(The following is Mr. Dunham’s Resurrection Feast message; the pictures are from the Feast itself.)
Back when Little Mr. Dunham was a boy of about 5 – quite a bit shorter, quite a bit skinnier, still wearing a suit and tie – he got it into his head that he was not loved by his parents. Now this had something to do with the fact that Little Mr. Dunham kept getting into trouble (particularly with his father, who was trying to help him obey), but Little Mr. Dunham was sure that the problem was his parents’ – not his – and he was tired of feeling so unloved.
One day, Little Mr. Dunham declared to his parents that he was planning to run away, but he wasn’t going to just do it any old way; he was going to leave in style. He found a red handkerchief and laid it flat on the floor. Then he grabbed some snacks out of the pantry (Little Mr. Dunham loved snacks!) and carefully placed them in the handkerchief before tying the handkerchief to the end of a stick. He then picked up the stick, put it over his shoulder, announced to his mother that he was leaving, and walked out the door.
Now you might remember that Little Mr. Dunham grew up on a farm, so there were a lot of places he could have gone that day. You also might remember that Little Mr. Dunham was only five and trips take a while when you have short legs, so what seemed like hours walking was really only five minutes down the gravel road. But that’s what Little Mr. Dunham did: he walked to the end of the driveway and down the gravel road until he saw a smelly, dirty, empty hog shed in the middle of a field (his father was a hog farmer) and walked over to it. He took the stick from his shoulder, unpacked his handkerchief, pulled out some snacks, and then waited…and waited…and waited…for at least 20 minutes.
All of a sudden, he looked up. There was his mother, who had walked down the road after him and was now standing in the door of the hog shed.
“Are you ready to come home?” she asked. With his lip trembling, Little Mr. Dunham nodded his head, dropped his snack, and started to cry. “I’m sorry I ran away, Mom, and I’m sorry that I didn’t believe you loved me,” he said, jumping into her arms. Then he said, “And I’m really glad you came after me.” His mother hugged him, and together they gathered up the handkerchief and stick and walked back up the gravel road toward home.
Sometimes we run away to see who will come after us. Now I’m not telling you to run away to find out, so don’t, but think about it: if you ran away and ended up in a smelly, dirty hog shed with nothing more than a handkerchief of snacks to eat, who would eventually come after you? For sure, you would have a parent come after you; I’m almost certain your teachers would, too; and probably at least one or two (if not more) friends would show up asking if you were ready to come home. That’s because they love you and care for you and want the very best for you.
Believe it or not, coming home from the hog shed is what we celebrate at Easter. In the Bible, Jesus tells three parables about finding three lost things: a sheep, a coin, and a son. Let me just read you the first one:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.'”
Now the truth is, there are no righteous persons; we all need to repent – that is, turn from – our sin – that selfishness inside of us that makes us think only about us. But what happens a lot of times in life is we get lost – like a sheep that wanders off – because all we think about is ourselves. We think we know best, our feelings get hurt and we get mad at the world, and we want what we want and don’t care what it takes to get it. So we run away – maybe not physically all the time, but emotionally, as we tell ourselves that no one loves or cares about us, which makes us mad or sad or both. So, we feel sorry for ourselves, and like Little Mr. Dunham, we decide to run away – but we’re secretly always wondering and hoping that someone is going to come after us and bring us home.
Well, I have good news. Jesus loves us and came after us to bring us home. But not only did he come after us, he died in our place to satisfy God’s anger at our disobedience. But not only did he die in our place, God resurrected him – he brought him back to life! – so that we, too, can have hope that we can live forever with God.
This is what we celebrate with our Resurrection Feast: God made a way for you and me to be with him forever, and Jesus has walked that way and come after us. All we have to do is say that we’re sorry for disobeying, come out of the nasty hog shed of our sin, jump in his arms, and trust that he will walk us all the way home. This is what Little Mr. Dunham did when he was a boy, and this is what Big Mr. Dunham still tries to do in response to God’s love each day. And this is what we pray for you – that you will know you are loved, and that when you tell yourself you are not and try to run away, you wouldn’t get too far before you look up from the smelly, dirty hog shed of your sin and see Jesus there ready to forgive you and walk you home.