Sunday Reflection: A Welcoming Community

Beginning this week I am hoping that the Sunday Reflections will become a way for me to summarize and go deeper with my lessons for the children and youth at Saugatuck Congregational Church.  This week’s reflection, marking the first Sunday of our Church School calendar, is a summary of our children’s message and Church School theme for the week: understanding more clearly what it means for us to welcome others into our community.

Have you ever played a game when no one else knew you were playing?

When I was really young my parents enrolled me in a kids soccer league.  I was probably six or seven at the time, could barely kick the ball.  Which made the actual game a little bit less than exciting.  So when I was out on the field for the first time, I decided that instead of playing soccer I was going to play pretend and be an airplane.  So I ran around doing aeronautical acrobatics in the backfield, my arms stretched out to both sides like wings.  Until the coach called me in for a sub…

Then there was another time when I hid under my bed, expecting my brother and sister to come look for me.  Of course, they were unaware of this game, so they weren’t actually looking for me.  But I was patient and the rules of the game were flexible.  I waited where I was until my brother came back into our shared room to get something.  Then I suddenly jumped out from under the bed and he flew up the ladder to his bunk!

On another occasion, I tried this game while my family was out shopping.  I hid in the clothing rack, seemingly disappearing into thin air.  This time they looked for me.  My poor mother must have almost had a heart attack.

How about you? Have you ever played a game that no body else knew you were playing?  How did that go?

Jesus tells three parables in Luke chapter 15 about things that are lost and have to be found.  I think reflecting on these childhood games no one else knew I was playing is a helpful way to illustrate, especially for a younger audience, what is happening in these stories.

“Baaa! Where’d everybaaaddy go?”

The first two parables are pretty similar.  One is about a lost sheep and the other about a missing coin.  I don’t think this sheep ever intends to get lost.  I think that this little guy is probably more like I was on the soccer field as a kid– running around in his own little world completely unaware that he is getting farther and farther from the herd.  And similarly, that coin probably falls out of someone’s pocket completely by accident, it doesn’t mean to disappear.

But even thought that sheep has no idea what he is doing or getting himself into, when he does get lost the shepherd notices (unlike my siblings, who didn’t know I was playing hide and seek in the second story) and the shepherd comes looking for him.  And even though that coin falls to the ground accidentally, the woman to whom it belongs actively searches for it as if it were buried treasure.

The last parable Jesus tells is about a lost son.  The story of the lost son  is a little different because he doesn’t just get lost by accident.  He means to go away, he means to hide.  And like my parents who looked for me when I hid, the father of this lost son looks for him every day and celebrates his return.

Today in our children’s message and in our Sunday School time at Saugatuck Congregational Church we are thinking about what it means to be a community that welcomes one another.  These parables make a good text for reflecting on that, I think, because Jesus tells these stories when the scribes and pharisees complain about how he welcomes “sinners and tax collectors,” the “undesirables” of his society.

The starting point for thinking about what it means to be a welcoming community, at least from the perspective of these three parables, is understanding what it means for God to welcome us.  The shepherd looking for the lost sheep, the woman searching for her lost coin, and the father looking for his lost son are all supposed to make us think of God.  Regardless of how many are still in the fold (99 out of 100), how small the lost item (a single lost coin), or how intentional the separation (a son who leaves home), God still searches for those who are missing from the table.

“Don’t worry, sheep, I’ll find you!”

It isn’t just that God says, “fine, you can be here” and begrudgingly makes space in the pew.  No, God actively looks for us, even when we are hiding, and seeks us out to bring us back to the fold.  God celebrates when we are found, throws a feast, even.  God wants us to be there and works to make that happen.  And that is true no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey.

So we, if we are going to be a welcoming community, can’t limit our welcome to merely giving people space, merely allowing them to exist peacefully alongside us.  To truly be welcoming means to actively seek one another out, actively look to care for one another’s needs, actively work to celebrate one another for being part of God’s flock.  And that is true whether the person next to us is our best friend or someone we just had a huge fight with, whether they are the same of us or couldn’t be more different, whether they are in our midst every week or have just come in off the highway and will never darken our doors again.  We are called to welcome all the way God welcomes all of us.

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