Read Luke 15:11-32
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:25, 27-32 NLT)
“It’s not your job to change anything, it’s your job to grow the church.” That was the final line of an anonymous note I got one Sunday morning a while back. I’m not a big fan of anonymous notes because I would much rather have the opportunity to talk things through with someone and anonymous takes away any opportunity for relationship. That being said, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, so while some people might be deeply offended by something like this I would rather assume that it was just a thought being expressed from a place of genuine concern. Change is hard. I get it. When I read this familiar story of the prodigal son and the Father’s welcome this morning, the content of this note immediately came to my mind.
The older son in the story was angry. Why? He wasn’t angry because he wished any ill towards his brother, he was angry because he felt like he got short changed. It was like he was saying, “Why don’t I get a party? Why don’t we have a cookout in my honor? Why can’t I get a special honor for being Mr. Consistency? My brother is the one who messed up, why are we doing so much to welcome and accommodate him?” The father’s response is brilliant. “‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Everything I have is yours! The older brother felt short changed, but really he hadn’t lost anything. Instead, he gained the realization that he actually has (and always has had) much more than he ever knew! He had everything, and when you have everything you can spare a fatted calf to celebrate with your brother who had been far away for too long.
Change is hard. In church world change is really hard. It’s hard because it feels threatening. It feels like loss. Most people don’t like change. I get it. That’s why people fight tooth and nail against it. The reality in many churches, however, is that we become isolated. Over time we have become more and more disconnected from our surrounding community and we find ourselves stuck, seemingly unable to grow. There is a startling percentage of people who have completely checked out of church. These are people who struggle to make the connection between what we do on Sunday and their day-to-day, so they choose to stay away. This is the reality, but we still struggle to recognize that maybe there are things we need to do differently if we want to connect with people beyond ourselves. We want to grow, but many of us are unwilling to change to do so. We are afraid of what it might cost us. We are afraid of what we might lose. This is a difficult tension. I think Jesus is saying to each of us who struggles with change in the church, “Everything I have is yours! It always has been.” Maybe the things to which we cling so tightly, resisting change, actually are keeping us from seeing and experiencing the abundance of what we have been given. Change is hard, but its needed if we ever hope to reach beyond ourselves and grow. Change is hard, but we have nothing to lose. In Jesus we have been given EVERYTHING!