"Family"

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

10 March 2013

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Prayer.

Thank you pastor Todd for meeting with us today.

This is my father’s youngest son, Brad.

I’m his eldest son, Stan.

Can I get you some coffee?

I’m glad to know that you knew my father well.

It is probably hard writing a eulogy for people you never met.

Yep, this is the place where we grew up,

where we caught the school bus,

brought home our girl friends,

went off to school,

and where I came home from college for break.

This house sure holds a lot of memories,

some good,

some not so good.

Of all the rooms in this house,

I think dad liked the front porch best;

especially in the summer

when he could sit on his Adirondack rocker

watching the road,

waiting for one of us to return.

Brad led a tough life;

that’s probably what caused his stroke and has left him unable to speak.

He smoked and drank;

ran around with every tramp who came through town.

I’m sorry to upset you Brad,

but it’s true;

you were always a spoiled little brat.

Brad’s lifestyle so hurt dad, even though he’d never let on.

He’d get the call from the police to come and bail him out of jail,

or from the emergency room after a bar fight,

and dad would get out of bed and fetch him home.

Dad never raised his voice.

I have to hand it to him.

There were some pretty quiet mornings right here around this breakfast table.

Dad was always so relieved to have Brad home

that he was somehow quick to overlook his absolutely shameful, embarrising lifestyle.

I could never understand it;

I worked for the family business since I was a kid,

after college, up by 6 and home by 8.

Yet Brad played the fool;

he’d come in smelling of liquor or perfume,

of no earthly good to the business.

Heck, I couldn’t put him out in front to meet a customer.

I’d have to keep him in the back room where he could sleep it off on the rollaway.

Dad never knew;

or, at least, I don’t think he knew.

Dad was pretty smart, really smart,

that was public knowledge,

but even more than smart,

Dad sure loved his two boys.

Sometimes I wonder why.

Things hit a rough patch in the family

a while ago when Brad decided his life wasn’t going anywhere

and he went off to the community college.

Even though he always hated school,

he was going to be like his older brother.

He was going to take on the world,

get a degree,

and land himself a high paying job outside of dad’s family business.

He fell into the wrong crowd;

just look at those tatoos and piercings.

They look great now, don’t they, Brad?

Jeeze, Brad here, got into the coke and the meth

and before you knew it

he was right here at this table screaming at dad and me

that he wanted out.

He was dropping out of school.

He wanted out of the family.

He wanted out of our lives.

And he want his half right now;

because he wasn’t going to wait for the old man to kick.

I’ve never heard such disrespect.

He was so up in dad’s face I was ready to call 911.

But dad, quietly looked up and told me to hang up the phone.

He said, “Brad, you want this?

You’ve got this.”

And by the end of the month

the lawyers had given half a million in cash and 3 of dad’s six stores to Brad.

I couldn’t believe it.

That was my money.

Those were my stores.

We could have grown the business together.

But that son of his

wasted it all at Vegas gambling tables,

blowing it up his nose,

shooting it in his arm,

and swinging it with his latest charm.

Pastor Todd,

I stayed home.

I kept my nose clean and my shoulder to the grindstone.

I worked 60 hour weeks

while dad would sit on the front porch watching for Brad to come home.

It was frosty between dad and me.

I was mad, and I let him have it more than once.

I couldn’t believe that he loved Brad so much to give it all away

and to be so possessed with these delusional thoughts that, one day, Brad might return.

Dad couldn’t work;

he’d just sit there, watching the road.

I want you to know that I built this business back up.

It was my sweat;

my hard work.

I did it on my own.

Dad always loved us both;

I know that.

His gentleness and quickness to forgive

was his reputation.

It was who dad was.

He’d carry customer’s debts on his books for years.

He would give candy to kids

and a generous tithe to the church.

If ever there was anyone who had fun giving back,

even giving his own shirt off his back to anyone who needed it,

that was dad.

Dad kept Brad’s room just as he left it.

It was like when some families lose a child

and they just can’t bear to change anything in the room ever again.

If dad wasn’t sitting on the porch watching,

I could often find him sitting on Brad’s bed quietly crying

lost in thought

or praying for his lost son to return.

Then, one day, it happened.

I was on the road meeting with bankers and negotiating with sellers,

when my assistant calls me and tells me, “He’s home.”

Brad had come home;

and dad was throwing a party.

I was so mad I couldn’t even spit.

I caught a taxi and got on the next plane home.

You could hear the band all the way out in the parking lot.

The whole town was there;

I suppose the offer of free food

and the chance to gather for gossip about my family’s dysfunction

appeals to a wide audience.

Pastor Todd; looking through the window,

I even saw you there, laughing and talking like there’s no tomorrow.

Everyone was dancing and singing.

Dad was making a fool of himself doing karaoke

when I was about to enter,

but I just couldn’t open the door.

Dad must have found out that I had returned

because he rushed outside,

arms open wide, and said,

“Come in! Your brother, who was lost, is now found!”

I called him a fool.

“You think he can take half of everything,

blow it on drugs, alcohol, and whores

and come back to you begging on his hands and knees?”

He was throwing Brad a party today and was going to offer him a job tomorrow.

After all these years

I’d been working like a slave for my father;

I’d never disobeyed one of his requests;

I built his company back up

and I not once ever asked for a raise.

How dare he?

Brad had embarrassed all of us, especially me!

But it was different for dad.

Somehow he was able to look beyond all of this.

He looked me straight in the eye and said,

“‘Son, you are always with me,

and all that is mine is yours.

But we had to celebrate and rejoice,

because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life;

he was lost and has been found.’”

The very next day,

dad had brought Brad into work,

and right there behind the counter Brad collapsed with a major stroke.

He hasn’t said a word since.

I don’t know what was harder on dad;

losing Brad to the ways of the world,

or retiring from the business to take care of him for these past 15 years.

Every day I resented my father,

always the loving father to Brad,

while I slaved away at work to provide for both of them.

But now dad’s gone.

I never got to make things right between him and me.

Pastor Todd,

I’ve never been much of a church goer,

especially with dad wheeling Brad to church every Sunday.

It always felt strange to attend;

felt hypocritical, perhaps,

let alone it felt strange to sit in the same pew with him.

I know the journey of faith is about living like Jesus,

and dad was certainly like that,

but me?

Not so much.

Now, it’s just Brad and Stan;

two sons of, I suppose, a heavenly father.

I’m not certain I can take care of Brad.

I’m not certain I want to.

I just don’t know if I have it in me.

Pastor Todd,

where do I begin?