Before I read our New Testament lesson this morning, I would like to define a word that you will hear in the reading. It is the word, “wrath.” Normally, when we think of wrath, especially the wrath of God, we think images of fire and brimstone. For Paul, however, the wrath of God has a different meaning. It means God handing us over to our own desires. In other words, giving us what we want, even if what we want is not good for us, even if what we want means that we are separated from God. This is an idea that resonates with parents who discover that at some point, they simply have to let their children do what they want to do, even if it goes against the parent’s wishes. Of course as parents we never stop loving our children, which is how it is with God; and, it is that love which lies at the heart of our reading this morning; so, I invite us to listen to the reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the fifth chapter, beginning at the first verse. Listen now for the Word of God...
She found herself rooted to the spot, torn between two desires. Did she get on the bus, or did she go with her friends, who were sitting in the car, begging her to come with them.
“Come on Annie,” they said. “Just come with us. You don’t need him. You’re doing just fine without him.”
“Yes, but what if it is true,” Annie replied, holding up the letter that she held clutched in her hand.
“Look, it sounds too good to be true, which means that it probably isn’t true,” they said. “Annie, you don’t know what you are getting into. All you have is a few words scribbled on a piece of paper. What proof do you have that what that note says is even true.”
Annie looked again at the piece of paper in her hand. Could it be true? She just didn’t know. It did sound too good to be true. Annie opened up the note again to read the words. They were written by her father who wrote, “All is forgiven. Please come home.” Inside the note was also the money that she would need for a bus ride home.
“Annie,” her friends said to her, “don’t be a fool; don’t give up on yourself. What happened to being your own person? You don’t need to be your Father’s daughter. You are doing just fine without him.”
Annie didn’t have the courage to tell her friends that deep down inside, being her Father’s daughter was what she wanted more than anything else. For so long she just didn’t know it; or, if she did know it, she denied it. But, now she knew. She also knew that she couldn’t tell her friends. They would laugh at her, ridicule her, tell her that she was being a fool.
Finally, Annie looked up at her friends and said, “I don’t expect you to understand; but, I have to go. I want to go.” And before they could say anything hurtful to her, Annie turned and walked into the bus terminal. She went up to the counter, plopped down the money and got her the ticket that would take her home.
The bus wasn’t crowded, so Annie was able to find a seat by herself. As soon as she sat down, she turned and looked out the window, so that no one else on the bus could see the tears streaming down her face. A few minutes later, the bus pulled out of the terminal and began making its way towards the highway. Annie continued to stare out the window, wishing she had remembered a pack of tissues.
“Could I offer you one of these,” came a voice from behind Annie. When she turned and looked, Annie saw that someone had stuck their hand up between the seats, holding a handkerchief. “Don’t worry it’s clean. I haven’t even used it once,” came the same voice as before. “Thank you,” Annie said as she reached out and took the handkerchief. The hand pulled itself back. Quickly Annie put the handkerchief to her eyes and wiped away the tears. A few minutes later, she turned around in her seat and looked over the back of the seat to see who had been so kind to her. When she looked, Annie saw an elderly lady sitting there with a pair of knitting needles in her hand and what looked to be the start of small towel. “Thank you again,” Annie said as she held up the handkerchief. “I’m not sure if you want this back; it’s kind of all wet." “Oh no dear, you keep that. I have plenty more where that came from.” “Well, thank you. You are very kind.” The lady just looked up and smiled at Annie, who not being sure what else to say, just smiled back before she turned and sat down in her seat. She turned again to look out the window; but, this time the tears where not come quite as fast.
It was about ten minutes later when Annie thought she could hear someone humming, though it was a little hard to tell over the sound of the bus rolling down the highway. So she sort of turned her head and sure enough it was coming from the seat behind her. Annie closed her eyes and tried to listen a little harder. She didn’t recognize the tune, but she knew it was a lullaby, the kind a father sings to his little girl, the kind that Annie’s father used to sing to her when he rocked her gently to sleep each night. Just the thought, brought a new round of tears to Annie’s eyes.
“Oh, dear, am I the cause of that,” came the voice of the elderly lady.
