WHEN IT’S TIME TO COME HOME… (a devotional thought from Pastor Andrzejewski)
Amid all of the glorious iconography carved around the face of the sanctuary, at the entrance to door of Historic Trinity is a stone carving of the return of the Prodigal. There is something significantly wonderful about this particular placement. Let me explain…
Last year, Gillette launched a short film as part of a campaign to address a range of male misbehavior. Following this Gillette ad the term “toxic masculinity” became culturally significant. The two-minute spot, entitled “We Believe,” addressed bullying and sexual harassment, leveraging Gillette’s longtime slogan in encouraging men to be the best they can be.
Many commentators praised the ad. Neil Young writes, “Rather than an attack on manhood… the commercial instead celebrates men and affirms long-standing notions of masculinity as honorable and virtuous.”
Others, however, took the ad as yet another attack, creating a backlash from both men and women. In less than a week, the ad’s YouTube link had over a million dislikes. In USA Today, Charlotte Allen agreed that while men can behave badly, she argues that men deserve more credit for helping to create structures and habits that “channel male aggression in positive directions, such as heroism that saves lives or hard work that supports families”. New York Times writer Ross Douthat argues that the ad is significantly based on the negative stereotypes of “traditional masculinity.”
Christian author Anne Kennedy claims that in today’s culture she has to tell her sons, “‘You are not toxic…do you know that? Being masculine is not toxic.’ I say that because my boys are kind and interesting and good, and I don’t want them limping along, afraid and anxious, through their very lives” just because they are boys. And David French argues, “We do our sons no favors when we tell them that they don’t have to answer that voice inside them that tells them to be strong, to be brave, and to lead… When it comes to the crisis besetting our young men, ‘traditional masculinity’ [rightly understood] isn’t the problem; it can be part of the cure.”
From a biblical position, let me say this… and let me make this perfectly clear. Sin is toxic. Period. All of it. Big or small. The little—seemingly harmless—whisper of gossip to your next door neighbor, all the way to the mass murderer. Sin is toxic because “the wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). The very definition of “toxic”: It induces death. And by the mere indisputable fact that everybody who has ever lived has died… or will… is undeniable evidence of this biblical truth.
But for many years, the Church—more than any other entity—has been accused of being judgmental. Why? Because we’ve used the fixed moral compass of Scripture, the Ten Commandments, and have identified murder as sinful, sexual immorality, theft, slander. It’s all there… you know the list.
This has never changed. Ever. Harvey Weinstein preying on young women? Hollywood and the media were aghast… as if they’d just discovered that this was toxic. Always has been. And yet knowing this didn’t stop Abraham from Hagar or David from Bathsheba. “Thou shalt not murder” didn’t stop Moses from killing the Egyptian or Saul from viciously martyring untold number of early Christians.
But if you don’t identify a fixed moral compass… then your compass just starts spinning without control. And that’s exactly what’s happening in our culture today… a whirling, twirling out-of-control compass. There are vile and vicious things happening everywhere, and everybody from politicians to celebrities to radio hosts are piling on. And here is what’s happening: Social media has led the charge toward the most stunning and overwhelming cultural development in ages: The glorification of public shaming. It is happening everywhere around us. This is what we do now.
In the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells the story of toxic masculinity. He teases, perhaps, the hearers when he references that this son squandered everything on “reckless living”. I can almost picture the disciples giggling among themselves with all-knowing nods to each other… “I bet I know what He means by that”. Later in this long story, when the prodigal has returned and his brother becomes jealous that his father was throwing a party for his toxic brother, Jesus identifies his brother’s sin as “devouring (his inheritance) with prostitutes”. Again, I can picture the disciples thinking or saying aloud, “I knew it, I just knew it!”
Jesus is telling a story that includes the vile and toxic sin of human trafficking. But that has never—in the 2,000 year history of this parable—been the point, because all sin is toxic… no matter what category you want to label it under. In fact, this parable is really not the story of a Prodigal Son. It’s not really about the son… and that’s why his vile behavior is not significantly developed. Rather, the parable is about his forgiving father, who instead of marking his son’s return with a glorious moment of public shaming, which clearly would have made his brother very happy (can you imagine what the brother would have said if Twitter were available in 32 AD?)… no, his forgiving father didn’t publicly shame him and invite his Facebook friends to pile on… he threw a party. A big one. Why? Because his son that was lost was home.
In fact, there are three lost stories in Luke 15. Lost sheep. Lost coin. Lost son. In all three, Jesus says there is rejoicing when the lost is found, not just here but—much more significant—in heaven (“there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not” Lk 15:7).
Which brings us back—I think—to a three-fold view of the Church as “judgmental”:
1) About the prodigal. The son squandered his father’s wealth on human trafficking. It’s vile. It’s toxic. Always has been. That’s our fixed moral compass. I didn’t set it. God did. It’s sinful and if you’ve been there, you should repent. But this parable is not about you being there as much as it is about you being here. Before your forgiving Father. The place where we throw parties for the lost who come home. This is what we do.
2) About his brother. In a world that has become cruelly obsessed with the glorification of public shaming based on a wildly spinning and erratic cultural compass, the Church—perhaps surprisingly to some—has become a haven (a sanctuary) for the real gospel… that the Lord loves you… no matter where you’ve been. Or what you’ve done. This is what we do.
3) And about his father. One line in this parable stands out. Luke 15:20- “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him”. And then ran down the road to meet him. He saw him because he kept watching. And waiting. And—no doubt—praying. Just… beautiful. That’s the story. Ladies and gentlemen, the parable of the forgiving father.
This is what we do.
So, when it’s time for you to come home, just know that we’ve been praying for you all along.