"What the world needs now is love sweet love. That's the one thing that there's just too little of..." Good song, isn't it? Jackie DeShannon sang it in 1965. But even though it's old, it's still true, isn't it? We need more love - in our world, in our country, in our government, in our cities, in our workplaces, at school, but especially in our families, in our homes. And here's the thing. Everyone knows it. Go down the street and ask every single person you meet if they'd prefer more love or less love in their lives. It's a no brainer. We just need to love more. That's it. There's the answer. All your problems are solved. I can say Amen and we can move on with our lives worry free, right?
It's not that simple, is it? That song was released decades ago. A lot of people heard it. And those same people still have problems, don't we? What gives? Maybe it's because we don't really get "love."
So Jesus tells us a story. Look up Luke 15 in your Bible and let's try to make some sense of this story. There's a dad - a land-owning, apparently prosperous dad with two sons. And the younger son asks for his inheritance. Didn't he know that that comes after dad dies?
Essentially, that's what the son was asking for - his dad's death. He didn't want to be under his dad's control. He didn't want the rules. He wanted the freedom.
Weird, isn't it? A story that was told nearly 2,000 years ago still speaks to us today. Why? Because we all know what a struggle relationships can be. We've felt it when someone put stuff over their relationship with us. We've felt the pain of that father when someone hasn't appreciated the love we've given.
Husband and wife, parent and child, friends, co-workers... Show me any relationship and I will show you one that's strained and stressed. Why? Because human relationships always involve sinful human people. Relationships are supposed to be about love. But way too often, our relationships are about love lost. Why? Because, all too often, we love ourselves more.
Look at verse 12. "The younger one said to his father. ‘Father, give me.'" That's far enough. We've gotten to the key sentiment. "Give me." That's the sinful part of each of us that demands things from our loved ones, caring only about ourselves and not for one minute thinking of the collateral damage. Why does this world not have more love? The answer: Selfishness.
I challenge you to think of one broken relationship that wasn't broken because of selfishness.
• An affair: That's easy: "My lust is more important than my God or my family."
• A Divorce or even just problems in a marriage: You know, "All we do is fight, we've got irreconcilable differences" and all that. That's just two people saying, "My pride and pigheadedness are more important to me than my God and my family."
• A teenager saying "I can't stand my parents. They don't understand me. I can't wait to leave this house." That's the same as saying "I want all the privileges of being an adult with none of the responsibility. My feelings are more important than my God or my family."
• Or even just the guy complaining about the wife nagging him to spend more family time, "She just doesn't understand how hard I work and that at the end of the day, I'm tired." That's just a father saying, "My job, my chair, and even my TV are more important than my God and my family."
And the list could go on all day. The reason relationships struggle is simple. It's because you are selfish. It is because I am selfish. And we're so selfish that we don't even see what our selfishness does to others because we're so focused on the way someone else's selfishness is affecting us. That leaves us with nothing but love lost.
So back to the story. How did selfishness work out for the son? In verse 15, we see that this boy who wanted nothing but to be free from the oppressive relationship with his father who loved and provided for him...this same boy has to, real literally, "be united" with a foreigner who won't even give him pig food. And this formerly respectable Jewish son who left the oppressive places of honor in a rich man's home is now slaving for those unclean animals. His "me-first" plan didn't work. They never do. The promises of "freedom" that sin makes are nothing but empty. And in our search for freedom from God's rules, we find ourselves bound to the consequences of those sins, and our only freedom becomes the choices between sin and sin. That sin that seemed like such a good idea in the moment never works out like we thought, does it? It actually steals our freedom and makes us slaves.
And it is not until we realize that, it's not until we come to grips with that, that we can ever begin to rebuild our relationships. And you might be surprised with how that rebuilding happens. Tune in next week, where we'll see God fix the problems our selfishness causes. But for now, here's a hint: Forgive!
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.