God’s Welcome

When a friend shared the highlights of his trip to New York City, I smiled knowingly at almost everything he said. I was impressed that he’d managed to take in as much during his adventure as my husband and I had done in two trips to the Big Apple. This conversation prompted me to unearth the photos which chronicle our New York stay. Though this writing awaited me, I allowed those photos to lead my reminiscing for a full half-hour. When I finally turned to today’s scripture passages, I realized that time had been very well-spent. Let me begin by telling you about those trips…

During our first stay, we lodged near Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. I recalled that I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found that we were able to see the Statue of Liberty from our hotel room. During our second visit, we stayed in Times Square. These locations gave us the opportunity to see the city from two completely different perspectives. Though tourists filled Battery Park, its lush green expanses and proximity to the harbor kept it from feeling crowded. Though Times Square can only be described as frenetic, it proved to be truly inviting in its own colorful way.

Times Square teems with people from dawn to dusk and into the wee hours of the morning. Bright lights and sidewalk vendors provide some of the color and scents unique to this amazing hub of activity. Before that trip, a friend had told me that her favorite Times Square activity had been people-watching. She traveled to New York fairly often. Whenever she was there, she made her way to the two-story McDonald’s where she sat by a second floor window. From that perch above the sidewalk, she enjoyed the wave of humankind which passed by. When my husband and I were there, we quickly understood my friend’s fascination. Mike remarked that he heard people speaking a number of different languages. As for me, I saw amazingly chiseled faces with long and short noses, high and mid-placed cheek bones and very full and very thin lips. Numerous shades of hair color topped my fellow humans as they made their way. I wonder what those passers-by saw as I passed them by.

Though we’d spent most of our stay in Time’s Square during that second trip, we ventured off to the World Trade Center site. We stopped to pray in St. Paul’s Chapel/Trinity Church which had miraculously survived the horror of September 11, 2001. Afterward, we went on to Battery Park to re-acquaint ourselves with Lady Liberty. I immediately walked to the base of the statue where Emma Lazarus’ poem is displayed. Its words speak Lady Liberty’s welcome to all who come her way: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Tears stung my eyes that day just as they do today. I stopped typing just long enough to whisper my thanks that I have a place to find solace when I’m feeling tired and tempest-tost and poor. There’s a space reserved for this purpose just for me in God’s heart.

Today’s readings from Numbers (11:25-29) and Mark’s gospel (9:38-43, 45, 47-48) underscore our welcome into God’s unconditional love for each one of us. Numbers tells us that Moses’ followers complained because two among them hadn’t blessed with the spirit of Moses, yet they received the gift of prophesy like the rest. Joshua told Moses to stop those who seemed to have no business doing God’s work. While Joshua questioned the authenticity of those interlopers, Moses declared that he wished all of the people exhibited those powers. In the gospel, this phenomenon repeated itself. John complained that an outsider had healed someone in Jesus’ name. John grumbled that he told the man to stop, but he didn’t. Jesus repeated Moses’ response. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, Jesus told John to leave the man alone!

It seems to me that the greatest gift which accompanies our humanity is the place you and I hold in God’s heart and the company we share with one another. God fashioned the differences which make us who we are. Who are we not to love what God has created? Perhaps Mike and I were so taken by the truly diverse population of Times Square because each person who passed us by illustrated the uniqueness of God’s best work. Perhaps I’m so taken with Lady Liberty’s words of welcome because they echo God’s invitation to you and me to seek refuge in God’s embrace when nothing else will do. How touched we should be that God trusts us to spread the good news of this welcome to everyone we meet along the way!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We’re In This Together

My husband and I just returned home from a visit with our new grandson. We truly enjoy spending time with Daniel’s parents, too. Still, I must acknowledge that Daniel was the focus of this visit. You see, this was the first time that little Daniel appeared to be a typical newborn to me. Though it has been only six days since our last visit, I noticed these changes immediately. Daniel has gained more weight and is well beyond that five-pound milestone. He has traded his preemie clothing for his newborn wardrobe. Though Daniel has always been alert, his facial expressions and movement attest to his continuing development and health. His absolute delight at feeding time reassured me further. During the drive home, I didn’t say much to my poor husband because I was busy expressing gratitude to God. Finally, I was able to let go of the worry which had overwhelmed me since Daniel’s premature birth.

After completing my prayer, I remarked to my husband that I didn’t miss those long drives to the hospital in Chicago. Nonetheless, we both agreed that, in spite of that drive, we will be forever grateful to the staff at Prentice Women’s Hospital. They took amazing care of Daniel and his mom and dad. This made all of the difference because the hospital served as their home-base for twenty-four days.

By our third visit, we began to feel at home there as well. Regardless of when we arrived, this bustling environment teemed with people. Visitors, employees and new patients streamed from the parking lot to the hospital and down dozens of corridors leading to places we would never explore. Every time we navigated our way to the elevators, I was struck by the variety of people who journeyed with us. I heard French, German and Spanish, Polish, Chinese, an African dialect and British and Australian accents. Chicagoans’ offerings of American English quickly revealed their South and West and North Side roots. I encountered chiseled faces with long and short noses, high and mid-placed cheek bones, very full and very thin lips. I can’t begin to list the numerous shades of hair color that topped my fellow humans as we made our way. Every time we visited the hospital, I remarked to my husband that we were truly in the midst of a melting pot of God’s children. And, in spite of our varied appearances and languages, our eyes betrayed to all who noticed the common concern which brought each of us to this place of healing.

I share our hospital adventures because they echo the message found in the scriptures. Passages from Numbers (11:25-29) and Mark’s gospel (9:38-48) underscore God’s unconditional love for each one of us. Numbers tells us that Moses’ followers complained because two among them who were not blessed with the spirit of Moses had received the gift of prophesy like the rest. Joshua went so far as to tell Moses to stop the two who had no business doing God’s work. While Joshua questioned who the two interlopers thought they were by acting in God’s name, Moses declared that he wished all of the people did the same.

In Mark’s gospel, a similar situation unfolded. In this case, it was John who complained that an outsider had healed in Jesus’ name. John reported to Jesus that he told the man to stop, but the man refused. Jesus responded just as Moses did. “Do not prevent him,” Jesus said. “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” In other words, leave him alone! God is far more concerned with the hearts of those who do good than with their varied exteriors or affiliations.

You know, when Daniel’s parents drove to the hospital in search of the timely and safe delivery of their baby, they didn’t scrutinize the physical attributes or religious affiliations of their caretakers. They trusted that the Prentice Hospital staff would respond to their needs skillfully and appropriately. Indeed, they were not disappointed by their sisters and brothers in this human family of ours. This grandma is most grateful that God has fashioned the differences which make us who we are. Each of our carefully designated gifts is counted among the tools we need to heal, to encourage and to love one another along the way. Little Daniel offers amazing proof of power of the gifts which we bring to one another.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved