Under The Same Leaky Roof
Sometimes the Roof Leaks!
I’m not sure what kind of conversation Mary and Joseph had on the way home.
I’m not sure if the fright and panic of losing a son in a huge city turned into anger and accusation on the way home, and if so, how it played itself out.
I’m not sure what the boy said, if anything, beyond making it clear to his parents that part of growing up meant beginning to make his own choices and decisions.
But can you imagine the kind of stress created with choices made by those we love that actually scare the willy-nilly out of us?
There’s enough potential for stress and conflict in a family as it is without adding the interpersonal dimension to it.
“The strains of keeping a marriage healthy, raising children, and making ends meet combine to make a fertile soil for family conflict. Who’s going to feed the baby at 3 am? Who tracked mud all over the newly-cleaned kitchen floor? Who’s been squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle?”
Then add into that mix interpersonal issues of misunderstandings, missed expectations, people speaking past each other or, worse yet, making wrong decisions!
“When a family is really a family, interpersonal conflict is inevitable. Even the most loving families experience conflict when people live under the same roo.f” Manconi
This is what you saw with Joseph, Mary and Jesus at the temple. An incredibly loving family, and yet there was interpersonal conflict at a stressful moment.
That’s just what happens when you live under the same roof.
Sometimes the roof leaks, and when it leaks it doesn’t mean the house is falling apart or that the roof is caving in, but that perhaps the roof needs some patching up here and there.
“Family conflict does not have to blow a family apart. Through loving patience and understanding, conflict can actually draw a family together.” Manconi
And a great example of how family stress was navigated comes to us from the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.
I know that we tend to see this parable only through the lens of spiritual lostness and being found again (“I was lost but now I’m found”). This absolutely is the point of the story.
But I want you to understand that the context in which this happened was a family setting.
As much as the father is a picture of our Heavenly Father, the prodigal son is a picture of people walking away from the Lord with no hope of finding their way back. The older brother is a picture of us welcoming back the lost, but the story, nevertheless, is set within a context of a family conflict between a father and his two sons.
If ever there was an example of family conflict, it was in that family, centered on an incredibly poor decision that the younger of the two sons made.
Most of you know the story of how a son walked out on his family and into the disappointments of a selfish life that just about ruined him; and the tension that follows in welcoming him back home.
Let’s take a closer look at this story through the lens of family conflict and what to do when in it.
When a Family Has a Prodigal
The first thing to consider is the decision of the younger son to leave the safety of the nest for what would be a spectacular crash.
What made him make that decision is unclear but we know that his mind was made up.
With a brazenness that was shocking he demands his share of the estate, something that should only come to him after his father’s death.
This is not just a poor choice but an incredibly self-centered request and a devastating slap in his father’s face.
His only interest was in himself. He didn’t care what it would do to the family dynamic, and the message he was sending in wishing his father dead so as to get his hands on the estate.
All that mattered to him was getting his hands on money that wasn’t yet his, and at an age when it would be squandered instead of invested and stewarded.
This was the epitome of recklessness and disregard of anyone else’s feelings but his own.
Have you ever met people like that? Our world is filled with individuals who make incredibly selfish decisions that cause mayhem and destruction among those closest to them.
A father decides to blow his family apart by leaving. A partner cheats with devastating results. A young person is hell bound on a path toward destruction that rips his parents’ heart out. A parent spirals into substance abuse that tears at the very fabric of the family. I could go on.
Our world is filled with selfish people who have made some of the worst decisions possible, that have not only torn at the fabric of their families but have ripped families apart.
The younger son in this story represents everyone who has ever made an incredibly selfish and destructive decision.
So the question is: ‘Could the younger son have been stopped and talked out of this?’ And the answer is, not in a million years. His mind was made up. He was going to leave, with or without his father’s help.
So what’s a father to do? Well, this father divided his property between them and gave his younger son his third.
In so doing, you can’t help but wonder why the father would allow his son to leave and then agree to the demand that he receive his part of the estate?
That’s one of the most troubling questions in this story.
Legally he could have held on to it, with it remaining in trust until his death.
So why didn’t he? And did he not in some ways enable his son’s downward spiral by providing the financing for it?
Part of the answer is that in some ways the son was already gone. He had already checked out. Forcing him to stay by not providing the means to leave and land on his own feet would have made matters worse.
He would have stuck around hating his father or worse; or he would have left anyway with or without the money guaranteeing his failure from the get-go.
Going Down in Flames!
Regardless though, the story does not end well.
It got bad, and I mean really bad. You knew this was not going to have a happy ending. Even without knowing the rest of the story you knew this was going not going to end well, right?
So let the record show:
“After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” Luke 15:14-16
That’s bad, very bad. That’s being at the end of your ropes. This is skid row. It doesn’t get any worse than this.
A Jew longing to feed the slop fed to pigs? That’s the bottom.
A Jewish person was not permitted to be anywhere near non-kosher food such as pork. This kid was so desperate that he not only allowed himself to be hired to feed pigs, but that he actually longed to eat the slop fed to the pigs.
He had crashed and crashed hard. And I bet his father knew that this was going to happen. And yet there was nothing in the world that he could do to stop it.
The helplessness of seeing someone’s life going up in flames and not being able to do a single thing to stop it, is heart wrenching.
The bottom line was that he would have left with or without the money. His mind was made up, and he was determined to go, come hell or high water.
