Lay Reader = Ephesians 2:4-9
4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
This is our third week in our series looking at the parable of the prodigal son from a different angle. Last week we saw how the father in the story is recklessly extravagant with his love toward both of his wayward sons. But the father did expect both of his sons to be willing to lay down their pride so that they could joyfully enter the feast.
This week we are looking more closely at how Jesus chooses a third way – Jesus is a very different kind of brother toward us. And to get there, we’re going to look at what Jesus said about a particular church in the book of Revelation. Laodicea was a very wealthy, important trade city in modern-day Turkey. Its prominence and its very large Jewish population made it fertile ground for the early church. It was one of the places that had its own bishop.
But in the midst of their immense wealth, in the midst of their expanding church, in the midst of their enviable position, listen to what Jesus says to this church.
14“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation: 15“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 21To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The Good Brother
As you’ve heard many times, my brother and I grew up with a wee bit of conflict between us. I like to say that my brother and I only had one fight…it just lasted from ages 2 through 16 or so. But let me balance the scales a little bit by telling you a different kind of story about my brother.
As you also know, I am an unrepentant geek, and in my past I was a bit of a know-it-all. Some have accused me of that in my present, not just my past. So what typically happens to a geeky know-it-all at a rural Texas high school? Often times, there are less than pleasant consequences for such a person.
But I never had to worry about that. My geeky know-it-all friends also didn’t have to worry about that. When I came into Clifton high school as a freshman, my brother was a junior. And he told all the seniors that I was off limits, and my friends were, too. Now, my brother was feisty but not the most physically imposing figure in the world, so it probably helped that Chris’ best friend John was standing with him when he said this. John the bodybuilder, the guy who bouncers asked for help when they couldn’t handle someone. So John probably helped my brother’s cause, but he would’ve said it anyway even if he didn’t have John.
So even though my brother had fought me and picked on me thousands of times, he let everyone know that no one else could fight me or pick on me. It was a very kind and definitely useful gesture for me. That was the actions of a good brother who actually cared about his younger brother, even if he was a geeky know-it-all who could insult you in Klingon.
Have you heard of Cain and Abel? They were the first two sons of Adam and Eve after they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. And Cain was jealous of Abel, and did what brothers do and murdered him. And there’s this interesting exchange between Cain and God right after he murders his brother. God says to him, “Where is your brother Abel?” And Cain replies, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
That rhetorical question used by Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” appears in the fourth chapter of the Bible. Pretty early on. And over and over and over again in the Bible, we see how God answers that question for different generations of the faithful. “Am I my brother’s keeper” we may ask, but God says, “In many ways, yes you are.”
What’s the Greatest Commandment? Love God with all you’ve got, and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. Be your brother’s keeper. Be your sister’s keeper. This isn’t an unlimited thing. We each have our own responsibility before God, for sure. But God doesn’t paint us as a picture of little islands or boats floating around. We are interconnected and interrelated.
Jesus tells the church in our text today that they were apathetic. They were complacent. They were comfortable being wealthy and influential. They were fine being fine, even though so many others around them were not fine. So Jesus says he’s going to spit them out like lukewarm water unless they become refreshingly cool or usefully hot water in their communities. Jesus wanted them to, in some sense, be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers instead of only looking out for their own church.
That’s the same charge Jesus leveled against the Pharisees when he told the parable of the father and the two sons. The younger sons in his audience, the tax collectors and sinners, had made really bad decisions. But the older sons in his audience, the supposedly righteous religious leaders, had watched it from a distance, judging but not moving to make a difference. Jesus condemns them for praying, “Thank you God that I’m not like one of those people.”
Essentially, Jesus is telling the “good church folk” that they weren’t being good brothers and sisters to their community.
In Luke 11, Jesus tells them, “”Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” They were so religious, they were bringing a tenth of their garden herbs to the Temple so they didn’t cheat God out of the offering that was his due. That’s pretty religious, right? And that’s not all bad – Jesus acknowledges that they were serious about their offering. But they “neglect justice and the love of God.” They were very religious, but they were bad brothers and sisters to their communities.
