Inviting God September 15, 2013
On Wednesday, the small group that gathers for Eucharist spent time together praying for the victims, families and friends of those who lost their lives on 9-11 in 2001. The first reading that we shared that morning was from a Jewish man who had composed a liturgy in commemoration of those tragic events. Part of Alden Solovy’s prayer reads:
Blessed are those who have found peace.
Blessed are those without tranquility.
Blessed are those who speak.
Blessed are those who stay silent.
Blessed are those who have healed.
Blessed are those who suffer.
Blessed are those who forgive.
Blessed are those who cannot forgive.
(--Alden Solovy, http://urj.org/worship/prayers/sept11/?syspage=article&item_id=73340)
These petitions have stayed with me through the week. Not only because I can vividly remember the events of that tragic day 12 years ago, but because these are petitions for all of us. Sometimes, we are peaceful, and sometimes we are in states of discomfort. Sometimes, we are able to forgive, and sometimes we cannot. No matter where we find ourselves in life, we are blessed because our God is a God of love.
When we encounter Jesus in the Gospel lesson for today (Luke 15:1-10), the crowds are pressing in on him and he welcomes sinners to eat with him. The fact that the lesson opens with the comment that the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling gives us a hint that Jesus is in the midst of an interesting situation.
The translation reads that Jesus is accused of welcoming sinners. In some translations, it says he “seeks out” these folks. Whether Jesus is welcoming or seeking out the undesirables, the point is that Jesus isn’t leaving anyone out and ultimately, that God’s kingdom has no boundaries.
So let’s look at the parables that Jesus tells these grumblers.
The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin are told in economic terms…Jesus is talking about things of value. He’s trying to get at what’s important to those in powerful positions. What would they do to retrieve lost possessions? How would they respond to having found that which had been lost? I don’t know about you, but if I misplace a check, a $10 bill, or an item that I have deemed “important”, I’ll turn my house, my office and my car upside down to find it! And when I find it, believe me, there is much rejoicing!
When we put God in the place of the Good Shepherd and the woman with the coins, it isn’t tangible economically related objects that have been lost…it’s us. It is the sinner, the unclean, the sick, the fearful, and the widow…all of us…that God rejoices over! God’s nature is to love, and in these parables, that love is acted out through tireless searching, welcoming, and rejoicing.
Sometimes, we behave like the Pharisees and the scribes. We grumble. We grumble about who’s in and who’s out. We grumble about what’s “appropriate”. We grumble when our daily lives are disrupted by the unwelcomed sinner. It’s ok…our grumbling is also part of our spiritual journey of being disciples. And even in our grumbling, we are invited, welcomed, and sought out because we are also lost.
On Thursday, I received a call from the hospital. Two young men were seeking lodging. When they arrived at St. Mark’s, it was obvious they had been on the road a while. Their faces were sunburnt, their packs were heavy, and they hadn’t had a shower in a while. I asked when they’d last had a hot meal…it had been too long. I arranged for lodging and food for these two young men, and off they went, back into the world. For a moment, the three of us had been found.
We all have opportunities to practice our discipleship, our unconditional welcome to those who have been lost. Sometimes we have to get out of the way and admit that we too are among the lost. Jesus understood this probably better than anyone; he understood “the struggle with being lost, the emptiness of being separated, and the struggle to return. Jesus does not turn away from the sinners, but toward the lost, to make a place for them, to welcome them home”. (Helen Montgomery Debevoise)
God’s kingdom is incomplete without each one of us. God’s door of love, forgiveness and restoration is always open and welcoming. And when the lost have been found, let us all join in rejoicing!
Let us pray.
God of the dirtied hands, the wandering feet; you seek out the lost before ever they turn to you: take us with you into the abandoned places to find a new community outside our fortress walls; through Jesus Christ, the Searching One. Amen. (Prayers for an Inclusive Church)
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.