“I’m sorry,” Annie said as she turned around. “I guess I just can’t stop crying.”
“Oh honey, there is nothing wrong with tears. As my momma used to say, ‘tears are just the body’s way of cleansing the soul.’”
Annie just nodded as she wiped her eyes with the handkerchief.
“Now, I would offer to come up there and listen to your story,” said the elderly lady, “but, getting out of this seat is much harder at my age. Why don’t you come back here and tell me what’s wrong.”
With a look of grateful relief, Annie got out of her seat and moved to sit next to the elderly lady, whose name turned out to be Gloria. “So, where are you going,” Gloria asked?
“I’m going home,” said Annie.
“Well now, that should make you happy.”
“It does; except, I’ve been away for such a long time. I’m just afraid that too much has been lost.”
“Child if there is one thing that I have learned in life it is that there ain’t nothing lost that can’t be found again.”
“I hope that’s true.”
“As sure as I am sitting here, I can guarantee you that it’s true. So, why have you been gone so long anyway,” Gloria asked?
“Just too stubborn I guess,” replied Anne. “I wanted to make my own way in the world, live by my rules. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do, least of all daddy.”
“Hmm, you father sort of rough on you huh!”
“That’s just it, he wasn’t. I mean sure, he had his rules. He wanted things done his way. But, what I didn’t know, or what I didn’t want to know was that his way really was the best way.”
“So what happened,” Gloria asked?
“One day, I told daddy that I just didn’t want to follow his rules anymore. I didn’t want to do things his way. He said, ‘but Annie, if you want to live under my roof, then you have to live by my rules.’ So, I said, then I don’t want to live under your roof anymore...do you know what he said to me. He said, ‘ok, then I will let you go.’ So, I left. When I walked out the door, he said, ‘I just want you to know that I will always love you. You will always be my little girl.’ I turned to him and said, ‘that’s nice; but, I am not you little girl anymore; and then I just walked away.”
“I guess things just didn’t turn out like you had hoped.”
“No, I guess what they say is true, ‘you just don’t realize what you have until it is not there anymore.’ I never did find the kind of love that I had at home. And peace, I haven’t had one real night of peace since I’ve left, and that’s been fourteen years.”
“So what’s changed? What’s got you going back home again,” Gloria asked? Annie reached into her pocket and pulled out the note that she was carrying and handed it to Gloria. “Thank goodness I already have my glasses on. Now let’s see what does this say, All is forgiven, Please come home. Now that’s the kind of love you hold onto and never let go of.”
“Yeah, but what if it’s too good to be true.”
“To good to be true? Child, love like that is never too good to be true.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right. But the question is, what are you going to do about all them rules. Sounds to me like they don’t matter anymore.”
“Yeah, I thought that too when I read the note. I don’t know. It sounds strange to say but when I had to follow the rules, I resented it; but, now that I don’t have too, I sort of want too. Does that make sense?”
“It does when you’re talking about love. It don’t know anyone who was in love who didn’t want to please the person they loved.”
“Gee, I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
“See, you still love your daddy and you know that he loves you no matter what. With love like that, rules, just never seem to get in the way.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Of course, I’m right. I’ve been around long enough to know better.”
“Well, thank you Gloria, I am glad we had this talk.”
Annie moved back to her seat and once again stared out this window, watching the world go by as the minutes and hours slowly ticked away. When she arrived at the bus station in her home town, she called for a cab, which took her took her to the gates outside her home. Annie got out of the cab and while it drove away, she stood in front of the gates, looking in at the home that she had been away from for so long.
Finally, after several minutes, she walked over to the little intercom and pushed the button. A voice came through the speaker. “Yes, who is it?” “Hi daddy, it’s me!” Immediately, the gates started to swing open. As they did, Annie walked through and up the long curving driveway. Finally she walked up the front steps of the house. As her foot touched the top step, the door opened up and standing there was Annie’s father, a smile stretching across his face from ear to ear. For a few seconds, neither one of them spoke. Finally, Annie’s father held out his arms, and without hesitation, Annie walked into his embrace.
As she lay down in her bed that night, Annie pulled the covers up and slowly closed her eyes. As she did, one thought kept going through her mind, “Peace, at last.”