The Prodigal Son Comes Home

Meditation on Luke 15:11-32

In Memory of Paul Richard Hunt

April 16, 1939-June 29, 2020

July 2, 2020

Paul Hunt

He was movie star handsome. She was 2 weeks older than him and he never let her forget it. Paul met Wilma Spring in the 7th grade at Coshocton Junior High. When Wilma saw him out on the playground, he had a goofy hat with flaps on the sides, and he was on his bicycle. Wilma told one of her friends, “I don’t know who that boy is, but I am going to marry him someday.”  In 8th grade, she was 2 weeks late starting school because of bronchitis. And when she walked into homeroom, there he sat. He saw her and liked her, too. Right off the bat.  “I snagged him,” she says. After lunch, she was hanging out with her friends. Paul, with his very distinctive gait, wearing engineer boots, started to saunter past. And Wilma said, “Oh, Paul, there’s an empty seat right next to me.” He sat down, and that was it.

    When he asked her for a date some time later, she said, “I don’t know. I have to ask my mother…” “I wasn’t allowed to go to the movies, much,” she says. “We didn’t have the money to go.” She was, as she describes it, “from the other side of the railroad tracks” and Paul’s family belonged to the country club. On their first date, they went to a Saturday matinee at the Sixth Street Theater. Paul’s dad picked her up and dropped them off. They went to Islay’s afterward to drink phosphates, a fruit flavored, carbonated drink.

     They dated on and off through high school. Dances with the YWCA or school, they went. He would invite her to his boys’ club dances. He wasn’t a good dancer, but Wilma was. “I would tell him to keep time to the music—wave your arms around and I’ll do the rest.” He had dance lessons at the country club and played the drums in the high school marching band. He still couldn’t dance.

      By the time they got to be juniors in high school, there were other girls that had their eyes on Paul. Gretchen told all the girls that if they so much as looked at Paul she would scratch their eyes out. “I didn’t pay one bit of attention to her,” Wilma says. In their senior year, they got serious, but still dated other people. “I always thought he was special,” Wilma says. “I found myself comparing him to other guys. Nobody else ever measured up.”

   He went off to Wooster College after they graduated high school in 1957. Wilma was upset. College wasn’t a path open to her. Her family couldn’t afford it and didn’t think it was necessary for a girl, though Wilma wanted to go. She stayed home and worked — at Newberry’s, then Shaw Barton in accounting and then,  First National Bank in bookkeeping.

    Paul, coming home on weekends, served as her patient and gentle teacher. He passed on his college books to her when he finished reading them and they had good conversations. Both were curious people with the hearts of explorers. They would go to the Walhonding dam and knock rocks with his geology hammer. “You never knew what you found inside,” she says. “I was always learning something from him.”

    Wilma enjoyed attending dances with Paul at Wooster, staying up all night in the dorm with the girls. Yet, she was dating other people, too. She didn’t know that Paul knew she was seeing other guys. Until one day, when Paul confronted her. She was going to have to make up her mind. Was she going to be with him or not?

    “From then on,” she says. “I was.”

     The engagement ring came at Christmas. Paul graduated from college with a degree in Economics in 1961, but they didn’t get married right after his graduation. He found out that he was going to be drafted, so he enlisted in the Army, which allowed him to choose his vocation. They were separated again, and this time, it was too far to come home on weekends. He was stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana.

     Reverend Harold Kaser married them on July 1, 1962, here in this chapel, which was only a few years old. It was a hot day and the chapel didn’t have air conditioning, back then.  They began their marriage in a rented home off base in Lawrence, Indiana.  “I thought he was taking me off to the end of the earth,” she says. “I had never been away from home.”

     Paul worked in the Adjutant General’s office, and he was teaching data processing when computers took up a whole room. His commander was one of his students. They came back to their hometown in 1964, and Paul began work at Pretty Products and later Yankee Wire Cloth. They had three children: Christy, Cindy, and Philip. And Paul, who valued family more than anything, wanted Wilma to just focus on caring for the children. She could shop as much as she wanted, buy clothes or anything she wanted for herself, but he didn’t want her to work outside the home, sing in the choir or serve on a church committee when their children were young. They needed her full attention, especially Phil, who once threw a paper airplane in the sanctuary during worship, and Rev. Millspaugh, without missing a beat in his sermon, had to “give him the hairy eye.”

