Lenten Noonday Preaching Series
Calvary Episcopal Church
Memphis, Tennessee
February 22, 1999

You Can Go Home Again
The Rev. Dr. Alvin O. Jackson
Senior Pastor, National City
Christian Church
Washington, D.C.

Well, it is good to be back home. Good to be in this place and to see all of you. No matter where I go and what I do, Memphis will always be home, and there is no place like home. I am so grateful to my good, dear friend Doug Bailey and the good people of Calvary Church for this invitation and this opportunity to return to this wonderful place with so many memories, so many reminders of the powerful and prophetic ministry of Calvary Church in the heart of this city. It is good to see Mississippi Boulevard and so many friends here. My good friend, the Reverend Billy Kyles and the Reverend T. O’Neal Crivens and so many others who are here today, it is good to see you. Tina and our son, Colin, are still here in Memphis as Dr. Bailey indicated, and will be here until June, Collin finishing his senior year at Central High. I have not seen them in a few weeks, and so I might not be that accessible later this afternoon. Tina and I might just run off and be crazy for a while, if you get my drift.

I would call attention to a very familiar passage in the gospel of Luke, Chapter 15, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I will not read it. You know this parable. I think I will title this word, “You Can Go Home Again.”

I’m sure most of you remember the movie “E.T.” where millions and every age and in every culture wept openly when E.T. in the movie whispered to Elliott, “Home, Elliott. Home.” That is because we identified with E.T. and that desire for home. There is this desire, this longing in all of us for home. We want to go home again. Not necessarily to a geographical location, or to an address on a particular street, or to a particular place in time, but home. I know I will probably never live again in Memphis, or at 506 Roosevelt Street in Indianola, Mississippi, or play marbles in the schoolyard at Carver Elementary School, or run track at Gentry High School, or play alto sax in the marching band. Things have changed. I’ve gotten older. I’m not as swift on my feet as I used to be. I’m not as agile. Things will never be the same again. I can never go back and recapture the days of my childhood. They are gone forever. But I can go home again - back to the essence of who I am. Home - my spiritual home. Home - back to the image of God in me. Home - it is what T. S. Eliott was talking about when he said, “At the end of all of our exploring, we’ll ... arrive where we started and know that place for the first.” That is home.

You see I believe we came from God and we belong to God. And no matter where you go, or how good it gets, or how high you climb on the social economic ladder, you are still not home. You still have not arrived. You may think that you’re there, but you are not home yet. St. Augustine said it well: Thou hast made us for thyself, and our souls are restless until they’ve found rest in thee. So I thought I would come and remind us today that you can go home again.

Thomas Wolfe wrote a beautiful, moving novel. It is a classic. He called it, You Can’t Go Home Again. I want you to know today that Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home. [It] matters not how long you’ve been gone, or how far you’ve wandered, or what you’ve done, you can go home again. You can break bad habits. You can leave your ruts. You can be forgiven. You can get rid of guilt. You can make it. You can overcome depression. You can scale high mountains. You can walk through valleys. You can press toward the mark....You can turn your pain into gain. You can survive, and even thrive, against all odds. You can go home again. You can realize your potential. You can recapture the joy, the excitement of living. You can smell the roses. You can go home again. I don’t have anything profound to say today. All I came to tell you today is that you can go home again. I know you can. I declare you can. You can go home again, and the reason I’m so certain about it, so sure beyond all doubt, I know God. I know His nature. I know His heart.

You know this parable in the text is called the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” But I would suggest that a much better title would be the “Parable of the Prodigal God.” For this parable is much more about the loving graciousness of God than it is about the sinfulness of the son. Do you know what that word “prodigal” means? It means extravagant. It means lavish, abundant, bounteous, excessive, wasteful, unrestrained. And more than describing what the son did with his inheritance, it describes what God does with His love. God’s love toward us is extravagant, lavish, abundant, bounteous, excessive, unrestrained, even wasteful. While we were yet sinners, off in a far country, Christ died for us. I tell you this is the parable not of the prodigal son but of the prodigal God. It is why I am so certain we can go home again.

The Pharisees, the scribes, the professional church folks accused Jesus of receiving sinners, spending time with the wrong folk. “This man receives sinners and eats with them,” they said of Him. Jesus did not deny the charge but rather used the charge as an opportunity to preach a sermon on what is really important to God. And he really told three parables. One about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep but lost one. Jesus said, “Will he not leave the ninety-nine and look until he finds it?” And another parable he told about a woman who had ten pieces of silver but lost one. Jesus said, “Will she not light a candle and sweep the house until she finds it?” And when she had found it, she calls her neighbors and friends together saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost.” And the third parable was about a father who lost a son. But when the son returned home, the father said, “Bring forth the best, for even this my son was dead, but now is alive. He was lost but is now found.” Jesus said in all three instances - the father, the woman, and the shepherd - that’s God. That is where is heart is. You want to know what God is like. There He is. The father, the woman, the shepherd - that is God.

