A Sermon for Covenant
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2013
Kyndall Rae Renfro
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
As he walked away, he fingered the coin in his pockets. Clink, clink, clink, clink. His pouch weighed heavy on his back, packed to the brim with money and his very best outfit folded neatly on top. Clink, clink, clink, clink. The assortment of coins collided with a certain rhythm as he walked, almost creating departure music for his new great adventure. This put a spring in his step despite the weight of his bag and he half-skipped the whole first mile. Clink, clink, clink, clink. He never looked back until he was well out of sight—perhaps he didn’t want to see his father in the window, peering after him with sorrow in his eyes, strain on his furrowed forehead, his usually-busy hands hanging forlornly at his sides as if emptied of ideas. He certainly didn’t want to see his mother, undoubtedly standing dejectedly beside his father. No matter how old he got, it still bothered him to see his Mama cry. So with every step he focused his eyes on his daydreams and let the visions of his family fall by the wayside. Clink, clink, clink, clink. What a grand time he would have! As his feet hit the open road, he felt a twinge of regret rise up, but he swallowed it back. He could not wait to be free! Clink, clink, clink, clink. He could not wait to spend his inheritance, to feel the joy of his money at last, to experience all the world had to offer. Clink, clink, clink, clink.
Clip, clop, clip, clop. He continued to push the plow while attempting to push angry thoughts about his brother out of his mind. Clip, clop, clip, clop. But good grief! He had seen the look on Dad’s face, the way Mom buried her head in her hands when the foolish kid packed up his inheritance and left. The heartless jerk—all he ever cared about was himself. Wiping sweat from his brow, the older son grunted with disgust, then pushed with more force than was really necessary. Clip, clop! Clip, clop! He was angry; it couldn’t be helped. That was to be expected when a family member just up and disowns the rest of the family. (Ugh!) Clip, clop, clip, clop.
Come to think of it, he was a little peeved at his parents too, the way they had always babied his brother, catered to his demands, let him get by with stuff, then fretted and worried and fussed every time he got himself into trouble. Sheesh! What did they expect? Even now they were probably commiserating together, completely oblivious to the farm’s wellbeing, unaware of the work he was putting in to keep it alive while they wallowed in their grief. Clip, clop, clip, clop. He felt his insides clench with rage at his wayward brother. Is that what you had to do to get noticed around here? Do something rash or crazy or stupid? Why is it that the unconventional kids get all the attention, the seeming favor? He thought of Cain and Abel and suddenly felt sorry for Cain, the poor guy who worked so hard and got so little reward for his offering. Or Joseph’s brothers—they worked hard for years and he was getting privileged before he was even old enough to pull his own weight. Or Esau! There’s a guy who got the raw end of the deal! Clip, clop, clip, clop. Privileges of the first-born—ha! What a great “privilege” to be the ever-responsible one and care for everyone else while the younger ones go about causing trouble and drawing all the attention on themselves. Clip, clop, clip, clop.
By the time he was walking home, the whole entire world looked and felt different. His pockets were empty, for one thing, but that was barely the beginning of it. There was not a thing left in his pack but remorse. He’d even sold his other set of clothes to buy a bit to eat. The only thing he was bringing home was regret. He had no pride, not even much sense of self. Just a shell of a man with the hollow hope that someone might have mercy if he simply came home and told his ugly truth—“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Bereft of every dream, every vision, every sound, even his lonely footsteps fell silently as he trod the dismal journey home.
But it was an emptiness his father could hear from a hundred yards away. No words were necessary. No exchange of information was needed. He could not see from that far away that the pack was now completely empty, but the slump of his son’s shoulders said it all. Finally, finally, the damn had cracked. A space had been opened for love and so the father rushed out like a swelling tide to greet the barren sands of his son’s sorrow. Mom was not far behind, adding her precious tears, enough to fill an ocean. There was so little left on his son’s part—no money, no achievement, nothing to show—but there was love to fill the void. Love, endless love, as free as the sunshine, as undeserved as the rain, as abundant as the earth.
Clip, clop, clip, clop. Things were still noisy and normal out in the fields where he worked on unaware that the plates of earth had shifted, the geography of his family had just been altered forever. It had been months and months, but there was still a bit of fume left inside of him. Clip, clop, clip, clop. Hard to let go when it was all Mom and Dad talked about every night at dinner. When is he coming home? When is he coming home? It was all he could do to keep from shouting, “Hello! Over here! I’m here. I’m here. Do you see me?” Clip, clop, clip, clop. He’d been so patient, so good, so reliable. Did anyone care? And yet, whether anyone noticed or not, he knew what he would do. Keep plowing faithfully on. This was who he was: Clip, clop, clip, clop. Clip, clop, clip, clop.
Click, click, click, click, click. What was that? What was happening? Why were servants leaving their duties? Why was the atmosphere suddenly vibrant and awake? And what was that noise, that cacophony interrupting his rhythm? Click, click, click, click. Was that . . . music? And it almost sounded like tapping feet, like, like dancing! Click, click, click, click, click, click.
He frowned at this strange invasion. Clip, clop, clip, clop, he doggedly continued. He called out to a passing servant, “What’s going on?”
“Your brother has come! And your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound!”
Clip, clop, clip, clop. Clip, clop, clip, clop. Must be nice to have someone throw you a party, just for staying alive. Clip, clop, clip, clop. No one even thought to tell him what was going on, big surprise. He will just stay out here in the fields, where he belongs, working. No one will probably even notice his absence. He’ll stay put and do what he always does, slaving away thanklessly . . .
“Son?” the older son turned at the sound of his father’s voice. “Won’t you come inside and join the party?” Clip, clop, clip, clop. “Why not? Why do you stay out here and toil when there’s such cause for rejoicing?” Clip, clop, clip, clop. “Can’t you hear the music and the dancing?” Click, click, click, click, click, click. Clip, clop, clip, clop.
And then the son stopped and wiped furiously at a tear that escaped his eye, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
The father wiped back tears of his own, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” And with a sad and tender smile, he walked away.
The son was alone with his thoughts. Click, click, click, click, click, click. The sounds of dancing faintly reached his ears. The celebration was calling to him, echoing his father’s pleas, and he scowled at his own resistance. Was he really so averse to mercy for others? Or was he needy for mercy himself? Why couldn’t he let loose and dance? His brother had squandered his gifts, but maybe he had worked his gifts into the ground, trying to prove he deserved to have them. Never able to enjoy what was already his.
Had the mercy, the inheritance, been there for him all along? Could it be he had all he needed right here? It was all his this whole time. How could he have missed it? How could he have failed to see the abundance that he swam in, the way a fish swims in water? Was mercy the air he breathed, but it was hard to see the air? Why hadn’t Mom and Dad been more obvious about it all—why not shower him with gifts to show him, to make him understand? Or had the seeming distance been a necessary hallowing?
Click, click, click, click, click, click. The sounds of his plowing stopped, and the sounds of the party reverberated through his soul, but instead of moving towards the house, he sat down in the field with tears in his eyes and looked around at all that surrounded him, the beauty and the love that had been his for years, and he tried to absorb it, to trace backwards and catch up on three decades of seeing what he had not seen before. He felt, for the first time, a kinship with his brother, for though he was in a field while his brother was in a party, per the usual, they were both encountering a lavishness they had never known before. It had been long journey home for the both of them. Neither one could earn the favor they already possessed—all they could do was put their hope in it, come home to it, and receive it.