Lost or Found: We are Related

Fourth Sunday of Lent (C)

 Gospel:  Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

If you haven’t actually had the experience I’m about to describe, you’ve probably seen it happening to someone else.   You’re in an airport or a train station, arriving in a strange place, worried about getting lost, when suddenly you catch a glimpse of someone holding up a sign with your name on it.

It happened to me in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in Africa, where I visited a number of years ago to participate in a Lutheran-Muslim Dialogue sponsored by the  Lutheran World Federation .  When I arrived, exhausted from a very long flight, way over there in a crowd of people beyond a cordon, I saw a man holding up a sign with The Lutheran World Federation logo on it and my name.  Actually he wasn’t just holding the sign up.  He was enthusiastically raising it up and down so I’d be sure to see it.  And sure enough we found each other half way across the world.

Lost and found.  Which leads us to Jesus Parable of the Prodigal Son.

There’s a music video of the story of the Prodigal Son.  Only it’s  called  “Prodigal Daughter”.  The song’s sung by somebody named Tifah.  And in the video, there’s a young woman walking through the streets of a big city, surrounded by skyscrapers, turning this way and that, panicky and obviously anxious and distressed.  And every time she turns a corner, there he is again.  A man (you never see his face) is right there holding up a sign that says “Daughter”.  No matter where the young woman turns, No matter how much she refuses to recognize him, he crosses her path holding up that sign.

(http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00212)

Today we put the spotlight on the faithful one who’s holding up that sign for us that says “Son” or “Daughter”.  The one who is always hoping to meet us.  The one who crosses our path everywhere.  Jesus calls him Father in the story he tells.  (You can say Mother if that works better for you).  And what can we say about this father?   He has children . . . and one of his children asks for his inheritance early while his father is still alive.  And the father complies. So right from the get-go we see that this particular Father isn’t stingy. Doesn’t hold back.   Isn’t miserly or sparing or grudging. Is generous beyond reason.  Even before he’s dead (he doesn’t have to do this!), he gives away his legacy to his sons.

And right away there’s a cost to that father.  More than money.  He loses this son to the lure of a distant country.  And we might imagine both parents standing out in front of the house waving goodbye to their child with tears in their eyes.  Likely they never forget this child who is lost.

The next time we meet up with the father, he’s out in front of the house when he catches a glimpse of the son who ran away. The son is approaching the house from far away, all dirty and scruffy looking.  And what does the father do?  He starts running out to welcome his child home.  He doesn’t even ask about the details.  About the misadventures and the waste of his gift.  While the son running towards his father blurting out his apology, it’s as if the Father is running towards his son holding up a that says:  “Son”.  (It could just as well be “Daughter”.)  Saying “Remember who you are.”   Remembering who you’re related to.  And as soon as the two meet, the Father drops that sign and embraces his child.  This child who was lost has come home.  And it’s time to throw a party with music and food and a big gooey cake.

God just can’t wait to rush out to greet us when we come home all dirty and disillusioned and exhausted from the struggle.  When we try to run away (or are driven away by forces beyond our control—forces that aren’t love, God keeps right on holding up that sign with our name on it.  Around every corner.

For all of us who’ve ever worried about being misfit or outcast, God reaches out to us beyond these roles and embraces us back into the family.  God invites us to a celebration meal in which he gives us himself, the best gift.  And then God gives us a whole new life, a whole new role.  God gives us signs to hold up for each other.  Brother.  Sister.  Daughter.  Son.  Child.  Friend.  Only these signs aren’t printed on poster board.  They’re signs like a crock pot of soup, a plate of chocolate chip cookies, a good listening ear in time of need, kind words, a note of encouragement, the sharing of tears, a prayer shawl, a warm place to go where people are growing together in faith, caring and community.

We who know how powerful it is to be loved unconditionally and can’t help but want everybody else to experience this love, too.  By grace, we are related to a loving and forgiving God, and by grace we are related to each other.  Around every corner and across the world.  This is our hope, and this is our promise.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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