A Sunday Reflection for the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
The lectionary readings are here.
Twenty-one years ago, the fourth Sunday in Lent was the first time I attended a Holy Eucharist service in an Episcopal church (I had attended my uncle’s funeral at an Episcopal cathedral eight years prior and the influence of my uncle on my current path is a whole story in and of itself). My son and I walked into the local Episcopal church and were so warmly welcomed by Fr. David James and others whose names I have regrettably forgotten of the years. It was a small congregation and it was obvious we were visitors but instead of being awkward, we felt at home, the love and hospitality evident without being overwhelming.
I didn’t choose this particular Sunday because I knew anything about which Gospel lesson would be read. I can’t say I chose this particular Sunday at all. It was God who prompted me to act on the thought planted first at my uncle’s funeral and again with this congregation reaching out to us as we moved into the community. But, I must say, the lesson gave me great pause and I felt God’s presence as I had never felt it in church before except at my uncle’s funeral … I am trying to keep this reflection short(ish) and not include that lengthy chapter of the story but obviously it is significant and I’ll write about it someday.
I had grown up in church and as a young adult I walked away from the denomination I had known my whole life because how I witnessed people being treated in this denomination had little to do with the life and love of Jesus that I read about in the Bible. There was no single event, but an accumulation of hurt and confusion through the years. And so, on the Sunday of my return to church, God gave me the gift of this story in a welcoming and loving community and I will always be so grateful. And every three years when it comes back around in the Lectionary, I discover something more in the story.
This year I decided to do a little research on the congregation that welcomed me that Sunday and it only took about five minutes on Google to discover that they had split and dissolved about the time I was leaving for seminary. And I grieved. This loving community who had welcomed this prodigal had later let themselves behave more like the son who stayed home and was no longer able to find joy in the inclusivity of God’s Kingdom.
St. Paul says that we are ambassadors for Christ because God chooses to make himself known in this world through those of us who follow Jesus. Jesus welcomes all into the Kingdom of God. And so must we do the same. When we distort Jesus’ teachings to exclude and to rank ‘special’ groups of people over others, we are doing just that – distorting the gospel message into our own message.
Jesus came to proclaim the Good News that all are beloved children of God, invited and welcomed into the Kingdom banquet to share in the abundance of God’s Love and Mercy. This is the message we are to proclaim with our lives, not only when folks walk through our church doors but every moment of every day. And when we stumble, and we’ve all been the prodigal at one time or another, and we’ve all been the one who stayed home, we are confident that when we recognize our bad behavior and ask God if we can return, we will be welcomed with love.
As ambassadors for God’s Kingdom we can do nothing less than proclaim the Good News by inviting and welcoming all into the Kingdom of Love. Amen.