I’ll start by going back on my word.
In last week’s post I threw out a teaser, saying that the next few weeks I was going to give some practical ways to “send out your roots by the stream”. God says we are called Oaks of Righteousness, and trees need to thrive, so I planned to start with some practical thoughts about prayer.
Sorry. That will come next week, and for two reasons – I need more time to prepare, and I didn’t have enough of that time this week. I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours at work.
But I think you’ll enjoy this reflection, which I shared to open our hospice interdisciplinary team meeting this week.
On a recent afternoon, I met with three men who have been admitted to hospice care, each of them around ninety years old. Through my conversations with family members on the phone and face-to-face with them, I learned that they had all enjoyed successful careers, long marriages and were financially comfortable.
One of them has an active and vital faith in God, which sparked a delightful conversation. We concluded by joining hands and hearts in the presence of our Heavenly Father, whom he is ready to meet.
The other two? I’m very familiar with their stories, a refrain I’ve heard sung hundreds of times. I was informed by family members of both men that talking about matters of faith was generally not a comfortable topic of conversation. Raised in believing families, they had walked away from the faith in frustration decades ago.
Their family members were concerned that I would get a stiff-arm of rejection as soon as I shared with their fathers my role in hospice care. As it turns out, their fears were unfounded. I made a good first impression, such that both were grateful for my brief visit, and invited me to return.
However, hearing about the early end to their journey of faith never fails to evoke a deep sadness within me. I always wonder what happened – was it woeful memories or their own wanderlust that spurred them to leave?
Prodigal Son by Wayne Pascall
The best-known of Jesus’ stories is called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger son is enticed by the bright lights of the city and leaves home with full pockets and big plans.
I always remind myself that leaving home doesn’t mean he had a lousy father. But it might mean that he saw a glimpse of his destiny in the life and attitude of his older brother – if I stay here, I’m going to be just like him. No thanks!
With that in mind, I invite you to read the parable again, this time reading a translation called “The Message”. *
Then he (Jesus) said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to feel it. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corn-cobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a prize-winning heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’
His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’” (Luke 15:11-32 MSG)
I love my job. I’m paid (by Medicare, no less) to head out into the far country and meet a lot of younger brothers who have walked away from their loving Father. Bearing with me a crown of beauty, the oil of joy, and the finest robe – see my post from December 23 – along with a light heart and a loving smile. Yes, there’s still time to head back home.
My only hope is that I will remind them of someone who has loved them since they were born, who longs to wrap them up in his arms, and invites them to sit at the banquet table and enjoy a great meal together.
But all too often chaplains and churchy people bear a strong resemblance to the other person in the story – the older brother, who refused to come to the party, and felt more at home slinging shame upon his long-lost brother.
Father, help me to remind people of you, the embodiment of Amazing Grace.
Benediction of Blessing
May you see yourself as a younger brother, embraced by God and invited to sit at his table.
May you, in all your interactions, give people the impression that you remind them of Jesus.
May you lovingly sit with people and lovingly listen to their stories, and invite them to come on home.
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Painting: Prodigal Son by Wayne Pascall.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM