Pause for a minute and take a look at this painting, (here you will have to look it up) Vincent VanGogh’s “A Pair of Shoes”. Imagine the person who’d worn them, the places she’d been, or the fields he’d plowed. Think about the long walks, the mud, the cobble stones trudged across, what might the thoughts of this person been the last time they’d taken them off their weary feet.
In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent Van Gogh said, “It is good to love as many things as one can. … I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven toward these things with an irresistible momentum. … Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream.”
After running across that quote I also read this piece about the painting, “The philosopher Martin Heidegger saw the painting on exhibition in Amsterdam in 1930 and later wrote about it: ‘From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrate the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field.’”
When I read these two pieces about the painting the shoes and the images in my mind started to remind me of my father. Not because I ever saw him wearing a pair of shoes that looked like this but rather it was the labor of love that the shoes suggested in my mind. I imagine that the person wearing these shoes was working tirelessly and endlessly to provide for a family. I picture these shoes trudging across a muddy field behind a mule plowing a rocky patch of soil. I picture this person working day and night because he loved the people whose food he put on the table.
Love comes in many different ways.
The stories that Jesus told in the Bible readings earlier begin to suggest love in a toilsome way. The stories were too long to read in their entirety. I wanted to briefly mention each of them though because of the love they suggest. The snooty and more uppity crowd who recognized Jesus’ teachings as important were grumbling because Jesus had a lot of undesirable people hanging around him. They didn’t want their robes dirtied by the riffraff. Jesus heard the muttering and, as usual, it prompted a couple of stories; the shepherd who lost one sheep out of one hundred and went searching all night for the one lost, the poor woman who had just ten coins and turns the house upside down trying to find the one. In each case they rejoice after an arduous search, as does the man with two sons. The son who left home and was “dead to him” returns and the father rejoices and takes him back even though he has lost everything. He takes him in, clothes him, kills the fatted calf for him, throws a giant party for him; showers him with goodness and grace because of his love for him.
Love comes in many different ways.
There is a great turning point in the story of the prodigal son at which the text says, the son who’d run off, “came to himself”. It was as if a mirror had flashed in front of him and he saw himself for who he had become in that particular moment. It is the moment at which he faces his own brokenness and accepts who he is and where he is and is able to love himself and humbles himself as he heads home willing even to be a common worker in his father’s field.
The prodigal came to terms with who he was, the mistakes he’d made, the broken person he’d become and accepted it all and returned to where he had come from. Addicts, alcoholics, people in broken relationships, all must first acknowledge who they are, and be willing to accept the grace that is always there before they can be whole. The grace, the love, the compassion of the sacred is all around you, there for the accepting.
The father in the story, he had many opportunities NOT to do what he did. But his love poured out for his son. The older brother had the opportunity to accept what was going on and could not. The father represents unconditional love, always there for all. The older brother, his love is very conditional.
We live in a very conditional time.
Love and acceptance by many is doled out on a very conditional basis. People accepted only if they are believers of a certain path. People accepted only if they are born in certain countries. People accepted only if they are members of the group. People accepted as long as they begin to do things our way. People accepted only if they accept societal pressures to . . . . what, be what we expect them to be? I would suggest that we could be an even louder voice for acceptance by demonstrating that the table is truly open to all people. I would suggest that we, as part of the United Church of Christ could join with others offering a safe, accepting, listening presence of the sacred for that is where the amazing grace of which we will sing later is truly found.
We are an accepting group of people. We do open our doors and our ears to provide a hospitable listening presence for persons in need. We are an open organization here at Hope offering the welcome hospitality to all. The world is hungry for those hospitable relationships where grace is spoken unconditionally. Be there for someone unconditionally in all ways.
Love comes in many ways.
I told you the Van Gogh we looked at a few minutes ago reminded me of my dad. I did not have much of a relationship with my dad. When I was real young he worked as many as three jobs at once to earn a living that would move us out of the city. He was a city bus driver in Aurora, a milk route driver back when milk was delivered to the house, and he sold sewing machines. Later, when he was selling car insurance he was gone from nine in the morning until tem at night. I never really knew the man. He never coached a team, never came to a game, never took me fishing; we really never had an engaging conversation until literally a few days before he died.
In the last few weeks before he died he made attempts with me and two of my siblings to make sure we understood him a little better. He died in a car accident, hit broadside by a truck driven by an impaired driver at ten in the morning. But oddly there were these attempts to make sure that we knew he was as absent as he was because he loved us. He wanted us to know that he was driven by love and sacrificed being home so that he could provide for us the things he never had when he was a child – all the way down to a new pair of shoes. As one of the three youngest of fifteen siblings … he wore a lot of used shoes growing up.
Love comes in many different and wonderful ways.
Listen. To one another. To the stranger among us.
To the newcomer.
Listen to the stories, hear the stories the shoes tell us.
Continue please to love and share in unconditional ways.