A sermon by Kerlin Richter.
Jesus, you are the older brother who rejoices with your father at each of our returns, let us feast with you as we welcome every lost son home.
On the second Friday of the month, I join a few other women from St. Michaels and go out to 82nd to Sts Peter and Paul. There, every Friday night the doors are open to women who for whatever reason find themselves on the street. We serve dinner and offer basic supplies, toilet paper and laundry soap. It’s not much, honestly in the face of pain and brokenness to say here you go my sister- a bowl of soup and a bar of soap. But it is a safe place. warm and dry and reliable. It is a refuge from the streets even if only for an hour or two, where there will be no men, no fear, no abuse. So this past Friday I was there and usually we are pretty much done by 9, and the three of us were sitting for a few more minutes before we started to clean up. It was a kind of slow night, there had maybe been 10 women. Some withdrawn and quiet, some high and manic. One woman who had to eat her soup slowly and carefully because of her split lip and swollen jaw.
As sometimes happens just when you think a night is over one more woman came in. She was wearing a thin shirt and was shivering and damp. After going out to the needle exchange van, she came and sat down to have a bowl of soup. And she began to tell us her story. Jennifer is 42 years old and first started working on the streets when she was 13. She figured she could start making some money off what her family had been taking for free. For years a pimp controlled her every move and got her well hooked on crack. In escaping from him she found heroin and impossibly things got worse. over the years things would get better and then worse. She told us how she has gotten clean many times before and how she wants to again. She wants to go home. She has two grown children, and a granddaughter. She was clean once for seven years. Finished school and became a drug and alcohol counselor, then relapsed. Most recently, she spent 9 months with her daughter and granddaughter. She had gone to her daughter’s door and knocked. Her daughter took her in and forgave her again. in less than a year she was back on the street.
Jennifer looked hard at us and asked “How many times do I ask my children to forgive me? How does a mother do this to her children? How can I ever go home again?”
In the reading from Joshua, the Israelites have finally made it home. It took them forty years and whole generation had grown up in the desert. The part we heard today comes right after they have all been circumcised. They are back into a right relationship with God. They are home. And God says “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”
And after they celebrate Passover, they eat the fruit of the promised land. The exodus was over they no longer had manna to eat; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan from then on. They had made it home but they still have this huge conquest ahead of them. they are about to start circling Jericho, but just for now they feast and relish in their homecoming and forgiven state.
the psalmist tells us:
“Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!”
I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
Why do we fear repentance? according to everything we have heard today it is good news. We will be happy, and welcomed and fed.
Which brings us to what is probably the best repentance story ever.
Now Jesus doesn’t name the parables but we do and one we have come to know this one as the prodigal son. It’s a parable that rings so true in all of its family dynamics and emotional weight. the lost son reunited with his father, the jealousy of the older brother who never did anything wrong and now seems to regret it. The love of the father- its all there.
We have been welcomed home and we will leave again. there is probably never a week that goes by that anyone can say with absolute certainty “Father, I have never disobeyed your command” but this brother also gets searched out by the father , he goes after the self righteous and indignant as well as the humble and broken.
During Lent we get to explore and live into this holy homesickness. We are called to long for a place where we will be known and fed. That longing is the beginning of repentance. We get to practice looking for places in our lives where we settling for pig food. We are called to dream of home and start heading towards it.
I would love for Jennifer’s story to end like the younger son’s. She comes home there is a celebration anyone not thrilled to see her gets a word from dad, and the party is lavish. But she has already done that and it didn’t last. She relapsed and ended up back on the streets.
This side of heaven we are all wounded and messy and sometimes homesick for a lifetime. In real life getting home is often the beginning of a longer harder story.
Faith is ongoing lifetime of repenting and continued reconciliation and yet we proclaim one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. this is one of the mysteries of faith : We are ultimately and profoundly reconciled with God, and yet still seeking ever greater union.
To use Paul’s race metaphor we got on the track team and now its time to really start running.
We have been given a stake in the kingdom and now we need to practice living like its true. Coming home is not the end, finally making it to Canaan is not the end. Good Friday is not the end. Easter is not the end. Even Pentecost is not the end.
There is no end on this side of the river.
After finishing her soup on Friday, Jennifer went and washed her hair in the bathroom sink got high again and headed out into the cold and rainy night on 82nd.
What does my faith do in these places? How do we proclaim a gospel of hope in a world that specializes in despair?
Going to church and loving each other is kingdom practice. none of what Jesus asks of us comes easily none of it comes naturally and if we want to have any hope of responding spontaneously like Jesus its going to take a lot of practice.
The Eucharist is our welcome home feast. We do it over and over again because its such crazy good news we just might never recover.
“Tell me again” we say “the story of how you welcome me home.” we aren’t going to have the tidiness of parable lives, we are going to be like the prodigal son in relapse but we are liturgical people. and we can live this story over and over because we know how it ends. We know that there is feasting and rejoicing, hugs and reunion. and we know that after repentance there is forgiveness.
Every week we get to turn around again and set our faces for our Father’s house and brace ourselves for love.
[Inquiring minds who want to know more about the Friday night ministry with, for, and by women on 82nd Avenue should go to http://www.rahabs-sisters.org. ]