March 10, 2013
The latest and greatest David E Kelly show on TNT, is called Monday Mornings. You might know David E Kelly if you were a fan of Boston Legal, or Ally McBeal, or Picket Fences. Monday Mornings is about a bunch of talented, some might say, conceited, surgeons, and the risky surgeries they love to do. In a recent episode, two doctors treat a homeless man, named Carter, who after spouting nonsense, something about CIA plots, ends up in the hospital psych ward where he is diagnosed with schizophrenia by the young Dr. Robidaux. Just to be sure, Robidaux asks Dr. Wilson for a consult, who orders an MRI which shows something completely different at play, a large brain tumor, which Wilson thinks has been there 5 years or more, and insists they prepare him for immediate surgery. In the O.R., Carter, still not in his right mind, now thinks Dr. Wilson is a CIA agent and refuses surgery. But they go ahead with it anyway, saying he’s not able to make an informed consent.
The good news is, the tumor is successfully removed, the risk seems to pay off, and Carter is a new man, he literally, returns to himself. The other news – not sure if its good or bad – is that he now tells the doctors, his name isn’t Carter, but Bryan Cooper, and that he’s married and has two children. It’s then that he notices on the TV screen, over the doctor’s shoulder, that the year is 2013, which makes him agitated. The last time he had been Bryan Cooper, it was 2006.
Sure enough, the doctors track down his wife, who’s stunned, because Bryan had showed signs of confusion and personality change five or six years ago, she explains, and then suddenly, just disappeared. Unable to locate him, she had to go on with her life. And as difficult as it was, she had Bryan declared dead, and eventually she had remarried. Bryan, of course, is devastated by this news, but still, they agree to see each other.
And so in the final scene, there is no small amount of apprehension and anxiety, in anticipation of meeting again, after so much has changed. But there, in Bryan’s hospital room, the two daughters, now grown teenagers, tearfully hug their dad. And his wife – or ex-wife – filled with shock and wonder, and seemingly speechless, finally says, “welcome home, Bryan” as they all hug together! It is a joyous a return, under the circumstances. He was considered dead, and is now alive again! What was lost is found!
I find some interesting parallels here to Jesus’ parable of the man with two sons. For instance, there is a brokenness in the families when one leaves and is considered dead. And also similar is the return that reunites family. Neither story, utters the word “repent,” however. But there is great joy in the welcoming home!
Jesus tells a parable about a lost son, who eventually returns, and is welcomed home by an overjoyed father. Does the younger son repent – is an interesting question to ask of this story? Certainly he does hit bottom, before returning! After spending his inheritance away in a downward spiral of dissolute living, you’d think that would be bottom. But actually it takes a stroke of bad luck, a famine, or a kind of Great Recession, to strike, which forces him to hire himself out to feed pigs in a pig pen, just to survive, until finally he realizes: “He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; [because] no one gave him anything. But 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’!” Now at bottom, he decides to return, but simply to try and buy his way back into his father’s good graces as a hired hand.
It’s interesting to me that he works in the food industry, but still is under-nourished! As crazy as that is, it may sound quite familiar to us! We know that in the food industry in this country – in orchards & farms, restaurants and grocery stores – the rate of those using Food Stamps is 50% higher compared with the general population. The minimum wage for restaurant workers, you might know, is $2.13/hour, plus tips, but still, for most, the take home pay is simply not enough. And so, 20 million food workers, some 1 in 6 of our total work force, toil every day …harvesting fields, killing and cutting up animals, packing boxes, driving trucks, cooking meals, ringing up orders, serving tables, and cleaning up our mess. And so, like the Latin American countries we import most of the rest of our fruit, vegetables and meat from, many of the workers who help to put food on our tables – including lots of hard working undocumented immigrants – don’t eat from the fields, farms and tables, the great bounty in which they work. They have no feast, and sometimes, little welcome!
At a discussion here at church the other day, someone told me how they heard a news story about how the Lutheran church is in decline, some have just walked away, and it surprised them. “Are we doing anything about that,” she asked?
Well yes, practically everything we do here at Unity is about that. Like being intentional as a welcoming worshiping community for each and every guest that walks in our doors; and in reaching out to the Arts, the LGBTQ, and immigrant communities, as we develop partners through our Space-Sharing program; or by the events you create (like Girls Wanna Have Fun); and also individually in how we tell the story of our faith and faith-community to others; how about in calling an Associate Pastor for outreach and mission- in so many ways, renewing and transforming, is what we’re about.
But it’s true, the way we do church, or better yet, the way we are church, has rapidly changed, our foundations have been shaken. Most of us experience it as, our children, siblings or friends leaving the church we call home, wandering away, while we wonder why. Why have they left? Aren’t they squandering their faith inheritance? Spending the gifts of God foolishly?
Though, I have heard those who have left, describe us in similar terms! Why has the church squandered its inheritance on lavish buildings, insular programs, and feel-good suppers, while the world around them that God calls us to serve, is in turmoil and neglect. Doesn’t Jesus call us to serve those in need?
The Benedictine, Richard Rohr has said, “The cross is the standing statement of what we do to one another and to ourselves. The resurrection is the standing statement of what God does to us, in return.” Lord, what have we done to one another?! Help us to know and live the resurrection.
So, the question is still on the table. Does the younger son repent? Does he need to? I’m not sure there is a clear answer. But I do notice when the son returns he starts to tell his father the speech we’ve already heard him rehearse back in the pig pen: “I have sinned against heaven, and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The father, though, doesn’t let him finish his speech, and so never hears the part about, “…treat me like one of your hired hands.” For the father has already run out to embrace him and welcome him home as his lost son now found. He has been accepted! He cannot earn his way back as a hired hand. Perhaps then, this is what it’s all about. Relationships! Often broken, sure – then, sometimes also repaired! We cause hurt and feel estrangement, and nothing is better than coming to our true selves, to the incarnate whole person God has created us to be. It’s not about inheritance or property, the family farm or church-as-building. It’s about the community and building relationships, repairing and restoring that which is bound together, ultimately and most powerfully, by God’s Holy Spirit. Realizing we belong together in vision and mission, is the only thing that can create joy from sorrow, and life from death! Try and hold us back from celebrating that!
On the theme of repentance in our Parable, Richard Jensen says: “Repentance is our acceptance of the reality that God has found us in Christ Jesus. The father simply gives him back his sonship as an act of grace.” His repentance is then, “he accepts being found!” (Preaching Luke’s Gospel, p.175)
Ironically, this may be the hardest thing to do: if repentance is not about our sackcloth and ashes, not about our guilt or working off our mistakes, but accepting that we are being found by God, that takes a true change of mind, a turning around and going in a new direction – which of course, is the literal meaning of repent.
“The cross is the standing statement of what we do to one another and to ourselves, and the resurrection is the standing statement of what God does to us, in return.” That kind of forgiveness can bring us from death to life, and transform us as a community of wayward entitlement, into a community in celebration at the table of grace. Welcome home, dad or mom; welcome home daughter or son – for you who were dead are now alive again; you who were lost are found! Come to the feast!