I never post sermons on here. They tend to sound antiseptic on here. Plus: I don’t tend to be that grammatically correct.
However, I was looking at a very familiar passage last week for Mothering Sunday (my least favourite Sunday ever. Most books/web pages that give ideas for all age stuff for this day make me almost wretch. Maybe I shouldn’t have written that: but that is why I blog): Luke 15:11-32, the story of the Prodigal Son. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then a tendency not to listen.
As I began to doodle/make notes on Monday, a line came to me, I wrote it down and kept writing.
As I said last week; I don’t want to say ‘God gave it to me’ (cos when you hear it, you end up thinking ‘I can see why: probably glad to get rid of it), but this is it. It is a ‘narrative sermon’. The last time I wrote one was about a dozen years ago. Maybe the writing itself was therapeutic: it is certainly no great beauty and neither is is autobiographical.
It is, however, very long….
So I am stood under the hot Galilean sun, sweating, wondering.
I came here for a break; I wasn’t focussing really….
I was with the crowds listening to a holy man talking. Sometimes hearing them makes the fog life a bit. I couldn’t follow what he said about sheep and coins: too busy thinking about life…my life. Sometimes it gets you like that: the best things can happen and you miss them; too much going on.
I have been faithful: worked my turn at the synagogue. Always been there for people; I think. A decent bloke: never did any harm to anyone. It’s a cliché, but I thought it was true.
Then he started talking about sons- my attention lifted- his words cut through the fog of worry. I have sons: my youngest is trouble…can’t work out what is going through his head most times. The wife and I have almost come to blows…. Once he was easy: I remember nights when he would sink into my arms and I could smell that sweet child smell. Then he grew and changed- wife says he is still the same- but I can’t see it. His friends mean more to him than us & I can’t stand most of them.
Anyway, where was I? Yes: this Rabbi & that story. It wasn’t just the mention of the sons; it was what the youngest one did. He asked for half his share of the wealth. At that point I just shouted out ‘No: this ain’t right’ and people around me said ‘shhhh’ and got angry. I wanted to hit them- glared at them. And he…..Jesus…just stopped and looked at me.
Asking for half your father’s money and property! That is ridiculous…
But then suddenly I could see in his son, my son. I mean he has never asked for that, but I can sometimes see that look in his eyes ‘I WISH YOU WERE DEAD’. That is what that younger son was saying: well once Jesus said that I started listening- I was furious. And then he leaves…walks away.
At first I thought ‘Good riddance’, but I was sad- I mean, mine, I don’t understand him….but going away? I hope he will eventually be like the others- settling down in the same village, getting a trade: supporting us. But then in the story- silly sod, he went and wasted all that money. I mean I’d like a bit of that freedom- what it was exactly Jesus didn’t say, but I could imagine what ‘dissolute living’ is like….I’ve watched others try it on: outwardly disapproving but inwardly thinking ‘I want a bit of that’.
And it is a good story with a moral: he ends up feeding the pigs. I didn’t like a Rabbi talking about pigs; thought it was just trying to scandalise us unnecessarily. At that point I was satisfied: it should have ended there though with ‘no one gave him anything’. You do bad: you walk away- you may have your fun, but I remember those words ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord’.
But he kept going- I didn’t need the speculation. The good morality tale had calmed me down- gave me order in this strange world…. Then he starts talking about what the son did. At first I thought; well he is going on a bit, like Rabbis do- they can never quite finish their story if they think they have made a good point….. but the son comes to his senses and ….wait….. ‘whoa there’.
Stop right there…he wants to go back home and be a slave. Well this is just wrong. This wouldn’t happen. I told you I was wound up: I wanted a simple story- something to pick me up, give me strength and I thought I had it. There is no way back from here. But he told the story so well that I stayed and listened, just managing to keep the anger at bay.
The son’s calculations were ok, I suppose- I mean it is meant to be a story. By rights, he should be flattened- you’ve made your bed, now lie in it…. But the grovelling was pleasing. I have often imagined people who have crossed me doing just that; it is satisfying; I guess we all long for that secretly sometimes…someone coming back crawling.
But I was disturbed from my day dream as he started to talk about me…sorry, the father. I was about to yell out ‘Just bloody stop right there….STOP IT’….. I don’t behave like that. We don’t behave like that, us men. Especially me. You don’t run, you don’t show your emotions like that…. He does not deserve anything like that- ever. I don’t understand what would have driven the Father to wait and wait either.
That word ‘compassion’- it ain’t just a feeling: the kind of thing you experience for a bit before your stomach rumbles and you think ‘Time for tea.’ It describes your whole body filled with emotion, longing, hope, reaching out…. I have never felt like that. He did….and he ran and he ran….despite myself I began to feel elated and full of joy and pain, and longing and Hope…… and I didn’t know why. And the crowd began to look at me…must have thought I was insane. I thought I was insane….
And the hugging, the ring, the fatted calf….I mean I was by this stage…. Not angry… but puzzled…well I didn’t know what I was thinking. It somehow all made sense…although I did not know what sense. Just that the hot sun which was annoying- just something else that made the day wrung out, bland…suddenly seemed wonderful and alive.
Then he started talking about the other one- the older son who had been faithful but angry…. I wasn’t paying so much attention by then. Although I did wonder how my other sons would behave if this had happened. You know: I think they would be ok. Maybe it is me that had to change.
Man, I was lost- I just stood there & then sat down, smiling, relieved, lost in the moment. After a while I became aware of a shadow…it was him. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back.
‘Thank you’. I said
‘You’re welcome’ He said ‘But what for?’ He continued.
‘The story…I mean I don’t normally like stories…I wasn’t ready for one… not today. But that one hit the spot. So thanks.’
‘So: what are you going to do?’
‘Go back: tell him. My son. Before it is too late’
‘And what then?’
‘Dunno- maybe Love more, judge less, give thanks more…I’m not sure’
‘How about follow me…sounds like you are on your way already’
And that was it….he moved on…. And I went back home. Things were different. Well- I was different. I felt I had come back ‘Home’ (with a capital H)- the place where I had started out from but got lost on the way. Even though things were different, many things were not resolved- they never are….. but Home & looking for those away from Home. That’s more what I do now.