You Can Be the Older Brother
What do you do with someone like that? And there will always be someone like that – a child, a spouse, a parent, an ex, a grandchild, an in-law, a friend, or someone in the church.
You could be hardnosed, I suppose. You could slam doors shut, kick them out with the tip of your boot and throw stones after them as they are leaving. You could do any of that.
You could do what the older brother did. He certainly had slammed the door shut. There was no mercy, forgiveness or second chances with him.
His reaction to his brother’s return says everything about him.
“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’” Luke 15:28-30
That’s what I call slamming doors shut. Not a pretty picture, is it?
So you have a choice. You can do what the older brother did. You might even feel justified doing it.
His younger brother deserved what he had coming to him. He blew his inheritance so why even welcome him back?
He depleted the wealth of the estate by a third; they could have made more money with their entire estate working for them, than with just two-thirds of it.
You make your bed, so you lie in it. That was the approach of the older brother.
But is that what God is calling you to be? There are three characters in the story, namely, the younger son, the older son and the father.
This is about what to do with the younger son who turns prodigal. There will always be a prodigal son somewhere.
Somewhere in your life, someone that you know, is going to mess up royally. They are going to betray you, insult you, hurt you and turn on you, or gravely disappoint you.
You live long enough and you are going to come across a prodigal son, be it in your immediate family, your extended family, your circle of friends or your church family.
When you do, you can either be the older son or the father. Which is it going to be?
We talk about the older son being as lost in his self-righteousness, in his harshness and unforgiveness as the younger son was before he came to this senses.
The older son knew nothing about the grace of God. He was as cold and as harsh as can be, and as different from his own father as day is from night.
The father in this story is actually a picture of our Heavenly Father and this older son of his was nothing like him. It’s like he wasn’t even his son!
He was as lost in his harsh unforgiveness, as his brother was in his debauchery. The difference was that his brother came to his senses, while he never did.
Is that who you want to be? Lost in service, lost in your rights or do you want to be “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” Psalm 103:8
If God has shown you his grace, his love and his compassion, then you will want to be how that father was!
You Can Be the Father
And what the father did was do whatever it took for a soft landing, pray that he comes to his senses, and leave the porch light on.
The hope was that his share of the estate would give his son a cushion and a leg up. While it may look like enabling, I can guarantee you that his father was not looking to finance the lifestyle of debauchery his son had embarked on.
He was still going to be there for his son, even a son as bad as him. And in doing so, he kept the back door open and the porch light on.
Playing hard ball would have meant slamming the door shut and turning off the porch light, with no chance of that son ever finding his way back should he ever come to his senses.
Sure enough, when that son finally came to his senses, he made a beeline directly for that porch light.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.”
Luke 15: 17-20
You gotta love that he came to his senses, right? We wish that every one of our prodigals would come to their senses.
In fact, I wish that people would come to their senses before they become prodigals. How nice that would be.
Sometimes though it takes having to crash hard before you wake up. Bottom-line is he woke up and came to his senses, right?
You knew that this was a different son from the arrogant, selfish son of his days at his father’s house. He had learned his lesson.
He wasn’t looking for another free ride. He would be happy simply being a servant.
Instinctively he knew where to turn to, namely his father. His father who did not throw stones after him nor slam doors shut but who took the high road and thus kept the porch light on.
The moment he woke up, he saw that porch light. He knew that his father would welcome him back.
Sure enough, notice what it says: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20
While running toward his son, throwing his arms around him and kissing his dirt, this was all about the porch light being on and the hearth lit. Seeing him while he was still a long way off in the distance, was all about prayer.
You see, not only do you do everything you can to provide a soft landing, and not only do you keep the porch light on, but you also keep your eyes of prayer on the horizon for any sign of his return.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him.”
That’s prayer, my friends. Prayer is looking for and seeing the prodigal before he ever sees you. Prayer is the eye of faith that scans the horizon for any sign of a return.
He could have had his eyes elsewhere. He could have had his eyes on his remaining son and on the work at hand and would have been surprised with his son at the door.
But he was none of that. No surprise. He was expecting his son.
With eyes of faith, he prayed for his son’s return even as he scanned the horizon and saw the signs of his returning long before the son was ever at the door.
Friend, are you prayerfully scanning your horizon for any sign of the prodigal’s return?
What It Takes To Be a Father
I want to bring this home today. It really comes down to who you are going to be. You are either going to be the father in the story, or the older son.
It’s doubtful that you are the prodigal. You wouldn’t be here in church if you were a prodigal, unless of course you are and have come to your senses and have found the porch light on at our church.
And I would say to you, come on in if that’s you!
Oh my, what an answer to prayer that would be! I want our church to have its porch light on.
I want us to have a reputation as a place where the porch light is on and the hearth is warm. I want us to be known as a warm, welcoming place for the prodigals. I would die for that.
This morning though, the question is in your reality: ‘Who are you?’ In your family, in your circle, and in your group and tribe, what are you? Are you the older brother or are you the father?
Wouldn’t you much rather be the father in this story? Wouldn’t you rather be the father toward all the prodigals who have ever walked out on you?
The only way to do that and to be that is by letting God be a Father to you.
It’s far too painful and nearly impossible for you to be the father image to those who have hurt you without you first allowing God to be your Father. We all need to be reminded that He has forgiven us, so we can forgive those who have hurt us.
So this morning, to be that father figure, you need to turn your heart toward your own Heavenly Father!
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