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Coming Home

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 and Excerpts from The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Sunday, March 27th 2022

By: Rev. Jackie Hibbard

This parable that Jesus tells is familiar to many of you no doubt. It’s one that feels and sounds familiar even in our day. We can place ourselves into the story to access it and make it real. I’m guessing that if you are like me, you can see yourself in each character in the parable. Sometimes we are like the Pharisees - critical and accusing, sometimes we are like one of the sons - wandering or a rule follower, and sometimes like the father, full of compassion.

I’ve heard and understood this parable differently over the years. Today, paired with the Henri Nouwen reading that is one beloved by Karen Seashore who shared her story at the 9am service, it made me reflect about home and how I know that I am home. It made me reflect about what happens when I’m not centered in home and what it is to be clear that I am home. I reflected about when I live in my truth and true self, and what happens and how it feels when I get stuck in the “rules' ' and expectations that perhaps don’t serve me or the world, what some call the false self.

It made me reflect about our theme of living into new stories. In my reflection and wondering, I wonder if it is as much about embracing our true stories because it’s all our story as it is about creating new stories. It's just that sometimes, like the young son, we go off track, get out of alignment, and lose sight of home. Then, we need to be welcomed back with open and loving arms.

One of my favorite songs is Wide Open Spaces sung by The Chicks (Songwriters: Susan Gibson Wide Open Spaces lyrics © Pie Eyed Groobee Music) And as I was reflecting on the scripture for today and the reading by Henri Nouwen, this song kept coming to me. Here are just a bit of the lyrics:

Who doesn't know what I'm talking about

Who's never left home, who's never struck out

To find a dream and a life of their own

A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone

Many precede and many will follow

A young girl's dream's no longer hollow

It takes the shape of a place out West

But what it holds for her, she hasn't yet guessed

She needs wide open spaces

Room to make her big mistakes

She needs new faces

She knows the highest stakes

For lent we are reflecting about our stories and creating new stories. Some of you know that part of my personal story is that I, like many of you, picked up my life and moved out west. I left behind all that I knew, my family, my friends, my jobs, and came to Denver for seminary. I didn’t know anyone and had never lived in a city or an apartment before.

There is a perfectly fine seminary in Rochester that I could have attended, and in fact I took 2 classes there. But I knew in my bones that I needed to get away because something didn’t feel right and a mentor helped me claim that truth after much prayer and struggle.

It would have been so safe and easy to stay in the place I grew up and go to school and work in a place that I knew and continue to be surrounded by people and a culture that had shaped me. It would have been safe & easy & familiar, but it would not have been home.

I had voices inside me and literally around me telling me I was being crazy and selfish and stupid to leave and go somewhere all alone. “Who do you think you are?” “You’ll never make it out there by yourself.” “You’ll be all alone.” “What about your father - you should stay home to help him.” “It’s not safe to live in the city.” “What’s wrong with Colgate - not good enough for you?” “Stay here, we’ll take care of you.” “Don’t go, we love and need you.” These voices were insistent. They clawed at me, reaching into my soul to keep me right where I was.

But the louder voice was inside and that voice said, “you’re home” the minute the airplane landed in Denver that spring day in 1993 when I came to visit for the first time. It was visceral, confident, quietly powerful, and oh so strong.

So I began writing a new chapter in my story, one that I knew was part of my true story.

That same mentor who helped me discern my call to seminary and ministry, helped move me out here and before she left she said, “we will always welcome you home.” Gentle, matter of fact, loving, kind, true. I knew she didn’t doubt me and wasn’t trying to shame me. And I also knew, she meant it and still does.

I wonder if the father in the parable Jesus told said the same thing to his son before he left?

I don’t believe the home I feel is necessarily a physical place, it’s a feeling, a state of being. It’s living in the truth of who I am at my core. It’s being my most authentic self.

And there are times in life when I stray from home, my true self. I get distracted or pulled off course somehow. Just like the young son, I wander, squander my gifts, and am left broken and lost. Maybe you have felt that way at some point.

But then there is that line in the parable … “he came to himself.” It was a turning around point that got his attention. He understood that he made mistakes and needed to ask for forgiveness and return home. It could not have been easy for him to admit he made terrible mistakes.

Carol Jacobs wrote, “Coming home to oneself involves a consenting to be vulnerable, to be curious, to call forth the courage to risk exploration of the still unknown parts of ourselves.” (Coming Home to Myself By Carol Jacobs)

When I think about times I’ve come to myself, I realize that I had to embrace courage and vulnerability. I think about how I had to let go of a fake story I had in my being so that the true one can come alive. Sometimes coming to myself means letting go of the voices inside my head and even around me. Letting go of those old beliefs, those old voices that keep me locked. I believe that coming to ourselves is the way we come home. Coming home to listen to that voice inside that is God whispering to us. Allowing truth to emerge so that we can write our new, true story.

And when we come home we’re embraced by that compassionate part of ourselves. That compassionate God who welcomes us even when we make mistakes or fail. That is the promise of God - it’s never too late to come to yourself, to come home.

In her book, Come Home to Yourself, Kaira Jewel Lingo writes, “This home inside of us is a home no one can take away from us, and it cannot be damaged or destroyed. No matter what happens around us, if we can find this home inside of us, we are always safe.

When we touch this experience of coming home, it is like we have finally arrived home after a long journey. We experience a sense of peace and even freedom, no matter how confining the outer circumstances. Coming home to ourselves feels like belonging; it is a state that holds us and enables us to hold others.

This is so important because we can live our whole lives estranged from this home within ourselves.

It may also be hard to come home if we sense that unresolved pain has accumulated and we don’t want to face it. We may get into the habit of avoiding our home completely. We don’t want to be with those raw, unprocessed parts of our experience that are painful and may be quite scary.

If this is our situation, it is important to have compassion for ourselves for not wanting to return home to face these places inside of us. And yet the only way we can heal them, move through them, and make our home a more cozy place is to turn toward them.”

(From Come Home to Yourself BY KAIRA JEWEL LINGO| SEPTEMBER 17, 2021

Sometimes I’m like the elder brother who stayed home and followed all the rules and did what he was told. All the while feeling trapped, not seeing the goodness and what is there and not realizing that I have a choice. Sometimes following the rules is exactly what we need to do and that’s a way of being home. But for the older brother in this story, following the rules and staying inside the lines and staying in the same story that is expected wasn’t truly home. He became resentful and stuck and that’s no good either.

We are not home and we are not ourselves when we’re feeling trapped and stuck where others expect us to be. If I would have stayed where I grew up, living the life that was expected of me, I would be resentful and throwing a fit just like that elder son.

And sometimes when we’re following the rules, and staying where we are told, and doing what we think we’re supposed to do, we feel like we should be honored in some way. At least that’s what the older brother believed. Like his sacrifice and hard work deserved more attention and more welcoming and more love and more compassion simply because he followed the rules. And maybe sometimes we do need to be rewarded for following the rules and doing what is expected of us. Nothing wrong with that sometimes either. And if we aren’t doing it because we are truly home, it isn’t right and true.

And how about the father. When the younger son asked for his inheritance there was no question and the father freely gave it. And then when the boy came home that same compassionate father who gave willingly before he left, welcomed him home. It’s striking how lavish and extravagant the welcome is. Maybe he made a mistake but the message is, even when you make mistakes it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be welcomed back home.

It seems to me that Jesus invites us to wrap grace, forgiveness and love together and celebrate the return home rather than continue to punish and beat ourselves up when we go astray and make mistakes.

Maybe especially when we come home to ourselves after being lost, that needs to be celebrated and welcomed.

How is it that we find our way home when we are lost? In the parable, the boy found himself all alone and in misery. He was quiet. That is how it works for me too. I get quiet in meditation, walking the labyrinth, journaling, and especially when I just hang out in the presence of my horses. When we allow ourselves to be quiet, that still, small voice can finally be heard above all the noise. The truth can emerge again.

Sometimes we find our way home with the help of a trusted person. A friend, a professional, a loved one, who can hold space and ask the right questions or make just the right reflection to help us find our way.

However it happens for you … may you find home. And know God welcomes you home whenever you get there.

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