Sermon 03-10-2013

The Way Home:  There’s No Place Like Home

Lent 4 – March 10, 2013

Luke 15 – The Prodigal Son (The Lost Son)

Reverend Jan Wiley



When I was a kid we had a big station wagon and if we were going on a trip or would be traveling late at night we would fold all the seats down (this was before seat belts) and spread out a comforter and take our pillows and blankets and all four of us kids would snuggle in the back while my Dad usually drove and my Mom was up front.


Somehow that memory, of being dark and almost cocooned with my family, always evokes feelings of being safe and accepted and belonging.  It was a place of serenity and peace – as if nothing could mar the connection between my parents, my sisters, my brother and me.


But, of course, it was a feeling that probably lasted as long as it took for a sister to grab my blanket or my parents to yell back to keep it down and go to sleep.


And we sometimes spend our lives trying to re-create those moments of serenity and peace – because real life is so much more difficult and those moments of absolute peace are few and far between.


Our relationships are much more complicated.  We’ve been using the movie The Way to unpack our Lenten journey.  And we have seen Tom, the father whose son died walking the pilgrimage route in northern Spain, be so tied up in grief and anger that he is closed up, almost tortured by the painful relationship they had.


Tom is struggling with the death of his son and especially that there relationship had deteriorated so that Tom did not give his son Daniel his blessing as he embarked on his journey to see the world.  Now Tom walks the pilgrimage route himself and in brief moments he “sees” his son along the route as he travels. 


Though Tom probably would identify himself as a father, in terms of today’s biblical story, Tom is also the Lost Son.  He is lost and alone physically as now both his wife and son have died.  But worse, he is lost spiritually and emotionally.  Walled off emotionally after his wife died, his relationship with his son suffered as well.  Though you know he is Catholic, his faith is no longer real to him, and he goes through the motions, trying to find a real connection to this absent God.


But as he walks the Camino, and begins to interact with others, he also begins to understand his son.  And in that understanding, his relationship with his son begins to heal. 


Tom has linked up with 3 other walking companions on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.  They stop in a small town at a little bar and a teenage gypsy boy steals Tom’s backpack.  Tom and his friends follow the boy into the gypsy area but by then the boy has disappeared.  The boy doesn’t know that in the backpack are the remains of Tom’s son Daniel who died on his first day walking the pilgrimage route and whose ashes he sprinkles along the way.  Tom is devastated and is about to return home to America when the boy’s father discovers his theft and with his son in tow, returns the backpack to Tom with everything in place.  He then invites Tom and his companions to a gypsy celebration as a way to extend hospitality and make amends.


Though the evening celebration is dark and a bit hard to see, the emphasis is on the celebration that these simple people have with music and dancing and wine. The gypsy father Ishmael  tells Tom that he needs to walk beyond Compostela and go all the way to the sea and leave Daniel’s ashes there.   


In today’s movie clip, we see the two fathers both struggling with the role of being a father.  Ismael, the gypsy father, wants his son to learn obedience and to do the right thing.  He throws the party but his son is only allowed  to watch from the window.  Tom, who was so hard on his own son Daniel when he chose to give up school and travel the world, begins to understand even more deeply his own son Daniel’s vision for his life and the blessing that he truly wanted from his father. 


The next morning as they leave town, Tom asks Ishmael if he can go a bit easier on his son.  Ishmael replies that “Our children are the best and worst of us.”  Tom sees in Ishmael his own struggles with his son Daniel.  As Tom receives an apology from the boy and quietly offers the boy forgiveness, you begin to see Tom both forgiving his son and forgiving himself.   You don’t see it in that moment as much as in what follows as we see Tom and his three companions enjoying one another’s company, having fun, sharing meals.  We will see Tom using his healing skills for Youst’s tired eyes and for the first time you see Tom truly laugh and embrace his new friend with a measure of joy. 


Toward the end of the clip, listen for the words of Alanis Morrisette’s song Thank U:

How about me not blaming you for everything How about me enjoying the moment for once How about how good it feels to finally forgive you


Play the clip now


The end of the clip juxtaposes two different journeys in stark contrast to one another.  We see three monks carrying a cross and flogging themselves as they walk the pilgrimage and then we cut back to Tom and his friends.  It is the moment when I realized that the self- hate that Tom has been carrying in his grief, his cross,  is beginning to be transformed into forgiveness, community, and the words of the Alanis Morrisette song:  How about how good it feels to finally forgive you. 


But the one Tom is finally forgiving is not so much Daniel but himself.  And we discover one of the truths of the biblical story.


No matter how far we travelled when we were lost,

no matter how much God forgives us,

no matter what God forgives us for,

we have to decide if we will join the party that God throws

when we are found. 


That’s Daniel’s true struggle. 

Will he accept God’s forgiveness and love?

And that is often our struggle.  Will we accept we are not perfect and allow God to love us anyway?

Will we let go of our grief, our grudges and our guilt, and attend the party?


We don’t always get the chance in this lifetime to fix all our mistakes.

Tom couldn’t go back in time and fix his relationship with Daniel.  But in coming to new understandings of his and Daniel’s relationship, Tom begins to heal and to re-interpret that relationship.  As Tom admits that he was lost, so now he allows himself to be found – found by God and by those with whom he travels.


Can we let go of those things that make us lost so that we will let God find us once again? 

So that God can welcome us home and throw us a party? 

Because the party is coming. 

But will we be ready? 

Ready for the party which is Easter when God says once and for all,

You are mine.  You are loved.  You are forgiven. 


Let us remember the words of the Father:

Let us eat and celebrate.  For this son of mine, this daughter of mine, was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now she is found.  And they began to celebrate!

The invitation to the party is here in this one story.  Perhaps the most majestic and loving story of the Bible.  God wants to throw you a party!

Will you come?  Will you celebrate God’s most amazing love for you!

God wants you to attend the party.

Because there’s no place like home!