Coming Home

by Brian Walsh

ptsd“Many of us are still suffering PTSD from the language of salvation.”

So I was told last week after our WBB service.
Post-traumatic stress disorder from the language of salvation.

I get that, even though it is not my experience.

I get that the language of salvation has been a tool of manipulation, rooted in an abusive spirituality of guilt and constructed for social control.

I get that.

But rather than abandoning the language of salvation (and I appreciate that some folks just have to do that, at least for a time), I’d like to reclaim it.

And so in my sermon last week I offered ‘homecoming’ as an interpretation of what the Bible means by salvation.

In an email exchange with a friend on the weekend I offered him the opportunity to come to the farm someday and we’ll eat the “fatted calf.” In his reply, he asked, “Don’t I have to be a Prodigal Son for that?”

I answered, “You mean, you’re not?”

We are all prodigal sons and daughters.
We are all far from home.
We are all, in the deepest sense, homeless.

And the invitation is to come home.

The text last week ended with God at the door,
holding it wide open,
summoning us all home.

But the story of the prodigal son seems to play itself out
in the eleventh chapter of Romans as well.

You see, there is the business of the elder brother.
The prodigal son returns home to the joyful welcome of his father,
the party ensues,
and the responsible elder brother,
refuses to come in and join the celebration.

Well consider this.

What if that younger son not only came home to his father’s house,
not only left behind his self-imposed homelessness,
but brought with him a large crowd of his friends
from his life of sin as well?
What if it isn’t just the younger brother who is enjoying the party,
but a host of folks who you would never have invited;
folks who you would never trust in your own home;
folks who you would feel sullied to even talk to?

I think that Paul is dealing with this kind of dynamic when he talks about
Gentiles, Jews, jealousy, anger, inclusion and exclusion in Romans 11.

At the end of the parable of the prodigal son,
the burning question is:
what did the elder brother do?
Did he end up joining the party,
or did he remain outside?
Does the homecoming of his brother,
and even more disturbing, all of his pagan friends,
render him homeless?

Or does he relent, see this party for what it is,
see his own homelessness,
and come home?

Maybe this isn’t just a question for the elder brother.
Maybe this is the question that we all need to face
when that Kingdom party starts to get out of hand.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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