Morning Worship Column: Choose Peace Even in Messy Situations, Butler Says

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Peace begins or ends around the table. [Theologian] Stanley Hauerwas said that war is the great liturgical alternative to eucharist. We get one-on-one training [at the table]; it is the ground for peace or war,” said the Rev. Amy K. Butler at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning worship in the Amphitheater.

Her sermon title was “Find Yourself in the Story” and the Scripture reading was Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the prodigal son.

“Who doesn’t have the experience of crazy family dynamics?” she said.

Butler grew up in a multi-ethnic family in Hawaii. She told a family story about an 80th birthday party for her uncle Al that included 100 people at a nine-course Chinese banquet and a male stripper who was supposed to be at the bridal shower in the next room.

“If my father was here, he would be shaking his head, saying, ‘Don’t tell that story,’ ” Butler said. “But I would put my family right up there with the epic family stories in the Biblical text. This parable, [the prodigal son], is so beloved, so familiar, that we tend to dismiss it. But it can teach us that peace begins or ends at home; we have to find ourself in the story.”

She said the religious authorities around Jesus were grumbling because he was welcoming sinners and tax collectors and eating with them. Jesus told two parables about a lost sheep and a lost coin and people kept looking like they got his message.

“Jesus knew they were keeping the deep lesson at arm’s length, so now it was time to get personal,” Butler said. “He talked about people losing their way, about what it means to be lost and to choose peace in a messy situation. We all have times when we have hurt someone badly or have been hurt badly and we need forgiveness and we need to offer forgiveness.”

In the parable, the younger son wants his inheritance and asking for it is telling his father that he is dead to him.

“Prince Charles was asked about ascending throne and told the reporters, ‘Gentlemen, you are speaking of the death of my mother,’ ” Butler said.

It was a punch in the gut for the father.

The son leaves and the father looks every day for the return of his son. When he does come home, the father throws a party and kills the fatted calf.

“Someone, in addition to the fatted calf, was not pleased,” Butler said. “The older brother complains and the father admonishes him. This is Sunday school 101: No matter how far you go away from God, God will take you back.”

Butler said the tricky thing about Jesus is, if you think you have him figured out, you make a mistake.

“Peace begins in a messy situation,” she said. “The prodigal son is the poster child for making bad decisions. He carries deep shame that keeps him from peace, reconciliation and right relationship.”

The father, at the center of the story, is framed by loss that keeps him from peace, reconciliation and right relationship. The older brother is framed by pride and understandable self-righteousness, she said, but it keeps him from peace, reconciliation and right relationship.

“What about the silent mother?” Butler said. “If she was there, she would not or could not speak. Her silence was a barrier to peace, reconciliation and right relationship. Nothing happens independent of the community and the community was scandalized by this situation. It measured itself against this family and was kept from peace, reconciliation and right relationship.”

The crowd who was listening to Jesus was worried about Jesus associating with people who were not respectable.

“Peace begins or ends with our closest relationships; they are the training ground for peace or war,” Butler said. “But you know how hard it is to live in relationships that nurture peace. Everyone of us can see ourselves somewhere in the story. We are bound by shame, loss, pride  [and] prejudice that is keeping us from peace, reconciliation and right relationship.”

Butler said everyone comes from a dysfunctional family.

“What keeps each of us from making peace?” she said. “We long to be reconciled to each other and to the God who created us. Peace either begins or ends right here. We decide. Amen.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr., director of the Department of Religion, presided. Marilyn Mathews Bendicksen, a longtime summer research associate in the Oliver Archives at Chautauqua and part of a multi-generational Chautauqua family, read the Scripture. The service featured the world premiere of the anthem “Reflections,” by Sasha Voinov, written for the Chautauqua Strings. Voinov accompanied the Strings on the piano. This is the fourth year the Chautauqua Strings have premiered a new piece by Voinov in Chautauqua’s worship. They are under the direction of Edward Leonard, founder and director of the Chamber Orchestra of Pittsburgh and music director of the Pittsburgh Philharmonic. 

The choral anthem was “Tell My Father” by Frank Wildhorn from The Civil War: An American Musical arranged for men’s choir by Andrea Ramsey. Aaron Berger, an almost-14-year-old violinist with the Chautauqua Strings, accompanied the tenor and bass sections of the Chautauqua Choir. The hymn-anthem was “Saints Bound For Heaven,” from William Walker’s Southern Harmony, arranged by Mack Wilberg. The Chautauqua Choir was accompanied by Voinov as piano primo and Jared Jacobsen, organist, coordinator of worship and sacred music and director of the Chautauqua Choir, as piano secondo. The offertory anthem, sung by the Chautauqua Choir and accompanied by the Chautauqua Strings was “The Ground,” from Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise mass. The organ postlude was “Final,” from “Symphonie No. 1” by Louis Vierne. The John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provides support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.