|MY BROTHER'S KEEPER
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
April 22, 2001
Ankara, Turkey - Associated Press. “In a statement issued today, the Turkish government admitted that the Ottoman Turkish Government made a tragic mistake in ordering the 1915 planned genocide of the Armenian nation. The official government statement apologized to the Armenian people and asked for their forgiveness. In a related story, Ahmet Sezer, President of Turkey, admitted that he had recently become a Christian and called upon his people to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
Unfortunately, this is fiction. But, what if it were true? How would we respond? This morning we want to focus on grace and forgiveness.
I invite you to turn with me to Luke 15 - which you will recognize as a parable Jesus shared - the parable we usually refer to as The Prodigal Son. The parable is known to us. A wealthy man has two sons. One day the younger son - dreaming of adventure and freedom - the younger son says to his father, “Father, give me my inheritance now.” So, the father divides up his wealth and gives the younger son his share and the younger son takes what is his and goes off into the world.
As you’ll remember, after a time the younger son’s money is all spent, his so called “friends” have disserted him, and he’s out starving looking at the unclean pig food as the only thing between him and starvation. Finally, he comes to his senses and says to himself, “What am I doing here living like this? I’ll go home. Beg my father’s forgiveness. And, maybe my father will let me work as a servant.”
So the younger son heads home. While he was quite a ways down the road - his father - who apparently made a habit of looking down the road hoping his son would one day return - while he was quite a ways down the road - the father sees the son - sets all dignity aside - pulls up his robe and runs down the road to meet the son - grabs the son and starts kissing and hugging him.
While the son is trying to beg the father’s forgiveness the father cuts him off. He’s already forgiven him. The father orders the servants to bring out the best robe - a symbol of status. He puts a signet ring on the son - a symbol of authority. He puts sandals on the son’s feet - sandals of the type worn only by free men. Then the father orders the fattened calf - the one being fattened up for a special occasion - orders it killed and a celebration feast to be prepared. (Luke 15:11-24)
The point of what Jesus is trying to get His listeners, and us, to see is how valuable to Him and God is each sinner who repents and the tremendous desire of God to lavish His grace and forgiveness upon us. Its that same love and grace and offer of forgiveness that brought Jesus to the cross for us.
Usually - when we hear this parable - we stop there. But, there’s a second prodigal in this parable - the older brother. Thinking together about grace and forgiveness - this morning we want to focus on that older prodigal.
If you have your Bible open to Luke 15 - look with me starting at verse 25: Now his older son - that is the older son of the father - the older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And the servant said to him, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.” But the older son became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat - I’ve been faithful and obedient - forget giving me the fattened calf - not even a goat - so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours - do you hear the poison in that statement? - when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.”
Years of resentment, sibling rivalry - seething beneath the surface - boiling but kept under control - years of anger and bitterness - finally it all comes out into the open and explodes. There’s no grace - no forgiveness. We can almost see this son - there outside the house - stamping his feet - waving his arms - yelling. “Father, its just not fair!”
Verse 31 - and this is the point Jesus is making here: And he - the father - said to him, “Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we - notice that - But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.”
God’s grace is not fair. That’s why its grace. We don’t deserve it. And that’s why its hard to be gracious. To love the unlovable. To forgive the unforgivable. Its not fair. And yet, God calls us to be gracious towards others as He is gracious towards us - forgiving of others as He has forgiven us.
Looking at this practically - I invite you to turn with me to another familiar account - another pair of brothers - Cain and Abel. Please turn with me to Genesis 4.
Adam and Eve had two children. Cain, the firstborn - was a farmer - strong - muscular. When Eve named her first born son “Cain” - meaning “begotten” - in her mind was the idea that Cain was a part of God’s plan of restoring His relationship with mankind - the relationship broken by Adam’s sin. Cain is favored by his parents - a child of destiny.
The second born - the younger son - is named “Abel” - meaning “frail.” He’s the hunter - the weaker of the sons who is physically unable to till the soil. Abel is the less favored - the one struggling to find his identity. Imagine what 30 or so years of sibling rivalry, reinforced by parental favoritism, would have done to the relationship between these brothers - arrogance verses resentment.
In Genesis 4 we read that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord. Cain brings fruit and grain from his fields - maybe even arranged into a beautiful and aesthetically pleasing display. Very pleased with himself - Cain - in pride - lays his offering before God. Abel - honoring God from the best of his flock - brings a bloody, stinking, dirty carcass.
God is gracious to Abel and uses him to teach about sacrifice. God is pleased with Abel, and his offering. He’s not pleased with Cain, or Cain’s offering. Cain - the first born - arrogant - becomes angry. His whole demeanor is changed. God warns Cain, “This attitude of yours is going to lead you into sin.”
Genesis 4:8: And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. It all comes out - the years of rivalry - the anger. Its ugly. Abel is lying dead in the field.
Verse 9: Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
As in Jesus’ parable - once again the older brother speaks - without grace. “Why should I be responsible for my brother? Why should I be gracious to him? God, I don’t like what you’ve done. Its just not fair.”
The consequence comes in verse 10 and following. God curses the ground. Cain can try to farm. But, the ground won’t produce crops for him. God sends Cain out to wander the earth - separated from his mother and father. Cain lives on with the burden of having murdered his brother.
