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Two Sons, One Father
a sermon based on
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
by Rev Randy Quinn

Dick and Bonnie had difficulty starting a family. It was embarrassing to talk about it publicly, but they had tried the numerous suggestions made by family, friends, and doctors. Yet nothing worked. They finally resolved themselves to the reality that they were not capable of having children. It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t her fault, they just couldn’t make it happen.

But they knew they had love to share. They knew they would be good parents. They knew they could provide a good home for a child. So they decided to look for children to adopt. They finally found an agency that they trusted and began the process of filling out forms and being interviewed. And then, almost without warning, they were given a baby girl. They didn’t know much about the young woman who had given birth to her, but they were delighted to welcome a child into their family.

They named her Faith.

But Faith wasn’t even crawling yet when Bonnie became pregnant! (You can probably tell your own version of this story because that seems to happen quite often to families that decide to adopt children.) So shortly after her first birthday, Faith had a sister named Joy.

I came to know Dick and Bonnie while Faith and Joy were in their mid-20’s.

I met Faith first. She was just like her mother in so many ways. They were both meticulous in their appearance. They often made their own clothing, but always seemed to walk off the pages of glamour magazines.

And like her parents, Faith was active in the church. While Bonnie had been involved in women’s programs, Faith was involved in Sunday School and educational programs. And all three of them - Dick, Bonnie, and Faith - were in the choir and on occasion sang as a trio.

People who didn’t know it, found it hard to believe that Faith was the adopted child. She seemed to be so much like her parents. Responsible. Frugal. Talented.

Joy was the rebel.

I met Joy at the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service one year. Her hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and the clothes she wore were worn and tattered. She may have bought them at a used clothing store, but I’ve seen much nicer clothes used for rags.

The first time Joy ran away from home she was in the 7th Grade. It didn’t last long, but it was just the beginning. She wrecked her parents’ car shortly after obtaining her driver’s license. She opted out of college, but convinced her parents to give her the money they would have spent for tuition. She took that money and ‘invested it’ in her own educational program - a world-wide tour.

It’s funny. As I said, if you didn’t know which was which, you would assume that Joy was adopted, not Faith. In fact many people in the church assumed that Joy’s "world-wide tour" was an attempt to find her real parents.

And maybe in some ways, it was.

Unfortunately, her tour came to a sudden end when she learned that she had contracted AIDS. She came home for Christmas the year I met her, and stayed home until her death three years later.

How did these two young women, raised by the same parents, become so different? Was it in their genes? If so, why did the one with her parents’ genes seem so out of place in her own family?

Of course anyone who has been a parent to more than one child knows there is no answer to these questions. Children become whom they are through a variety of influences, not just parenting and not just genetic codes. But we are still puzzled by the phenomena.

What was most remarkable about this family was the love Dick and Bonnie had for their children. Faith and Joy were loved like very few other children. People who had known them for years talked about how Bonnie stayed at home and Dick had given up promotions to spend more time with them. And even in the worst of times, they always spoke highly of Joy.

I became more deeply involved in the family shortly after Joy returned home. Faith called to talk to me. She was having difficulty accepting the love her parents seemed to be lavishing on her sister.

Faith had gone to school, married, and settled down in a home not too far from where she had been raised. Her own vision of the future sounded very much like the life she saw her parents living.

But there was no room in that picture for someone like Joy. Joy seemed to be draining the precious resources her parents had - not just financial, but emotional as well. Her parents were spending more and more of their time with Joy; less and less of it was being spent with their granddaughter, Faith’s daughter, Hope.

Faith had not told Joy about her perceptions. She was too angry with her.

Had she done so, she would have heard things she could not have imagined. Throughout their childhood, Dick and Bonnie had openly explained that Faith was adopted. They had chosen her. She was special.

And that always made Joy feel less important.

Joy may have been born into the family, but she never felt welcomed in the same way that Faith had been.

And as they grew up, Joy saw that she could not be the child that Faith was. She was not as smart and she was not as pretty. She couldn’t make a dress without it looking like a tablecloth with a belt around it. And her short attention span made it difficult to sit through church - making her uncomfortable in a place where their family spent a significant amount of time.

So Joy began to look for other things to do - things where she could excel.

Her "world-wide tour" was an attempt to find something - something she couldn’t quite name, but it was supposed to make her parents proud of her. Instead, it provided an opportunity for her to see what had been there all along - her parents’ unconditional love.

The sad part of this family story is that while Dick and Bonnie loved both children, neither child learned to love the other. While Joy was reconciled with her parents and Faith eventually welcomed her parents’ love again, they had not reconciled with each other before Joy’s death.

I tell you this story today because I believe we are all a little like Joy. At the same time, we are all a little like Faith.

And the truth is, God loves us. But God wants us to love each other, too. Not just people like us, not just people who live according the rules as we understand them, but every person who has been created in the image of God.

We are all God’s children, whether we act like it or not.

We are all God’s children, whether we know it or not.

We are all God’s children.

Thanks be to God. Amen.