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Monthly Archives: July 2019

Stuck? Quit Spinning Your Wheels (July 21, 2019)

Luke 10:38-42

When I was a kid, my three sisters and I all had chores to do. I mowed the lawn, shoveled the snow, mopped the floors, emptied the garbage, shook out the rugs, pulled the weeds, cleaned the bathrooms, changed the sheets on the beds, cleaned the carport, and picked up the neighborhood trash that blew against the fence. My three sisters each took a turn doing the dishes. You don’t need to check with them about the accuracy of this list; I’m sure they remember it the same way.

One day, one of my sisters, when it was her night to do the dishes, was instead sitting in a rocking chair listening to records. As a good brother, I very patiently reminded her that it was her night to do the dishes, but she continued rocking and listening. Trusting that she simply forgot, I, with the utmost gentleness, repeated to her that it was, in fact, her night to do the dishes. With eyes closed, she informed me she was praying. And she actually used this story in Luke to say she didn’t have to do the dishes. She said that her praying, just like Mary, was “the better part,” that Jesus said so himself, and that therefore she shouldn’t be required to demean herself with the unholy chore of washing dishes.

With tremendous respect and deep understanding, I compassionately offered her an alternate perspective. And as her loving brother, I cautioned her that if somehow our mother ever discovered this, she would likely not be as understanding as me, and her response probably would not benefit my sister. So for my dear sibling’s well-being, I advised, she may want to consider postponing the rest of her prayers until after this unholy chore was done. She did.

What do you do with text? Poor Martha is stuck with all the chores while Mary gets to sit in the living room with Jesus while he tells stories. And when Martha dares speak up, Jesus takes Mary’s side! I mean, I don’t care what you say, Jesus, somebody’s still gotta do the dishes.

I hope you’re not surprised to hear me say that’s not what this text is about. This isn’t a text about who has to clean the kitchen. It’s about whether or not the kitchen even needs to be cleaned, and if so,why someone would want to.

It’s like this. Have you ever got your car stuck in the snow with your wheels spinning? Step on the gas and you simply have no traction. You can step on the gas as much as you want, spin your wheels as fast as you can, you’re still stuck. The point isn’t to spin your wheels, the point is to be able to get where you’re going. That’s Martha. Spinning her wheels just because it’s doing something. Even if it’s not helping. Even if it’s actually making it worse. Just doing something for the sake of doing something.

Mary is the one who gets out of the car, looks at how deeply she’s stuck and recalls a conversation with a trucker friend who told her to keep a bag of sand and a small shovel in the trunk just in case. Now, with that information, she can give her wheels some traction so when she does gently step on the gas, she has a much better chance of getting unstuck and continue driving.

It’s not Martha vs. Mary; it’s not action vs. contemplation. It’s about understanding the purpose, and letting that purpose inform the action. And what Jesus commends Mary for is seeking to understand his purpose. Not just a random or personal purpose, but Jesus’ purpose. That’s what being a disciple is—knowing and trusting Jesus’ purpose and letting that inform the actions we take.

That’s what spiritual disciplines are about. Coming to know God’s purposes within the world as revealed by Jesus. That’s what Mary is taking the time to do. That’s what Jesus is commending her for. That’s the part Martha, in all her activity, is missing.

Our culture disagrees with Jesus on this. What we usually say is “Good for Martha. At least she gets stuff done.” Because culturally we reward busy-ness, and tend to look down on people who don’t seem as busy as we think they ought to be.

Think about that a minute. Have you ever complained about how busy you are, how you have too many irons in the fire, how you don’t know how you’re going to get everything done? And, have you ever said those things with just a little bit of pride? Have you ever heard someone complain about working 60 hours a week and felt just a little bit guilty because you only worked 55? This cultural sense of our worth being decided by our busy-ness is a priority that Jesus calls out and challenges.

When our calendars and our day planners are dictating our lives, we are stuck in the snow. When checking things off our to-do list becomes our purpose, we’ve lost traction. When church, and spiritual growth, and discovering God’s purpose in Christ become items on a list of things we’ll do if we can find time, we are spinning our wheels. We need to stop, get out of the car, and because we’ve listened to Jesus, let that inform how we get where we need to go.

