On 6 March, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.
Reflections of a prodigal father:
Here’s another neighbour at the door with payment for land to help his old friend out. His eyes have the same look in them as the others – pity, disbelief, concern, puzzlement. He says nothing but I can hear the comments nevertheless. ‘That younger son of yours is making a fool of you. Why accept him asking for you to be dead? Why quietly acquiesce to his demand for half the estate? He’ll waste it all. He needs a good talking to, a bit of discipline. Mark my words. You’re far too generous for your own good.’
Maybe I am too generous, but that’s how I’ve always been. My friends have done pretty well as a result. They’re doing well out of me now, getting good land for a reasonable price. I’ve lost count of how many I have helped out when things got difficult for them in the past. Some have paid me back, some haven’t. I’m not keeping a tally. It really doesn’t matter. What’s the point of having money if you can’t help your friends? Some of the ways they used the money might have seemed a bit wasteful or to lack judgement, but it was their choice. They didn’t ask my opinion.
And now it’s my son’s choice. He needs his freedom, needs to find out who he is, if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. I could have refused to have given him the money, of course I could, but what would have been the point? How could I live with a son full of resentment? I have to let him go in the hope he will return of his own free will. Hold what you love on an open palm not in a clenched fist is my way of doing things. How can having more fields compare to having my son with me?
Of course, I’ve seen the look in my elder son’s eyes. He too thinks I’m a fool. He can see the estate shrinking, see our means of making money reduced. My generosity seems unfair to him but all that is left is his, to do with as he pleases. I’m taking nothing from him to give to his brother. He just doesn’t understand but somehow I’ll win him over. I love him so much.
So, the day has finally come. How eagerly he grasped the bag of money. Such pent up excitement was about him. My son, my youngest, ready to set off to seek what? His fortune? Himself? Fresh horizons? Who knows? He was impatient to wrest himself free of my farewell embrace but I wanted it never to stop. Releasing him from my arms was so very difficult to do but I cannot protect him from his choices. I watched his retreating back, fine and strong. His demeanour so confident and determined. He never once looked back, not even a glance at the place that has been home all his life.
The servants watch with pitying eyes. I can hear their thoughts: ‘There he goes again. When will he realise that there is no hope? That son of his is not returning.’ How many times have I climbed these steps at noon? Every day I return to the roof – to the same spot I stood on as I watched my son grow smaller and smaller in the distance until I could see him no longer. I climb with a mix of eagerness and dread – eager to see him returning, dread at the thought of an empty road. But I have to look, whatever the cost.
What is he doing I wonder? How has he used his money? I’m sure he will have shared some with his friends. Generous to a fault is that boy. A chip off the old block. Boys being boys, there’s some stuff I think I would rather not know about. Such a good looking young man, he’s sure to attract attention. Maybe he’s invested in a business. Maybe he’s now rich and well thought of wherever he is. It’s useless to speculate.
Wake from your reverie and look out, old man! You didn’t come here to dream, you can do that on your bed. You came to look for your son. Maybe today he will return. Lift your eyes, scan the road, seek your son.
Nothing, nothing but an empty road and the sun beating down making it shimmer. Hope dashed again. Wait! I’m wrong. The road isn’t empty. Someone is walking there in the distance! It could be anyone. Don’t be a fool. Calm your beating heart. It’s just a limping tramp.
What is it about this figure? Why can’t I take my eyes off him? What draws me to him? It’s my son, I know it’s my son! He’s returned! He’s back!
Run old legs, run! No time to lose! I’ve got to reach my son.
Is it really him? This skeleton of a man, ragged and dishevelled. How little there is to embrace this time. No strong, straight back, no powerful shoulders. But how good it feels to welcome him!
Have I made a mistake? His eyes are the same, as is his voice. What is he talking about? The sun must have addled his brain. A servant? How can a son be a servant?
Why do they question me? What’s so difficult about obeying a request? A robe, sandals, a ring. Is that too much to ask? And the fatted calf. Oh, the celebration there will be tonight! Music, laughter, sharing of news, celebration for all my friends and family. My son, once thought dead, is alive and home. My lost one is found!
My heart could burst from happiness. So many smiling faces. Music, dancing, feasting. Maybe my friends don’t think I’m such an old fool now, after all.
One face isn’t smiling. What’s wrong? Why is my servant so sad? What news does he bring?
Have I gained one son only to lose another? Doesn’t my elder boy know I love him? Have I ever withheld anything from him? He has stuck with me through all these years. Surely he knows how much I appreciate that?
It seems there is no way to love one without alienating the other. My heart aches for my elder son. For such a short time all I knew was joy but now it is mixed with pain.
Such is the cost of love. It can be no other way.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor