Community Around the Waiting and Welcoming Father (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)

Three years ago, Trinity’s Board of Elders met at Camp Maria Retreat Center to take on an issue identified by Trinity members at that time as a focus area for our congregation: the need for more comprehensive, intentional work in forming and leading small groups. Today, our congregation has six regularly gathering neighborhood small groups in California, Calvert County, Lexington Park, Hollywood, St. Inigoes, and Tall Timbers (you can find meeting times and locations of each at this link).

Now, there are all kinds of small groups that have always been a part of our congregational life: weekly gatherings at church like our Thursday morning Bible class and guided conversations over coffee like our biweekly men’s breakfast at Linda’s Cafe. Choir, youth group, LWML, and others have been around for years. All of these give us the opportunity to welcome newcomers and gather together/around Jesus in a variety of ways that enhance our weekly worship services on Sunday. But our neighborhood small groups are one way to invite others in the communities where we live to gather with us and so strive to be faithful to our Lord’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) starting with those who are geographically closest to us…for our heavenly Father waits and rejoices in the homecoming of all His children! Trinity neighborhood small groups come in all different shapes and sizes. Some do Bible studies together while others watch movies and discuss them. Some have meals together while others do not. Some take time to serve their own members in need while others initiate service projects on behalf of our entire congregation. But no matter the variety of each that represents the various interests of each neighborhood, all these small groups focus on four key elements: invitations to newcomers, prayer, caring for each other, and empowering one another. I know that I have been blessed by them. It’s a lot of fun hanging out and getting to know one another on a different level. If you’ve never attended one—the welcome mat is always open for newcomers—and I know that you will be blessed by them, too.

This Sunday, our Gospel reading contains three individuals from one of Jesus’ stories (a younger brother, an older brother, and a waiting father) who typify the joys and challenges of community that God desires for us. You can read the text, Luke 15:11–32, here. The younger brother leaves home and is careless with his father’s money until he “comes to himself” when disaster strikes…while the older brother judges his prodigal sibling with disdain. Both younger brother and older brother feel like slaves of the household—though for different reasons. The younger brother wonders if his father might take him in if he becomes a slave in the household…the older brother feels like his father’s mercy toward his undeserving sibling means he already IS a slave in the household!

Jesus’ story underlines the rejoicing in heaven that takes place whenever a lost child of God is found…when those who were once dead are alive again. Though our own community (and that of the two brothers) is broken, the waiting Father wants all to know and experience what it means to no longer live as slaves but as children and heirs of the household. He throws a party and invites all to take part in it together.

How will that rejoicing spill over into your life this week?