Luke 15:1-3; 11-32 Listen
March 10, 2013 the fourth Sunday of Lent
Roy W. Howard
Welcome home may be the finest two words we can ever hear. Just two words and yet they open up a universe of warmth, kindness and acceptance.
When James Byler was flown out of the Kunar Provence in Afghanistan in a medevac helicopter he had no idea where he was going. What he knew was the pain that persisted through a haze of medications. He arrived in Landstuhl Medical Center near Ramstein Germany. Wheeled on a stretcher to a critical care room, he saw his parents and they saw him. Without his legs, severe lacerations on his face, broken fingers and ribs, one eye swollen shut – their eyes still met. The only thing that seemed right to say at that moment came from the lips of his mother – welcome home! James heard that phrase many times over the next few months, in many places, including the first time I saw him a few weeks later when he arrived at the Bethesda Navy Hospital, still one-eye shut, hands in splints, face torn and tattered, and of course, no legs.
I can only imagine the horrors he has seen and experienced at such a young age. Welcome home, is a short hand way of saying you are safe here. I could have said I love you – because at that moment, I did. And still do. But hey, you don’t just say to a Marine who doesn’t know you – I love you. But I could say Welcome Home – and he got it. He said what a good marine will always say, thank you sir.
Some of you may recall what it’s like when the phone alert tells you it’s 12 AM and you are far away from home. Really far away – in every way possible – out there; there is no chance of getting home on time. Then the alert reminds you it’s 2 AM, when you begin to find a way back where your parents have called all your friends parents, paced a hole in the living room rug, chewed their fingernails, fretted and fumed, plotted the worst kind of punishment possible and worried themselves into near death. Not just any death, the death of their child. That’s when you pull into the driveway, slowly get out of the car, make a slight attempt to straighten your hair and then put the key in the door. There is a light on – that’s either a good sign or a bad sign, and it’s too early to tell. You slowly open the door, and there stand your parents in their PJs, looking scarily disheveled. What they see is your embarrassment and sheer fear at what is about to happen.
And the first words that come are, Welcome Home! Followed by: We’re glad your alive. Followed by: Now we can we all go to bed?
Those words Welcome Home made it safe to stay home. That’s enough for now. Love abides.
Can you recall a time when you have been welcomed home?
Write that moment on the card you were given.
And yes, what about the Father, apparently a single parent with two boys – one a total slacker and the other a total perfectionist? He loves them both, which in one case makes him a gullible push-over and in the other a weak kneed teddy bear without a spine. The slacker parties while the perfectionist pouts. The Father loves them both.
Which becomes really apparent when the slacker dude comes to his senses. It happens to also be the time when he has flat run out of all the money that he demanded from his Father when he told him to drop dead on the way out of the house and off the farm. He comes to his senses in something less than a homeless shelter – more like an alley, scrounging for food, his clothes wreaking with vomit, BO and God knows what else. God knows! The friends he thought he had when he had money are gone – no more prostitutes, no more booze or anything else to deaden the pain of his lousy life. How in the world did I ever get here? Then, of course, he remembers how he got here. He chose to be here, well not exactly here; things didn’t turn out right. Somehow, between the hunger and the emptiness, he comes to his senses, and begins to rehearse the speech he will make.
Meanwhile, the perfectionist is pouting. And working. Always working. He doesn’t really miss his brother; he resents him and his life. A total loser, he is by his own lousy choices. Wherever his is and whatever gets there, he deserves. In fact, we all deserve whatever we get. That’s the way it is. There are winners and losers. My brother is a loser. Period.
The Father is worrying and wondering and hoping. It’s a hope that is drenched with sorrow. How could it have come to this; that my young son would be gone? How could everything have gone so wrong between us? What could I have done differently? Now I’ve lost him. The anger he may have felt is all gone. Drenched in sadness, you can sense his heart breaking.
Breaking, of course, until he sees his lost son. Then all he can do is cry and race toward him. Screaming hilariously to anyone who will hear him: get ready for a party!
Standing before him now, stinking of vomit, unshaven, skinny as a rail – all he can do is hug him tighter than either thought possible. Then those words from one heart to another: Welcome home. Welcome. Home.
You can hear them echo in the heart of his son as he falls into his father’s loving embrace. Welcome. Home. I’m safe again. I’m home in my Father’s love, where I belong.
Whatever happens next, will happen next. There will be dues to pay, and consequences to suffer. For now, I’m home, where I belong.
When have you been lost? When have you been found?
What difference does it make? Write it on your card.
This is parable. We know it. It’s a parable of God’s deep love for us; with all of us: those who have gone into the far country and become lost, along with those of us who have stayed home and become lost, too. It’s a parable. We know it.
Yet because we know it so well, we might miss the heart of it, which is the heart of the Good News.
And that leads us to the perfectionist who is pouting at this word of welcome that has turned everything upside down. How is it that losers and slackers are partying and I’m working harder than ever? Everything I’ve earned, I’ve earned. I’m not letting go and I’m not going in. That’s it.
In the near distance, you can hear the singing and shouting; there is a band playing loudly and joyously. The neighbors have come too. If you listen closely you can hear the Father’s voice above the others singing together – Welcome home! Welcome home!