Obviously, all of those people aren't at church on an ordinary Sunday (unless they are the ones who show up the weeks I stay home; maybe whenever I miss, they bring in all those extra chairs). So I figure one of a couple of things is going on when they decide not to raise their hands. Maybe they feel embarrassed. Maybe they don't want to be outed as the Easter-Christmas-crowd. Okay, I'd rather people not volunteer to feel shamed. Maybe they're afraid they're going to be asked to do something or say something. Maybe they're afraid they're going to be given something they don't want. Fair enough.
But maybe it's something else, something sweeter. Maybe they still feel like this is their home. Maybe they don't feel new or like they are visiting, because they feel like they belong here, even if they haven't been since Christmas or last Easter or Grandma's funeral or their own wedding.
Isn't that who we want to be, as Church? A community that welcomes back the wayward son?
I've been thinking a fair amount lately about that parable, the one we call The Parable of the Prodigal Son. I read Tim Keller's book, The Prodigal God, which I can recommend, and I've discussed some of its points with a couple of friends.
I picked up the book because another friend thought I'd like it. As I began to read, part of me thought, "Yeah, yeah, I know all this." But I didn't. For instance, I'd never thought about the fact that, when the father divides the inheritance, the elder brother gets his, larger, portion too, so when the father says to him, "Everything I have is yours," that is literally true. When the father takes the ring and the robe and the fatted calf and all the other trimmings for the feast, he is taking from the elder brother to give to the wayward younger son.
Here was the other thing that I had never, ever considered: According to Keller, when the younger brother took off and never came back, somebody should have gone out looking for him. Look at the context of this parable. It follows immediately after The Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Parable of the Lost Coin. What happens in those stories? Something is lost, and someone -- the shepherd, the woman -- searches high and low until they are found. Not so the lost son/brother. And Keller says that the one who should have gone looking, according to the culture, was the older brother. But he doesn't. And when the younger brother comes back, the older brother is not rejoicing. He's angry, hurt, and disgusted.
It's tempting. I'm here in church week after week... They only bother to show up at Easter, and now I can't have my regular parking space or my pew. I sniff. I huff. I sigh.
"Everything I have is yours." That means, if my wayward brother, sister, is going to have any -- because she's spent hers -- it has to come out of mine. My inheritance, my parking space. Am I willing to share?
The older brother in the story is not willing to enter into the feast. We don't get to know if he ever joins in. Somehow, he feels like there is not enough for him if his wayward brother gets any.
I found a place to park and a place to sit, even though we got there later than we'd planned.
Why do I feel like there's not going to be enough for me?
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”18And he said, “Bring them here to me.”19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14:14-21)