What this comes back to is God’s purpose in the world right now. The One who created this world in the first place knows how it ought to run, knows what the priorities should be, knows what actually will work. And Jesus reveals that purpose with absolute clarity. Discovering that, growing in that, discussing that, putting that into context here and now takes deliberate intention. It requires some time sitting in the living room with Jesus. It doesn’t happen automatically just because we’re making sure the dishes got done.

Remmy Mateo is being baptized today. God is including him in Christ’s purpose in the world. What his mom, his sponsors, and this congregation are promising is that we will sit with him at Jesus’ feet and help him grow in that purpose. And let that inform his decisions and how he lives his life.

Bad news for my sister is that the dishes still need to be washed. But what my sister may better understand is how that is part of God’s purpose in the world.

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Posted by on July 25, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Neighbor, ICE, Helplessness, Compassion (July 14, 2019)

GEO.Detention.AuroraLuke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

I was prompted by this text to remember an incident that happened my first year of college. Back then I was lighter, more agile, and more energetic. Being late for a class I was running out of a building to head across campus. I had to get from the third floor to the ground floor, and knew I could take the stairs down much faster than waiting for an elevator. The stairway had a landing halfway between each floor, so I just jumped from the top down to the landing, then jumped from the landing to the next level. On the landing between the first and second floors, I was off balance and rolled my ankle with some real force. The pain was so intense that I couldn’t move. As I laid there on the landing, curled up in the fetal position moaning helplessly, a couple of students came up the stairs from the first floor. They looked at me, made eye contact, and then kept walking. I felt angry, abandoned, and absolutely helpless. I was the man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.

I wished someone had taken the time to at least check to see if I was ok. I needed someone who could be a neighbor to me.

This lawyer comes to Jesus with a question. What has to happen for me to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds by asking him what he has learned from scripture. The lawyer quotes Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19. “Love God and love your neighbor.”

Yes! Says Jesus. You’ve got it. That’s all there is to life. Do that and you have nothing to worry about.

Instead of taking “yes” for an answer, the lawyer just can’t leave it alone. “But . . .” says the lawyer, “which ones are my neighbors? Which ones do I need to love; and which ones do I not have to love?”

Jesus responds with this oh-so-familiar parable. The neighbor, Jesus says, the one we are to love, is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or even Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

But . . . you could say the injured man in the parable should never have been on that road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the first place. It’s a wilderness road, a haven for robbers. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.

But . . . he should know better than to travel alone. He’s asking for trouble. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.

But . . . his situation is really his own fault. He should never have put himself in that position. And Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone.

As I’m curled in the fetal position, paralyzed by pain in the corner of the stairwell, you could say, “But . . . your reasons for being late and therefore in such a hurry weren’t good ones.” You could say, “But . . . jumping down 10-12 steps at a time wasn’t a wise choice.” You could say, “But . . . the fact that you were writhing in pain on a landing in the stairwell of a state university was your own fault.” You could say that, and you would be right. But at that moment, none of that mattered—certainly not to me. I was in agonizing pain, helpless, and ignored.

Jesus says, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

Christ is revealed in those “neighbor” moments when someone comes alongside anyone who is in pain or helpless. Jesus says the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

Even a 64-year-old man for whom medical staff failed to seek emergency care. He died as a result.

Even a 71-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease and chronic kidney disease who receives a different number of pills without explanation. The man also has dementia and is unable to determine whether he is receiving the correct dosage.

Even a transgender woman, who faces repeated sexual harassment, hasn’t been given the hormone medication since January that she had been taking for eight years. She is depressed and feels hopeless.

Even a 42-year-old woman who hasn’t been receiving cortisone shots she used to receive for arm and knee injuries.

Each of these people, because they are helpless and in pain, qualify according to Jesus as needing a neighbor. Someone who will come alongside of them in care and compassion; someone who will reveal Christ to them. Someone who is a neighbor to them.

Each one of these are real people who are in the ICE Detention Center right here in Aurora, CO.[1]

And if any of us have a reaction that includes, “But . . . aren’t some of them here illegally? But . . . didn’t they know this would happen? But . . . this is really their own fault” Jesus answers us, the neighbor is anyone who is in pain, anyone who is helpless. Anyone. Jew or Samaritan. Friend or enemy. Someone you know or someone you’ve never met.

Christ is revealed in those “neighbor” moments when someone comes alongside anyone who is in pain or helpless. Anyone. Christ invites us to be neighbors. And Christ assures us he will always be our neighbor.

