A story for the lost
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.
“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?