Text: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
This is our 3rd week sticking with this story we hear Jesus telling in Luke’s Gospel. One week at a time we’ve been coming alongside the main players --first the younger son, last week the Father, and today, the older son. And we’ve been coming alongside with a view to what is it that each, from their own very different circumstance, has to show us about the practice of beginning again?
“This is the one I’m looking forward to!” I’ve heard a few people say, anticipating today’s connection with the older son. Me too by the way! He’s the one who doesn’t come off so well … kind of mean-spirited, ungrateful, resentful. A guy who, it seems, should have been able to find it in himself to be happy but couldn’t. He has some standards after all.
I’m guessing that by the end of the story, many of us, we feel for him more than for the younger son. The father’s already got his back. But what about the older son, what about his heart and where he’s coming from? Which may in fact be to say “what about me, where I’m coming from” -- those of us who are inclined to identify with him, share his view, resonate with his response.
Jesus, the storyteller, has a way of holding up a mirror that confronts us with ourselves which isn’t always the picture we want or expect or hope to see. So, why might we look forward to this one?!
Maybe because we are being given to trust that God’s Word is Life! … that there will be something for us that’s redemptive here. Maybe because Jesus through his storytelling has a way of opening a way for the Spirit to meet us and move in us … move us more and more into the realm of Grace … should we have ears to hear, receptive hearts -- the kind of openness I think I’m hearing reflected in the eagerness of that sentiment: “this is the one I’m looking forward to!” ... like we’re daring to expect something heartening instead of ducking for cover!
So it seems to me we’re ready, not just for the story, but for the Spirit to be at work among us this morning.
I can’t tell you how long it’s been … and he has the nerve to walk back onto the property. Didn’t call. Didn’t ask. Didn’t damn well know his time around here was over a long time ago. Nothin’s changed in that kid -- not a thing. He’s as slippery as the day he was born. Can’t believe we come from the same mother.
But if you want to know what’s really got me vibrating with anger, it’s my father. That kid shows up and what does my father do? He throws the biggest party we’ve ever had on this farm. I don’t get it… I just don’t get it. He basically robs my father and blows every bit of it livin’ the high life and my father says “let’s celebrate”?? And then, if you can believe it, my father asks me to come and be part of it? I tell you, I don’t get it. I don’t get him. What was he thinking? That’s what I want to ask him-- tell me, what really were you thinking?
In the moment I didn’t ask. But here’s what I told him … this is me, speaking to my father! … it just came pouring out … “Father,” I said, “you know how I have slaved for you all these years;
I never once disobeyed your orders; yet you never gave me so much as a goat to celebrate with my friends.”
He said something back …something about my brother being alive. I don’t remember; I didn’t care. What could he say that I’d want to hear? I just left. I just left ... got as far away from the noise as I could.
It looks like the end doesn’t it. Already it was over between the brothers. In fact the return of the younger only serves to drive a bigger wedge in the rupture that was there. And yet, from the father’s perspective, it doesn’t have to be over. From the father’s perspective, this crisis bears the potential of a new beginning. If we listen closely to his pleading, he imagines more is possible … more between the brothers and more between him and his sons.
How can the older son, how can anyone of us hear the father’s pleading for what it is? He’s not asking the older brother to come and celebrate bad behaviour. The party isn’t about what he did with his father’s property. The party is about “my God he’s alive!” AND it’s not as though what the father is asking of his older son is small potatoes. He is asking something big … that the anger and resentment and judgement --all those energies that drive us apart from each other-- that they not be allowed to overshadow the wonder of this moment … that this son of mine, brother of yours, who might well have been dead came walking back onto this farm ALIVE! How can we not celebrate? Of course there is much to work out … but at this very moment, what matters is he lives!
Of course it’s too much to ask in this moment. For that’s not where the older son is. A longing heart that is hollowed out by grief is far more easily moved to enter this celebration than one that is filled to overflowing with resentment. But that doesn’t stop the father from asking! In fact it is his asking that opens up the possibility for his son to make the move he wouldn’t dream of making.
It is his asking that provokes those painfully telling words …
“You know how I have slaved for you all these years … never once disobeyed your orders … you never once gave a party for me.”
You can hear it, can’t you … this revelation of what his relationship feels like … of what his life feels like … grinding enslavement, unappreciated, uncelebrated.
I wonder if he knew that before those words came tumbling out? Or has he not stopped long enough to listen for how it is with his own soul? Maybe never thought to ask, or to imagine that it could be different … as though his lot was just a given with no room to move.
Whether or not he was in touch with any of this before these words were spoken out loud, it seems this is the first he’s been able to say it to his father. Maybe it’s been boiling away in him for months and this is the first he’s prepared to lay it down and leave it there at his father’s feet.
There is something about his outburst that marks a turn, or at least carries that potential … the way it reveals and names where he’s been. The way it allows for his own honest acknowledgement to himself, to his father … of the state of his heart, his take on his life.
To begin again involves coming home to the truth within us. Even, especially if that is to discover the kinds of attitudes, energies perceptions we hoped not find there.
A few seasons ago some of you may remember we sang this refrain as part of our prayer of confession …
You desire truth in our inward being,
you desire truth in our inward being,
you desire truth, you desire truth.
There are some glimpses here, aren’t there, about the practice of beginning again --not the least of which how it involves coming home to ourselves … allowing ourselves to honestly see what’s there. Not to bury what we don’t like but to let it inform us. And not to sink further into the mire of our regret or hurt or whatever it may be, but the possibility of laying it out at the feet of the one who meets us wherever we are with a love that only desires our healing, our well-being, our connection … our honest connection.
And how it is that there is no leaving behind the things that destroy us if we don’t first lay them down.
Lingering with the older son shows us too that where there is separation there is pain. Where there is pain there is a story. Part of what enables our beginning again is being in touch with the story … and noticing how we tell it … noticing what we hear as we pay attention to our language … what it tells us about where we’ve been … and what needs healing.
To begin again is to hear the invitation to step into the wide horizon of Grace, where the point, the goal of our lives, and anyone else’s, is not about being perfect but about finding ourselves being perfectly loved.
Maybe that’s what we are given to hear in the father’s response to his son … the words he couldn’t take in at the time in the way they were intended … “all that I have is yours … you are always with me”
ALL that I have … is yours … all my love.
Can you hear it?