Lost and Found Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

I found this on the internet.

“We were sitting in church a few weeks ago while the minister delivered a sermon on the prodigal son. When he got to the point where the father sees his son returning and races out to meet him, the minister said, ‘Throwing wide his arms, the father said…’ –at which point my younger son leaned over to me and whispered ‘YOU’RE GROUNDED!’”

This is a lost and found story.

We have all had lost-and-found experiences, whether it was an expensive phone that we lost, or a special ring or an important relationship. We know that heavy feeling in one’s guts when the gravity of the loss brings you down.

We have probably also experienced the joy of finding something after considering it lost.

In this parable God is the Father who awaits our return when we abandon  God’s sacred ways and strike out on our own.

And its about God’s joy at our return no matter where we have been on life’s journey.

The Prodigal Son represents all of us and the ways we become lost when we go it alone. When we cannot see or feel beyond our own needs and desires. When we abandon God’s ways.

The Older Brother is about the resentment of seeing others flourish or embraced when they have offended our sensibilities and they have not done the penitence we imagine for them. When they succeed where we have failed.

The question we can ask ourselves in this case is, “who of these figures do we identify our own lives with”?

Most probably we can recognize ourselves in all three of them at different times in our lives.

There are the times when we get it right and we open our hearts and our arms to embrace those who need redemption or forgiveness. When our actions have affirmed another person’s worth despite their bitter legacy of failure, or the forgiveness we offer someone who has hurt us. When we have allowed someone else to be restored in their humanity. We have all played this role at some point in our lives.

Then there are the times when we have been the prodigal child who in our arrogance and selfishness believe we have the right to more than what we have received in life. When we mistake greed for idealism. When we mistake manipulation for effectiveness.

And we have experienced the sweet release of being redeemed; being given a chance to do better, to start over, to being restored to our best selves.

And there are times when we have all been the resentful older brother. Why did others receive this recognition or opportunity or second chance while I have always played by the rules and ended with so much less to show, less to enjoy, so much less recognition for my commitment?

We become these three figures in this parable in different ways and at different times because we are human.

The great news is that our humanity allows us to be any of these figures without condemning us to that particular status forever. God creates the capacity for us to transform our lives and even to be the healing agent like the father who welcomes back the wayward son.

We are not condemned to remain the resentful older brother whose jealousy and ignorance blinds him to the new possibilities that come with forgiveness or redemption.

We are not condemned to remain lost as the younger brother was. Like him God awaits our return when we get ourselves tied up in knots. When we fail at our discipleship or our common humanity. When our sense of self preservation guides us to consider others of lessor value or importance.

We can be redeemed by the love of someone we have lost through our own actions. We can find acceptance if we try hard enough and commit ourselves to a new way of living. This is what we call the redeeming love of God. This is how God is.

If you find yourself in the role of either brother, the Good News of Jesus Christ is that God never writes us off. The loving father in the parable awaits our return. His occupies that chair on the porch searching the horizon for the first glimpses of our return. Take note that the Father does not ask the son to first acknowledge his destructive choices. Our return to the path of life creates an immediate response of forgiveness and acceptance.

Take heart, there is an alternative to hopelessness. There is an alternative to being lost. There is an alternative to living in the confines of our own mistakes in life.

God is hope. We are entrusted by God to represent the Father in this story. And we are welcomed back into the fold without reservation.

There is an Ojibway prayer* that has served me well in my personal life. I share it with you. It goes like this…

Grandfather,
Look at our brokenness.
We Know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.

We know that we are the ones
Who are divided,
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.

Grandfather,
Sacred One,
Teach us love, compassion and honor
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.

May it be so. Amen.

*(Prayer offered at The Meaning of Life: A Multifaith Consultation, Mauritius, January 25-February 3, 1983. As cited in Towards an Intercultural Theology, 56.)