The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer Online      28th June 2020
Home and Belonging
Ayla Lepine

Reading: Luke 17.20-end

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In 2008 Maya Angelou wrote A Letter to My Daughter. It’s a collection of 28 short meditations on violence, humility, poetry, travel, and much else. Angelou never had a daughter. In a way, she wrote it for all her readers as children of God.
Angelou says this about home and belonging:
‘I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe…I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honour our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old…We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.’

Home and belonging are powerful ideas within our passage from Luke’s Gospel too. The text is full of contrasts, and has been gravely misunderstood. This is especially true for that section at the end, about one person being taken and another left, which has been used to support a fairly recent theology of an exclusive and elite salvation that will happen suddenly for some and not for others. Referred to sometimes as ‘The Rapture’, it creates unhelpfully walls between what some would perceive as God’s chosen and those whom God rejects. We know that God rejects no one, and that every single person belongs in God’s Kingdom.
Indeed, that’s what Jesus is getting at when he speaks about what God’s Kingdom will look like, where it is to be found, and how we might dwell within it. God’s Kingdom is here, now, within, and beyond us all. It is also a long-expected and long-awaited culmination of the whole of God’s creation. And there’s no point in saying ‘look over there!’ or ‘I’ve found it – here it is!’ because it’s everywhere, already, if we would only open our eyes, our hearts and our minds. Jesus also says that, quite frankly, there’s no need to anxiously point to one thing or another because when the fulfilment of that Kingdom arrives in Christ’s glory, it will be extremely obvious. It will have the wild quality of lightning. He will be seen and known by all. In Jesus, God has brought us home. We just need to open our eyes a little more.
In this passage, Jesus asks us to trust in God. We are asked to keep moving. To keep going one step at a time even if it means what the theologian Barbara Brown Taylor describes as ‘learning to walk in the dark’. Jesus dares us to not look back. This doesn’t mean we won’t long for a nostalgic past experience sometimes. It doesn’t mean we will be protected from fear. It definitely doesn’t mean a life free from discomfort or suffering. It means that the joy of God’s love in our hearts, even when life is agony, supports us just as the Holy Spirit, as Paul puts it ‘prays in us with sighs too deep for words.’ It’s precisely when the road is uncertain or painful when we are most united with Jesus on the cross and perhaps most open to the truth that God’s mercy and justice are beyond all imagining and yet absolutely real. The Kingdom of God is real. If our deepest desire is for our will to be aligned with God’s, and for our lives to be shaped by God’s love at work everywhere, in all things, forever, then we need to follow Jesus even when we are led into places we would rather not go. If we can stop being ruled and governed by our fear, we can make room for God’s liberating love.
In Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, a young black girl named Pecola prays every night. Her prayer is for her eyes to become blue. She sees, with tragic wisdom, that the blue-eyed girls are beautiful, accepted, and loved. God knows that Pecola’s eyes are perfect just as they are. It’s the racist complacency, hard-heartedness, and resistance to change behind all those blue eyes that have refused to believe in Pecola’s shining beauty. It’s time for those blue eyes to open, and to shed anguished tears of real repentance. It’s time for authentic reparations. It’s time for the vision to change.
I have a prayer to share with you, which is by the URC minister Richard Becher. The response, ‘We want’ signals a desire which is a deep longing. It is not just the longing and desire of those who have been oppressed. It is God’s will, too. This prayer is a prayer that surges out of the deep unity between God and God’s people. This goes beyond mere tolerance and diversity. It goes beyond the powerful including those on the margins. It goes into the heart of something that utterly and rightly obliterates sinful divisions. Who belongs to God/  The Kingdom of God is a home in which every person belongs. No one is marginalised ever again. There is no power struggle. The power of God flows through all with an equality we long for now. Every beautiful eye will be opened to the glory of God. And God will wipe away every tear, as we step into the Kingdom, which is our true home.

You have all been invited at this time to this place
We don't just want an invitation: We want to be welcomed.
You are all offered a warm welcome in this place
We don't just want a welcome: We want to have a voice.
You are all welcome and this is a place for listening
We don't just want a voice: We want it to be heard.
You are all welcome here, and your story will be heard
We don't only want to be heard: We want to be believed.
You are welcome to this place where no truth is denied
We don't only want to be believed: We want to be trusted.
You are welcome to this place where your words are accepted
We don't only want to be trusted: We want to be loved.
You are welcome to this place where God's love embraces all
We don't only want to be loved: We want to know we belong.
Whoever belongs to God, belongs among us, for we are one in Christ.

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