And I see five things here, quickly, five things God is concerned about and five reasons I know we can go home again. The first is separation. The first reason I know we can go home again is because God is concerned about separation. The sheep got separated from the shepherd. The coin got separated from the woman. The son got separated from the father. God is concerned about separation. Say it, “Separation.” God is concerned about separation. Anybody here who knows the experience of separation? God’s heart reaches out to you. For some of you, this word doesn’t say much. But I know as I looked out over this congregation, this noon day, I know without knowing everyone here personally, I know that this word “separation” for many of you is more than just another word. I know that there are many of you here this noon day who started out your life with a sense of hope and anticipation, and you joined together in holy matrimony with the love of your life, but for some reason it did not work. And you are sitting here this noon day; you know separation. You have experienced it. Some are separated by divorce. Some by abandonment. Some by death. Some by geographical distance. Separated in the home. Isolated. Alienated. No real companionship. And you know that there are different ways to have separation. Sometimes it is when someone leaves home, but other times it is when you live in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, shoulder to shoulder, but hearts are separated one from another. And you are praying that the service will last as long as possible so that you won’t have to return to that hell of a home without love. Separation. You’re at home, but you’re homesick. Homesick at home because you are separated.

Now I’m not talking about separation so that you can start feeling sorry for yourself or get all teary-eyed. No, no, no. I want you to know that God understands your problem of separation. You’re going around saying, “No one understands me, no one knows what I’m going through.” God knows. He understands. I hear Him saying through the text, “Tell them, Jackson, not to ever say again that no one understands. Tell them that I am the God of creation, and that I know all about separation. Tell them that I know the pain of the fragmentation of relationships. Tell them that I made a creation and loved it, and yet, my own creation that I had made and loved and kissed and called good, that creation somehow got separated from me. It fell, and it breaks my heart.” You say nobody understands. God told me tell you today that He understands. He understands what it is to love and not have that love returned. He understands what it is to give and not receive anything back. He has a special sensitivity to those who have been separated. He knows your complications. He knows your frustrations, your loneliness, the absence of companionship, and He is working on this project. He has a major project going on. He is trying to get his separated creation back. And what He wants you to know is that if you will let Him, He will take your individual situation as a little project, a pilot project, a demonstration of what He is going to do, on a cosmic scale.

If you’re here today and you’re separated, God wants you to know that since He is working on the problem of separation from a cosmic level, if you will allow Him to work on the frustrations, the complications, the loneliness you are experiencing, He would like to take your case on as a demonstration. Let Him handle the problem of separation. Turn it over to Him. He may not arrange it like you expect. He may not solve it like you want it solved. He may not fix it like you want it fixed, but He will fix it. I dare you to turn it over to Him. For He is eager, anxious, waiting and longing to take your burdens and work them out. For He is concerned about separation. And my friends, I tell you, we better get concerned about, as the Church, we better get concerned about separation. Whether it is caused by divorce, racism, age, death, or sin, wherever there is a problem of separation, that problem ought to be admissible to the church. Don’t get sidetracked. Don’t let some little doctrine, or creed, or bible verse out of context trip you up. God is concerned about separation. All kinds of separation, and that is why I am so sure that you can go home again.

The second reason I know you can go home is, not only is God concerned about separation, but He is also concerned about restoration. What did the shepherd do when the sheep was lost? He went out and found him. What did the woman do when the coin was lost? She swept the house until she found it. What did the father do when the son was lost? He looked, he watched, he waited until he came home. And this reminds us that wherever there is separation, God is trying to bring about restoration. Wherever there is brokenness and fragmentation, alienation, wherever there has been an interruption of a relationship, God is trying to bring about restoration. Say it, “Restoration.” This is a participatory situation today. God wants to restore somebody here, for somebody here has fallen far from a faith that was once rich and vital and alive, but you’re out of relationship, out of fellowship. God wants to restore you. And I want you to know that God is an expert at restoration. I hear Solomon saying, “He restoreth my soul. Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.” He can do it. Yes, He can. You remember that time when your conscience was clear. He can restore you. When you were free from guilt and your lifestyle was the right style. He can restore you. You remember when your salvation was sweet and [you] doubted your doubts and had faith in your faith. God can restore you today. He is concerned about restoration. And so must we be every chance we get. We ought to be asking God to make us instruments of restoration and reconciliation. That is where his heart is. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. And He has committed us to the ministry of reconciliation.

