World Day of Prayer – Slovenia, 2019
Greetings! I am Rev. Steph, at least that’s what most people call me. A nickname said by children and adults alike with greater ease than the more formal Reverend Stephanie McClellan. I am an ordained Minister within the United Church of Canada and serve a two-point charge In Lewisporte, NL.
I am honoured to create this devotional for the 2019 World Day of Prayer. The theme – Come, All is Now Ready – was chosen by the women of Slovenia. A call to the table where everyone has a seat is a beautiful theme woven throughout my life, as you will hear. And so we begin thinking about relationships that grow as we gather together around the table.
Explaining the Trinity – One God, Three Persons – is an incredibly hard concept for seasoned professional scholars and theologians to grasp.
To get the idea across about this complicated doctrine – the relationship of love that is the very core of who God is – I use an icon created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. As you see, the three figures of the Trinity – God, the Father, God the Son and God, the Holy Spirit are seated at a table. You see the Three persons – One God and an empty space at the table at which everyone that views this work enters in as part of God’s loving, welcoming relationship. We are at the table when we look across it and around it to see the love of God surrounding us. Each of us is welcome into the complete love of God as we sit at the table together.
This was my point as I showed this picture on the big screen at the front of our church on Trinity Sunday at the end of May this year. As Scripture was being read, two and a half year old Charlie came to stand in the pulpit beside the reader looking up and watching with wonder her every word.
I greeted Charlie as the reader went back to sit in the choir and I began my complicated explanation of the Trinity. After a moment, I put up this picture and explained what I have now just told you about Rublev’s artwork and how it has affected my understanding of God in relationship, complete in Godself, but open to all of us.
As I crescendoed with my main point, I exclaimed that we are all welcomed into relationship with God! As I took a breath and thought that I would launch into more explanation, I heard Charlie’s small voice, “Welcome. I am welcome.” “Yes, dear child, you are welcome.” And before I could look back to the congregation, her small voice rang out again with her arms spread wide to the choir, Charlie proclaimed, “You are welcome! You are welcome.” And as I watched, and the congregation sat waiting, Charlie stepped carefully down the stairs in the middle aisle and walked through the congregation with a dazzling smile and angelic voice saying, “You are welcome!”
Sermon finished. What could I possibly add? My favourite theologian is two and a half years old. Charlie summed up the Trinity and the loving nature of God beautifully and invited everyone in.
It was the birth of another special child, born in a barn so long ago that truly broke down the barriers and created the reality that God’s love included all – the rich, the poor, the foreign, the familiar, the weary and the wild! When that child grew up, his love conquered fear and death and invited everyone to the eternal feast of life and love.
Our Scripture story chosen by the women of Slovenia for this year’s focus is one that paints another beautiful picture of being welcomed to the table where God’s banquet will be laid out for the lowest, the least and the loneliest. Those who understand that love sets the table, serves the meal and heals the broken-hearted. Children, widows, lepers, blind, marginalized, dirty, clean, learned and illiterate, faithful and faithless – those excluded by the misguided religious leaders of the time and graciously welcomed by Jesus’ radical welcome and hospitality for all.
Jesus goes even further than simply allowing the outcasts to be included and suggests that they should not be at the margins at all, but right in the midst of our gatherings as wise teachers, humble learners and joyful leaders that call to us in fresh new ways of sharing God’s gifts.
The story of the wedding banquet reminds us that those who expect to be welcomed because of their status or their riches, those who assume that there will be other invitations and other people who will fawn over them for their own success and greatness, miss out on the kind and gracious invitation of God that truly meets our needs and fills our spiritual storehouses. When we are too busy or too proud or too self-satisfied, we are too full of ourselves to take in the invitation to the banquet.
The women of Slovenia remind us to be thankful for our place at the table and ask us to consider who are the people in our communities that are missing from the banquet. In the scripture, the community gathered is not enough to fill all the seats at the table and so the women of Slovenia ask, “Who is missing? How can you welcome them?”
My parents lived love out loud in ways that will always shape the way I live and how I love others. At our house, there was always room for one more. Even if it meant that everyone had to do with a little bit less so all could have some. And besides typical pettiness that crept in every once in awhile because we were just kids too, my brother and I were none the worse for sharing all we had.
You see, approximately 100 children and a few down and out families went through my house while I was growing up. We were a foster family and one of the only ones who made ourselves available any time, day or night, when Family and Children’s Services needed to make an emergency placement. Some days I would wake up in the morning to count how many new ones had arrived in the night. Children of bank managers and children of prostitutes, children abused and children neglected by drug addicts and children from compassionate parents who knew they could not cope anymore and needed respite. All of them came through our doors.
Mom took in Day Care and Night Care. My father worked in newspapers and took a desk job he did not love because it was considered a promotion and he could go to work at 4 in the morning and be home in time to help when us rag-tag gaggle of kids came home after school. Mom and Dad were a justice league all on their own. My brother and I helped out, but we were just kids helping kids and sharing our most prized gifts – two loving parents who always had room for those who were considered unloved and unlovable.
Once when a family we knew was being evicted from their home, Mom and Dad rearranged living space so that their three-generation family could come to our house until they could find another house to make a home. Even more amazing when you know that the ex-husband was already living in the basement because he couldn’t find somewhere else to go. And for a long time, Grandpa Tom lived with us. He wasn’t our Grandpa, but he was a war veteran who was falling through the cracks and not getting the help he needed to deal with life outside the war zone. At our house, there was always room for one more.
Just think about that Russian icon from Rublev called the Trinity. A picture of God. A painting of loving relationship. A space in God’s love for all of us. That perspective where we can approach the table, see the cup and be embraced by the three figures of the Trinity means there is always room for one more in God’s love.
The story of the wedding banquet is an invitation from God spoken through the lips of children, the impoverished and the sick. Spoken through those who know what it is to be outcast, outlawed and left out. Spoken through people who need a Saviour and Healer and whose hearts begin to mend as soon as they hear the invitation to the table of God where all are welcome and the finest banquet of love is already prepared and being served. May it be so. (May we all feel and extend the same welcome.) Amen.
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