Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. The younger son decided that life would be better away from the family, so he asked for his half of the inheritance early. He didn't want to wait until his father died. In a brilliant show of either grace or naivete, the father sold half of the property and gave the money to his younger son.
That young man took the money, traveled to a foreign land, and squandered his wealth on wild living.
That life was short-lived. Soon the money was gone. Then the friends were gone.
He hired himself out for work, but with no friends or family, and since there he was a foreigner, there were very few job opportunities. The only job left for him was working with the pigs. He discovered that he was paid so little that the pigs were eating better than he was.
It was at that moment that he had a self-revelation. He remembered that his father treated the servants back home far better than he was being treated in that pig lot. He decided he would go home. While he knew he was unworthy of being a son, he might be able to stay there as a servant.
So he went home.
In yet another move of extreme grace, the father forgives the errant son and welcomes him back home. There is a celebration and the whole household is there rejoicing with the father that the lost has been found.
Everyone that is except the elder son.
The elder son pulls the father aside and rebukes him for this celebration, complaining that it is not fair that such expenses should be given, yet son, to celebrate his little brother.
The father responds, "Everything I have is yours and you had only to ask. Nevertheless your brother has returned and it is right for us to celebrate."
You may be familiar with this story from Luke 15. What if this was not the end if the story though. There is another story from scripture that takes place between two brothers trying to justify themselves in the presence of a father figure.
Genesis 4 recounts that Cain and his younger brother Abel both made sacrifices to God, but God showed his favor took Abel more than Cain. When Cain complained to God, he too was taken aside and reminded that he could obtain favor if he simply did what was right. His jealousy was unwarranted because God did not have a limited amount of favor to split between the two brothers. Furthermore, God told him to be careful because sin was crouching at his door, ready to overtake him if he did not gain control of it himself first.
The elder brother, in a spirit of jealousy, called the younger brother out into a field and murdered him. This first murder started with the same seed of jealousy that Jesus left us with at the end of the parable of the lost son.
So let's take a moment to trace this back,
Murder came from jealousy left unchecked.
Jealousy came from a feeling of unfairness.
The feeling of unfairness, particularly in the parable of the lost son came from placing greater value on possessions and experiences rather than relationships.
Both God in Genesis 4 and especially the father in Luke 15 demonstrate a consistent value of relationships. God comes across harsher perhaps in Genesis 4, but the emphasis is not on performing a specific ritual, which was Cain's focus, but rather on staying in relationship. Cain wanted the blessing his brother had, he didn't want God, the giver of that blessing.
I believe there is a clue in here to how we can end the power of violence in our lives. It is not about eliminating weapons, be they sticks and stones or words of hurt. It is not in pushing for complacency, thinking that if we hide our struggles away we can all just get along. I think the key to violence is to find new ways of dealing with jealousy and to promote the value of relationships over and above experiences and possessions. When I recognize the value, perhaps even my need, for those richer or poorer than I, it will be me, standing in the way of their own threats of violence. When we truly become brothers and sisters, we will keep one another and keep one another from harm instead of being the source of that harm ourselves.
So what would it take to bring us all together as brothers and sisters?
An act of God.
Autumn is season where we celebrate life because we begin to see it leaving us. Harvest time brings great excitement, but leaves the land bare. Perhaps there is a psychological need we have developed that makes us want to use this celebration time to prepare us for the winter ahead.
As opposed to Christmas and Easter, which are celebrations that point to life in a time of death, this season of revivals points to a memory of life pray and tried to connect it with a hope for the future, but it is done while the grass is still green. It is the good news footnote in the wake of a prophecy of cold, darkness, and death ahead.
I think this creates a perfect time for reflection, thanksgiving, and changing priorities in life. Sometimes the most important New Year's resolutions find their roots directed in the harvest time of October, nurtured by Thanksgiving in November, and are given inspiration during the versions of Christmas. Today may be the day you begin a lifetime of change and growth in a new direction.
I have been told that it is important to plan with the end in sight, and I think I keep that in mind in the past when I have spoken at funerals. In those times out cold, darkness, and death, we look for hope and opportunity for new growth. We celebrate the past and look to the future for new life. How do you make that connection? Through God's Word.
I think the two most important scriptures for me in preparing for funerals are Genesis 1 and John 1. Genesis 1 is the story of God creating the whole world and creating humankind. We, like the rest of creation are spoken into existence - made by His Word - if you will. We are also told that we were created in God's image. If you skip ahead to John 1 we discover that the Word of God that we were created by in the beginning, came to earth and became flesh and lived among us, so that we would know God. We should have been able to see God at work in each other, but sin had marred and twisted that image. Christ came (in part) to clear things up.
I believe that God works through all things for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28) and that means He works in all people, whether we, or they, realize it or not. That means that no person is not so full of sin that God cannot be seen in some aspect of their life. Granted, sometimes we have to dig pretty deep to find it. Often it is not even something done intentionally. Regardless, I approach funerals with the belief that everyone has a witness to Gold in their lives... Something that can be expressed by the Bible.
It is as simple as taking the concept of a "life verse" and applying it to the lives of others. One of the best ways to bring honor those we have lost, to bring comfort to their loved ones, and to bear witness to God's love and power in all our lives. It helps turn us all from a place of personal sadness and loss and helps us lift our eyes to our God in gratitude for the life that we honor at that occasion.
Why wait though? Take a moment to reflect and decide today what your life verse is. Stay living it out deliberately so that when your day comes, your family will not need a preacher to help them see God's love... Your own life will be witness enough.
Trying to hear the music in the din of many voices.
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