Inclusion Precedes Transformation

Mary Haddad delivered a beautiful and compelling sermon this morning on Luke 15, or the Parable of the “Prodigal Son.” Though I have reflected on this Scripture text for all of my life, and I count Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son one of my favorite books, she called my attention to a different aspect of this text that seemed relevant to the themes I’ve raised here all week.

But Mary went further to address the question of whether people should be transformed before they can be included in the church community. She said that those who insist on transformation before inclusion are operating on a secular principle that belonging requires meeting some qualification. The operating principle of the kingdom is that one belongs, and then they are changed. We are included, then we are transformed. The lost son had to know that he was absolutely secure and at home before he could embark on the journey of transformation of his life.

The gospel does not declare that we finally are at home with God once we are ready to live a changed life. We are home period, we are safe period, are included period. Then we begin “working out” our salvation. But you can only work it out when you first belong.

Mary told the story of a minister friend who said that he has changed his test of orthodoxy. When he evaluates fellow ministers or leaders of church institutions, he no longer asks them what they believe. He said that his test of orthodoxy now is, “If you were in charge, would there be room enough for me?”

According to Luke 15, that’s not a bad test of whether you meet God’s standard or not. Inclusion precedes transformation.


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