How about us? We have a bunch of religious people here. But do we have a bunch of good brothers and sisters to our community? Are we like the church of Laodicea – doing fine, taking care of the church, but being neither refreshingly cold water nor usefully hot water to our neighbors? Are we, like the Pharisees, taking care of the little details of our faith but neglecting justice and the love of God? Are we, like the older brother, sitting back and relying on our goodness and judging those younger brothers and their badness around us?
Two weeks ago, we were up at Charlie’s special needs camp – Adam’s Camp. And Charlie didn’t have his best week. We got there a little early for registration, so we went to a playground. But when it was time to leave, Charlie wasn’t having it. Kids have this ability to become invertebrates when they don’t want to go, right? They channel their inner Gumby and become almost like a fluid – impossible to pick up. And kids also have the ability to change the gravitational constant and make themselves five times heavier when they do this, as well. Physicists should really study this – it could be useful if we could harness that.
So Charlie was laying there in all his extra-gravity Gumby-ness, impossible to pick up and unwilling to move. So we tried a time-honored parenting trick and we just started walking away from the playground to see if he would follow. We got a few steps, and Caleb kept looking back. We got a little further and Caleb started looking worried as Charlie didn’t follow. Finally, Caleb refused to move forward any more and turned around and shouted, “Don’t leave him! That’s my brother!” It was hard to be too mad after that. That’s a good brother, right?
And a few days later they were with a large group of kids for the parents’ night out at the camp. And we asked Caleb how it went when we picked the boys up. And he told us, “Charlie tried to wander off, but I went and got him.” I don’t know if that’s totally true or not, but I could believe it. Caleb has a very high awareness of where Charlie is and what he’s doing.
So let’s contrast Caleb’s reaction – “He wandered off, but I went and got him.” Let’s contrast that with the two sons in Jesus’ parable. One brother wanders off, and what does the other brother do? He watches with disgust and essentially says, “good riddance.” When the father welcomes back the prodigal son, what does the older brother do? He refuses to accept his brother back and essentially says, “I wish he were still gone.”
So on one hand we have a brother saying, “he wandered off, but I went and got him.” And on the other hand we have a brother saying, “he wandered off, and good riddance!” Which one sounds more like Jesus?
In our text today, Jesus tells the Laodiceans who were apathetic toward their community, “you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” In other words, when we only care about ourselves or only care about our church, when we see our brothers and sisters wandering off and don’t care or even say “good riddance,” it strips our souls down to nothing.
So are we good sisters and brothers? Or are we content good church-folk who know how to keep the church running? I don’t want to just ask that rhetorically. I want you to really think deeply about that.
I’ve given you three examples of how to be a sibling to your community. The Pharisees and the older brother in the parable said, “I’m glad I’m so much better that those people. Good riddance!” The Laodiceans said, “I’m glad I have such a great church so I can escape from my shady neighbors.” And Caleb said, “My brother wandered off, but I went and got him.” Which one sounds more like Jesus? Which one sounds more like your inner monologue? Think about that. Because Jesus didn’t sit back and wait. He came in person to get us when we wandered off. Are we being that kind of sister or brother to those around us?
After challenging the Laodiceans in our text today, this is what Jesus tells them: “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”
Let’s imagine that you’re in your house and someone knocks on the door. What are the possible scenarios? It could be a salesperson – maybe you won’t open the door if they’re trying to sell something. Our previous house had original windows, and we got window people knocking on our door anytime someone from our neighborhood had window work done. It gets a bit annoying by about the ninth time another window company knocks. So if you don’t care about what they’re selling, maybe you don’t open the door.
Or another scenario – maybe it’s kind of late and getting dark. A scruffy-looking man is outside the door. Do you open the door, or leave it closed? If you’re afraid of the person at the door, maybe you don’t open it.
Another scenario – you ordered a package online and the delivery person is just ringing your doorbell to let you know there’s a package on the front porch. If it’s just a package for yourself, maybe you don’t bother opening the door yet.
But what if it’s a good friend? A family member? A family down the block you’ve been meaning to meet? What are the scenarios where you would open the door when someone knocks?
I think most of the reasons we don’t open the door are because we don’t care or we’re scared. And most of the reasons we do open the door are because we do care and we’re secure. Jesus is telling the Laodiceans that they are too focused on themselves and their stuff and their positions. They don’t care about their community. Maybe they’re even scared of their community. So, Jesus says, if you’ll start caring, if you’ll open yourself to your community, then I have a grand opportunity for you. Are you willing to open the door and follow me?
