tragically lost, unexpectedly redeemed

Gauguin, “Swineherd”

fourth Sunday in Lent
Luke 15:1-32

I attended a funeral this past weekend for my Uncle Lee Van Wormer near Columbia, South Carolina. Lee’s life story reminds me a lot of the stoy of the prodigal son in Luke 15. In both cases, something tragically lost is unexpectedly redeemed.

Lee’s life was troubled from early on. When he was only ten years old, his parents, in desperation, sent him to a military academy. As his parents left him, Lee would be standing at the gate of the academy crying in the pain of abandonment. Into adulthood Lee was the black sheep of the family. Then in his 50’s, after two failed marriages, he fell out of the extended family’s orbit. When he re-emerged, he was married again, but the family slowly discovered he had become a different man: one who profoundly loved and protected his wife and her kids, and one who maintained a significant circle of friends.

While Lee was on his deathbed, one of these friends named John came for a visit. John asked, “Lee, have you accepted Christ’s offer of forgiveness for your sins?” Lee suddenly sat up, very alert, and said, “How do we do it?” Lee became a Christian shortly before he died.

The funeral was painful for me. It’s hard to watch your cousins grappling with the loss of their dad having just lost one’s own months earlier. I was searching for words as I looked into the eyes of my dear cousin Lee Anne. She looked back at me and said, “It’s hard to lose a Dad, isn’t it?” We gave one another a long tearful hug.

What a joy though to know that both of our dads are in paradise. It’s a place where for my dad every car is a Mercedes, and for Lee Anne’s dad the skies are always sunny in their readiness to receive his plane. As believers, our lives are not perfect, but we’ve already been found and redeemed. We now have the joy of living in the kingdom of God while we extend this kingdom into a lost and broken world.

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