Practically, we need to be aware that there is a consequence when we refuse grace. The parable of the prodigal ends with the older son refusing to be gracious - removing himself from grace - and remaining outside. Cain murders his brother and is cast out.
Philip Yancy, in his book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace,” tells a true story about Daisy - a girl born into a working class Chicago family in 1898. Her father was a drunk. Cowering in the corner, sobbing, Daisy would watch helpless as her father kicked her baby brother and sister across the floor. She hated him with all her heart. One day Daisy’s father ordered his wife and 9 of the children out of the house. Daisy was left alone to stay with her father - who later abandoned her.
Many years later the father returned. He had ended up in a Salvation Army rescue mission - had repented and come salvation in Jesus Christ - sobered up - began studying the Bible - had experienced God’s grace and forgiveness. And now he was asking for forgiveness. Daisy - living in hatred could not forgive him.
Daisy - though she tried to be unlike her father - even though milder in her attitudes and never touching alcohol - Daisy yelled and beat and humiliated her six children. She never apologized or forgave. Daisy passed on her anger and bitterness to her daughter Margaret.
Margaret - even though she acted with more restraint towards her four children - she passed on her anger and bitterness. One day, in a fit of anger, Margaret yelled at her son Michael, “I never want to see you again as long as I live.” Despite attempts at reconciliation by others - for twenty six years Margaret has refused to see her son.
And so it goes. Michael living with a woman - leaving her. Living with another - leaving her. Then married. Then divorced. Angry. Living without grace - unable to forgive.
We’ve all seen families like this. Maybe you live as a part of one. Issues that have been brought down through generations and across oceans and continents. Or, maybe issues that today are only a seed in your heart.
There’s no way to sweep our feelings under the carpet - or ignore them. The effects are too great. Refusing grace tears at our hearts - burdens our spirit - can make us emotionally and physically sick. Refusing grace effects the lives of everyone around us - at home - in the community - at work. As we are as individuals - so become our families - and churches - and nation.
Imagine what our children learn about God’s love - and grace - and forgiveness - when God’s people refuse to be gracious. Imagine how our testimony in the world is compromised. And yet, imagine if we could learn to be gracious and forgiving as God is gracious and forgiving.
On the morning of December 7, 1941 - Jacob DeShazer was doing K.P. duty - peeling potatoes - when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On April 18, 1942 - Bombardier Sergeant DeShazer - full of hatred for the Japanese took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet - with Colonel Doolittle’s bomber squadron - on the first American bombing run over Tokyo.
When his bomber ran out of fuel - DeShazer was captured by the Japanese - taken to Tokyo - then Shanghai - and tortured. His bitterness and hatred toward the Japanese only increased. His hatred for his Japanese captors was so violent and so vicious that they were afraid of him and kept him in solitary confinement.
In a remarkable way he was given a copy of the Bible and he began to read through it. Reading through the Bible - in the loneliness of his cell - DeShazer came to understand God’s gracious offer of salvation. He repented and accepted Jesus as his Savior.
DeShazer changed. His hatred of the Japanese changed completely. He began to love his captors and to show grace towards them. The Japanese were astonished by what had happened to him. Instead of resentment and viciousness - he became the most cooperative prisoners and prayed for them. After the war - DeShazer’s testimony - of God’s salvation and God’s love being able to change the human heart - DeShazer’s testimony was printed in a tract and distributed in Japan.
The story doesn’t end there. On my bookshelf I have a book written by Mitsuo Fuchida entitled, “From Pearl Harbor To Golgotha.” Captain Mitsuo Fuchida was the man who led the Japanese air raid against Pearl Harbor - the man who gave the command, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” - the command to drop the bombs on December 7, 1941.
Mitsuo Fuchida was a hero in Japan after the war because of his military service - but his heart was empty. One day he was given the tract that told of DeShazer’s change of heart.
From somewhere he obtained a New Testament. He began to read it with growing interest. Finally, he came to the account of the crucifixion and the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” - Jesus praying for the soldiers who were about to thrust a spear through His side. (Luke 23:34)
Fuchida realized that this Jesus - who could love His enemies and pray for those who persecuted Him - who abused and spitefully used Him - this Jesus was showing a quality of life - a grace - that no natural human being could possibly show. Fuchida’s heart broke and he accepted Jesus as his personal Savior.
Fuchida wrote to DeShazer and eventually they met in Osaka. The man who hated the Japanese - and the man who had helped to put that hatred there. Now, brothers in love with the same Savior and with each other.
That is a radically different picture of life than most of us are used to. Its a quality of grace - of forgiveness - that can only come from hearts surrendered to God’s work and power within us.
Turkey and the genocide is an extreme. The Turkish denial is hard to deal with. There are a lot of issues - wounds - denial - hatred. We pray that one day the Turkish people might be able to deal openly and honestly with the reality of what happened during the genocide. And, that we will be gracious and forgiving when they do.
Yet, there are circumstances that confront us - even today - that beg for us to be channels of God’s grace and forgiveness - when we see family members - friends - co-workers - even brothers and sisters in Christ. Relationships that tempt us to be angry - bitter - jealous - to relive past wounds - words that were said but never retracted - never apologized for. God gives us opportunities to be instruments of His grace - His forgiveness - His healing.
Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. If it means being an instrument of God’s grace.