Jabbok Dawn

Tumbling in the Sand

I am the Elder Brother


The texts for Sunday, March 10, 2013: Joshua 5:9–12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16–21; and Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32

I am the elder brother.

I remember hearing this text many times as a kid
while my own brother seemed to be nothing but difficult
—in and out of juvenile detention facilities
using drugs
failing classes in school
misusing his many, many gifts and talents.

And causing serious heartache, frustration, and broken relationships at home.

And I sat in church and I heard this story
This story of the prodigal son
and felt convicted.

Because I felt like I was the one who was supposed to be open to giving my brother the grace to come home.
Because I felt like I needed to figure out how to pry open my heart enough to welcome my brother back, when the time came … if the time came.

I was the elder brother sitting on the back step in the dark
listening to the party inside,
the words of the father echoing in my ears:
“…this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found…”
and there I sat, feeling horrible for feeling like this was unjust.

It was years before I realized something different.

I sat on that step in the dark for a long time

And honestly, still find myself there from time to time
Contemplating why.

Why is there no party for the sake of a party for me?
I mean, I’ve worked hard and done all the right things
I’ve gotten the degrees and stayed the course.
I’ve done everything that I should have done.
Why is there no party for me? Where is the love for me? Where is the grace for me?

And this is not meant to be a pity party—I know that I have much joy in my life
—I know that I have more that I could imagine
—I know that there has been love and joy poured out for me.

But none of it feels as extravagant as that party.
None of it feels quite so recklessly joyful.
None of it feels like I didn’t, at least a bit, work for it.

And then, one day, while I was listening to yet another sermon on this text
that talked about the radical grace the father has for this son of his
this son so unworthy of grace …
(and how horrible the older brother was)
And as I sat there, getting angrier and more frustrated by the word,

It suddenly clicked.
I suddenly realized what I had missed.

I missed the most heart-breaking line of the entire story:
the most important line of the entire story…
“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”


Here’s the thing I never realized sitting on that step…
Here’s the thing I didn’t get sitting in the dark staring up at the stars in the sky that held all the promises of God…

Here’s the thing I didn’t understand…

First of all, that I had done nothing.  And I had no need to do anything.  I was a child, not a slave.
The love of God was mine already.
I had done nothing to earn it and I could do nothing to make it go away.
God’s grace was for this child.

And the second thing I realized what that it was all also for me.
That the crazy love of the father
That the party and the fatted calf.
That the grace that insisted upon celebration
That even the restored relationship with my brother
Was all also for me.

It was all about the healing of all of us—the reconciliation of the world.
Because, finally, I am not whole—I am not truly able to know God—without my brother
…without the prodigal
…without those who seem to be on the outside.

Besides, it wasn’t as if there was only enough love to give to one.
It wasn’t as if such extravagant grace could be ladled out in small portions like soup until it was gone.
It wasn’t as if grace given to one person wasn’t grace poured out for everyone

It wasn’t as it forgiveness and healing didn’t bring us all to the feast.

Such grace and love has no boundaries. No limits.
Such grace and love refuses to be earned or pushed away.
It watches and waits.
It prods and listens.
It ignores out manipulations and embraces us outside our comfort zones.
It even pours out of the party to sit on the back step and count the stars with the ones
who feel most unworthy and most unloved.

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”


Featured image: A photograph of a sculpture entitled “Reconciliation—Luke 15” Bronze Sculpture (2005) by Margaret Adams Parker, located on the Bovender Terrace of Duke Divinity School

2 comments on “I am the Elder Brother

  1. Christoph
    March 11, 2013

    Thanks, Lena.


  2. Anne Rukakoski Roser
    March 12, 2013

    Beautiful, Lena…thanks for your lovely meditation…shared it, esp. with our Bible study group.


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This entry was posted on March 11, 2013 by in Sermons and tagged , , , , .

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