Sunday, March 28, 2021

Daryl Byler: The things that make for peace

Palm Sunday: What kind of Savior?
Text: Luke 19:29-44

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During our years in the Middle East, Cindy and I twice attended the Palm Sunday procession from Bethany to Jerusalem.  It is a festive occasion. Christians from around the world retrace the route that Jesus took some 2,000 years ago – each pilgrim waving palm branches and singing hymns in their language.
Palestinian Christians are the local hosts and lead the procession. Many Palestinian Christians -- like Bshara Awad, who Pastor Phil interviewed the Sunday before Christmas -- live in Bethlehem, only six miles from Jerusalem. But they must get permits from the Israeli government to travel to Jerusalem. Those who can get permits walk with others from their village. Each village carries a banner saying how close their town is to Jerusalem – and yet so hard to reach.
The walk from Bethany to Jerusalem is about two miles – the same as walking from one end of College Avenue to the other. The crowd walks up the backside of the Mount of Olives, along the ridge, then down a path through the Garden of Gethsemane and up into Jerusalem. 
The story in Luke’s gospel begins with Jesus sending several disciples ahead to secure a colt. Matthew’s gospel says the disciples secured both a donkey and a colt for Jesus to ride.  But the point is this: It was a humble mount – not one typically associated with a powerful leader, certainly not a king.
I have witnessed many Presidential motorcades in Washington, DC. They are anything but humble. 
• First comes a posse of police motorcycles followed by police cars. Their job is to clear the path. 
• Then comes a phalanx of black Suburban’s filled with Secret Service agents surrounding two identical limousines -- one of which carries the President. 
• Then come more cars carrying White House staff and members of the press. Then comes a large communications van. 
• Next comes an ambulance with medical staff.
• And, finally, more police vehicles.  
Presidential motorcades are a far cry from the Palm Sunday procession. Jesus had no security detail. He rode a small colt through the middle of a shouting crowd – knowing that he was entering the city where he would be condemned to die.
While the crowds knew that Jesus was someone special, they were divided about his true identity. Some thought he was a prophet from Nazareth. Others believed he was a king. But they were united in recognizing that Jesus had come in the name of the Lord.  
In Luke’s account: “The whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen.”
This was too much for the religious leaders. They rebuked Jesus for not silencing the crowd. But Jesus would have none of it. “I tell you,” he responded, “if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Jesus knew that he was riding toward his death. But he was not focused on himself. As he descended the ridge from the Mount of Olives, he paused and wept over the city of Jerusalem.
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
So, what are the things that make for peace? 
God’s vision has always been for peace, for shalom – for the thriving of all people – for right relationships, health, and well-being. The prophet Micah summed up the essentials for shalom in this way: “To do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
The dominant narrative on Capitol Hill, where I served as Director of MCC’s Washington Office for 13 years, is that peace and security are the fruit of military might. Oh, some believe that diplomacy and development are also important. But the greatest of these is defense – military power. Indeed, our nation spends more than the next ten countries combined on national defense. 
I made many congressional visits with the late Marian Franz – former executive director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. Marian, better than most, melded the pastoral and prophetic in her advocacy. She showed genuine concern for legislators, but she was not soft when advocating for justice and peace.
Every session of Congress, the late John Lewis would introduce the Peace Tax Fund bill. The bill would allow conscientious objectors to war to designate their tax dollars only to nonviolent government functions.
Hill staffers sometimes told us that Mennonites were freeloaders who want the security of living in a nation with dominant military power --without paying for or participating in it.  
We responded that Mennonites believe in preventative defense. We mentioned the hundreds of MCC workers worldwide who contribute to human security by promoting relief, development, and peacebuilding projects that prevent conflicts from escalating into war.  And that Mennonites do this defense work at no charge to U.S. taxpayers.
So, what are the things that make for peace? To Micah’s list – do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly -- I would add “telling the truth.” Let me touch quickly on each of these.  Jesus modeled all four in his life – never more compellingly than during the Holy Week we are entering. 

1. Tell the trut
Peace begins by telling the truth. Telling the truth about harms caused, injustices committed, and relationships broken. Truth-telling is the first step of repentance. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The good news begins with repentance. And repentance begins with telling the truth.
In 2004 – after things started unraveling badly in Iraq – then MCC Iraq worker Peter Dula came to Washington, and I took him to the State Department for a meeting. The Iraqi desk officer asked Peter a shocking question: “Peter, “What do we need to do to convince Iraqis that the United States may be stupid but that we are not mean-spirited?” Peter paused, then gave a great response: “I suppose we could start by posting billboards all over Iraq, saying, ‘We’re sorry, we blew it!’”
Apologies are rare in the political world. Sadly, like child’s play, politics has become a land of make-believe – spinning narratives that have little connection with truth and reality. 
But I am encouraged by some of the recent national efforts at truth-telling. They are planting seeds of peace: 
• The opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004 and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016. 
• The increasing attention to the Black Lives Matter movement in more recent years. 
These seeds of peace tell a more truthful story about our nation’s history with dispossession, enslavement, and racism. 
We cannot build peace upon a foundation of falsehoods.  

2. Do Justice
It is not enough to simply tell the truth. We need to act on that truth. Jesus criticized the religious leaders for tithing down to the last sprig of mint while neglecting justice and God’s love. (Luke 11.42)
In 2004, five Iraqis attended the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at EMU. During this time, they came to Washington, where I set up visits on Capitol Hill. The most memorable visit was with Rep. Jim Leach – a Member of Congress from Iowa and the only Republican to vote against the U.S.-led war in Iraq.  Rep. Leach apologized for the damage that the United States had caused to their country, and he asked them, “What next steps are needed in light of the damage caused?” He spent 45 minutes listening to their responses. It was a sacred conversation. 
Truth-telling acknowledges the harm that has been done.  Justice seeks to heal the damage. Healing justice. Justice that restores.
Peace cannot grow where injustice abounds.

3. Love kindness  
The essence of Jesus’ ministry was empathy – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching those who had lost their way.
We cannot build peace on a foundation of indifference and coldness.
The events of January 6th at the U.S. Capitol are a stark reminder of the deep divisions in our country. Studies from the Pew Research Center indicate that partisan gaps in the United States have grown dramatically over the past twenty years. Fund for Peace is an independent non-governmental organization that focuses on conflict early warning. They produce an annual Fragile States Index. While many states are improving, the U.S. is 12th on the list of “most worsened” countries over the past decade.
What an incredible opportunity for the church to model kindness that connects with the humanity in those with whom we sharply disagree.

4. Walk humbly with God
I always liked visiting the office of the late Rep. Andy Jacobs, Jr. – a representative from Indiana and a supporter of the Peace Tax Fund. Most Congress members plaster their office walls with pictures of themselves with the President and foreign leaders and celebrities. Andy covered his office walls with pictures of himself with children. 
What an important reminder to walk humbly, paying attention to the small ones, the vulnerable ones.
As we enter this Holy Week, are we paying attention to the things that make for peace -- in our relationships and our national politics? Or would Jesus still pause on the Palm Sunday to weep?
Following the example of Jesus, may we renew our commitment, to tell the truth, do justice, love kindness, and walk – or perhaps more appropriately on Palm Sunday -- ride humbly with God.

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Sunday, March 21, 2021

Moriah Hurst: Sightlines to Jesus

Lent 5 - What does faith cost?
Luke 18:31-19:10

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When my brothers and I were little there was a big tree in the front yard. My oldest brother loved to climb but my Mum gave him strict instructions that he could only climb when there were leaves on the trees, or so our family lore is told. When the tree was bare Mum could see how high my brother was climbing and that would terrify her. So he could only climb when there was full foliage and could be hidden by the leaves.

We heard three stories today that give us sightlines to Jesus. Through high school and college I worked in the theater and I remember directors talking to us about sightline. How do people, even those in the back or way off to one side of the audience still feel included in the action on stage. How did we put on a show so that all people could see.

In the first story today Jesus tells his disciples what will happen when they get to Jerusalem. They are given the insider info on where our Lenten journey is heading but yet again they don’t see it. I love verse 34 where it says in three different ways that they didn’t get it. They understood nothing, it was hidden from them and they did not grasp it. As if the author is driving home how very blind the disciples were, their ears and minds stopped from making meaning.

The next two stories contrast each other. First we meet an actual blind man who is sitting by the road begging. He calls out for mercy from Jesus and is given back his sight while being affirmed for his faith. And we finish with the beloved text that many of us remember from Sunday School of Zacchaeus up a tree trying to get a view of Jesus.

