“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father… ~ Luke 15:17-20a
I wonder what was flowing through the Prodigal’s mind when the switch flipped and he decided to go back home. What did he expect would happen when he got there? Maybe he expected his family to be staring longingly out the window, waiting for any sign of his homecoming. He may have thought he’d been forgotten; that he’d show up to find his old bedroom had been converted into a home theater. Maybe he expected, as so many would, that he’d be assaulted with shade and an endless parade of questions about where he’d been, why he’d left, and whether or not he’d learned his lesson. I’ll be he thought he’d need to explain himself. Why else would he rehearse that detailed speech on his way back?
I remember what it’s like to be away from the Church. To miss being a part of an authentic, supportive, prayerful community. By the time I came to my senses around my freshman year of college, it had been some good years of living in the far country. That same current of anxiety welled up as the rusted light switch went upward from its settled downward bend. I didn’t know if I’d be walking into a welcome party or a full-on interrogation; “Where in the world have you been? And downward from there…
There are few things more intimidating than walking into a new church. One of them, I believe, is walking back into a church you haven’t been to in a while. Almost everybody’s been there, and to tell you the truth, that time away may well be the way God molds the most stubborn parts of our spirituality.
If it’s been a while since you’ve been to church; if the Spirit of God is jumpstarting your heart a little and drawing you back to His House, chances are you’re wrestling with the same anxiety over what to expect when you walk back into the neighborhood.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, [here he starts in on that explanation he planned…] ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him… Let’s have a feast and celebrate” (Luke 15:20b – 23).
He never gets to finish his speech. The truth is he doesn’t care where he’s been, why he left, or what he’s been up to while he was away. He’s just so happy to see the kid that none of that stuff matters.
For those of you who I haven’t said hello to yet; who have maybe wandered a bit from the practice of your faith and have been away for a little while, we want you to come home. We miss you, and want to welcome you home…
About the Author
Josh Hatcher is a devoted husband and father, hopeless wonder-junkie, and Senior Pastor of Historic Trinity Lutheran Church – an open and caring, radically Christ-centered, deeply sacramental and sometimes eclectic ministry in the heart of the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis.