Luke 15: 11-32 St. Michael and All Angels Church
In the name of God who, as the psalmist assures us, brings us out into the open place and welcomes us because she believes in us. Amen.
I imagine I’m not the only person in this room who has run away from home.
I suspect that I’m not the only one among us who has done so more than once.
And I’m willing to bet there are others here who have, like I, stomped off in a fit of childhood pique.
I get that younger brother. And the older one as well. I’ve walked in their shoes on more than one occasion. Maybe you have too.
That capacity for identification with those brothers helps explain why this parable is often labeled “The Parable of the Prodigal Son”. But is that really where this story we just heard takes us and leaves us?
I do hope not for that emphasis on the turn back home, on repentance if you will, deflects, me thinks, from the gems to be found in the parable as a whole. And it is those gems, scattered throughout this story that are so important to life in our worlds today—life in the communities of family, friends, and faith in which we spend most of our days.
What might our gaze reveal if we focus our attention not on the sons but on the father? A father who is accessible and approachable. One who is amenable to a very bold request on the part of his younger son. The kind of father you know you can count on. A father whose love for you and hope for your safe return leads him to scan the horizon in hopes that he will see you walking down the road. A father whose generous compassion just can’t be contained. And a father who, when faced with his older son’s anger and resentment leaves the party and goes out to plead with that older son to join the celebration thus assuring him of his constant love for his son. A father who appears, either directly or—in two instances—indirectly in every scene of this long parable.
There are those who suggest this parable be called “The Parable of the Prodigal Father.” Maybe. But centuries of association of prodigal with profligate makes that title untenable too. I’ve come to think of this parable and the invitation it extends to we who hear it as “The Parable of a Most Hospitable Father.”
Isn’t this what hospitality at its very best looks like? Welcoming you. Accepting you as you are in the moment. Giving you what you need in the moment and giving you space when that is what you need most. A limitless hospitality grounded in love. That’s just what that father showed. To both his sons.
You and I, we live in a changing, challenging, and dangerous world. You know the outlines of that world—the shadow of Covid, open talk of World War III, a nasty form of politics that was on full display in last week’s Judiciary Committee hearings on Katanji Brown Jackson’s appointment to the Supreme Court. All this at a time when many of us are, in one way or another are experiencing the shrinking of our worlds and feeling a sense of rugs being pulled out from under us. A time that begs for that kind of hospitality that Father showed both his sons.
A hospitality marked by what one theologian identified as a “faith that awakens trust in the still unrealized possibilities in human beings—in oneself and in other people.” Think of it—trust, confidence that what you see in others and in yourself is not all you get. There are those unrealized possibilities floating just beneath the surface of our lives as individuals and communities. Seeds waiting to be watered. Possibilities hanging around in hopes of a welcoming environment. A hospitable climate if you will.
I’ve come to view the hospitality this parable invites us to as a hospitality of making space---for people, for ideas, for practices. For tears and for laughter. For the parts of us (as individuals and communities) that show us at our Sunday best and for those other parts as well. For our quirkiness and crankiness and kindness. A hospitality that senses what we need in the moment and tries its level best to deliver.
I saw that kind of hospitality at work this week in a most tender and poignant way. Towards the very end of those three brutal days of hearings about Judge Katanji Brown Jackson’s appointment to the Supreme Court—three days of relentless inhospitality, Senator Cory Booker turned to Judge Jackson and said,
“I’m not going to let anybody steal my joy” and then he continued, “It’s hard for me not to look at
you and not see my mom, not to see my cousins—one of them who had to come here and sit
behind you….She had to have your back. I see my ancestors and yours.”
Booker concluded by saying, “But don’t worry my sister. Don’t worry. God has got you. And how do I know? Because you’re here. And I know what its taken for you to sit in that seat.”
That, that is the world the Parable of a Most Hospitable Father invites us to join—a world of making space for one another and for ourselves as well.