It’s a familiar story–whether you’ve heard the one in the Bible or not. A young person leaves home, full of confidence and looking for a good time. The behavior seems rebellious, but mostly it’s just an attempt to establish some independence.
Once the young person gets out on their own, the realities of responsible living set in–the rent comes due every month. Food and gas cost, like, money. Alcohol costs money. Electricity and water and cable cost money. And if you get sick, going to the doctor takes lots of money. And speaking of money, who is this FICA person who keeps taking away your good, hard-earned cash every paycheck?
And then what happens when you attend one too many parties, miss a few too many days of work recovering from said parties, and lose your job? Then you have to find another job, any job, probably one without benefits or opportunities for advancement. You no longer have money to pay rent, so you crash with friends…who eventually kick you out. There’s no money for parties any more…not even money for food.
So, you end up on some farm outside of town feeding hogs. One day you find yourself envying the pigs their slop. The moment you do, the full weight of every bad decision you’ve made hits you like a semi. You look at the hogs…you look at the slop…you smell the stench…you feel the clothes hanging off your rapidly dwindling body…
…and you remember–Luke tells us that the prodigal “came to himself;” came to his senses maybe. You come to your senses. You remember home. Your family. Your father. You wince when you recall the bravado with which you left home, dragging the bag heavy with your inheritance. Now, there’s nothing, no one. Only you. And the hogs.
You think about your father’s house. You think about his wealth. You don’t dare think about coming home as a beloved son. But you do think about coming home as a servant, because even the servants in your father’s house have it better than you. So, you head home.
What do you think it took for that young man to go home? If you’ve ever been on the outs with anyone, you know how hard it can be to make up. A rift happens for whatever reason. And if you don’t deal with it immediately, it festers. The anger deepens, the righteous indignation intensifies, and before you know it, you can’t possibly imagine any kind of reconciliation.
After a while, though, when the anger has subsided, you begin to miss the person. You remember more of the good times than the bad; you begin to recognize your own role in the rift and you want to make up; you want to reconcile…but so much time has passed. You just can’t imagine having that one conversation that needs to be had, the one conversation that can break through the wall between you, the one conversation that can begin building the bridge of reconciliation with the person for whom your soul aches.
It’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to reconcile. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid the other person is still angry. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid they’ll reject our attempt to reconcile. Maybe it’s because we’re embarrassed about our own role in the rift. For whatever reason, taking the first step toward reconciliation is hard. Building bridges out of the rubble of broken relationships….that may be one of the most courageous things human beings ever do.
Wandering around St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin year before last, Allen and I happened on an old wooden door displayed among other artifacts. The door had had a big hole cut out in the middle. Curious, I pulled out my glasses and read the sign beside the door.
“The Door of Reconciliation,” the title read. Here’s the story. “In 1492, two Irish families, the Butlers and the FitzGeralds, were involved in a bitter feud. This disagreement centered around the position of Lord Deputy. Both families wanted one of their own to hold the position. In 1492, this tension broke into outright warfare and a small skirmish occurred between the two families just outside the city walls.
“The Butlers, realizing the fighting was getting out of control, took refuge in the Chapter House of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” The warring families argued through the door for hours.
Finally, Gerald FitzGerald realized the escalation of hostilities was getting them nowhere. Perhaps he, too, like the prodigal son, “came to himself.” When he did, he spoke to the Butlers through the church door, suggesting they end hostilities and make peace. The Butlers were like, Uh uh. No way. This could be a trap. We’re staying right here behind this door.
So, here’s what Gerald FitzGerald did. He ordered someone to cut a hole in the door. Then he “thrust his arm through the door and offered his hand in peace to those on the other side. When they saw that FitzGerald was willing to risk his arm by putting it through the door, the Butlers reasoned that he meant what he said. They shook hands through the door, the Butlers emerged from the Chapter House, and the two families made peace.
“Today this door is known as the “Door of Reconciliation.” “This story lives on,” the Cathedral’s website notes, “in a well-known expression in Ireland ‘To chance your arm.’”
“To chance your arm.” Isn’t that a great phrase? To make yourself vulnerable, to offer your hand in friendship when it might not be taken, to risk rejection–or worse, to take the first hard step toward coming back into relationship.
It isn’t easy to take the first step toward reconciliation…And I’m not going to lie. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes our first tentative steps toward mending fences are rejected and hostilities continue. But sometimes…sometimes…all it takes is that first step–just one tiny gesture–to begin the process of reconciliation.
If you look at the larger context in which the parable of the prodigal is placed, it’s clear that Jesus isn’t really talking about relationships between human beings. He’s using the story to illustrate the radical welcome of God to any who long for a close connection with the divine. No matter who we are, no matter where we are on life’s journey, no matter what we’ve done, always we are welcomed home by the one who has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us.
And with God–just like with the father in the parable–all we have to do is come home and we will be embraced and feted.
Here’s the question I’ll leave you with today: What is the connection between your relationships with other people and your relationship with God? Is relating to God, is feeling God’s love for you easier when your relationships with others are good? Are relating to God and feeling God’s love harder when you’re on the outs with someone?
As we come to the cross today, I invite you to think about the connection between your human relationships and your relationship with God. Might “chancing your arm” with a sister or brother help you better receive and feel God’s love for you?
Today, we’re adding another opportunity to our experience of bringing our brokenness to the cross. If you’d like to name the brokenness you bring–the name of a person you’re grieving, a person from whom you’re estranged, an illness with which you’re struggling, unemployment, addiction– If you’d like to name your brokenness and write it (in one word) on a piece of paper, Chris Shiver will engrave your words to pieces of glass already attached to the cross.
And now, bring your brokenness to the cross. (Glue shards onto cross.)
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016