4 Lent – March 27, 2022
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Today’s gospel story is so rich and there are several directions we could go. Over the years, I’ve focused on the point of view of the younger son, I focused on the older son’s point of view and I’ve focused on the extraordinary love of the father. This year, I am focused on how we just might be a combination of both sons. Because the reality of our world is that light and dark, birth and death, are paired together. We have the ability to find joy in our sorrow. Think about this – I just heard this expressed on a podcast – the most fundamental state of being human is wishing to return to the Garden of Eden. It’s like our source code, passed down generationally in our DNA. We long for heaven, we are essentially homesick for Eden.
There is folk tale about a poor man who had a dream. And his dream was his vision. And his vision was his dream. And his dream was of a heavenly city where everything was perfect. Growing very weary of his living, he decided to go in search of his heavenly city of his dreams. Gathering what few belongings he had, he started on his journey and he walked. All day long he walked. And as he walked, he had but one thought: the heavenly city of his dreams – how perfect it was going to be when he arrived. All day long he walked with this one thought, and it was evening time. He had not yet come to the heavenly city of his dreams. He decided to make camp right where he was. Taking out his crust of bread, he gave thanks to the god of the universe and he ate his crust of bread. And then just before he went to sleep, he took off his shoes and he put them in the path facing them in the direction that he would continue his journey the next day. And, then, the man went to sleep. Little did he know that in the middle of the night, trickster came along, picked up his shoes and turned them around, facing them back in the direction from which he had come. Early the next morning, the poor man awoke. Taking out his crust of bread, he gave thanks to the god of the universe, ate his crust of bread, and then he walked to the path, and he slipped on his shoes. And he began to walk in the direction that his shoes were facing. All day long he walked, and as he walked, he had but one thought: the heavenly city of his dreams and how perfect it was going to be when he arrived. He walked until it was almost evening. He looked off in the distance and he saw it! The heavenly city of his dreams! It wasn’t as large as he thought it was gonna be, and it looked strangely familiar. The poor man walked until he found a strangely familiar street, and he turned down the strangely familiar street, and he walked until he found a strangely familiar house. And he knocked on the door, and when the door was opened, he was greeted by a strangely familiar family. The poor man went inside and lived happily ever after in the heavenly city of his dreams.
So this poor man, well he had a new awareness, a new appreciation, a new power. Any time our consciousness is raised to the next level, it is a born-again experience, and we become like children once more.
The younger son in our gospel story today was longing for something that he believed he was missing in his life. He was longing for heaven, for the garden of Eden and he made the decision to separate from his family in search of something better. We’re told he didn’t find it, that, in fact, he lost everything and his life was so much worse. He recognized that he needed to change direction and chose to return to his father’s home as the prodigal son.
Now, the older son, who stayed and worked hard and did all the right things for his entire life resented the fact that his father was welcoming this younger brother home with open arms. And not just that, but having a celebration, a joyful celebration! How unfair it all was! And then his father tells him, “…you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”
I think both brothers were searching for the heavenly city, both were longing for a garden of Eden life. They just went about finding it in different ways. The younger leaving his father’s house and the older trying to do all the right things. Like the folk tale where the poor man goes off in search of a better thing and winds up discovering he was living in a place where heaven was accessible all along, we can recognize that light and dark, birth and death, exist together, that brokenness and beauty can exist simultaneously. As human beings we have the ability to face our pain and transform it into something else, something beautiful, but we need to go into the party.
Our father is inviting us into the party. Some lessons can only be learned as we laugh and dance. Some hearts will only be healed at the feast.
Heaven is not a place, it’s not a geographical location. It is not coming with signs to be observed so one can say, “There it is!” in the parking lot or on the street corner. Heaven is in the midst of you. And with a newborn curiosity, everything becomes a new experience and we become as fascinated with the box as with what’s inside.
The story ends with the older brother standing outside. Does he go in? The power in this story is the older child’s. The power is yours, Your brother has gone inside; he’s done breaking hearts for the time being. Now your father stands in the doorway, waiting for you. Waiting for you to stop being lost. Waiting for you to come home. Waiting for you to take hold at last of the inheritance that has always been yours.
So, did you know that your choices are so powerful. You get to write the ending to the story. You get to write this ending.
It’s getting cold outside. The sun is setting, and the party beckons. What will you do, as the music grows sweeter? Will you go in?