and refused to go in.”

ELDERITIS! Refusal to join the party! BITTERNESS.

Jealousy. Anger. Feeling displaced, cheated, 2nd fiddle.

Look out for ELDERITIS! It doesn’t get you in the joints.

Oh, no. THIS is heart trouble. It afflicts folks of every age/station.

Even you. Even me. Us! Especially us!

Today we celebrate a marriage blessed with better and sometimes pursued by worse (Ted & Diane). We consecrate and send our youth to those with less when we have so much more. What better day, then, to focus on this oh-so-familiar Jesus’ story in a new way. This may be Christ’s most famous teaching. We learn the Prodigal Son piece almost from birth. But maybe, maybe the folk are right who say this is really the Elder Brother Story. Maybe Max Lucado’s right that Christ tells the prodigal’s tale to get to the elder brother’s story! Why? Because we’re so much more like him. ‘With the same heart-trouble. His “itis” is our “itis”. Elderitis. A bit of a bitter heart. Envious. Ticked. Jipped. 2nd place. Ungrateful for what we have because we want what we do not. Wanna read the book on the bitter, bugged, bothered heart, but haven’t time? Well, read the Elder Brother’s Tale as Jesus tells it. You’ve got the whole table of contents right in your hand! Chapter 1: Bondage. Chapter 2: I’m Better, You’re to Blame. Chapter 3: Betrayal!

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed you; yet you never gave me a party!” That’s what the elder brother complains to his father. He never literally complains he’s a slave, in bondage. But it’s clearly what he feels! Hmm. The NT word for both: doulos… ‘Same word! It’s a heart thing. Maybe a teeth thing. It looks like you’re a helper, maybe for love’s sake. And maybe it starts out like that. But you and I begin to feel differently. Trapped. Burdened. In bondage. Enslaved even. Oh, we may appear to be smilin’, but in fact, we’re just gritting our teeth! And don’t be sittin’ there sayin’, “Not me, Rev./Lord!” Every kid who’s ever mowed the grass… the 4th time… or cleaned the house or shoveled snow. Every work camper with a paint scraper. Every spouse with a partner to placate now and then. Every parent to kids, and every grown kid with parents to care for. Y’all know what I mean. Don’t be pretendin’ sittin’ here. God’s not fooled. So don’t fool yourself!

Bitter gets a foothold in your heart when bondage comes to call. The spiritual problem goes deeper still. Jesus has the father point it out in his story so we can see it too. And take a good, hard look at ourselves. “Son, you are always with me,” the father says. “Look to your blessings. You are loved. You know the joy of honest labor. You have defined who you are by whom you serve. You are bigger than your brother, not because you are older, but because you are righter-hearted. Every fruit of the landscape you’ve worked is yours for the tasting.” When was the last time you really looked at your blessings? Especially against your serving and your bonding. [Illust. I am reminded/inspired by the caregiver’s remark, “Yes, but I had the joy of his/her company. BJ]

Chapter 2. I’m better. You’re to blame. Guard your soul friends. Old Satan himself just loves to entice us to exaggerate our virtues so we can compare ourselves to everybody else’s plainness (or worse).

I like the story of the preacher who happened on a gang of kids with a dog-not-their-own. What’s doin’, he asked. “Well, Rev., we found this dog. So each of us is throwin’ this stick for him to fetch. While he runs we each tell a lie. The one who tells the biggest/best lie gets to keep the dog.” The pastor replied, “You know fellas, when I was a boy I was taught never to lie. ‘Never did. ‘Still don’t.” Silence! Sheepish looks on shamed faces. Finally one boy spoke for all the rest. “OK, Rev., you win! The dog’s all yours!” Ain’t it the truth. We love to “puff up.” (I Cor. 13 KJV) And in trouble, we love to shift the blame. Beverly assures me the most dependable response to spilled paint in the art room is, “He did it!”

We’re still sayin’ that, you and me. After all, we’re better! ‘And don’t want to get caught. The Elderitis in us all makes us see our brother’s been feedin’ the swine. Yet we never see the pigpen our minds and hearts so easily become. Jesus’ story’s got our number!

Chapter 3. Betrayal. “You killed the fatted calf for him, never me and my friends!” Bitter, BITTER! It was always funny when Tommy Smothers complained, “Mama always loved you best!” It’s not funny when it’s our feeling. Not in a family, a marriage, a business. Bitter’s never better when we believe the world, or life, or our health, or even our Lord has betrayed us. Nary a one of us has not known this burning in our throat. Literally, it’s heartburn! Our Camp Hopers will see it in some they serve. ‘Be inspired when they don’t. When they feel put upon in the work, they’ll know it 1st hand. “Why me?!” We’ll all have our moments, too.

So how will we ever move past Elderitis? Jesus tells us. Remember. Christ tells us the father here is like our Father in Heaven. That’s the point! And the cure for this elder-ailment! Listen to what the Father says, and try not to forget. “Son, all that I have is yours!” Get it? The son part? Cranky, yes. Self-absorbed, this child, for sure. Like us, self-pitying. Failing to see the blessings all around that have flowed to this child since birth. What a turn-off we can be. But God still calls us, “Son, daughter, child of my heart!” God’s grip on us is forever stronger than all our griping about or to him! Our place in the Kingdom is secure! Know that, and we can never be bitter for long. Understand your position, a COG in the universe… so don’t get puffed up. But never forget we spell that C.O.G…. Child Of God! God always takes you for gift, never for granted. That’s the first medicine for Elderitis. Here’s a 2nd Rx. graceful gratitude. Did you hear? “All that I have is yours.” What others receive never diminishes the blessings God readily gives to us. Everybody wants their piece of the pie. You and me both. What the world doesn’t tell you Jesus does is this. God can and does make the pie bigger. So there’s always enough. There’s justice here, too. Fairness. The prodigal already got his share. There’ll be no redistribution. That’s a promise. From God the Promise Keeper.

O, last, best therapy. You have a purpose. WELCOME. Our job is to welcome others, especially prodigals. We just have to party when the lost are found. So come. Take your place. In the lost and found department! Party on! Don’t pity over. Don’t be bitter. Be blessed!

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