This story from the Rev. Tom Are, Jr. is a bit longer than most, as I found it difficult to find a clean beginning and ending point. To understand the context, you need to know that this sermon talks about the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). As always, if you're interested in reading the whole sermon, just click on the appropriate link on the right to be taken to the sermons page.
You see… I know that the elder brother is not the good guy. I know that the elder brother is not the example for us. I know that the elder brother does not wear a white hat in this story… but I gotta tell you, the boy makes some sense to me!
Makes a little bit of sense of me….
‘Cause I’ve got a little brother! If you’ve got a little brother, maybe even a little sister, you probably can understand this guy! You see, my brother, Jim… we didn’t get along! It’s not that we were enemies. You know, we didn’t bring bodily harm to one another, we… we… we just were brothers! And Jim, I don’t know what’s wrong with the boy… Jim…(laughter) It’s good Presbyterian belief to believe that every person has a reason for being… that every person has a purpose in this world. Jim was thoroughly convinced that his purpose… that his calling… yeah, one even he had received by divine intervention… his reason for being was to get on my nerves! (laughter) And Jim was very obedient to his calling.
Now it worked okay for a little while. Because Jim was about this many years old (holds arm at about waist length), and I was this many years old (raises arm a bit higher), and that works all right. Because as soon Jim would start getting on my nerves, I’d just sorta look at him with that stern face that says “I’m really talking to you now!” And I’d say, “Jim, if you have an emotional attachment to sunshine, you better get out of my face!” (laughter and applause)
And Jim would say, “I’m sorry,” and he would back out of the room. That worked fine! But then he had to go and blow it. Jim discovered alliances. I don’t know if he got it at school, or where he got it. But the youngest always figures out, the number one ally is Mom.
Jim would start getting on my… and I would say “Jim, if you have an emotional attachment to…” I’d get to about right there, and all of a sudden he’d start going “Mah-ahm! Mah-ahm!”
She’d come flittin’ down the hallway. “What’s the matter, darling?”
Jim’d start in: “Tom did this. Tom did that! Tom did that other thing!”
My mother’d look at me, and she’d say, “Go to your room!”
I’d say, “Mom, aren’t I entitled to a trial by jury of my peers?”
She’d say, “Tom, if you have an emotional attachment to sunshine….” (laughter and applause)
You see, that’s when I learned to talk like an elder brother! I’m in my room “got an emotional attachment, hmph! I tell you what… when’s the last time he cleared the table? I can’t remember! Does he take out the trash? No, [sir,] he plays sick every time, ‘I hurt my foot.’ No, I’m the one doing it, but that’s all right, take care of him. Give him a party, I don’t care!”
That went on too long! I spent most of my sophomore year in my room! Talking like an elder brother. Occasionally looking in the mirror, trying to make an ugly face…. It wasn’t real hard.
(Leans over pulpit) … But I got him back! (cheers and applause)
I got him back, man! We were visiting my grandmother. She lived in South Carolina. She announced that she and my mother were going to go shopping, and they would be right back.
Now one of things you need to understand, my grandmother and my mother went shopping, they’re not gonna be right back.
And the other thing she said is, “Tom, you are supposed to take care of Jim while we’re gone.”
“No problem! I’m gonna take care of him real good, Grandmama!”
Jim was out in the back yard. I went out and I said, “Jim you are filthy. You are sweaty. You smell bad. Go take a bath!”
He said, “But I don’t want to!”
I said, “Jim, I am in charge. Go take a bath!”
So he trudged it upstairs. My grandmother had one of those bathtubs with the feet on it, you know… different kind of experience, that was all right. Jim got in there, kinda sudsin’ up and everything, and then I yelled through the door. “Jim, I’m going next door. I’ll be gone for, oh, an hour.” Then I walked downstairs and I go out the front door. (sound of door shutting)
I wait about ten minutes. And then I open the front door. “Creee-eeak!” It’s quiet upstairs!
Jim goes, “Tom? Tom, is that you?”
(whispers) I didn’t say anything! (cheers and applause)
Jim says, “Tom, you’d better tell me that’s you. I’m gonna tell Momma if you don’t tell me that’s you!”