How is Jesus knocking on your door right now?
As a church, we’ve said that we believe Jesus is calling us to focus on the one mile around our church and also on the neighborhoods where we live. Our church’s neighbors, and your personal neighbors. That’s how Jesus is knocking.
We already had the community dinner. We already had the Saturday lunch program. We added the movie night and parents’ nights out. We already had a partnership with Love INC, and we’re adding a new partnership with Arapahoe County where churches can help fill gaps that their case workers can’t address. It’s called the Care Portal, and we’ll hear more from them next month. We have our Pastor’s Breakfast to help people get to know us better. We have a couple of pioneer dinner groups that are meeting in their own neighborhoods.
Now, maybe you understand the service-oriented activities, but what about the fun activities like movie night? How is that us answering the door when Jesus knocks? Well caring about someone is really powerful.
Last week a dad came to see me, because he was at the end of his rope. He couldn’t catch a break. Things were falling apart. He was trying his best, but it just wasn’t working. He was telling his adopted kids that things would be OK, but inside he was panicking. We connected him with several resources, but I also invited him to the movie night we just had on Friday. I told him that I knew as a dad he wanted to give his kids a good time, something special – it’s fun to see your kids have a good time! So I said, “Come to the movie night! They get to see a great movie, hang out with some other kids, and get popcorn, snacks, and drinks, and you don’t have to pay a thing. We’ll help you give your kids a good time on Friday.”
And they came. It wasn’t a handout he had to feel guilty about accepting. No one pays at movie night. It’s free! In fact, some might say it’s extravagant – prodigal even? So that night he got to be just a dad like every other dad in attendance. His kids got to be just like the other kids. They didn’t have to worry about whether they were spending too much of their dad’s money that he didn’t have. They got to just BE. They got to simply BELONG. They got to BE LOVED!
Jesus got in trouble for eating with people you wouldn’t want to open your door to in the night. And that’s what he did for them. He helped them belong, believe, and be loved. That’s what our movie night was able to do for that family on Friday. That’s a little taste of the prodigal love of the father. That’s a little experience of Jesus our brother saying, “you wandered off, but I came for you.” That’s a little glimpse of the Gospel.
So how is Jesus knocking on your door?
Maybe you want to be more involved with the one mile around this church. Maybe you want to show a glimpse of the Gospel to your own neighborhood.
Or, this is key for our church. We’re electing our nominating committee today. They nominate the next wave of top-level leaders for the church. I can’t tell you exactly what that’s going to mean, because our focus is shifting a bit. My first four years here we were really trying to get stable – we were plugging leaks in the boat. But our boat’s ready to go. It’s ready to sail out into our community to be the hands and feet of Christ.
So up to now, we’ve been organized around plugging holes. We need to be organized differently if we’re really going to focus our energy on where Jesus is knocking and leading and pursuing our brothers and sisters in our community. We need a new wave of leaders who can help us fix our gaze on the horizon, not just our own deck. We spent the last four years becoming fine, like the church in Laodicea. Now Jesus is knocking.
If you care about this church and you have the energy to think about how we can achieve our ministry in the name of Jesus, not just keep from sinking, then we need you. If that’s you, I need you help!
We’ve had a great crew of leaders as we fixed a bunch of leaky holes. But now we need some people who have energy to help us chart the course out of the harbor. I think I’ve taken the sailing analogy as far as it will go. We need people in this next phase of our church life who can help our church be good brothers and sisters to our community. And we have some ideas on that, but we need help fleshing it out.
Sisters and brothers, Jesus didn’t sit back and wait for us to come back, he ran to us. Jesus didn’t watch us walk off and hope we’d come to our senses, he came to us in person. We wandered off, so Jesus came to get us. That’s what a good brother or sister does.
So how is Jesus, your good brother, knocking on your door? If he’s knocking, don’t wait to be asked. Step forward. Don’t hope someone notices you. Run ahead. If Jesus is knocking, don’t hope the nominating committee thinks of you. Be a good brother or sister and come forward. We need you. Our community needs you. I need you!
When Jesus knocks, open the door. Are you ready to open the door and see where the adventure goes? Are you ready to be a good brother or sister to your community? That’s what it looks like when we open the door to Jesus. Amen.