A Hunger for Home Luke 15:11-20 For the last two weeks we have been reflecting on unity and connectedness

. In the sermon two weeks ago and in communion last week we witnessed how the Gospel calls us to join with the broken body of Christ so that we can share in his resurrection. And so this morning as we look to living in God’s blessing we see that our path is in many ways already set out before us. Living in God’s blessing means walking with Christ. This is correct enough as a theological statement but likely unhelpful in itself for the paths we are called to walk down daily. This morning we are invited to hear a story of one particular path that leads into God’s blessing. This is the parable of The Prodigal or Lost Son. This is one of the most well known stories in the Bible. It is a story of rebellion, brokenness, bitterness, grace and forgiveness. Now why is it that a story would be more helpful to us than simply affirming the statement that living in God’s blessing means walking with Christ? What is it about stories that engage us and capture our imagination? What was the last story that held your attention? Perhaps it came from reading a book, watching a movie or listening to a friend. On Friday I attended a conference on family and sexuality in Mennonite history. There were some who thought the conference worthwhile just we could know that at one time all those words were said together in one sentence. Throughout the day we heard several family stories. Some of the stories happened years ago in a far away place and others were unfolding in the speaker’s life. Theology is not a universal language but stories are. Encountering a meaningful story is like finding someone that talks your language in a strange land. It identifies with

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us. If it is a story close to our own we wonder how they handled the situation. If it is new story we wait anxiously to find out what happened. Stories help us to know that we are not alone. When Chantal was working in mental health I came to realize that if someone was struggling with a mental illness for the first time it was often significant for them to hear the story of other people’s experiences. It would both help them understand themselves and know that they have been people who walked before them. Now what does it mean for us to walk with Christ in this story? Or perhaps more accurately what does it mean to ask Christ to take this story and walk with us in our lives? Our story this morning begins like many do. This story begins with an image of wholeness, a man had two sons. These are the main characters of this story and they all begin together. There is no reason to think that this family is perfect or that everyone gets along but this family is together. What does it mean in your life right now to think about wholeness or being complete? What does it mean to you to think about things being ‘as they should be’? Is wholeness a memory or a present reality? We carry with us images and memories of events or times in which wholeness was experienced in our self and in our relationships. But it seems to be a law of human nature that wholeness is never permanent, things are not always as they should be, and so we find in our story that the younger son approaches his father and says, give me the inheritance that is coming to me. Why is it that we cannot preserve our image of wholeness? Why can’t we keep things exactly they way they are? It seems to be a common tendency of parent’s to idealize a certain time in their children’s or family’s life and wish that it or they would just stay that way forever. But

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before you know it they start exploring their sexuality, using words that they probably didn’t learn from you, hanging out with friends you don’t approve of or perhaps becoming a friend you would not approve of. Then as they grow up at least some of them start forming very different views about their future then what you were thinking of. And so at some point a parent begins to hear their child asking for their inheritance. Perhaps they are not looking for money but they are asking to have possession of the life that you were holding in trust for them. Until then you had a strong level of control over how that life was being managed or ordered but no more. All that you have sacrificed and given to them is suddenly transferred into their account and you have little say in the matter. I am not sure if I have shared this already [I have been here that long already!] but I can remember clearly when I was around 13 years old that my father finally realized that I had no interest in entering the family business of farming. Now I did not know then that I was essentially asking for my inheritance at the time. The question of farming was never one that I had to make; in my mind it simply was not an option. I do remember being downstairs and some how knowing that they were talking about me. That image of wholeness that my father carried with him that had been passed along for generations in his family was being taken from him. His inheritance, his image of wholeness, was being taken from him. To have this story walk alongside our own life we must begin by acknowledging our own images of wholeness. This image may be past or present wherever we find that image our life and this story tells us that life does not always allow it to stay the same.

