The Prodigal Son
The Bible tells a story of the prodigal son, or lost son. Prodigal because though this son left his father's house, when he returned, his father spent lavishly, even wastefully celebrating this child's return. The origins of this word, prodigy-prodigal, are interesting. In the old English language, prodigy carried the usual meaning of 'omen,' a portentous event.
So while the particular Bible story tells of two brothers, one obedient and one flagrant and a father desperate beyond reason to reunite with the child who has left, spurning his family. The message is clear: once lost, now found.
There is a documentary recently produced by American Public Broadcasting System (PBS) about the lives of 12 people whose origins go back to the protestant christian sect, commonly known as the Amish, a community which believes in community first and always, as a necessary means of witness. They do sometimes nurture the lost souls who see to a way beyond the gates of their community into the wider American community. Leaving is not often welcomed by the Amish. Sometimes they are "shunned."
And yet when they do this, their family may still treat them as the Bible instructs, hoping, looking and waiting for their return, a prodigal child. The family sets a place at meal times each and every day their loved one is gone, to remind themselves of the mercy of the Christ when dealing with a 'lost sheep.' They, as singer Phil Collins sings, Hold On My Heart.
Parents, friends, and others in their Amish community remain apart from the ones who leave. Often they fear hell or damnation, as they understand it, if one lives among the wider society and their materialistic ways. The Amish, you see, highly value plain, simple living. They believe that the clutter of 'stuff' gets in their way and their conversations with God. So they eschew common materialism for the favor of the riches of creation, honest work and community.
The Amish, a breakaway Christian sect formed by followers of Roman Catholic Priest, Father Menno Simons in Switzerland during the counter Reformation. Their faith-ways led them to the relative religious liberty of America and a place in William Penn's Pennsylvania.
They are devout Christians, keeping the way of discipleship before their eyes; their way is independent with minimal hierarchy, no church buildings or seminaries, and a desire to baptize those who come forth willingly. Thus children in these families are church members if they choose it when they come of age.
In another story, the Bible tells us of a certain shepherd and a flock of sheep. When one lamb goes missing, there is an all out search to locate and return the lamb to its flock. This story, unlike the Prodigal Son is without comparisons. There is simply the fact of a lost sheep, now found.
In both stories however, we can take away the meaning that each of us is with value, each has his own importance, irrespective of any other thing we may or may not do in the world, because we are the love and the product of the Creator himself, who has loved us into existence, and means to sustain us with the very same love, the love poured down on us by the Holy Spirit.
So to you, I say, 'Amen, Amen. Be on your way.'