Joshua 5:9-12, Psalm 32, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Home Free, Preached by Fr. Peter Courtney
I knew I had a chance to beat my Grandfather in 10-pin bowling. It was not a sure thing, but I had a chance. He was too good at too many things. Even at age of 78 with tri-focal glasses he could beat me in tennis. So victory would be so sweet over this fabulous man who was so good at everything--Except driving. Here there was no contest. I was the hands-down winner at driving.
This particular day I think my bowling was worse than usual. He may have won. On the way home I drove more aggressively than usual for a teen-aged boy. After a few tire squeals around the corners Gramps said: “You know it isn’t very comfortable to ride in the car when you drive like that. If you won’t slow down around the corners, I’ll have to drive.” Wow, first bowling, now driving. I was shocked, devastated, and enraged. I pulled over to the side of the road, set the emergency brake and got out of the car. “If you don’t like my driving, you can drive and I’ll walk.”
He drove off, slowly. He knew it was at least 5 miles home. And it was July. It was hot. It was very hot. . . really hot. I trudged along the road in self-righteous indignation for quite a while. The dust completely covered my shoes; my face got all streaky with sweat and dust. My self-righteousness dulled in inverse proportion to the swelling of my feet. I pondered what had made my absolutely god-like grandfather speak so sharply to me. He had never, in my whole life, done that before. My driving couldn't have been that bad could it? I tried to dismiss him as an old fool. Even that didn’t work. I just knew he wasn’t an old fool. He was never wrong, about anything, ever.
Just as I was beginning to think this martyrdom was not a good idea at all, I realized there was a car in back of me. It was Gramps. I had begun to kinda sorta watch for him. Somehow he got around in back of me without me seeing him. He couldn’t have gone around the block. This was in the country where the blocks were five miles on a side.He asked me if I wanted I ride. He didn’t say much of anything the rest of the way home. He didn’t have to.
I knew I was home free. I deserved to walk. I certainly didn’t deserve to be taken bowling and to the driving range and out to lunch in Boston. I didn’t deserve a grandfather like Gramps who knew everything and who always had time and compassion for a not very grown-up college kid. I was home free.
I was an Israelite sitting around on one of the twelve stones in Gilgal telling the story about how we got home free, not once, but twice: once when God led them through the deep waters to escape from the Egyptians, twice when God held back the water of Jordan as they crossed into the Promised Land. Just like them we are home free. We didn’t earn the Promised Land. It was a gift, a promise, a covenant. We erred and strayed like lost sheep. Their driving was worse than mine, and yet God got them home free.
God is the prodigal father to us profligate sons and daughters. He is the prodigal father who wastes his love on the son who went off on his Harley Davidson after taking his inheritance off the old man. In Hebrew culture this was as good as saying: “Why don’t you hurry up and die and be of some use to me, old man.”
He pocketed the cash and wasted it on the Strip. When he came to his senses, he used his righteous imagination to think up a likely story to give the old man about how things hadn’t gone too well in Vegas, about how his dad had been right all along yadda, yadda. Before he can get the very first word of this song and dance out of his mouth his father picks up him off the sidewalk wraps his arms around him and gives him the bear hug of his life. He was home free. Later on the prodigal father points out to his sulking older son that he too is not only home free, he was always home free. Why? Because. That’s why. Just because.
These are joyful stories. They make us feel good. They teach us what love is and perhaps more important what God’s love is like.
And we don’t believe it.
We read the newspapers. There we read of corruption and misery so great it makes one want to pull the door closed and lock the world out forever. There cannot be forgiveness in world like ours, even with us in it.
Truth be told hell is full of forgiven sinners, people who are home free. Heaven is full of forgiven sinners to, people who are home free too. The difference is the people in heaven know it. Unlike those in hell they know they are home free in the incomparable goodness of God. We are all home free.
Hell, of course, is a fairly appealing address despite artistic representations to the contrary. Hell is an easy address to find. No GPS required, only a good dose of contempt and condemnation which are so easy to acquire and easier to hold onto with the tenacious tongs of self-righteousness.
St. Paul said it all: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We all are uncondemned, no matter who attacks us, who maligns us, who talks stink about us. We are all home free. We are all the prodigal son, the elder brother, Israel in exile. We are home free. No one is going to tag us “out” as we slide home. We are home free. All of us: the perverted and the righteous; the straight and gay; the humorous and the serious; the toxic and the healed, we are all home free.
So, when you get home and your resident skeptic asks you: “What did the man say in church today.” Tell them the man said: “Gospel means ‘Home Free.’”