     Paul had a number of hobbies. He liked photography, antique tractors, and to sail and swim; he tinkered on his car and did woodworking. Wilma was his second hand out in the garage. He mended all kinds of things around the house, and he had the knack of figuring out how things could work better. But he would make things so complicated, that it was annoying. Paul built his own boat, a Chris-Craft, and Wilma and Paul went to Lake Park and Pleasant Hill Lake near Loudonville.

    When I met Paul, about a year ago, his declining health had led to him moving to a small care home, up a steep drive in Coshocton. He didn’t like it there. It wasn’t home. There wasn’t anyone with whom to have a stimulating conversation. And the very private man didn’t have any privacy. Finally, he was able to move into Windsorwood Place. He was happier when I visited him there, but his health struggles continued.

   But I want to tell you that Paul is the only person with whom I have served home communion who wanted to talk seriously about the Scripture. He brought questions to the text. I enjoyed our conversation and the time passed quickly, and before long, Glenn Kinkade and I had stayed more than an hour. He was a storyteller, too, and was eager to share about his family, the stray cats that made their home with Wilma and him, his paper route and growing up in Coshocton, and his great grandfather, Rev. William Ellis Hunt, who was pastor of our church from 1857 to 1901. His eyes sparkled when he and Wilma told me about their adventures going whitewater rafting with Wanda and Denny in West Virginia—when they were 62!

     The loss of his brother, Tim, weighed heavily on him. Tim, who hid his depression for many years, tragically committed suicide when he was 62, something he had planned since he was 20 years old. Paul never understood why Tim did this. He worried about Tim’s soul. Would he go to heaven? he asked me. Was suicide an unforgiveable sin?

     I told him about God’s grace. He nodded as I spoke. He knew all the scriptures I quoted. But he needed to hear them again and be reassured.

     Later, I would discover that he struggled with accepting God’s forgiveness for himself. He believed that he was the Prodigal Son, without saying why. Wilma prayed fervently for him—that he would accept God’s forgiveness. And one day, her prayers were answered. His countenance changed. He had experienced Christ’s peace.

      Paul isn’t the only one who struggles with accepting God’s love and forgiveness. We all do! Some people fear death because of this. That’s why I chose to share the Parable of the Prodigal Son in this service to witness to the resurrection and honor Paul’s life.

     All of us have gone astray—maybe not demanded our share of an inheritance before our father died and gone off and squandered it on selfish pleasures before ending up homeless and starving before we came to our senses. But all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That’s Romans 3:23. God proves his love for us, however, that while were sinners, Christ died for us. That’s Romans 5:8. And, “He who had no sin became sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21) “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

       What if the Prodigal Son were mentally ill—and that was what led him to act in such impulsive, angry, and irresponsible ways?  What if he suffered from depression, continually comparing himself to his perfect older brother and coming up short? The Prodigal Son finally made his way home when he hit bottom, and the Father was already waiting and watching for Him! Before the Son could say he was sorry, the Father greeted him with joy and prepared to celebrate his return with the entire community. There was no looking back and no shame or punishment. All that mattered was that his beloved child had returned. What was lost had been found! That’s the grace of God who forgives even the unlovable, those who have done the unthinkable, those we struggle to forgive.

      Paul knew that longing to be home, healed and whole when he was ill for so long and spent too much time in hospitals and nursing and rehab centers. He wanted to be home, just as Wilma wanted to be home when they got married and he took her to the end of the earth in Lawrence, Indiana.

     We all long to be home when we live in this world. Our Spirits are restless. For we are citizens of heaven, not of the earth. Our home is with our God, who waits and longs for us to be with him. He is joyful when we come back to him in prayer, broken, hurting, and weary. When we come to the end of ourselves and realize our need for him — because we can never be righteous on our own. No matter how hard we try.

    We can live resurrected lives with Christ right now, with God’s help, by faith.

    Someday, soon, we will see Him, face to face. Like Paul and all the saints, we will go home, when God calls us. The Heavenly Father and all the Kingdom will celebrate the return of The Prodigal children. Cleansed and clothed in robes of righteousness. Forgiven and freed from sin. No longer lost, but forever found in Him.


Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

3 thoughts on “The Prodigal Son Comes Home

  1. This was a beautiful service Karen. Thank you so much for all you do for our congregation. God bless you, Jim and Jacob and keep you all safe and well…

    Liked by 1 person

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