There would have been a lot of cultural assumptions about the blind beggar and the wealthy tax collector, Zacchaeus. What happened to make the man blind, was it sin? He was begging outside the city, removed from the center of things and sitting on the ground asking for help. Pitied, looked down upon, and excluded.

“Luke (also) says that Zacchaeus was wealthy. And surprise, surprise, how did a Roman tax collector get wealthy? By extortion and embezzlement. By taking advantage of the elderly, by exploiting the working poor, and by taking care of his cronies. There's an unspoken assumption of corruption here. Zacchaeus is a man who deserves our disdain.”

But both of these men want to see Jesus. And Jesus addresses both because he came for the poor and neglected as well as the wealthy and despised. Reaching out both ways with his love.

Jesus came for the lost, the least and the oppressed, we are used to talking about that but the Zaccheaus story surprises us by Jesus calling someone who is rich. Zaccheaus leaves his dignity on the ground and climbs up a tree. Unlike my brother I did not get the skills for climbing and when I get a few feet off the ground and feel like I want to throw up. I’m not sure how Zaccheaus felt being up the tree but it is Jesus who initiates the contact. Jesus looks up. Jesus invites himself to Zaccheaus house. Jesus doesn’t call him to anything or ask him to repent, Jesus only asks Zaccheaus to be a host. And unlike the blind beggar who calls out to Jesus asking for mercy, Zaccheaus asks nothing of Jesus but only responds with hospitality and generosity. Maybe it is the proximity to Jesus that calls him to a dramatic change in his life, finances and how he conducts his profession.

Do we too need to check our assumptions about other and these stories? Do we see ourselves in the middle economically – not super poor or super rich. This story reaches to the edges – the poor that we know God loves but that we still hold at arms length, we don’t want to get dirty. And the rich who we know God loves but we look down upon them for having too much money and wonder if their ways of getting rich might be suspect or we might not like the choices they make about how they use their funds.

Are we part of the oppressors, cutting Jesus off from sight? The crowds sideline the blind man and tried to silence him as he called out to Jesus. The crowds mutter and grumble that Jesus is going to be hosted by someone tarnished by his money and by who he has gained his power from.

What is the challenge here to our way of thinking? Zacchaeus is not despicable but generous – sorry for his sins and ready to change and make restitution.

The Episcopal priest Elizabeth Kaeton notes "Jesus is once again turning our world upside down, confronting us with our assumptions about who is good and who is evil and demonstrating for us the tricks we play in our minds before we treat one another — one way or another. Like the crowd murmuring about Zacchaeus, it is easy to be blinded by our prejudice of 'those people' and find ourselves accusing the very person or people we should be emulating."

In this text Jesus looks and sees, stops and waits, meets us where we are and asks what we need. The blind man and Zacchaeus are seen and in turn they truly see Jesus for who he is. One who comes to seek out those pushed to the margins.

When I think about sightline in a theater its about who is included and given access. Yet Jesus throws this wide open to all.

My Aunt and Grandparents went to see the Broadway show the Lion King for a special anniversary present. Because they got their tickets so far in advance they got seats right down the front in the second row. They were so close they could see sweat on the actors faces and were in what we call spitting range when actors really projected or sang loudly. They saw everything up close.

When I went to see the show a few years later I was seated way up in the balcony, looking down on the action. But what my grandparents couldn’t see was the parade of animals coming down the aisles and the grand beauty of the whole stage in one glance.

We are given a glimpse of this bigger story of what is coming in Jerusalem in a few weeks. We look ahead but can we really see to the cross, to death and then to the hope that is beyond that. Are we blinded like the disciples, a little to close to the action to see the larger stage. The detailed story here is Jesus seeing, hearing and including those who the crowds and majority oppress and exclude.

Can we see what is coming? We know how the story ends but not how it will change us. In this season, what are we looking for as Jesus approaches us like he did the blind man and asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Do we fail to see who Jesus is or will his closeness transform us, opening our eyes and turning our lives around.

“Where do you find yourself in these verses? Are you crying out for Jesus to heal you? Are you hiding in the tree?  Are you in a phase in your life when you are seeking Jesus like the blind man, boldly and outspokenly, or are you seeking Jesus with a curious, but distanced gaze.”  Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey

Because no matter who we are or where we are, Jesus meets us there, and grace abounds.

Even when we can’t see – Jesus is still seeking us out. Jesus knows our name and our lostness and calls us out of whatever tree we are clinging to and takes us home to be transformed.

The blind man called out for mercy and Zacchaeus didn’t just want a glimpse of Jesus but really wanted to see who Jesus was. Not just to look at but to know. May we open our eyes and hearts to this same knowing.

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Phil Kniss: What to do at the edge of a great yawning chasm

Lent 4 - How far does love reach?
Luke 16:19-31

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Today’s Gospel story is about a chasm.
Several chasms, actually.
Great, wide, yawning chasms
that separate those on one side
from those on the other.
And the perplexing question of this story is,
“How far does love reach?”

A physical chasm, of course, means a break or crack
in the earth, or some other physical surface.
But the Oxford English dictionary further defines it as,
a profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.
And the primary example of that usage is,
“the chasm between rich and poor.”

So Jesus’ parable in Luke 16 is the quintessential use
of the word chasm.

And to call it a “yawning chasm”—a common term
I used in my sermon title,
is actually to be redundant.
The root word for yawn and chasm are the same.
A “yawning chasm” is saying it twice
to emphasize how wide this opening actually is.

And this story is obviously not about a particular rich man,
and a particular poor man, Lazarus.
It is a parable with multiple levels of meaning,
and universal implications.

So we are entirely justified in using our imaginations here,
and seeing where this story takes us.

Where we could go wrong,
is to take the story too literally.
It’s not meant to be a description of the afterlife,
or even a glimpse of heaven and hell, per se.

Paradise and Hades are like characters in this story.
They create a context to weave a story and lesson
that has everything to do with our earthly lives here and now.

The scene is this yawning chasm.
On one side is the formerly rich man in Hades,
in torment, in agony,
suffering from the lack of everything,
even a drop of water to cool his tongue.
On the other side of the chasm is Father Abraham,
pictured embracing, with affection,
the formerly poor man Lazarus,
once oozing with sores, and malnourished,
now awash in abundance and love and comfort.

And this yawning chasm cannot be crossed or bridged.
It’s a chasm created, essentially, by the rich man,
during his life of luxury on the earth.
He is now simply reaping the predictable consequences,
of a lifetime of making and maintaining chasms on earth.

Did you catch Jesus’ brilliant description of the rich man’s earlier life?
He dressed in purple and fine linen.
He lived in luxury.
He ate from a sumptuous table.
Outside his gate, lying in the dust, was Lazarus,
who the man paid no attention to.
Likely, Lazarus went altogether unnoticed.
He was simply not part of the rich man’s world,
and the rich man chose to keep it that way.
The poor man’s dream, his longing,
was only to be able to reach some of the crumbs
that fell off  the rich man’s table.
But that did not happen,
by choice of those in power.

The chasm was created, reinforced, and kept in place
by those who decided this is the way the world is meant to be.

God has a different vision for the world.
God’s vision is justice, equity, a world of enough.
Where all are fed and clothed and sheltered,
and allowed to thrive,
allowed to develop into the full and flourishing life
for which God created them.

The point of this story, it seems to me,
is that the chasms of life on this earth
are ones that we can address.
There are ways to face them.
There are choices we have about how to live life
at the edge of a great, yawning chasm.
We have not yet become eternal victims of our own cruelty,
as the rich man did,
when the damage had already been done,
and could not be undone.

This is much easier said than done, of course.
Because the chasm is yawning.
It is too wide to cross with good intentions.
It cannot be bridged with greater effort,
running faster and jumping farther.
But just to name it a chasm, implies a possibility.
A chasm is created
when something that once was together,
has opened up for some reason.
The physical chasms on the surface of the earth
tell the story of a long ago togetherness.
You can trace the contours on one side of the chasm,
and go to the other side,
and trace the same contours in reverse.

It raises the question of whether
the one who once held it together,
might be able to bring it together again,
might be able to heal the rift.

So here is the task of the living—
to turn toward the Great Creator, and Great Reconciler,
and ask how we might join in the work.
To ask God, “Where are you going next?
And how can we go with you?”