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And so the younger son approaches his father and asks to have all that he has coming to him. And the passage tells us that the father divided his property between them. What was whole is now divided. How many times have we seen and experienced a parent clinging to an image of wholeness for their family and further how many times have we actually seen parents successfully preserve that image intact after they have struggled against their children’s wishes? It takes up only one short line in the story but it is perhaps the most heavy and painful. In the Greek it says that the father divided his bios. This is the word for life. The father took his life, all that he had cared for up till that time, and he split it open. This is a mourning process for the father. As we find out later in the story he recognized that he may never see his son again and that his son’s leaving may in fact be his death. And so very quickly the wholeness of his life, the unity of his family is split open and divided. I don’t think it is necessary to prod any of you too much to recall the experience of a family divided, whether it is between spouses, among siblings or as here between parent and child. Did the father do the right thing? Could he have done anything differently for his son? Did he push his son away in showing too much concern for the older son? We are not given these details. In the story the son is on his way out and this is the reality the father must contend with. He may have regrets about the past but in his position he takes his bios, his life, and gives of it what he can to the younger son and lets him go. And in the story we find that in the very next line that not many days later the son gathered everything and journeyed into a foreign land, and to the parent’s worst fears, wasted all his money on reckless living. The younger son has taken all that his parent

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offered him and he wasted it. In addition it says that after he spent everything there was a great famine in the land and he began to be in need. The younger son was given his life, he was given his freedom and he blew it all and ended up in greater bondage than he started with. Do you think that the younger son set out to go bankrupt? I highly doubt it. I am not even convinced that he had wrong motives for his journey. He may well have just been interested in seeing the world, of coming out from the shadow of his older brother and finding himself. Now were there some clever people that he met along the way that ‘helped’ him spend his money with the promise of status, power and sex? Probably. Things did not go as planned and dad was not there to help him out. The thing he thought would make life all he hoped it would be proved to be insufficient, it did not sustain him. Our story is now of a family divided with one half in mourning and the other half in desperation. And with a famine going on around him there were no easy places to turn and so it says that he hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. That the only work that the younger son finds is feeding pigs of course adds insult to injury as the pig is an unclean animal according to Jewish law. As bruised as his ego may be the younger son still has enough pride or naiveté to think that he can make it on his own in that distant land. It is important to note that the story specifies that the son hires himself out to a citizen of that foreign land. The son still believes in the possibilities, in the allure that drew him to that land. Here we see addictive tendencies surfacing in the young son. He had been riding high while his inheritance lasted. Now he is hoping for just one more

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drink or one more roll of the dice so that he can feel everything that he had before. But he is left now scrounging for nickels so that he can pull the lever of a slot machine that has nothing to give him. Why do we continue to draw water from a well that has proven itself dry? All of us have at times taken advantage of the good gifts of someone close to us and squandered them on some insatiable expression of addiction. Addiction is of course a strong word and it should not be used lightly. However, somewhere under its umbrella we can also discover the addictive tendencies that surface in our lives. We find it in our preference of looking for distractions instead of conversation of using sarcasm instead of honesty of isolation over fellowship of quantity of work to quality of family and friends. Any activity that continually draws us to itself without building or sustaining a meaningful or healthy lifestyle boarders on the addictive. An addiction takes and does not give. The younger son still believes in the promises of that foreign land. But his stomach, his deepest need, remains unfulfilled. And so we read that he longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. And then he experienced something that any of us would be lucky to have happen to us in our lives. It says that the younger son came to his senses. The promises and illusions he was carrying about life were unavoidably exposed. The younger son was seeking freedom just over the hill and found instead a land of bondage. He tried to cut off any need he would have for someone else and became dependent on anyone who might help him. Whenever we try to liberate ourselves completely from our relationship to our neighbour or try to control the intimate relationships around us we seldom gain the freedom we thought would lie ahead.

