March 14, 2010
SERMON OF MARCH 14, 2010
M. Bruce McKay
Pilgrim-St. Luke's United Church of Christ
“Mission: Possible – Being Homeward Bound”
2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
I'm sittin' in the railway station
Got a ticket for my destination
On a tour of one night stands
My suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one man band
I wish I was
Home, where my thought's escaping
Home, where my music's playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me
Silently for me
Anybody heard these words before?
Anybody know the longing for home that they suggest?
If you’re in your 50’s – or older – the chances are much better that you recognize this first verse to Homeward Bound, a song written and sung in the sixties by Simon and Garfunkel.
No matter how old you are or what your taste in music happens to be I suspect that you know something of what it’s like longing for home – longing for a place where thoughts are escaping, music’s playing and love lies waiting.
The first time I remember longing for home was in the fall of 1964. I was 14 years old. I had never spent more than a night or two away from home and my parents had just dropped me off in front of Dunbar Hall, a dormitory at Phillips Exeter Academy, where I’d spend the next 4 years hundreds of miles from where I’d grown up in northern Maine.
During those 4 years I felt a longing for home in a way that I’d never known before – a longing to be homeward bound that has diminished and changed through the years, but never entirely gone away.
Do you know what that longing is like?
No matter what our home life was like growing up – No matter how much time we spent away from home as a child or young adult – No matter how far we’ve traveled from the homes we’ve known – No matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey – there is something in all of us that knows what it’s like to long for home.
Deep within each of us is the longing for a safe place, a healing place, a place where we can fully and freely be the person we were created to be – a place where we are accepted and affirmed for who we are – a place where we are loved and forgiven.
We all long for such a place to be and belong. We all long for home.
Now there are some who say such a place doesn’t exist - at least not on this side of the grave.
There are some who say that this longing for home can only be satisfied in heaven – but not on earth.
Jesus would say that’s baloney – or perhaps he’d use another b word to make sure we got the point.
Jesus said “the Kingdom of God is within you” – or “among you” – depending on how you translate the Greek. (Luke 17:21)
In other words, the home that we all long for is both within and among us - in the God in whom we all “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
The “tax collectors and sinners who were coming near to listen to Jesus” in today’s text from Luke were longing for home in a world that told them they didn’t belong.
The Pharisees and scribes, meanwhile, were grumbling among themselves saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Their own longing for home was buried beneath their belief in their own righteousness. They were convinced that they’d found their way home – and it was a place for people, like themselves, who met with God’s approval. It was not a place for those who’d wandered so far from home that they wondered if they’d ever return.
So Jesus told them a parable.
It was Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, GA who said parables, like the parable of the Prodigal Son, are like a Trojan house. They look harmless, but if you let them in – Bam! They’ve got you! (Pulpit Resource, William Willimon, Jan.-March 2007, p.45. Other material in this sermon his drawn from this resource.)
That’s what happened to the Pharisees and scribes. That’s what happened to the elder son in the parable – and it’s what happens to us if we don’t acknowledge our own deep longing for home.
As Jesus tells the story, a young man demands his inheritance from his father and takes the money into a “far country” – a long way from home. He blows it all on the wild side of town and goes down in history as the “prodigal” – the lavishly spendthrift son – the one whose passion for personal pleasures leads to extravagant and reckless spending. When he’d spent everything a famine swept through the land and he found himself feeding pigs – something no self-respecting Jew would ever do.
In effect he became a non-person – someone who no longer was part of the family and the community he’d once called home.
There’s no mention of his mother in the parable, but if there was, we might hear him singing the song that goes, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. A long way from home. A long way from home.”
The gnawing hunger in the pit of his stomach wasn’t just for physical food – it was a hunger for home – a hunger for a place to belong – a hunger for the love that alone could heal his sin-sick soul.
All of us know enough of what it’s like to spend time in a “far country” to know that isn’t where God intends for us to be.
We find ourselves in that “far country” whenever we try to satisfy our hunger for home with bread that perishes rather than the bread of life itself.
And we’re all addicted to bread that perishes.
In one way or another, we’re all addicted in our culture to worshipping the gods of affluence, appearance and achievement. (Marcus Borg)
We’re all addicted to looking for home where it can’t be found.
And we all need to “hit bottom” the way the prodigal son “hit bottom” in a “far country” if we’re going to satisfy our longing for home.
Harry Chapin was pointing to the longing in the hearts of a generation of prodigal people in the 1960’s when he sang: “The cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man in the moon…When ya comin’ home? Son, I don’t know when – but we’ll get together then, y’know we’ll have a good time then.” (Pulpit Resource, p.46)
“But when he came to himself,” the text says. “When he came to himself” he began the journey home.
When he came to himself he knew he’d lost everything except that which was most important.
As Art Buchwald reminds us, “The most important things in life aren’t things.”
