The Way of Salvation: Home – lost and found (Joshua 5:9-12) (2 Corinthians 5:16-21) (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32)
Everyone here probably knows John Denver’s timeless song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Its famous refrain goes, “Country roads, take me home, to the place, I belong. West Virginia, Mountain momma, take me home, country roads…” Yes, this song is so familiar to us. But have you ever pondered over its lyrics? Actually, it sounds quite vague and implicit. We hear about some images of West Virginia, and there are some implications of a love story, but the song doesn’t tell any clear narrative, any story. Nonetheless, so many people still love this old song. Why? I think it’s because the song sings about home; it beautifully captures our common emotion and nostalgic memories related to home. Home sweet home, the place we belong… what does home mean to you? It must be hard to summarize, but for sure, it means something special.
In today’s Gospel story, there comes a special home where we meet one father and his two sons. This home looks like a good place filled with the father’s love and generosity. But unfortunately, his two sons don’t feel that way about their home.
The younger one feels like his home is not a place for him anymore. He thinks, as a grown-up, he should be out there, exploring the world. So he asks his father to give him the property he will inhere. This request can be heartbroken to the father, because in a way, it means, I wish you would be dead. Anyway, he receives his portion and travels to “a distant country,” and there, he wastes all his fortune on wild living. A severe famine hits that country. He is now desperate and hungry. So he even eats the food for pigs. At that moment, he finally sees who he has become and realizes who he truly is. “Right, I am not meant for this. I have home and father.” Now, he returns to home and asks his father to forgive him. And this gracious father not just forgives him but fully accepts him again. And out of his exuberant joy, the father even throws a big party for him. The father says, “Oh my son, you were once dead but now has come to life; you were once lost but now has been found.”
Now the older son has an issue with his father. He’s not happy with the return of his sinful younger brother. And he becomes resentful as soon as he finds his father bringing his brother back without asking him any responsibility. His discontent boils to the surface, and he bursts out complaining, “Over all these years I have worked like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed you. Yet you have never rewarded me. But now you are throwing a party for my sinful brother who has squandered your money? I can’t believe this!” Then, the gracious father reminds him of how blessed and beloved he still is, saying, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”
The younger son lost himself in a distant country, away from home, in pleasure-seeking and self-indulgent life that eventually led him into misery. Whereas, the older son lost himself at home, in hatred and in judgmental self-righteousness. Whether going away from home or staying right at home, both of them got lost and forgot who they truly are—the beloved sons of the gracious father. So both of them need to come back home, to their father and reconcile with him.
Today, I think, Jesus gives us this parable in order that we may find ourselves in both of them. In their weakness and brokenness, we may see ourselves. Take a look at this classic painting of Rembrandt, “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” The younger son is in his father’s embrace. The worn-out shoes with the torn heel and his bare left foot with the crusted skin show the hardships he had to endure. His cloth looks dirty and his back looks weakened by hunger. In contrast, there is the elder son on the right side. He is wearing a red robe like his father and looking good and rich. But he stands still and never goes closer to his brother or offers a hug. Grabbing a stick tightly, he looks down upon the reunion with judgmental eyes under the furrowed brow.
Sometimes we are like the younger son. We just follow our desire. We just let it drive us. We squander our time and money for morepleasure and let loose on excessive self-indulgence. Then, we realize our fault, get down on our knees and repent. And other times, we are like the older son. We behave like seemingly faithful Christians. But we find it so challenging when we have to forgive and accept others with God’s love. We often hate and judge others, losing ourselves in self-righteousness. We don’t see any need for forgiveness because we don’t even recognize these as our sins.
Yes, we, sinners, either like the younger son or like the older one, also have to go back home. But the good news for us is that the home is not far from us. This home is not somewhere in West Virginia, where country roads take us. Rather, this home is anywhere God dwells, anywhere God’s love and grace is deeply experienced. So I believe this home can be now within us, right here in our gathering. Even though we are weak and broken as humans, I believe, today God joyfully embraces us in this spiritual home. And God feeds us with love, dresses us with grace, and celebrates our return.
“Habitat for Humanity” is devoted to building simple and affordable housing all over the world for the people in need. You may know this group too. And they asked, to Habitat homeowners, volunteers, and staff, “What does home mean to you?” And here are some of their favorite responses. “Home is a safe haven and a comfort zone. A place to live with our families… A place to build memories… A place where we can truly just be ourselves. And whether our houses are big, small, fancy or modest, they are our shelters and our sanctuaries (Linda).” “Home means a future. Once we had a stable home, we could think beyond where we were going to live from week to week… Home is the base where everything begins (Kelly).” “I think that home is simply wherever you’re surrounded by people who love you (Mary Kate).” So true, home is the sanctuary where we find safety and comfort, love and support. Home is the base where we belong and where everything starts for a hopeful future.
Today I suggest we also add our response to the question, “What does home mean to you?” “For us, believers of Jesus Christ, home is where God the father always waits for us—his children. At home with God, we experience the grace that always forgives and the love that unconditionally accepts us. At home with God, we are always found with our sacred worth and beloved-ness no matter who we have become, no matter what we have done for good or for ill.”
Today, I invite you to make yourself at home here in this place with your sisters and brothers in God. I want you to come as you are, as weak or broken, feel God’s grace and love here, and be renewed and revitalized in joy and thanksgiving. Then, I invite you to make sure that this home is also available to those who are out there. I want you to open doors to everyone, to all God’s children. Make God’s loving and graceful family with true forgiveness and radical acceptance. With the heart and mind of Jesus Christ, I want you to embrace all the sinners just like us, welcome all the younger sons and all the older sons around us, give them the best spiritual food, and celebrate with them our beloved-ness, our kinship in our heavenly father. In this way, we may grow in faith and become more like our father day by day. And we may grow in love and make this place a sanctuary, a base for many people to truly belong. Home sweet home…may the Holy Spirit be here with us always. Amen.