Turning and returning

12th Sunday after Pentecost (September 4, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Rom. 13:8-14; Ezek. 33:7-11; Ps. 119:33-40; Matt. 18:15-20

The festival “Eid al-Fitr” began this week, marking the end of Ramadan. A common greeting for this festival is “Eid Mubarak” (Blessed Eid). On the first morning of the Eid, many Muslims gather for prayers and sermons at large mosques or in open fields. Muslims are encouraged to use different routes to and from the prayer grounds. After the Eid service, families exchange gifts.

An Indonesian girl stands next to her mother during the Eid prayers (AP photo by Dita Alangkara)

Daryl took a few days during the Eid for a delightful silent retreat just outside Amman, and Cindy hosted guests in our home.

In the region this week, Israel announced plans to arm West Bank Israeli settlers, allegedly in preparation for large Palestinian demonstrations that are expected later this month in connection with the Palestinian bid at the U.N. to declare statehood. Meanwhile, Hamas denied Palestinian students permission to leave Gaza and study for a year in the United States.

A Palestinian man in Jerusalem's Old City sells cakes for the 2010 Eid al-Fitr celebration (Photo by Ammar Awad for Reuters)

The Common Lectionary readings this week are about the importance of turning and returning.

In the Old Testament reading, God tasks Ezekiel with the responsibility to “warn the wicked to turn from their ways.” (Ex. 33:8). In turning away from evil and back to God, they will find life (v.11).

“Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain,” the psalmist pleads, “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.” (Ps. 119:36-37)

In the Epistle reading, Paul urges: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day…” (Rom. 13:12-13a) As part of turning and changing, we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (v.14) and to love neighbor as self (v.9).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus offers progressively inclusive steps for restoring one who has sinned (Matt. 18:15-17).

Many situations in the world call for a fresh turn and a new direction. Just as Muslims return home from the Eid service using a different route, so, too, our lives are to reflect a different path when we encounter God and commit ourselves anew to walking in God’s path of justice, peace and concern for our neighbors.

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