[1] https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/adolfoflores/colorado-ice-detention-aurora-medical-care-migrants

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2019 in Sermon

 

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“‘You Should Start Spreading Peace Around the Neighborhood,’ She Encouraged” (July 7, 2019)

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ . . .
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus has gathered these 70 followers, equipped them in his teaching and healing, and now is sending them into the neighborhoods where he himself has plans.

That’s still what Jesus is doing: gathering, equipping, and sending. It happens every Sunday. He gathers us together in God’s presence, he equips us by meeting us in word and sacrament, and then he sends us out into the neighborhood where Jesus himself has plans. Us. Each of us. All of us. We talk a lot as Lutherans about being a word and sacrament church, but we are just as much a gathered and sent church. Those four parts make up the entirety of our Sunday worship experience: we’re gathered, we’re equipped through word and sacrament, and then we are sent. Every week. Every time.

Now, we tend to think of being part of this “gather, word, sacrament, sent” church community as an extra thing we add into our real, regular lives. Sometimes it’s a struggle to create time for church apart from all the necessary things we’re already committed to. But Jesus seems to be saying it’s the other way around. What we generally think of as our “real life” is actually just the places where he is sending us as his followers.

Have you thought about it that way? Your job is where Jesus sends you as his follower. School, soccer, community involvement are the places you are sent by Jesus.

And in this text there are just a few things he is sending us to do there: Bring peace, cure the sick, and let them know that the kingdom of God is right there. That close. Those things: peace, care, a glimpse of God’s love and compassion.

The thing is, again according to Jesus, we’re already fully equipped to do these things. We don’t have to bring purse, bag, sandals. All the stuff where we think we’re inadequate. We are enough. Just as we are. We don’t have to bring vast biblical knowledge, impeccable theology, debating skills, or even the perception that we have everything in our lives all put together. No. Right now, Jesus has already equipped us with peace, care, and with God’s own love and compassion. Bring that. Do that. That’s why we’re gathered here. That’s why we’re equipped in the presence of Christ, so we can be sent. It’s like this.

Peace.Walk_Rochester.NYMay 30, 2019 08:21 AM ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — After violence forced kids to stay inside and off the playground, the children decided to fight back with messages of peace. . . .

“We’ll be walking, holding signs up we’re making now, saying we want peace,” explained 8-year-old De’Shawn Isidore.

It’s a simple message: keep kids safe, let them play. 

After a string of shootings in 2013 kept the kids indoors and unable to play safely in their own neighborhood, the Peace Walk was formed. 

The walk will take place Thursday, May 30 at 4:30 p.m. along Lyell Avenue, a neighborhood that has one of the highest rates of crime in the City of Rochester. . . .

Addison Washington, 10, hopes everyone in the city pays attention.

“You should start spreading peace around the neighborhood,” she encouraged.

Kaylee Vo, 11, agreed, saying, “no more violence, no more kids getting hurt, no more kids dying.”

Their little voices want to make a big difference.[1]

That’s what being sent by Jesus looks like. They felt sent to bring peace to their neighborhood. They showed their neighbors a glimpse of the love of God, it was so close the neighborhood could almost taste it that day.

What would that look like in our neighborhood?

Congregationally, one way we do it in this neighborhood is with the free use of our building by our neighbors. Over 400 people utilized this building just in June (which begins a summer slump!). Literally tons of food, clothing, school and household items to TheActionCenter. We’ve begun a ministry of accompaniment with GMES Refugee and Asylee families.

We do things that make a difference. But what would it look like if together, the entirety of this congregation poured our whole hearts into bringing peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion in some specific way to Green Mountain? Those children in Rochester changed a neighborhood in one fell swoop. How would the neighborhood around this property be different if we took seriously that we as LCM are sent here?

For example, here’s an idea: The Samaritan Ministry has encouraged us to read Helen Thorpe’s book, “The Newcomers,” about the challenges faced by young refugees adjusting to life in the US. We also have a ministry that provides support to refugee families at GMES. So we have a beginning. But have we considered the possibility that we are sent by Jesus to bring peace, care, and God’s love/compassion to every refugee household around us? What if we took that on for a year? Partnering with LIRS and with IRC and making sure every refugee household in Green Mountain (or beyond?) is held by us in authentic peace, love, and compassion.

