God Welcomes Us All

But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you.

Matthew 5:44

A dear friend recently suffered a broken heart. While attending a worship service, her zealous pastor made it quite clear that there is only one true church and that those who do not belong to that true church will not enter heaven. Now my friend is a convert to her faith and her entire family is of a different faith. To complicate matters further, a family member is a minister in that “different” faith. The final blow came in the recent passing of someone dear to her who was also a member of that “different” faith.

As I responded to my friend, I admit that my heart vacillated between absolute empathy with her and complete anger with her pastor. In the end, I reassured my friend with everything I know about God’s indiscriminate love and I joined her praying for her pastor.

It seems to me that, just as God has sprinkled this earth with a variety of us humans, God has also revealed the Divine in a variety of ways. God leaves it to us to find what fits and to live accordingly. God also leaves it to us to allow one another the same courtesy.

Loving God, help us to emulate your inclusive and loving ways in our attitudes and actions toward all of your children.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Stand Together

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs
under the table eat the family’s leavings.”

Mark 7:28

I was born into an Irish and Italian neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. Since only the tiniest drop of each bloodline flows through me, I had no preference for either group. The truth is that I envied them both, especially on St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Days when they celebrated their heritage with great flourish. For the most part, I’m French Canadian. There is no designated day for me to do the same. Though my own family celebrated rich traditions which were the direct result of my nationality, I longed for a more colorful and universal display of our heritage. By third grade, many of these neighbors moved away. New African-American neighbors took their places. At that time, I discovered that my new neighbors found themselves in the same situation as I. No one outside of their own families celebrated their heritage with a flourish either. Sadly, most outsiders looked upon my new neighbors’ rich heritage as a threat or a curse. As for me, my new neighbors became my friends.

This childhood experience evolved into a lifetime of effort to overlook ethnicity and the numerous other differences which often separate us. Perhaps it was providential that I spent my career working with children. My classroom provided the perfect forum in which to honor both our personal uniqueness and our common qualities. In the process, I think I succeeded in honoring my students for who they were while also respecting the heritage of each one. I hope I do the same today for all of those whom I meet along the way.

God of us All, it seems that we manage to separate ourselves into differing factions more than ever these days. We continue to find reason to stand apart. Please inspire us with your loving and welcoming ways before it’s too late.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

Still God’s Beloved…

You are no longer strangers and sojourners;
you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

From Ephesians 2:19

One of my favorite experiences in Israel was being amidst the hustle and bustle of people in the streets of Jerusalem. It was there that I tasted the urgency of Jesus’ contemporaries. Life was tough in Jesus’ day. The Jewish people lived under Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been given. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their infatuation with rules and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with perceived sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I aren’t often ostracized quite as dramatically as these, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God assures us of the Divine Presence at our sides. The hustle and bustle of our human existence hasn’t changed much over the two millenniums since Jesus walked among us. God’s love for us also hasn’t changed!

Dear God, thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All…

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1

I recently ran into an Iraqi Christian who now makes his home in the United States. A few years ago, he shared his story with me. My heart ached over the suffering he’d endured in his homeland because of his faith. I was also deeply touched by his appreciation for his life in this country. It did my heart good to see that his joy continues.

I admit that I struggle with the knowledge that our world is filled with countries and people in distress. In places where there is no war, there is endless poverty or civil unrest or an absolute absence of freedom. Some of those who govern seem less inclined than ever to care for their citizenry. Some who would do more dare not to because of the delicate balance of power around them. I struggle because it seems that misguided motives drive conditions for too many of this world’s people.

The unrest in our world urges me to do something about the unrest around me. Though I cannot fix everything everywhere, I can at least attempt to fix things here. I can respond peacefully when turmoil arises around me and I can pray. Turning to the One who understands our troubles better than we do bolsters our efforts in amazing and unexpected ways.

Patient God, be with as we strive to love one another. Transform our small efforts into effective instruments of peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Household

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

Ephesians 2:19

Life was tough for the contemporaries of Jesus. The Jewish people endured Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been written. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their own infatuation with rules, regulations and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most.

The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with tax collectors and sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I aren’t always ostracized quite as dramatically as these, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God lays hands upon us and heals us. When we open ourselves to God’s embrace, our circumstances may not change, but we will.

Gracious God, you are the host who makes room at your table for us all. Thank you!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved