Jo and I took a trip to Minnesota several years ago to revisit the first homes of our lives. That took me to Minneapolis. I knocked on the door of my first house, not knowing what to expect after a 56 year absence. An unknown older woman answered, welcoming us in, offering us coffee, and encouraging us to look around “my house”, the rooms where I lived from birth to age 10. I felt like taking off my shoes, it felt like holy ground to me. I had come home, as I attached early childhood memories to each of the rooms. The current owner, surprising to me, innocently “got” why I was there, and let me in. For a brief time, I was able to “come home again”. It was an unforgettable moment.
In our lectionary story for this Sunday, we heard the familiar story of a young man wanting to leave home. He asks for his share of the inheritance from his father, and amazingly his father gives it to him. Can you imagine receiving all that money even before his father is dead? So armed with resources and a will to “get away”, the son journeys to a far country. And you know what happens. He spends his inheritance in a short period of time and becomes destitute and lonely. He comes to his senses, and decides to return home.
Now comes that mountain top moment when the Son approaches the old homestead, and hesitatingly says to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But instead of rebuking him, which is what the son expects, the Father runs toward him, and compassionately hugs and kisses him. “Bring a robe,” Dad says, “bring the best one. Get the fatted calf, and kill it. Let us eat and celebrate, for this my son was dead and is now alive again. He was lost, but now is found.”
Would that this happy ending was the story in our families. Instead we hear about family members estranged forever from each other over whatever, and never talking to each other again. Sad stories, compassion and resolution utterly missing where nothing ever changes. In my early years I recall such a story repeated often of my Uncle Louis who left home as a young man, took his share of the family monies, and meandered west to a new life, never to be heard from again. There was no happy ending, no celebrating ever.
There are, of course, miracle stories where people come home again with transformational results. One of our eastern trips was a jaunt to Newfoundland, which is located 800 miles north of Boston, a long way from nowhere. In the small town of Salvage, we talked with an old timer about the curious dynamics of his family. Because cod fishing is no longer available, 95% of the young people of his clan leave his community as soon as they graduate from high school. Most head 2000 miles west to the Canadian oil fields of Alberta. But after they have been there for 10 years and have earned all kinds of money, they inevitably “come home” again to Newfoundland. They are received by the Newfoundlanders with open and loving arms. They rejoice, and kill the fatted calf.
We had similar experiences on our Israel trip, particularly as we walked the Galilean hills where Jesus taught his parables such as our father and son story, as we took a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, visited the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus worshipped, as we stood in Bethlehem and in the shepherd’s fields nearby, as we celebrated communion at the traditional site of the Crucifixion, and meditated in the Garden of Gethsemane. Visiting these sites I experienced an overwhelming feeling of coming home spiritually. ….Which, I think, is the same reality that keeps bringing us to this sacred place called Community UCC.
A country church that fascinated us on our Ireland trip was the Ballintubber Abbey. What particularly intrigued us was that this church had held continuous Sunday services since 1180, over 830 years, in the same building, at the same location, without a break. Talk about continuity. What we discovered was that in the 18th century, this church was destroyed except for the outer walls. And yet, for over 30 years, a total generation, they never missed a Sunday service of worship at their church site. They kept “coming home” again and again, continuously, never missing a Sunday for over 800 years, including 30 years in a roofless church.
There is indeed something about Church including our church –about faith – about values – about belief – that keeps bringing us together. When you think about it, the Old Testament story of the Israelites reflects the same theme. Pushed into exile, all the Hebrews could think about was returning home. With Moses, they left Egypt and trekked 40 years in the Sinai wilderness to return to their Promised Land.
“Coming Home”, has always been a powerful force. That pilgrimage goes on until we draw our last breath. No matter how far we have strayed, no matter what far country we have visited, we yearn to come home again and be a part of something like our communal, intimate CUCC life. And we desire to do it with others who are also on this journey. And we surely want it for our children and grandchildren.
The most poignant moment in today’s biblical story is when the Prodigal Son, after his straying in far places, comes up the road to his father, and his father embraces him, kisses him, and says, “My son, I love you.”
Of course, this is a Parable, and the Parent in the story is God, who is always merciful and will welcome us home, too.
In conclusion, I have a question for you. Are you going home? Have you gone home? Where are you on that journey? I’m talking about far more than a house on a street. It may be a house, as I described to you earlier on my trip to Minnesota, or it may be a piece of land or a spot of geography, or it may be a spiritual centering, as in my case of visiting Israel. Or it may be a thousand other ways. However it happens to us, we are looking for the discovery of our essence, of finding our core, of uncovering our true identity, of feeling known and beloved, and of discovering the Rock on which we claim our life. ….“Finding home” is the most important thing you and I will ever do. Amen