How could each of us be part of this being sent to local refugees? That whole relationship thing from Jesus about being sent to their homes and eating what they eat takes on new meaning!

We have been gathered, we are being equipped, and at the end of this service we’ll be sent—by Jesus—to bring peace, care, and a glimpse of God’s love and compassion into the neighborhood. Are you ready?

[1] https://www.whec.com/news/peace-walk-local-kids-march-for-peace-right-to-play-in-safe-neighborhood/5371452/

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2019 in Sermon

 

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Fire from Heaven, Threats, and Exclusion (June 30, 2019)

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

About a year ago I got off Facebook. Initially, I stopped because I was beginning a sabbatical, but soon realized I needed to stay off because I was getting too churned up and angry about some of the absolutely evil things people would post. In the name of Jesus, no less.

Over and over, I became enraged at people I knew who were defending the most horrific, despicable, cruel actions and attitudes toward other human beings; toward Muslims and people of color, particularly immigrants; who would justify tearing frightened babies from their mothers’ arms, locking them in cages with no beds or soap; who would use the Bible to explain taking jewelry and medicine away from these people who were fleeing from more horrors and violence than I ever will be able to imagine. I had to express my righteous anger. I needed to defend Christ-like compassion in the name of Jesus. More than that, I felt it necessary to put those pseudo-Christians in their place, to demean them, to rage about how wrong, narrow-minded, evil they were. I wanted to blast them off social media. Or worse.

“When his disciples James and John saw [that the Samaritans had rejected Jesus], they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” Yes! That! Do that!

Oh, I get it. James and John were just defending Jesus against people who are openly rejecting him. They even have scripture to back them up (some copiers inserted “like Elijah did” after requesting fire from heaven). The honor of Jesus is at stake here. The truth of his message is on the line.

But Jesus turned and rebuked them for defending him. This is not the attitude of those who follow me, he says. Then they went on to another village to do it all over again.

Jesus has to call out the violent and vengeful tendencies among his disciples. Even if their reasons are good. Even if they are confronting evil. Even if they are defending Jesus himself. These threats of violence and attitudes of hatred have no place with him. It will stop—at least among his followers. That includes me.

It’s becoming easier and easier for us to demonize anyone on “the other side” of any issue. It’s becoming more and more normal to draw a dividing line between “us” and “them,” and to hate, threaten, and dehumanize “them,” whoever “they” are. We better check our own Facebook and Twitter feeds because Jesus has something to say about that.

That same attitude is often exhibited with much less drama than “fire from heaven.” When we take the opportunity to respond to anyone we disagree with, we tend to abuse it. We are all too willing to inflict emotional harm, we easily degrade people, we ignore those whose voices aren’t as strong as ours, we put down those who might challenge our way of thinking, we talk about them behind their backs, we create alliances against them. Who is it we’ve been bad-mouthing lately? Because Jesus will have none of it.

Because here’s the thing. Whether his disciples are angrily defending him or the Samaritans are openly rejecting him, Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. He is determined to get there, knowing he will die there. His love for his disciples who seek vengeance, his love for the Samaritans who flatly reject him, his love compels him to go to Jerusalem and the cross. Love determines his actions, nothing else.

And nothing can dissuade him. Not rejection, not threats of violence, not hateful attitudes. He will act in love no matter what. No matter who. No matter what’s in the way.

That’s where the second part of this text comes in. Jesus invites us to follow him in exhibiting this kind of love, to follow him even if it means going to Jerusalem. We too often respond, I will follow, but first I need to bury my father. I will follow, but I just need to say goodbye to my family and friends. And yet, he will go to the cross for us even when we put our own priorities ahead of following him. He will go to Jerusalem for us even when we’re so busy doing good things that we neglect to follow him in love.

It’s worth asking, what beliefs or positions are we so attached to that they come before following Jesus in love? What are we clinging to that is a higher priority than his compassion and non-violence and forgiveness?

So I’m back on Facebook, but with some conditions. I’m trying not to post anything that Jesus would turn and rebuke me for. Even if I think my reasons are good and my anger is just, I’m trying to post only things that reveal the kind of love Jesus has for me. And for any who might read them.

No matter what our attitudes or priorities or actions, Jesus is going to Jerusalem for us. His love for us is that unconditional. And he invites us to follow.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2019 in Sermon

 

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