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Missing Both Parties
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I just got back from Mardi Gras – the safe version in Lafayette, Louisiana. The New Orleans version is a bit too spicy for Pastor Dave.

Have you ever skipped a hot, naughty party, figuring you’d feel guilty later? And then realized that your staying home in straightjacketed “goodness” wasn’t a whole lot of fun either? You missed out on both ends of the spectrum.

Every time we read the Matthew 25 parable of the “talents,” we shake our heads at the sorry exploits of the third servant who buried his lone talent in the dirt. However, I have thought to myself, “Well, at least he didn’t go to Las Vegas and blow this money at the crap tables. He didn’t spend it on himself. He didn’t embezzle it. He didn’t hide it off-shore. No, he didn’t make any money but he didn’t lose it either. When the master came back, all his funds were still accounted for. So why is he a villain?”

Jesus tells parables about two kinds of people who are in the family. There’s a Prodigal Son who sins and messes up and comes home and gets forgiven and catches a glimpse of what grace is all about. And then there’s the Older Brother, who stays in the system, who plays by the rules because he was raised to do so, who doesn’t have much fun but is bound by a sense of duty. He doesn’t really love the father – in fact, he usually resents him. He isn’t excited about the family structure and its values; he becomes angry and resentful when there’s a feast for someone he thinks is inferior. So he misses the temporary fun of the spree in the faraway city, and is also bitter and unhappy within this mission he has not embraced.

Waterfall of Forgiveness

There’s another parable about a man who works directly for the king; he stands in the monarch’s presence. So his name is written on the church books. He is forgiven a huge amount, and then doesn’t grasp that he should forgive his own friends the five dollars they owe him. This is a church member who is miserable because grace has eluded him. He’s standing right underneath the waterfall of forgiveness and doesn’t even get wet.

So this third investor does not have the short-term fun of blowing these dollars on himself. He’s too uptight and too regimented in his Christianity to do that. He also does not discover the happiness of investing on behalf of a boss he has learned to love and admire and appreciate. So of the two polar opposite scenarios that might offer him some pleasure, this tragic figure misses the joy and reward on either side. He steers down the sterile center, the embittered fortress that is not truly a home, and he ends up alone. God help us.

I think there is one mighty reason for loving churches to exist, and that is to rescue some who have lived in sterile Christianity for a long time, playing the role of the resentful, fatigued older brother. As the miracle of grace happens to wide-eyed newcomers, as they receive a new life in Jesus and get a robe, and a ring, and a new pair of shoes, and a feast with a fatted calf, can all of the older brothers who have been faithful come to be excited about grace as well? Maybe that is why the church should be here.

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By David Smith. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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