St. Philip Lutheran Church
27 March 2022 + Lent 4c
Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32
Rev. Josh Evans
You’ve probably heard me speak about my appreciation of the enneagram – as a personality assessment tool helpful for self-realization and growth.
You’ve also likely heard me speak at length about my love of the animated musical movie Encanto – which I have watched no fewer than three times in its entirety, unless you also count the untold number of times I’ve listened to – nay, sung through – the soundtrack.
It’s a magical moment when two great passions intersect, which is exactly what happened for me when I started looking at Encanto through the lens of the enneagram. There is, in fact, a whole article about it online – and I know I’m not the only one because I’ve had in-depth conversations about this with at least two friends.
If you’ve seen Encanto, or at the very least listened to my sermon about it earlier this year, you know the story centers on the Family Madrigal, who has become the recipient of an unexpected “miracle.” As a result, each member of the family, in a sort of coming-of-age ritual, is given a unique “gift.”
Take Isabela, for instance. In the words of her younger sister, she’s “the perfect golden child.” With her gift, Isabela can instantly conjure perfectly beautiful flowers and plants anywhere.
But with great power comes great responsibility – and the intense pressure to perform and to consistently do everything perfectly all the time. Anything less would be a failure.
Isabela is, in other words, almost certainly an enneagram type one. I should know because I, too, am an enneagram type one.
Detail-oriented. Responsible. High standards. Judgmental. Critical. These are just a few descriptors, for better or worse, often assigned to enneagram type ones. In a word, ones are “The Perfectionist.”
We see the world around us with incredibly high standards for both ourselves and others. While we can be perceived as overly critical of others who don’t do things the “right” way, the most intense pressure to achieve these impossibly high standards is often on ourselves – and ones are, without a doubt, their own harshest critic. If that sounds overwhelming and exhausting, it’s because it is.
As Isabela sings:
“So much hides behind my smile.
What could I do if I just grew what I was feeling in the moment?
What could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect?
It just needed to be? And they’d let me be?”
A friend of mine, who first taught me about the enneagram, once they knew I strongly identified as a one, gave me a framed quote that now hangs in my bedroom. It’s one of the first things I see when I wake up in the morning, and it’s an affirmation specifically for enneagram type ones: Grace requires nothing of me.
It’s an affirmation I find myself coming back to time and time again because it’s a message I need to hear. There is nothing I can do or have to do to “earn” the love and validation of others. As we move in the direction of growth, ones learn we are worthy as we are, not for what we can do.
Grace requires nothing of me.
It’s a message for all of us, enneagram type one or otherwise. Truthfully, it sounds like it could be a quote from a book on Lutheran theology.
It’s also a message that the family in today’s parable needs to hear, each member in different ways.
Our focus is typically on the younger brother – the “prodigal son,” as the parable itself has come to be called. Having prematurely asked for his share of his father’s inheritance to go off and make his own way, he squanders every cent he has until he has nothing left and finds himself in a desperate situation, dying of hunger. Resolved to go back to his father and take the place of a hired hand, he rehearses his penitential script in his head over and over.
The unexpected welcome he receives instead is perhaps the most obvious illustration of the affirmation in this story: Grace requires nothing of me.
We can only imagine his reaction in that moment. The parable doesn’t mention anything he says or does in response – only what is done to him and for him. The robe, the ring, the sandals. The fatted calf and the extravagant celebration.
In his desperation, the younger son thinks that he can somehow work his way out of his dilemma on his own, but in his stunned silence, as his father runs to meet him, he learns an even more profound truth: Grace requires nothing of me.
Not everyone is happy about the joyous reunion though. Seeing the excessively lavish (some might say “prodigal”) party for his selfish, wasteful, undeserving little brother, the older son becomes angry and stubbornly refuses to be a part of the celebration.
Instead of sharing in his father’s joy, the older son makes it about him: “I’ve worked for you for years, and you’ve never even so much as given me a young goat, let alone the fatted calf, to have a party with my friends. What’s up with that?”
Patiently, maybe even with a slight smile, his father responds, “You are always with me. All that is mine is yours. I’ve never withheld anything from you. You don’t have to earn my love. This grace requires nothing of you, or your brother, or anyone.”
It’s a truth the older son, as much as the younger son, needs to hear.
Even the parent in this story – who tries his very best to raise his children the best way he can – needs to hear this message. His heart surely breaks as much as when he hears his older son become angry, as when his younger son left on his own for God-knows-where. He can’t fix it all. All he can do is offer forgiveness and love, just as he has done all along.
Grace requires nothing of any of us.
Whether we are the younger son who doesn’t feel like they deserve the grace they receive…
Or whether we are the older son who doesn’t recognize the grace and acceptance they’ve had all along and can only become envious and indignant at the grace and inclusion shown to others…
Or even whether we are the parent whose heart breaks when they feel helpless over a situation beyond their control, when their heart breaks at the brokenness they encounter…
Grace requires nothing of any of us.
God’s grace is prodigal. It is lavish, extravagant, reckless, and abundant.
God’s grace frees us to be fully and truly ourselves: No expectation to achieve impossibly high standards. No expectation to create beautifully perfect bouquets of flowers.
No expectation to be anything other than who we are: beloved children of God, loved wholly and completely.