When he came to himself he realized that the most important thing in his life was that he was still the son of his father – he still had someone to whom he belonged. Despite all he’d done to distance himself from his father’s love, he hadn’t changed his identity – his true self. He was still the son of his father. (From Fear to Love – Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen, p.16)
In the same way, we are still the daughter or son of our Creator God – we are still a child of God – no matter what we’ve done to distance ourselves from God – no matter how far we are from home we still belong to the One who “knit us together in our mother’s womb” – the One who longs for us to be homeward bound. (Psalm 139:13b)
“But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
And before he could get through his well rehearsed speech - before he even got to the part of about being treated like a hired servant rather than a son, his father was giving him the best rode he could find, the finest jewelry, and a new pair of shoes. And he decided to throw the biggest party anyone had ever seen.
And Bam! The soldiers start pouring out of the Trojan horse, surprising the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them.
Jesus tells this parable for their healing and for ours. He tells this parable to heal the longing for home that the Pharisees and scribes refused to acknowledge.
And he tells this parable to us for our own healing – the healing of our own hungry, homesick hearts.
God is running toward us, ready to lift us, twirl us around and say to us, “I love you. I’ve always loved you!”
And in case we don’t get the message he throws us the biggest and best party we’ve ever seen.
In Bible Study last Tuesday someone said, “I always thought I came to Bible Study looking for God. What I’ve learned by coming is that God is always looking for me.”
God is always looking for us. Standing their, scanning the horizon, watching, waiting, ready to come running to us, welcoming us home as if we’d never left!
Our job – our mission, if we chose to accept it – is to acknowledge the longing in our hearts for home and live our lives determined to be homeward bound – determined to be the child of God we were created to be – determined to join the party God is throwing for us all the time.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional Middle-earth the small, hairy-footed people known as hobbits have an interesting custom. Whenever a hobbit has a birthday he or she doesn’t receive gifts, but gives gifts to family members and friends. He or she throws a party for others rather than have a party thrown for them.
At first this seems a pretty strange and not very fair way to celebrate one’s birthday. But hobbits have large families and many, many friends. So someone is always giving you gifts and throwing a party in your honor! There is always a party going on. There’s far more feasting, music and dancing than those of us who celebrate our birthday once a year can begin to imagine. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2, p.116-120)
God is ready and waiting to throw us the biggest and best party we’ve ever had – 365 days a year.
Sometimes accepting the invitation isn’t all that easy.
The Greek word translated “elder son” is “presbuteros,” from which we get the word Presbyterian. The elder son represents not just the Presbyterians but countless numbers of “good church folk” who play by the rules the best they can – and get offended when forgiveness is offered to people like the prodigal brother.
“Lo, these many years I’ve served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a calf that I might celebrate with my friends, but when this son of yours came, who’s devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed for him the fatted calf!”
Who doesn’t know something of what it feels like to be the elder son?
Who doesn’t think, at least at times, that the father went overboard in throwing such an extravagant party for someone who’d treated him so badly?
Who doesn’t think that the elder son would be right in refusing to attend the party that’s going on right before his eyes.
And yet, what I hear Jesus saying in this parable, is that none of us – none of us can satisfy the longing in our hearts to be homeward bound – the longing in our hearts for home - if we insist on being right rather than happy or whole – if we insist on being right rather than join the party being thrown all the time by the extravagant, eternal and forgiving love of God.
Someone who knew how to party was Sr. Karen Klimczak. Sr. Karen knew that God was throwing a party for her every day of her life. This became clear in a letter that she wrote in her journal just before Holy Week in 1991. After having a premonition that she would die violently, she wrote a letter to her killer.
Three years ago this month, Sr. Jean Klimczak, Sr. Karen’s sister, read this letter in court as Craig M. Lynch was sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of Sr. Karen on Good Friday 2006 at the Bissonette House, where she directed a program for former inmates who were returning to life outside of jail.
I don’t know what the circumstances are that will lead you to hurt me or destroy my physical body. No, I don’t want it to happen. I would much rather enjoy the beauties of this earth, experience the laughter, the fears and the tears of those I love so deeply!
God has been so gentle with me, so loving…God spoiled me so much.
Spoiled me with a beautiful family
Spoiled me with special friends
Spoiled me with a supportive religious community
Spoiled me especially with [my] guys and those associated with Hope [the previous name of the Bissonette House].
I am so grateful for all that life has touched me with
*the smiles and tears
*the gentle rains and ferocious storms
*the sunshine and dark clouds
I always loved the challenges of life because they brought me so much closer to the Lord who always held me, in his arms.
Now my life is changed and you, my brother, were the instrument of that change. I forgive you for what you have done and I will always watch over you, help you in whatever way I can. The most difficult experiences in life can sometimes reap the greatest growth for us.
Continue living always mindful of God’s (His) Presence, God’s (His) Love and God’s (His) Joy as sources of life itself – then my life will have been worth being changed through you.
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice for this your brother was dead, and is alive (again), he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32)
In the home where our love lies waiting there is a party going on - all the time!
And we’re all invited!
Praise be to God – the only home we’ll ever need!
Note: This sermon draws on “The End of All Our Exploring” by James C. Howell in Pulpit Resource by William Willimon, January – March 2007, p. 45-48. It also draws on material in “A Place to Practice Love” written by Becoming the Authentic Church, Washington, DC.