I decided to upload a copy of the sermon that I preached at Holy Trinity Brussels. It is below, but it has been edited slightly for reading, instead of hearing. The Scriptures that inform it are 1 Peter 2:1-10 and the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15:11-32.
Let’s talk about family. For some of us, that potent word brings about images of happy hearth and home, a sense of safety and a sense of belonging, of being completely loved. For others, thinking of family brings about a sense of dread, a sense of displacement, of loss and of pain. And I think we can all agree that there is no perfect family. We’ve all received our psychoses and neuroses from those first and most intimate relations. So, when we hear the topic “Welcome to the Family,” we have to wonder, to pause and ask several questions: whose family is this? What does its mean to be a member of it? And do I want to be welcomed to this family? These are the questions I hope to begin to answer, but the answering of these questions will last all term. This term we are looking at what it means to be a community, and moreover to be the people of God, the family of God (I just gave away the first answer). We will also be looking at later the very fundamental and practical ways we keep this community, this family healthy and growing, the different ways we relate to one another. While this is an introduction to all of that, we will ultimately see it is what we constantly need to come back to, the foundation and the identity of the family and our place in it.
We read tonight the story of the prodigal son. This is an extremely famous parable, and there are been many, many sermons preached on it. Books written. Theologies developed. All of it. So, I want to frame it tonight in a more cultural light. I want us to see the story and its motifs in the film, Blood Diamond. Now, if you have or have not seen it, you might be thinking, “Isn’t that a film about conflict diamonds and not a son taking his inheritance, living riotously, losing everything, wallowing (quite literally) in the mud before seeking his father again and returning home — being welcomed back in a manner far beyond even his wildest dreams.” And you’re right. But there is a father-son relationship in it which gets at the same ideas as this story, and they both help us to understand what it means to belong to the family of God. In Blood Diamond, a Solomon Vandy’s son Dia is taken captive by a warlord bent on civil war. Solomon is also captured, but he is taken to work in the diamond mines, which fuel the warlord’s army and proclivities. Now, this is where the plot of the film emerges, as Solomon finds a rare pink diamond, but hides it and escapes to find his son. The action of the movie is propelled along by his determination to seek and save his lost son. His search is aided by a young, former soldier turned contract smuggler. It is a good film, and it is definitely worth seeing. There are differences in these two stories, the prodigal son and Blood Diamond, in one the son is taken and corrupted by the warlord through violence and drugs into being a child-soldier, and in the other the son leaves of his own volition. Yet, in both stories, there are two common moments. Both sons wish their father dead. In the prodigal son, perhaps you missed it, but in Jewish terms, wishing for your inheritance, demanding it, is the equivalent, since you only receive your inheritance (normally) when your father dies. The son is saying, “Wish you were dead, Dad, so I could have your money.” In Blood Diamond, there is a scene where after much searching, Solomon finally finds Dia, but when he confronts him to try to get him away from the camp and the other soldiers, he denounces his father, saying that he doesn’t know him and that he is a traitor, a government man.
Both stories also have moments of reconciliation. Both sons are brought home by the love of their fathers. In the prodigal son, the son determines to come home again, in order to be his father’s slave because that life is better than what he is living, yet while he is still on the road home, the father sees him and welcomes him home as a son, as an heir. He rejoices, he celebrates his lost son’s return. His love is not conditional, but because of who the father is, his son’s identity remains intact even though he had wished him dead. To see how this plays out in Blood Diamond, I thought we could watch a short clip.
Dia is reminded of his identity. A process of healing, of homecoming has started. It will take a long time to be completed, but it is the same with us and God. God has run out to meet us on the journey of our life, God is constantly reminding us how we are, especially who we are to God and in God. We are all being brought home. We are all coming home, the long way around.
All of this talk of fathers and sons, though, might have some of us feeling excluded. And I want to acknowledge this, but for so long the politics of this family have not been a politic of love but one of domination. Culturally speaking, the prodigal son turns to be a son for 1st century Palestine, but the same principles are inherent for any child, daughter or son, today. We all can turn our backs on the family, on the love of God, and we all wander off to distant and forgotten lands, only to have God running to meet us on our way back. So, sons and daughters are interchangeable here. We are all sought after by the Father. But in saying that, I bring up the other half of the exclusion. Again, talk of fathers is cultural, but there is also a principle in play: one of generation. In ancient metaphysics, the father was seen as the generative source of life, the form, while the mother was seen as the nurturing and the receptive source of life, the matter. So, when God is referred to as Father, this is an acknowledgement of God’s identity as the source of all life, as the generative aspect. Now, this is majority of talk of God in Scripture, and hence in theology. Yet there are glimpses of God as mother: in Isaiah, God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem;” and then there Jesus, who weeps, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” We could also look at Deuteronomy 32 where God gives birth or Psalms 131 where God calls “Himself” a Mother. But at the beginning of Scripture, in Genesis, when God creates humanity, Scripture says, “So God created humanity in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is not saying that God is both male and female in material terms, but that God is relational; the Godhead, the Trinity, is perfect community, three-in-one, one-in-three, the family into which we are ushered and in which we are created; God is Father, God is Mother, Brother, Sister, Friend, Saviour, Lord.
After that brief excursus, let us now term to our other passage, I Peter 2, where we see how this family of God is constituted and what our place in it is. The metaphor here is one of a building, not a family, yet it is analogous. Jesus is the center of the family; he is the living core, at which we will find love, peace, freedom, and identity. Once we were not a people, not a family, but now we have become one because Jesus has come and has called us out of darkness into the light. And what are our places in this family? We are here to live and to grow together, ridding ourselves of all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. We are a part of this family to grow closer who God, the God who has run out to us and named us and called us back, as our source of life. We brought together to declare his praises, to live out the life of God on this earth, a life of perfect society, of perfect relation. We are living out God’s presence in the world. We are the Body of Christ, and are his representatives to the world. We are all in this together. We are built together on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is God who has been seeking us, long before we ever sought God. When we return to God, God welcomes us joyfully into the divine life. That’s who we are.
Now, of course, we never get this perfect. We are always and constantly messing up and falling down and getting into all sorts of trouble. We are in process. We are becoming. We are the already-not-yet family. So, let us take this autumn, the next few months, to talk about what it means to be a family. God has run out to meet us, God has called us home, God has saved us from ruined lives and given us hope and a home again. Let us learn how to be that home together. Let us learn how to love one another, so that our Father, our Lord, and His Only Son, Jesus Christ, may be glorified and proclaimed, the source of all life, in whom we all find rest, ourselves, our place.