God knows there are a sufficient number of rifts that need healing.
The gulf separating the rich from the poor is still with us.
In fact, not only still with us,
but the chasm is getting wider.
As is the chasm between oppressed and oppressors,
the elite and the masses,
royalty and commoners,
those with formal education and those without.
Many other chasms divide us—
politically, culturally, racially, theologically.

This fanciful vision of Abraham and the tormented rich man,
having a conversation back and forth
between the two edges of the chasm
separating Hades and Paradise,
is maybe not as fanciful as it seems.

This is precisely the kind of dialogue
that we Jesus-followers are invited into now,
standing on our edge of the chasm.
The role of the community of disciples of Jesus
is to first notice the ones we are separated from.
The rich man probably could honestly say,
I never noticed Lazarus lying there in the dust outside my gate.
The very reason the rich man had a gate,
was so he wouldn’t have to notice people like Lazarus.
Gate preserve the status quo,
preserve social blindness.
I wonder what gates we have knowingly or unknowingly put up,
so that despite our best intentions,
despite our most noble and righteous commitments,
we need not notice, or ever take in,
the real lives of those on the other side of the chasm.

If we were truly intent on crossing the chasm,
we would not just keep re-stating our noble intentions,
as we so often do.
We would invite God to lead us to fresh encounters
with the ones standing on the other side of the chasm,
who may well be looking at us
with longing, or suspicion, or just confusion.

We stand at the edge of not one, but many,
great yawning chasms.

What to do?
We ask the great reconciler for help.
God, grant us the courage simply to notice—
to see those we are separated from.
God, give us the humility to name
the fences that protect us,
that reinforce our privileged position.
And God, instill in us a deeper desire for communion,
with those on the other side of our chasms.

Friends, it is now yours to discern
where this parable touches your lives.
It is yours to discover which chasms are keeping you
from the full and flourishing life you were created for.
And then to ask God for help.
Now, before the chasm becomes uncrossable.

Pray with me, will you, this simple prayer of confession,
found in your order of service, taken from Voices Together.

May the Love of God
     which overcomes all differences,
     which heals all wounds,
     which puts to flight all fears,
     which reconciles all who are separated,
be in us and among us
     now and always.

—Phil Kniss, March 14, 2021

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Sunday, March 7, 2021

John Stoltzfus: A Welcome Home

Lent 3: Why not celebrate?
Luke 15

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The power of a good parable is that it can meet us wherever we are whether in first-century Palestine or in twenty-first-century Harrisonburg. 

Our trilogy of parables from today include one of the most beloved and familiar of stories--the prodigal son. All three parables refer to something or someone being lost and the jubilant, if not excessive, celebration that happens when they are found. Yet it is the last one that packs the most powerful emotional punch. 

We all can resonate with the yearning for a home where the welcome mat is always laid out for us. We all can inhabit the complicated love of familial relationships when love is spurned, or when forgiveness is called for not just once but many times over. 

Depending on what title you give this parable can alter the focus. Is it the “parable of the prodigal son” or the “parable of the two lost sons”? Or is it the “parable of the extravagant father”, or even the “parable of the prodigal father”? It could be, as Barbara Brown Taylor suggests, the parable of the dysfunctional family!

But no matter the title assigned, this parable looms large as a cultural icon. It is like the velveteen rabbit that is well worn from being inhabited by so many prodigals. Perhaps the challenge for us is to slow down enough to let it sink in anew. To recall or recognize the prodigalness or the lostness within each of us. Where do these parables ring true for you today? 

As a young lad, I had my own story of being lost with pigs. My family farm had a menagerie of animals at any given time but to my dismay we never had pigs. For some reason I loved watching pigs muck around in the mud in all their messy piginess. Fortunately, one of our neighboring farms, also the Stoltzfus’, had pigs. It was about ¾ a mile away by way of our back lane. So one morning, I found myself wandering back that lane to sit on our neighbors pig pen fence to watch the pigs in all their piggy glory. It must have been enthralling because I stayed there through lunch and into the waning hours of the afternoon. By that time, my parents had started calling around the neighborhood to see if anyone had seen a lost boy. Unfortunately, these Stoltzfus’ were Amish and didn’t have a phone and didn’t get the message right away. Eventually I was found and brought back home to my parents' great relief. I remember my mother saying something to the effect that she was worried that they had lost me. And in my young mind I wanted to object that I wasn’t exactly lost...I knew where I was and I was right where I had wanted to be. Obviously, unlike the prodigal son I hadn’t come to my senses yet. 

