Where are you running?

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Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 10, 2013

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Shera Nesheim, DM

 

Part ONE: Running Away…

“I
hate you! You’re dead to me!” I scream at my father. I have had enough. Enough
of being told what to do, enough of answering to someone, enough of playing by
someone else’s rules. Enough of dealing with my know-it-all older brother, and
not being able to be free to be me.

So
I pack my bags, and tell my father I deserve the money that is rightfully mine.
Then I hit the road. I don’t have a plan. I just need to get out. I feel his
eyes watching me go. I can practically hear his heart breaking. But I keep
looking straight ahead, there’s a big world out there. I don’t need them.

It’s
a long road to the next biggest city, but I don’t care. “Now I’m free.” I am
free to make choices for me and only me. I can do what I want to do, spend my
money where I want to spend it. I can stay up all night, hang out with my
friends, travel where I want, see who I want to see and be who I want to be.

It’s
fun at first. Everyone likes me. I have found lots of new, fun friends. But
soon the money runs out. And along with it, my so-called friends. I cannot
afford rent, and I’m not sure where I’ll sleep tonight. I’m not even sure if
I’ll eat today. But there is no work anywhere around here for me.

Okay,
it only takes a few days of being hungry and cold and I’m starting to get
desperate. So I find this guy, a pig farmer. He says I can have a place to
sleep if I work on his farm. Each day I wake up at sunrise to the smell of
those nasty pigs and I have to throw scraps of food to them. Oh, what I would
give to eat that pig slop. Yep, I’m that
hungry.

While
watching the pigs devour their food, my stomach growls. I have never been this
hungry, dirty and sad in my entire life. I guess looking back on life at home,
at least I always had plenty to eat. And a warm bed. I’m pretty much working as
a hired hand for this farmer, and I’m still starving. I know my father treats
his hired hands much better. They were never this hungry.

I’ve
messed up this time. I wonder if I went back home, even if I’m never to be
considered his son again, maybe my father would hire me to work. Then at least
I will not die of hunger watching these pigs eat their fill.

Part TWO: Running Home…

So
I quit my job. Didn’t have to pack my bags this time, I don’t have a thing to
my name, hardly rags for clothes and no shoes. This is going to be a long road
back.

For
miles and miles the landscape hardly changes. All I can focus on is lifting one
foot in front of the other. Was this the right decision? Will I even make it
back, and when I do will I be turned away? I guess I really did hurt them. I
told my father he was dead to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was already dead
to him. At this point, I’m desperate. My father is my only hope.

I
didn’t think I would make it, but my surroundings start to look familiar. I see
that old creek I used to swim in as a kid. And the tree I used to climb with my
brother. Memories start flooding my mind, and I can hardly look up when I see
someone running at me. At first I think I’m hallucinating. Surely I am dying
and I’m seeing a vision of an angel. But as I look closer, that can’t be an
angel, that smiling face looks just like my father’s face! Before I can say a
word, my frail body collapses in relief as his warm and loving arms wrap around
me. He laughs and kisses my head. “You’re home,” he says. “You’re home,” is all
he can say, over and over.

I’m
home. I cannot believe it. I start to cry. I need to explain to him, tell him
I’m sorry, that I don’t deserve his love. I do not deserve to be called his
son.

But
he won’t hear me. He’s yelling something. And suddenly I’m given fresh, clean
clothes. Some new shoes. Even the family ring. I smell a delicious feast being
prepared, and again I hear my stomach growling loudly. Except this time, in
anticipation. I get to eat! I cannot remember a time I was so happy. I cannot
remember a time I felt so much laughter and joy. Why would he celebrate my
return after all this time? After all I did to him?

Part THREE: Running…

How
many of you have run away from home? 

Whether
you were 3, or 8 or 18 most of us have tried to, and some of has have
successfully run away from home. Can you relate to this story? It’s a story Jesus
told, not just to tell it, but so that we might connect with it. Perhaps we’ve
been like the son who ran away. Who are we running away from? Our family? Our
job? Were we running from God?

Why
did we run? Did we think it would make us free? Maybe if we ran we’d have more
control in our life? Or by running we could hide from what scares us?

How
did it work out? Were we with friends? Or alone? Did we find ourselves hurting
other people and in a mess bigger than we could handle, much like the younger son?

Unlike
a Disney movie, this story doesn’t necessarily have a perfect, happy ending.
They began to celebrate. But not everyone in the family was celebrating. The
older brother heard what was going on and he was angry and even jealous. After
all, he was the good kid. He stayed
home, he did as he was told, and even though he thought he did everything
right, he had never been treated as well as his foolish younger brother. His
younger, stupid brother, who threw everything away and then just came home, like
nothing happened. Why should they celebrate? “Dad, aren’t you just encouraging
him to use you and make mistakes
again and not learn from them? He’s just manipulating
you. He just came home because he is hungry.
Not because he really loves us or wants to be with us! I still won’t claim him
as my brother. He disowned you, he doesn’t deserve it.”

This
is a typical family scenario. Can you hear this happening in real life?

And
the story ends leaving us wondering. We wonder if the younger son’s life has
truly changed? Did he treat his father better? Did he live out his second
chance at life in meaningful ways? Did his brother apologize to him and hug him
too? OR Did he really only return home with the agenda to get fed and have
shelter? Did he really mean it when he apologized to his father? Or did they
continue to hurt one another and make mistakes like normal families? We simply
don’t know.

This
is more than just a story to relate to. It is a promise filled with hope. Has
anyone ever loved you, even when you didn’t deserve it? Has anyone believed in
you, even when you gave them every reason not to? Even when we turn away, when
we run to other things in life that we think will bring us joy, hurt those who
mean the most to us, when we act selfishly or when we are jealous, we still
have a God, like the father in this story, who is always waiting for us to run
back into relationship with him.

God,
like the father, wraps his arms around us with unconditional compassion. God,
like the father, is foolishly and lavishly handing out grace from day one. God
celebrates joyously when we return home.

God
loves us, whether we deserve it or not and despite the fact that we have given
God every reason not to. God, like the father, tries to bring us into relationship
with even those who we think don’t deserve his grace. God’s compassion is for everyone,
even for those of us who have not earned it or for those we don’t think are
good enough for it. Our relationships – between us and God, between father and son,
brother and sister, neighbor and stranger – are mended and healed. The lost is
now found. God brings life from death.

This
story that Jesus gave us does not give us an ending. We write the ending of this story with God’s help. This story is our story, and it gives us God’s promise
that when we run from sin and run towards our loving God, we are embraced with
grace and compassion.

Part
FOUR: A new ending. So what ending will you choose to write?