The Epistle of Jeremiah the Prophet to the Modern Church – Historically Prodigal

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I think almost everyone who attended Sunday school during the sixties and seventies has a memory of the high tech presentation systems used to etch memories in the minds of the young people who never missed a week. In fairness to this generation, attendance was not high because of the quality of storytelling but rather the willingness of a parent to use soap or the back of their hand to quickly put an end to any attempt to present an alternate to the fast paced drama that would unfold on the felt board every Sunday morning. We were told they were parables but we cared more about pulling the hair of the girl in the row in front of us or throwing a paper airplane at the teacher’s head. The felt board was a marvel of modern artistry but the stories got old really quick.

The felt board was a new back then, the story, not so much.

The son gets all he wants but he wants more. The father makes available a large inheritance in the future but the instant gratification of the here and now is too tempting. The father remains committed to the son in spite of the son’s infatuation with pursuing life outside of the father’s boundaries. The father knows best but the son thinks his way is better. We sat in the Sunday school classroom and heard these stories of Jesus meant to communicate a deeper truth about ourselves. Add a felt board and they came to life in all their two dimensional glory. Who could forget the prodigal son felt cut-out being manipulated across the felt board creating the appearance of leaving his home behind? Who could put out of their mind the father coming out to the gate every day to see if his son was coming home? Who didn’t get excited when they saw the two felt cut-outs embrace once reunited? That story never got old. No matter how many paper airplanes ruined the historical accuracy of the felt board re-creation or hair pulled girls’ screams created less than appropriate sound effects, the father always let the spoiled son come back.

Green screen technology or digital animation are the new standard, the story, not so much.

Sunday school teachers no longer suffer from the repetitive stress injuries they once sustained as they attempted to bring to life the felt figures in the story of the prodigal son. The screams of little girls after getting their hair pulled and the crisscrossing flight of a repurposed bulletin still become unwanted parts of the story even though the felt board has been replaced by a flat screen. The biggest advantages of the cinematic version of the story are none of the characters go missing and it is impossible for misbehaving children to put the characters in unsavory positions on the felt board when no one is looking. No matter how many paper airplanes buzz the screen or hair-pulled girls’ screams created less than appropriate sound effects, the father always let the spoiled son come back.

The Prodigal Son- the characters are new, the story, not so much.

I have made the case throughout my series called The Epistle of Jeremiah the Prophet to the Modern Church that the warnings God placed on the lips of Jeremiah could, with a little cultural adjustment, be warnings to the modern church. If you think the jump from Jeremiah’s day all the way to our day is a giant leap then let’s make a pit stop during Jesus’ time on earth.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ Luke 15:11-19 (NIV)

The ending changed, the story, not so much.

“I myself said, “‘How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 3:19-20 (NIV)

God has been at the gate offering to be a father to His children but as in Jeremiah’s time, Jesus’ time and I would suggest now, many of His children have become unfaithful to Him. Ask yourself, have you taken your inheritance as a follower of Christ and squandered it living in the ways of the world? Have you embraced your “bride” designation while cheating on God with the world? Where are we, the modern church in all this? Are we still caught up in “wild living” or have we lost so much of what God has given us that we long to fill ourselves with anything just to keep going? God has, is and continues to offer to be our father, to reinstate our place as His children, to honor His bride.

Are we done flirting with the ways of the world?

Are we done being unfaithful to Him?

Are you ready to put an end to being historically prodigal?

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