A Son Returns Home
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Scripture: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
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Maria was walking home from school. That morning she had begged to wear her mom’s favorite scarf.
As she walked along, Maria swung the scarf back and forth.
First it swung across her arms, and then it swung across her legs. When she was pretending it was a lasso, it swung through a puddle.
Maria swung the scarf more and more wildly until it got caught in the tree branch above her head. She yanked and yanked. When she finally got it free, it was muddy and had a large tear in it.
Maria quickly shoved the scarf in her backpack and walked straight home.
When she got in the door she hung up her backpack and went to her room, ignoring her Grandma who asked if she wanted a snack.
She stayed in her room the rest of the afternoon.
She was angry. Her mom shouldn’t have let her borrow the scarf anyway.
None of this would have happened if her grandma had picked her up from school.
Finally… Maria began to cry; she knew she should have been more careful with her mom’s scarf.
She heard the front door open. Her mom was home from work. Maria knew what she had to do. She walked down the stairs and opened her backpack. She pulled out the scarf and told her mom what had happened.
Her mom gave her a big hug. She could tell that Maria was very sorry. Maria’s mom told her that she was glad she had been honest. She also told Maria that she loved her more than any scarf.
A prayer: God, you love us more than we can even imagine. We are glad that you always want what is best for us. Sometimes that means we have to do difficult things in order to make things right. Give us courage when we need to say we are sorry, and may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be truly acceptable in your sight, o God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Within this congregation and without we have varying degrees of familiarity and comfort with the practice of confession, we confess every week here in worship, some of us may have grown up confessing personally to a parish priest or ward bishop, others may have spent agonizing hours on their fourth step, their fearless moral inventory…still others may have been told that their very existence was sinful and needed to be confessed. Which I want to say you never need to apologize for being the you that God made you to be. Nothing God made is unholy.
And even though we may all have different comfort levels and familiarity with the language of sin, I think I can safely assume that all of us, have experience with sin, with making mistakes, with rupturing or straining a relationship, even if only with yourself, with regret and with guilt. I may be wrong, though, so just in case, raise your hand if you’ve never once in your life caused harm, had a regret, said something you wished you could take back, fibbed, or done something self-destructive. No one? That’s what I thought.
Sin is a universal aspect of the human experience. Anyone remember the childrens book, “everybody poops”? Well, I’m here to tell you what you already know to be true: everybody sins.
One of the lessons of the parable of the lost son is that confession is the bridge from the guilt, even shame, of sin, to restoration and peace. This is because confession requires authenticity, and reflects commitment.
Think back to the story of Maria and her mother’s scarf. True reconciliation requires authenticity in order for the full cycle of rupture, repair, and grace to circle through and restore wholeness.
Imagine Maria had fibbed and said that the wind had blown the scarf off her and into a tree, and that is how it was torn…her mother’s subsequent reassurances of ‘it’s just a scarf, it’s ok, it was an accident, etc’ would’ve likely felt a little hollow, and in insecure moments Maria might’ve found herself thinking, ‘my mom is only saying that because she thought it was an accident- if she knew I had been careless with the scarf she’d be really mad and she might not love me anymore’.
And I know that sounds like just the catastrophizing of a child’s anxious mind, but I think deep down many of us have in our adult lives faced similar fears, “If my teacher, if my partner, if my sibling, if my pastor, if my child only knew the whole truth, if they knew who I really was, they wouldn’t love or accept me anymore.” Relationships are crucial to our survival and the fear of losing a relationship can truly feel like a matter of life and death, at least to our nervous systems. But back to Maria. Compare the meagre reassurance of acceptance in the face of an accident with the full, explosive grace of love and acceptance in the face of the truth.
Being loved and accepted for who we are has much more of a liberating effect on our souls when we are open and honest about who we are, both with ourselves and with others.
So why do we confess to God? Is it possible to be inauthentic with God when God knows intimately every corner of our soul? Just as the father in this story probably already knew through the grapevine that his son had squandered his inheritance living recklessly, God already knows what we’ve done, or not done, so why bother with the recap?
Well, that’s the other part of confessing. It shows a commitment to self-awareness, to restoration and reconciliation. It shows “I want this relationship to be whole more than I want to avoid the fear and vulnerability that confessing brings up in me”. Confessing is the first step back onto the path that leads us toward right relationship, and the act of confession communicates the desire for relationship and wholeness.
One similarity that jumped out at me between Maria’s story and the parable of the lost son was the gladness, and even joy that accompanied the grace the parent offered their child. Maria’s mother told her she was glad that Maria had been honest, offering her a hug as a physical expression of her love and acceptance and forgiveness.
The sons’ father ran out to greet him, delighting that his son had come home, that he wanted to reestablish their close relationship.
The father’s exhuberant grace and joyful forgiveness and Maria’s mother’s tender loving reassurance both speak to God’s abundant, and unconditional love. It was a lot harder for the older son to forgive his sibling, as forgiveness doesn’t always come easily to us human beings, nor should it ever be forced.
I imagine if there were a second chapter to this story, that the younger son would need to acknowledge the ways his departure may have hurt his brother in order for reconciliation to be possible there. Nevertheless, God is that parent wrapping their arms around a fearful, sheepish child, God is that parent shamelessly running with abandon down the road to kiss the cheek of their long lost child.
Our curriculum devotional reflects that, “Whether his confession is heartfelt or an act of desperate manipulation cannot be known. But it is a turning point that leads him home.” Confession, heartfelt or not, is an act of radical authenticity. It puts our worst bits front and center, without any real protection from scrutiny or judgement. It shines a light on the things that we wish were not a part of us or a part of our story, forcing us to show the entirety of ourselves.
Confession gives God a chance to tell us “who you are is not what you’ve done”. The guilt we feel when we’ve betrayed our own values is a useful signpost for where we need to recalibrate and make repair. Guilt tells us “I’ve done something wrong”. Shame tells us “I am wrong”, and it’s easy to intertwine our actions with our identity in a painful spiral of shame and isolation.
Confession opens us up to the reality of forgiveness and acceptance. God says to us “you are not wrong. you are my beloved child and I love you as much as I did the moment you were created. I want to be in relationship with you, no matter what. My love for you is unconditional. We’ll figure this out together. There’s lots to make right, but for now, give your soul a rest and let me celebrate your turning back towards me”.
So maybe as we look towards Advent, which begins two weeks from today, maybe in these next couple weeks we can each try to identify one relationship that we wish to turn back towards, and heal. It can be a relationship with yourself, with a neighbor, with society, or with God. And practice identifying our part in its rupture. And if we’re feeling extra courageous, or just want to taste that incredible liberation of acceptance, we can confess. And then we can celebrate. For what had died has come alive again; what was lost has been found.