Recently, my pastor preached a sermon on the Prodigal Son, focusing on the bitter older brother who stayed home and didn’t welcome his brother back—and highlighting the fact that both brothers distanced themselves from the father. He challenged the church to create an environment where prodigals feel welcomed—where people can feel the freedom to ask questions and openly doubt or disagree without fear. We were out of town that weekend, so he emailed me and asked me to listen online and let him know what I thought. This is my response:
I had way too much coffee tonight trying to push through and work till midnight. I overshot it and couldn’t go to sleep when I wanted to. I finally gave up fighting caffeine and listened to your sermon, thinking SURELY listening to you preach would put me right to sleep. You’ll be happy to know that it didn’t.
I just finished listening to the whole thing. Thank you. Your challenge to the church and your prayer at the end meant so much to me.
The part of the sermon that moved me the most was when you spoke about no one going to look for the younger brother—how true that is sometimes. Instead of fighting to bring prodigals back, the church so often says “If you left, maybe you weren’t ever really part of the family anyway”—as if that relieves them of the burden of searching for the lost one. In the church’s defense, so many prodigals are in hiding. It’s hard to spot the ones who have a non-functional relationship with the father but still live in the house, as I did until a few Sundays ago when I first publicly expressed my doubt.
This wasn’t in your sermon, but it’s something I thought about while I listened…Why didn’t the prodigal son just steal his father’s money and sneak away? He probably hurt him no less in asking for it—he essentially said “I wish you would hurry up and die.” Why did he let them know?
Why do I?
Maybe we want to be found. I sometimes try to tell myself that I want a clean break—to finally wash my hands of all this. Yet I come to church every Sunday. I read the Bible to my daughter. I went to the women’s Christmas dinner and listened to other people talk about God’s faithfulness in their lives. I spent hours in your home talking, and look forward to doing it again. I’m so drawn to [your wife] and very strongly desire friendship with her. Why are all of these things true? It’s obvious that I want to be found. But desire is an emotion, and as you said in your prayer—I have to experience love not based on emotion, but on a savior who cares.
Your challenge to the “big brothers” has paved the way for me to safely ask my questions—thank you. But no matter how many of them search for me and welcome me, I’m still waiting for the father in the front porch rocker. If he was something more than fantasy, I think he would have searched for me and found me by now. It’s ultimately not the older brothers in the church who prompted my departure—it’s the father who has given me no way to know him that couldn’t be better explained by my emotions and imagination. I have to have more.
Maybe that’s kind of like asking for my inheritance too early. Maybe that’s something that’s supposed to come later, when we see face to face and know fully, even as we are fully known. I’ve never equated my demand for evidence and the ability to truly see God now with the prodigal son’s demand for early inheritance until this moment, so I’ll have to sleep on my own suppositions. Are the Father’s riches too much for me to handle right now? I don’t think that’s an answer I can accept, but it’s one I will humbly consider.
Sorry, chasing rabbits. Thank you for that sermon—for your challenge to the church, for your prayers for me and others like me, for your love for the wayward spirit that runs away and for the wayward spirit at home that doesn’t love the prodigal or seek the prodigal or welcome the prodigal back.
Sorry for the length (I end up apologizing for that often)—I process things in many words. I love you and will see you Sunday.