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In the opening pages of City of God Augustine also speaks of a foreign land, of the worldly city that we tend to run towards. He characterizes this city as representing humanity’s pride in its own ability and says, “Therefore I cannot refrain from speaking about the city of this world, a city which aims at dominion, which holds nations in enslavement, but is itself dominated by that very lust domination.” This is a land of endless slavery which disguises itself as a pursuit for freedom. We work relentlessly to try and free ourselves from the unknown factors in life. We attempt to set up security in all things but in time we often become mastered by those pursuits. It is in this place that the younger son has come to his senses. The diner table of popularity, of status, of power and of predictability has proven to be empty and the younger son found that this place was in fact a land of famine where his deepest hunger could not be met. The younger son is stripped of his illusions he recognizes now that the principle thing in life, the first order of business is to be fed by a reliable source. He is looking now and has the ability to recognize true nourishment. And so the younger son remembers his home. But he cannot remember it in the same way. He does not even consider his place as a son but thinks of the servants who always had enough to eat. The younger son takes nothing for granted. He hopes simply to be fed. And so the text tells us that he arose and went to his father. The word arise is common enough both in Greek and English but it is not insignificant that is also used to speak of the resurrection in the Gospels. The father confirms this at the end of the story saying that his son who was once dead is now alive. However, what is important is to note that the younger son’s resurrection is not a final event it begins a journey, but this journey is altogether different than the one he first set out on.

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Before we read any further, before we hear the wonderful words of a parent who has no shame and runs out to embrace the child who has dishonoured the family let’s take a moment to look at the son who is journeying home. This is our image for the journey, the way, of forgiveness. This is also our image of living in God’s blessing. Listen to how Jesus describes the blessed earlier in Luke. Blessed are you who are poor Blessed are you who hunger Blessed are you who weep Jesus’ words capture the description of our blessed younger son. How is it that we can gather around this image as one of living in God’s blessing? This is the son before the father’s embrace and the feast that he offers him. The younger son is living in God’s blessing already on his journey home. If we are to take this parable and Jesus’ words of blessing seriously then it would be appropriate to say that to be blessed is to recognize your poverty. To be blessed is to recognize our deepest hunger when the resources around us have dried up. But it is more. To be blessed is to recognize your poverty, to come to your senses, and then to arise and begin the journey towards home. And so as I began this sermon it is fair to say that living in God’s blessing means walking with Christ, because Christ is the one who journeys with us on our way back home. Christ has come from the city of God to this foreign land and he is the one offering himself when we feel poor without any resources to respond to the demands around us. Christ is the one on whom we feed when we find that the world’s table is found to be bare.

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Christ is the one who will comfort us in the face of loses and brokenness that were never meant to be. Christ is one who takes our divided lives and families and journey’s with us on the way to wholeness. It seems that whenever I reflect on the Gospel it lead me think about things like hunger and poverty and brokenness. And so every now and again I begin to think that the Gospel is actually a very a dark thing and this confuses me. But perhaps it is in these places of darkness where the Gospel is most clearly heard and received. In speaking of Jesus’ response to the illusions of the world Rowan Williams says that the people looked to Jesus to continue to feed them according to their superficial needs and hungers. Jesus rejects this role and Williams writes that “Jesus in yielding to his failure, his appalling mortality, finally refuses these projections – as if only by this failure of all that has been fantasized and longed for can he at last ‘say’ what is to be said; as if the silence of his dying is the only possible language for his gospel.” This is no depressing message. This is good news. The younger son is blessed in his rising and his turning home. He blessed to know his hunger for God. He is blessed to know the poverty of what the world can offer, he is blessed in his weeping because those tears are the product of the divine and human touching in the deepest places. This has been our story for this morning. This story lacked the details of many of the family stories I heard at the conference on Friday. This story, however, is not meant to be one among many. Here is a place for all our stories. May we find ourselves here. Recognize where wholeness has been fractured. Let us stop trying to pacify or distract our deepest hunger and let it bring us to our senses. And where we have squandered our lives may we acknowledge it as such before God and those we have harmed. Then in that

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place may we arise and set for out for home. Know that you are blessed because it is Christ who walks with you on that journey. And as the story tells us to remember that there is one who scans the horizon waiting for lost sons and daughters. There you will find the embrace of a father and the care of a mother in our God who is calling us home. There you will find the Table set celebrating that you are alive and that you are valued. May we all learn to give and receive at the this Table of Blessing and Forgiveness. Amen.

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