Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:
Here is a “Feddersen’s Fable.” A poor man went to his pastor and said, “Is there any way I can earn some money?” The pastor replied: “Well, I could have you paint a wall or something, but I really don’t have much money. I’ve heard that the big church, First Methodist, needs a custodian. I’ll write a note recommending you.
Take it to the senior minister there and maybe he’ll hire you.” The man took the note, got all cleaned up, went to the senior minister’s office, entered and sat down. He said: “I can polish your floors and make them sparkle. I can clean your windows. I can vacuum all your carpets.”
“That’s wonderful,” said the pastor. “Why don’t you take this sheet and read it through. If it sounds okay, I want you to sign it and go right to work.” The poor man said, “I’m sorry but I can’t read or write.”
“If you can’t read or write there’s no way you can work here. You see, we print out directions every week that tell how we want every room set up. Lots of times I might write you memos to tell you how I want things to be. I’m sorry, but if you can’t read or write there’s no way the job’s available.”
Disappointed, the poor man went outside and sat on the curb. He had brought a couple apples to eat for lunch that day. All of a sudden, a car screeched to a stop in front of him. A man put down the window and called, “Hey, Buddy, are you selling apples?” “No,” came the answer. “Well, I’m in a hurry, would you sell me that apple? I want a bite of lunch but I don’t have time to stop.” The poor man said, “I’ll sell it for a quarter.” “You got it–how about the other one? How much for it?” The poor man replied, “A quarter also.” So he sold the two apples and now had 50 cents in his pocket.
He hurried home and went out to one of many big apple trees in his backyard. He wrapped his arms around the tree and shook it until the apples fell down. He grabbed a bunch and went back to that curb and sold every apple he had that day. It didn’t end there, he sold more apples and other fruit and vegetables. Year after year he planted more trees and more garden and as he made more money he brought it home and put it in old coffee cans. The years went by and those cans began to really pile up in the kitchen until one day his wife, becoming a little nervous, said, “I think you’d better take all this money to the bank.”
He carted a truckload of coffee cans to the bank, hauled them in and set them before the teller. “Wow! How much do you have there?” the teller asked. “I don’t know,” he said. The teller started counting. Others helped and before long the Vice President of the bank came out and said, “Sir, do you know how much money you brought in?”
“No, I don’t.”
“It’s more than a million dollars. You are a millionaire! Do you want to open an account?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Well, that’s wonderful. Please read through this document and sign it.”
“I don’t know how to read or write, sir.”
“You don’t know how to read or write! Imagine what you might have been able to do had you been able to read and write!”
“I know, Mr. Banker, I could have been the janitor of the First Methodist Church!”
Last week I asked the question, “What does God see in you?” My point was that God’s creative imagination gives Him grand expectations and unbelievable patience in waiting for us to come around. God sees the millionaire where we only see the janitor or the poor fruit-peddler.
At the same time, God does not wear blinders that keep Him from seeing us as we are. He is more aware than we are of what we can become, but He is not the least ignorant of how far we have to go. He is also aware of how far He may have to go to make that possible. The cross may be, as Paul says, “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” but it is serious to God–dead serious. God is painfully aware that the only person who ever walked the earth without sin died because of the sins of others.
If there are any blinders to sinfulness, worn by anyone, they are worn by us. Most of us look through a pretty thick fog at our own sinfulness, but can see clearly every fault and failing in those around us. Occasionally, we overlook the sins of people we love, or we ignore the failings of very good, pious and upright people. God does not participate in such foolishness–He is not in the overlooking or ignoring business. God is most definitely in the forgiving and renewing business–even at great personal cost to Himself.
Sunday’s Gospel lesson is one of Jesus’ world famous stories–perhaps His best known. It is the story of a man who had two sons. In their own ways, both were stinkers. Like all God’s sons and daughters, both needed love and forgiveness. Both had a lot of room for improvement.
The setting in which Jesus told the story is very important. He was in the presence of two distinctly different groups of people. Here, we have the outcasts and tax collectors. There, we have the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. In between them, we have Jesus. A casual observer might quip: “Bad guys, good guys and God.” As I just wrote, however, God does not make such distinctions–both groups of people were sinners in need of repentance and forgiveness. Both were also people with potential, in need of His powerful presence and guidance.
The man’s two sons bore more than a casual resemblance to those two groups. The younger son was the party animal, wasting time, money and his life on useless things. Eventually, he ran out of money, fell on hard times and went home “with his tail between his legs.” The older son was the apparent good guy. He worked like a slave, obeyed his father in everything and was an all-around respectable person. We discover later in the story, however, that he may have been doing all of this grudgingly– without joy or love, but only out of a resentful sense of duty and a desire to earn a great fortune. His accumulated anger found its way to the surface when his younger, wayward brother returned home.
It is interesting that both sons seemed to believe that “You get what you pay for.” At least, they felt that they ought to earn their own way. Although he wanted to play God in that he couldn’t wait for his father to die before he collected his inheritance, the younger son felt he deserved it. After he had squandered it in loose living, he decided to go home and work for his father as a hired hand. He could still earn a living. The older son (likewise, if not more so) felt like he had earned his way. As a matter of fact, he deserved better treatment than he was getting–certainly better than that no-good brother of his!
Carl Sandburg wrote: “Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” The implication, of course, is that it will be a great day. But what if “they” give a party and nobody comes? When you read the story of the prodigal son and see the father waiting anxiously on the porch–ready every minute to run down the road and give his son a loving and forgiving hug, a gold ring and a renewing kiss–you need to capture a sense of a party waiting to break out.
Streamers and decorations have already been purchased and are just waiting to be displayed. The band is already hired and is on standby. The wine is chilling. Non-perishable refreshments are being kept fresh in a cool, dry place and the calf is being fattened and corn-fed out in the barn. All that is needed is the unlikely guest of honor–the bad boy who has no idea that such a party is waiting. How could he with no one around to tell him?
Perhaps people were wondering, “What if he doesn’t come?” Come or not, the father and the party are ready! When he does come, someone else is suddenly missing. They gave a party and someone didn’t come. It is very important to see that the father leaves the house twice–first, when the “bad” boy is still way up the road and second, when the “good” boy is out in the backyard pouting. Both need his love and forgiveness, but neither one knows it. One wants a job. The other wants recognition. Both can participate in his party. Note that last–it’s the father’s party. His joy is filled-up and running over–all over.
It’s God’s party. For reasons known only to Him, He is filled with joy when the “worst” of us, the “best” of us and all of us in between come to Him. The party is waiting to break out. God is waiting for you. He is waiting for your neighbor. He is waiting for the people in Accra and Zion and every land and city, starting with every letter before, after or in between. Go next door. Go out in the backyard. Go to a distant country…but go with God’s invitation on your lips. He wants everyone at His party.