I once heard John Wimber describe how he first became a Christian. You can’t imagine a more ‘outside’ outsider to Christian things.When he finally got down to going to church with his wife and family for the first time, he’d already resisted someone taking his kids off him. (”You’ll get ‘em back after Sunday School” he was told), and when he and his wife sat at the back, he said “Why are they all looking at us?” She hissed back, “Probably because you’re the only one smoking!”. He put out his cigarette on the carpeted floor and a steward, wearing a neat suit and a carnation, stared at John and the carpet for a few moments. When the minister started the service John said loudly, “What’s he talking like that for?”. “I don’t know – they all do it – they teach them the funny voices in college”, whispered his wife.
Well, unbelievably, John became a devout and powerful Christian believer and, even more unbelievably, an ordained minister, a lecturer in Christianity, and a famous founder of many churches. But when he had become a leader of that first church which he attended, and after he had bought dozens of people to meet Jesus and hundreds to come to church, from his old pagan background, including drug addicts and dealers, wounded people, with shattered marriages and damaged lives, one elderly lady nabbed him one day and shaking with anger said “You have ruined my church”. And Wimber admitted it, and said “I know”, and he put his arm round her and cried with her ,”but I didn’t know I had to clean ‘em up first.”
Listen to how that wondrous chapter, Luke Chapter 15, begins – it’s the one containing the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the two lost sons: verse 1 says:
Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering round to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2
Little wonder that the parable which we call ‘the Prodigal Son’ featured two sons, one who became a n’er-do-well wastrel reduced to eating pigs food; the other a self-righteous, angry prig who resented the fuss made over his returning brother.
Father, we marvel that you welcome with open arms sinners who return to you, and even have patience to reason with the respectable self-important folks who think they own you.
Now read Luke Chapter 15 again, verses 1-2 and 11-32.