I suspect that if you asked the Pharisees that day who were listening to Jesus’ strange parables of lost things they would be equally adamant that they were not lost. I wonder if we are sometimes lost and do not know it. Or maybe we think we are doing just fine meandering the roads and villages far from home. Or maybe we do feel lost and don’t know how to get back home. We have lost our way. Being lost comes in many different forms. Hello to feeling lost. 

And to all who feel lost or to those who feel locked in a room of fear Jesus says 'Hello,' welcoming us to a place of deep encounter with ourselves, our fear, our shame, and to discover the incarnate God who is never far from us no matter if we travel to the far side of sea. 

One way to tell these parables is to focus on the “lost” and the extent to which the farmer, the woman and father will go to seek and find the lost. The economy of God’s grace knows no limits! This is a good and necessary story to tell.

Yet, if we are to focus on the event that precipitated these stories (And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”), maybe we are invited to locate ourselves at a different place. We are the older sibling who stands outside the house watching through a window and grumbling while a great feast is thrown for the formerly lost.

Rembrandt’s famous painting of the prodigal’s return offers us an opportunity to find ourselves in the scene. 
On the left, the elderly father, clothed in a robe of red, and his younger son, in tattered clothes (maybe not unlike our rough frayed Lenten sack cloth) reunite in a tender embrace. On the right, a large figure towers over them, thought to be the older son. He too is clothed in rich red robes and he appears to clasp his hands in displeasure. His eyes mirror puzzlement if not disapproval and judgment as he looks down on the unfolding reconciliation,

Henry Nouwen in his book The Return of the Prodigal Son: A story of homecoming wrote this in contemplating this painting and reflecting on Rembrandt’s life story:
Rembrandt is as much the elder son of the parable as he is the younger. When, during the last years of his life, he painted both sons in Return of the Prodigal Son, he had lived a life in which neither the lostness of the younger son nor the lostness of the elder son was alien to him. Both needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. But from the story itself, as well as from Rembrandt's painting, it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home

From looking at a variety of encounters Jesus had with others in Luke from the woman who anointed his feet to the woman who touched his cloak in the crowd it seems like he responded more generously to people who were aware of their own needs. To those who came with agendas and traps concealed as questions, Jesus would tell these stories that exposed their own complicity, hostility, and prejudice. 

What was it that made the religious leaders so angry and bitter about Jesus associating with sinners?. Were they really concerned about Jesus’ reputation as a prophet? Probably not. They were more concerned about what it would reveal about themselves; their own place in the halls of power deciding who was in and who was out; determining who was right and who was wrong. Jesus was inviting them to come to terms with their own needs, shadows and unforgiven corners of their lives. 

Yet, the religious leaders were caught in a web of power that defined belonging in terms of who was excluded. They were not as interested in examining their own complicity or need for grace and mercy. Jesus exposed their games of power by throwing wide open the doors of welcome to all those who came with open hearts of humility and need. 

When they grumbled that Jesus ate with sinners, Jesus took it up a notch. He told a story of a father who disgracefully showered love and mercy on a wayward son who was welcomed back into the fold. 

Poet Padraig O’Tuama reflects that “belonging creates and undoes us both.” Belonging can be the most wonderful of gifts giving us identity, comfort, friendship and manna for the journey of life. But on the shadow side, belonging can also lead to hostility, unexamined bias, rigid boundaries and projecting our own fears on others.

Jesus was inviting the religious leaders to see the prodigal as an opportunity for learning about the generosity of God that was already available to them if they would but receive it.  

We are transformed as we are welcomed into God’s beloved community and we are not left the same as we are invited to be reconciled to all the other wandering souls who also belong. 

As a church community we have an incredible responsibility of helping create belonging to all who seek a home; to all who hunger and thirst for goodness, to all you seek the tender embrace of the One who welcomes us home. 

Perhaps the unspoken invitation that Jesus poses to the listening crowd at the end of telling these parables is the theme for this Sunday--”Why not celebrate?” In communion, let us humbly and gratefully celebrate the lengths to which God has gone to welcome each of us home around the table reconciled with ourselves, with one another and with God.

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