I hadn’t been to the farm in nearly a year. It was good to see my grandfather, Pa Joe, sitting in his recliner on sun porch, the Sunday paper scattered on the floor around him. After we’d visited awhile, he asked, “You want to go see my hogs?” As soon as he mentioned the hogs, I remembered going down to the hog pen as a child with my cousins and watching the little piglets run around and squeal. It was a happy memory. “Sure, Pa Joe. Let’s go.”
We climbed into his old Chevy pick-up and made our way down the rutted dirt road. As we pulled under the trees by the pen, I opened my door, and it hit me—eau de piggy, that unique aroma of swine. Pungent. Acrid. Icky. In that instant I knew two things: first, that I was not called to raise hogs for a living…and second, that, stinky though it was, I was home.
The prodigal son thought of home at the hog pen, too. For him, the pungent, acrid, icky swine smell reminded him that he was not home… and that —in that moment—there was no other place he’d rather be…. even if the only way he could be there was as a servant.
Home. We all for hope for home, don’t we? We long for a place, a community where we can just be ourselves and be accepted for who we are, a place where we don’t have to pretend any more. A place… [David sings “Home”]
Home…it’s not just a physical place. It’s an emotional place, a spiritual place. It’s a place where we feel—really feel—like the beloved of God.
Rembrandt’s painting, “The Prodigal Son Returns,” is housed at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. When invited on a trip to the Soviet Union by friends, Henri Nouwen knew he needed to see this painting. He’d seen a print of it several years before and was taken by the father’s compassionate embrace of the prodigal. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_son.jpg
A friend of a friend knew the curator at the Hermitage. When the curator saw how taken Henri was with the painting, he went and found a chair and invited Henri to sit for as long as he liked to study the painting. Henri sat there for hours.
As he gazed on this scene, Henri imagined himself as the prodigal. He’d left his native Holland many years before, but that wasn’t the source of his prodigality. Looking at the painting, he realized that he’d been a spiritual prodigal. Because of seeking after the wrong things—which for Henri meant seeking approval from the wrong people–Henri had pulled further and further away from God. As he identified with the bedraggled, dirty, repentant prodigal kneeling and resting his weary head on his father’s chest, Henri remembered what he had forgotten for so long: that true home only happens when we can allow ourselves to receive God’s profound, unconditional love for us. True home happens when we hear those words Jesus heard at his baptism: “You are my beloved child. With you I am well-pleased.”
Like Henri, we, too, will find true home only when we are able to allow ourselves to be fully embraced by the profound and unconditional love of God.
That’s what happened a little earlier when those four people were baptized. Carol, Cathi, Danielle, and Jesse allowed themselves to be fully embraced by God’s unconditional love.
….and they did so in the context of Christian community. While true home only can be found by allowing ourselves to be loved by God, one thing that makes finding that home easier is a community of friends who live that love every day…a place where we are accepted and loved by people; a place where we can be who we are fully and without reservation; a place where—on those days when we find it hard to believe—others can believe for us; a place where we can extend the love of God to others when they struggle to believe.
Six people today are saying that they have found Pilgrimage to be just such a place. Based on what they have told me, joining this community is a great joy for each of them. And I know it’s a joy for the rest of us…Because, in so many ways, we all have experienced something in this place that has helped us to receive God’s loving embrace. There is something about being community for each other, there is something about trying the best we know how to live God’s love together that has made God’s love more real to us here in this place.
And so today, as we welcome and celebrate these six new members, I invite us also to celebrate the community we—with and in God—have created here. I invite us to remember how many times we have been there for each other, how many times we have prayed for each other and listened to each other and challenged each other and partied with each other and simply sat with each other. As we welcome these new friends—new members of our family— I invite us all to continue extending to each other the loving embrace of God.
Reception of New Members
Luke 15:1-3; 11b-32
<!– 15 –>15Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
3 So he told them this parable:<!– 11 –>
The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
11b ‘There was a man who had two sons.12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them.13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs.16He would gladly have filled himself with* the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ”20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”*22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on.27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.”28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!”31Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’