Lost at Home

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Lost at Home

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, March 4, 2018, the third Sunday in Lent. “Dissonance” sermon series.

Text: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

 

I have a tendency to get lost. My discombobulated sense of direction is legendary among those who know me best. I get turned around if I go in one door of a building and exit another. My college friends laugh at how I’d get lost in our then small, university town of Georgetown, TX. In the days prior to a soothing mechanical voice on my phone guiding me to my destination, the struggle was real.  I’ve been told I’d figure out a way to get lost even at home.

 

That’s where we find the elder son in the parable today:  lost at home.  Unlike his younger brother, this son is not prone to wander, has stayed home, has nurtured his “type A” tendencies, has followed the rules, has gotten it right, has done everything he could to please, to be the good son, to do what was asked, to produce and achieve and succeed.  How could he be lost when he likely is praised and respected by many in his community?  This son never ran off or strayed from the righteous path. So why would anyone suggest that he is lost?

 

The late priest and teacher Henri Nouwen describes home as “the center of my being where I can hear the voice [of God] that says, ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.’”[i]  When the elder son returns from his work in the fields to find a party underway for his deadbeat, profligate brother, the exchange he has with his father is telling. The father uses an affectionate term in addressing his eldest son:  teknon, my child, “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Lk 15:31)  But the elder son’s initial response reveals that even though he’s stayed at the house where he was raised, he is lost—that is, he doesn’t know where he is—he doesn’t acknowledge the voice of love for him or the gifts always available and already sustaining him.  He’s at his house, but he doesn’t know he’s also home, loved, provided for, and favored by his father.  He’s already got what he needs, but is looking for something else to prove and affirm his worth. “Don’t you see how hard I’ve worked and how I’ve done all the right things and never given you cause to suffer because of me?  Don’t you think your ability to throw such a lavish party even after wasting your money on that son of yours is because of how hard I have worked to make this place successful? Where’s my barbecue?”

 

Jesus tells this parable in response to the grumbling and disapproval of the “good people”—the Pharisees and scribes, the rule followers, those who are trying so hard to follow God’s wisdom and way. These good folk are concerned that Jesus fraternizes with people of questionable reputation. Ostensibly this concern is because the religious purity laws were clear that to eat and drink with—and even to touch—such folk was against the rules.  So these saints of the church stand outside the halls of feasting and dancing where “those people” seem carefree and are having all the fun and are getting the attention the good folks crave.  And I imagine many try to do the right thing; maybe they even try to be understanding and gracious; but they still find themselves angry and judgey and grumbling, despite themselves.

 

Jesus’ allegory in the parable presses gently but firmly upon those who want to do good—all the rule-following “elder sons.”  Anyone here have something in common with the elder son?  I, of course, don’t care at all about doing the right thing or being faithful, successful, or liked