My grandmother had this lamp that sat by the end of the sofa, it had these little bells hanging on it, when you turn it on and off. I went over there and I turned it off! (cha-ching!)
It got real quiet upstairs! (laughter)
She has this china cabinet in the living room. You have to walk through there…. I think Columbus must brought that thing over, or something, because if you walked through the living room, the whole thing went (rattle-rattle-rattle), like that?
So I walked through the living room. (rattle-rattle-rattle)
Jim says, (sounding even more scared now) “Tom, is that you? Tom, I promise I won’t tell Momma if you just please tell me that’s you!”
(whispers) I didn’t say nothing!
I start going up the steps. The third step from the top creaked. I’m standing on the fourth one. I’m looking there at the bathroom right in front of me. There’s not a sound… I think Jim had his finger in the faucet to keep the drips from coming down. There is no sound coming outta there! I’m standing there, looking at the door… standing on that fourth step, and I step on number three. (Cree-eeak!)
Water started moving, man! I’m telling you, that boy was on the move, now! I go up to the door, I start going… scratching on the door, you know?
And all of a sudden it gets real quiet. Well, the lock on the door hasn’t worked since my daddy was in high school, you know, so I just sort of… push it open, and step in there and I go (leaps out with a boogeyman sound)!
There’s no Jim! (laughter)
Everything in there’s just… there’s not even much water in the bathtub. There’s a lot coming on the walls, down the… way, there. I thought, “Where’d he go?” I thought, first, he soaped up, and went down the drain, you know?
And then… then I saw the curtains flapping.
We’re on the second floor! There’s nothing below that but just this little awning. I thought “Great day! He’s jumped out! He’s killed himself! I’m going be in my room until I finish college, man!” (thunderous applause)
I go running down the steps… I opened the front door… There’s my brother hanging off that awning! (cheers)
He’s not wearing anything but Mr. Bubble! (more laughter)
I start laughing so hard, I can’t hardly stand up, you know? And I’m bending over, like this (doubled over), and I get about right here… and I see my momma coming down the driveway! (laughter)
I don’t even think she stopped the car! She just got out! And she started coming up the sidewalk!
She looked at me, and she said, “Go to your room!”
She walked right by my brother. He’s going, “Mom! A little help here, please! A little help, Mom!”
She comes in my room… she comes in my room…. She says, “Do you…. do you want to tell me… what your brother is doing… NAKED AS A JAYBIRD… hanging off the front of the house where we hang the star at Christmastime?” (Cheers from audience)
You remember the other night when I told you about those questions that aren’t really questions?
I said, “Well, ma…” and she said, “Hush!”
She was too mad to punish me. Instead she was gonna give me “the talking to.” (ominous sounds from audience) You ever had that? Man, I would rather be whipped, tied to a tree, left in the forest for the weekend than get the talking to!
She said, “Why…?” It always started that way, you know? “Why… do you treat your brother like that?”
I thought that was self-evident.
She said, “Tom, you are the eldest.” I thought that was self-evident, too. She said, “You’re supposed to be the light shining in the darkness. The city set on the hill. You know he looks up to you…”
I said, “Of course he does, Momma, he’s down here!” (laughter)
She said, “You’re supposed to live in a way that he can look up to and know how to make it in this world!”
And then it got bad. She said, “Tom, you know you really like Jim.”
I said, “Mother, are you talking about the Jim that lives with us?”
She said, “You know you really love Jim.”
I said, “Mother, have you met the Jim that lives with us?”
I said, “Mother, tell me one reason… it doesn’t have to be a big one! Tell me one reason, why you think I love that boy.”
She said, “Because he’s your brother!”
I said, “Bingo, Momma! That’s what I’ve been trying to…. That’s the reason I don’t like the man! You know, for eight years, he’s been hanging around my business. Ever since he’s old enough not to drool at the table, he’s been getting on my nerves!”
Jim’s standing out in the hall, taking notes…. They do that, too.
Jim comes walking in the room… He walks in the room… He doesn’t look particularly mad… He doesn’t look particularly dry… He looks at me, and he says, “Tom. Jesus loves me. So can you.”