Today I share with you words written by the former pastor of my parent’s congregation, Karen Asmus-Alsnauer.

He had been lost for a long time.
In fact, he had been lost
for so long
that his family
could hardly remember
the time before he went away.

He had been lost for so long,
that nieces and nephews
he never met
grew up
and began to reflect
the smile and the talent
of an uncle
they had never seen.
He had been lost for so long,
that neighbors sometimes
forgot
there was another son.

It's hard to talk
about the lost,
and so most of the time,
they didn't.

Their first words
were sharp and angry ones --
How can he just walk away?
Who does he think he is?
Wait till he gets home!

Later,
a long time later--
their words were different.
They were shaped by fear
and filled with regret.
Is he alone?
Is he afraid?
Is he ashamed?

His mother's words were the hardest.

Long after she quit cursing the phone--
Long after she stopped
praying by the mailbox,
she would sit on the porch
and watch,
and wait,
and tell his story to the darkness.

 

And then,
little by little,
without really knowing when
or how it happened,
they ran out of anger,
and ran out of fear.
Eventually,
they even ran out of words.

After that,
all they had left was silence.
You see,
time is the enemy
of those who are lost.

In his family,
a whole generation
of weddings and funerals and births
created a world
he wouldn't even recognize.

And yet,
even then,
even after all that time,
a niece would quirk her brow
or a brother
would sit back and laugh,
and for a moment--
just that one moment--
he was right there
beside them again.

It wasn't that no one wanted him.
It wasn't that no one cared.
Each of them secretly
looked for his name among the dead
and searched for his face
among the homeless.

It wasn't that.

It was something else all together.

There was something in him
that wanted to be lost--
something broken.

There was something in him
that never quite healed
when it was hurt,
that never quite knew
when he was home.

 

 

And so,
when I read this story--
this story about the prodigal son,
I sometimes envy its happy ending.
Sometimes,
I want to shake that older brother.
I want to tell him to quit whining
and get busy roasting that lamb
and planning that party.

That older brother is lucky.
He just doesn't realize it yet.

Because in this story--
in his story,
the lost one comes home.

For some families,
there's no such happy ending.
For some families,
there's no ending in this world at all.

Sometimes,
the lost just stay lost
and the people who look for them
spend the rest of their lives
trying to fill the holes in the family album.

But maybe that's why Jesus told this story
in the first place.

Maybe that's why Jesus spent
so much of his life
eating with the forgotten
and walking among the lost.

Maybe that's why he tells us
the Story of the Lost Sheep
and the Story of the Lost Coin
and the Story of the Lost Son.
one right after the other.

After all,
families where the lost one comes home
don't really need a story.
Their stories are written in laughter
and remembered in joy.

Maybe Jesus tells this particular story
for the other families.
For the mothers who curse a silent phone
and pray beside a mailbox-
For the people who still watch
and wait
and hope that someone will finally come home.

Oh,
there are a lot of other lessons
we can learn from this story, too--
Lessons about forgiveness,
and conversion;
Lessons about repentance
and generosity and respect.

It's a story that invites each of us
to search our hearts,
examine our lives,
and open our arms wide.

It's one of our most beloved stories,
and for good reason.

But at a most basic level, it's a story for the broken.

It reminds us that
even as we wait,
God is already at work
searching and healing
and gathering up.

It reminds us that
God doesn't just love us
when we are bathed and clothed
and waiting to be found.

God loves us
right here and now,
right in the middle
of our brokenness
and despite all our fears.

God loves us
even when we don't want to be found--
Even when we resist being healed-
Even when we decide to live with pigs.

This is a story that promises
God will risk everything-
sweep every corner,
search every wilderness,
walk down every road,
just to lead that one person back home.

It's a story that promises
no matter how far,
no matter how lost,
no one,
not anyone,
is ever lost to God.

 

 

Children’s sermon

“People are not postage”

 

Anyone know what this is? (show a scale for letters)

This is a postage scale.  You put a letter on it like this, weigh it, and then look up the amount of postage for how much the letter weighs. Every letter has just the right amount of postage, no more, no less.  Every letter gets what it is worth.

 

Today’s gospel lesson is the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Anyone know this story? 

 

It tells a story of a younger son who demands his father’s money, spends it all wrecklessly, and then comes back home.  If you were to put him on the scale, what do you think he would get?

 

In the story, the son gets more than what he is worth, more than what he deserves. He doesn’t have to pay the money back; he doesn’t even have to be a servant.  He gets a party!

 

What Jesus is saying is that in God’s eyes, people are not postage.  God’s love is so vast that people get far beyond what they deserve.  This God is unbelievably generous!

 

As people who love and follow this God, we are also called to be generous.  God could have put us on the scale and given us what we deserve, no more, no less.  And most of us would come up empty.

 

Instead God has given us more than we deserve: love, forgiveness, and a place to call home. 

 

So we don’t see people as postage, either.  If God has been so generous to us, why not give more than another person deserves?

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