But listen, not only is God concerned about restoration and separation. Look at the text, what happens after separation and then restoration? What does the shepherd do when he finds his lost sheep? What does the woman do when she finds her lost coin? What does the father do when he finds his lost son? They celebrate. And so when there is separation and then restoration, there is always some celebration. Hallelujah! Say, “Celebration.” The shepherd said, “Rejoice with me for I have found my sheep. There is no going back to business as usual. No, I’ve longed for the sheep and looked hard and long for him, and now that I’ve found him, I’ve got to celebrate. Come on and rejoice with me!” And the woman who lost the silver coin, when she found it she said, “Come, rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which was lost.” And I said to myself , “This woman, bless her heart, this woman is way out. She’s excessive. Why would she take the expense of throwing a party? It probably took the other nine coins to pay for the party.” But that doesn’t matter when celebration is in order. It doesn’t matter what it costs. Some folks, when God blesses them, feel like giving vent to the spirit. Praising God. You know what? They’re kind of afraid of that reputation. But I can tell when there has been real restoration. You don’t care how much it costs. I’ve been restored. I don’t care who knows it. You can talk about me. You can scandalize my name. But God has brought me from a mighty long way, so I am going to praise Him.

It is alright to celebrate. God will join you in the celebration. When there has been separation and restoration, it is automatic that a celebration will follow. Go ahead and celebrate. Don’t let anybody intimidate you. Don’t let anybody quench your spirit. Don’t let anybody put your fire out. Don’t let anybody jail your joy, pick at your peace, or hijack your hope. You tell them, “I got good sense. I know what I’ve got. I know where I got it. I know how I feel, and I know where my blessings come from. And I know to praise Him.” Celebration is always in order when you’ve been restored. I tell you, you can go home again.

Sounds like I ought to stop now, but I said there were five things. God is concerned about separation and he is involved in restoration. He joins us in our celebration. But I see something else, looking for a moment at the celebration going on in the home. The father whose son had returned, he said, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger, shoes on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and let us eat and be merry. For this, my son, who was dead, is alive. He was lost but now he is found.”

But with all of the celebration and rejoicing going on, there was a party pooper there. There was an uncooperative spirit there. There was one there who was out of place. He was mad that a party was going on. I’m talking about that elder brother. His real problem, though, that he too was separated. He was at home, but he was separated. And because of his separation, he couldn’t even appreciate the restoration that had taken place. So he missed the celebration with his lack of cooperation.

There it is, that is number four. Cooperation. Say, “Cooperation.” If we are going to enjoy the celebration, we’ve got to cooperate with the spirit. The elder brother failed to cooperate, wouldn’t even come into the house. His father had to go out to him. Some of you like this elder brother, I know, you identify with him. You like him because you are just like him. You know you’ve been around here a long time. You’ve been working. You’ve been faithful. You’ve been at your post of duty. You like this elder brother because you say, “Somebody has got to do the work. Somebody has got to take care of business. Father is always going around killing these fattened calves for somebody whose gone off and squandered everything.”

You like this elder brother, but I’m going to tell you the truth today - I don’t like him. I don’t like him. You can get mad with me if you want to, but I don’t like this elder brother. The reason I don’t like him is because he is a workaholic. He thinks he’s going to get saved on the basis of how much work he does. You see him working so hard he didn’t even know a party was going on. The other thing I don’t like about him, I don’t like his self-righteous attitude, getting mad because the father had done something for his younger brother. You hear him talking about how his young brother had wasted his money on harlots. How did he know? He didn’t even know the boy was back. He hadn’t even talked to the boy. He didn’t even know what the boy had done, unless he assumed that the boy had done what he would have done if he had been out there. And so he was illegal, as [if] he had kept track of everything. [He says to his father], “Here all these years I’ve worked for you, and you’ve never killed the fattened calf for me. You’ve never helped me make merry with my friends.”

And I wanted to say, “With your attitude, you don’t have any friends.” He was envious. He was jealous. He was self-righteous. He was uncooperative. You can’t do anything with an uncooperative spirit. You know it is the uncooperative elder brothers in so many churches that keep so many of the prodigals out there in the far country and [away] from a relationship with the Father. The greatest evangelist in the church are the members of the church. This word has to be lived out and demonstrated in the life of the people.

But listen, there is one last reason I know you can go home again. As I read this 15th chapter of Luke over and over again, I keep seeing where Jesus said, “And likewise joy shall be in Heaven over one sinner.” And likewise there is joy in the presence of the angels of God. And likewise he is comparing this with Heaven. And he is trying to show us that the restoration that takes place here because of our separation and the celebration and the cooperation that follows is but a foretaste of what it will be like in Heaven. You think you know the joy of restoration and celebration now.... Because of our separation and lack of cooperation, you wait until the consummation. There is more to come. All of this is but a dress rehearsal of what is yet to come. You haven’t seen anything yet. Oh, you haven’t seen anything yet. The love, it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him for we shall see as He is. Home - where the wicked will cease from troubling, and weary souls will be at rest. Home - where everything will be to our taste and liking and we will have a perpetual vision of holy and unceasing communion with the Godly. Home - where every hill and mountain are brought low. The workplace is made play. The glory of the Lord is revealed, and all thresh shall see it together.

You can, you can go home again. Go home again.

Copyright 1999 The Rev. Dr. Alvin O. Jackson

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