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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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The Power of a Vulnerable God (March 19, 2017)

John 4:5-42

So [Jesus] came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Here’s my current strategy with the gospel of John. I take a small piece—usually one I can’t understand—preach myself into a corner, and see if Jesus will get me out. For now, at least, it seems to work.  The small piece that caught me is Jesus asking the Samaritan woman at the well to give him a drink.

If you were here last week, I pointed out that Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night—in the dark. This is a metaphor in John for “not getting it,” for “being in the dark.” He is a male, a Jew, a leader in Jerusalem, well-versed and well-respected.

This woman is, obviously, female, is a Samaritan (enemies of the Jews). She’s had a difficult life and pretty much everything she knows about God and/or religion is, from the perspective of a Jewish rabbi, wrong.

But, she meets Jesus at noon—the brightest part of the day. She, unlike Nicodemus last week, is “in the light.” Right away, doesn’t that make you curious? What does she get that a religious leader and teacher of God’s law doesn’t? What is happening in this story?

“Give me a drink,” Jesus asks her. It is a request. He’s simply asking her for some water. It’s her well, after all. And she has the only bucket around.

And, there it is. He asks her for water.

This is Jesus, right? Son of the Almighty God. Second person of the Holy Trinity. Performer of miracles. Doer of signs and wonders. Why doesn’t he create a bucket of his own and draw his own water? Why doesn’t he just make the water come up out of the well by itself and hover right in front of him? Why doesn’t he just miraculously dig his own well with sparkling water? I mean, it’s Jesus, after all. I’m sure he’s share it with her. Or just miraculously hydrate himself.

He’s got all the power, right? Putting aside the Divine thing, from a human perspective he has the advantage too. He is Jewish, he’s male, and he’s respected as a rabbi, a teacher. He’s got every advantage. Why not just make this simple and use his advantage to quench his thirst?

But that’s not what he does. He is tired and he is thirsty. He’s not in his home territory. And so he gives up power, privilege, and advantage and gives it over to her. He becomes vulnerable to her. He submits himself to her and asks her if she would use her bucket and her well to help him. As tired and as thirsty as he is, he allows her to exercise her power over him.

And he has to cross some cultural boundaries to do so. He’s male, she’s female; he’s Jewish, she’s Samaritan. In both cases, he’s not supposed to even talk with her, much less establish a relationship and give her an advantage over him.

Why does he do this? For the same reason Jesus does everything—vulnerability and inclusivity reveal the character of God.

How different is Jesus’ understanding of God than mine! I want an almighty God of strength who uses that strength to help me out. I want a God who is will intervene when I am in need. A God who, because I believe, will give me an advantage over others—the unbelievers and the unrighteous.

The bottom line is that, if God isn’t powerful and giving the advantage to those of us on the inside, what good is that?

This is not exactly the way Jesus goes about it, though. Jesus reveals a God who gives up power. A God who’s more interested in relationship than advantage. A God who is vulnerable. A God who is thirsty and asks for a drink. What good is a God like that?

I had an experience this week that showed me. I was visiting someone in the hospital this week and the spouse of the sick person was there. The one who was sick couldn’t feed themselves or even talk. Completely vulnerable with no advantage whatsoever at that point. But the spouse lovingly fed their sick loved-one a mouthful at a time, talking and smiling and encouraging all the while in genuine love and openness.

I realized, at that moment, how powerfully God was present. This was a #HolyMoment. God was there in the connection between these two. A connection that can only happen when they are open and vulnerable to the other.

God doesn’t come in the power and the morality and the strength and the righteousness. No, God is present in the space created by vulnerability and openness to the other. God is present when we give up our advantage for the sake of an open connection to another person. God is present in that vulnerable space.

Like Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.

There are four newly resettled refugee families in our church neighborhood. Without knowing it, certainly without choosing it, they are offering us an opportunity to experience the presence of God. They are, right now, quite vulnerable and powerless in a new country. We have every advantage.

Today, let’s give up our advantage. Let’s welcome them as people of dignity and worth. This is Jesus at the well. We have an amazing opportunity to include people with openness and grace. One way is spending time making welcome cards for each family. More than that, cards of gratitude.

In addition to providing material needs for these families that come out of our abundance (i.e., advantage), today let’s make ourselves vulnerable for their sake. Let’s pour out ourselves in love and gratitude. Let’s humble ourselves in their presence. Then, let’s see the presence of God in that space of openness.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2017 in Sermon

 

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I Didn’t Murder Anyone This Week, But We Still Sink or Swim Together (Feb 12, 2017)

Matthew 5:21-37

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder’; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 27 “You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. 31 “It was also said, “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Several years ago my mom was coming to Denver to visit us for a couple of days. The day of her came and I grabbed my keys to go to the airport and pick her up. “Where are you going?” Lois asked. I rolled my eyes, exasperated, and said, “to pick my mom at the airport.”

“What!?” she asked me as the lasers coming from her eyes were boring holes through my soul.

“I told you my mom was coming.” I began to feel a little bit sick.

“Uhmm. No, you didn’t.”

“Oh, sure I did!” I replied as lightly as possible, suspecting that this is not going to end well.

“No… You. Did. Not…”

This was not a good day in our marriage. Do you think my lack of consideration affected Lois? Do you think it would have helped if I had said, “I’m the only one going to the airport. It doesn’t affect you at all”? Do you think her mood afterward affected me?

We are suffering from a delusion. This ruse is now so deeply embedded into our psyche that it sounds strange to even identify it. But it’s a misconception nonetheless. The big lie is that we believe it’s possible to act alone. But it’s not possible. Because everything we do affects those around us. Everything others do affects us. We sink or swim together.

Jesus continues the Sermon on the Mount in this third week by taking the Law of Moses and turning it toward relationships with others that we affect. He’s really saying that we are all in this together; we need to be doing this for each other.

Instead of feeling righteous as an individual because I haven’t murdered anyone this week, Jesus understands the Law to be about how we live together, because everything we do affect others. So it’s not just that I haven’t committed murder, and therefore I’m fine—regardless of how you’re doing—but that I’m accountable to you for your well-being also. So if I take out my anger on you, or call you a name, or hold a grudge, or look with lust, or lie to you, I’m affecting you. Whether I’ve committed murder or not. Jesus is pointing out the reality that we cannot simply live for ourselves, because if we aren’t lifting up those around us, we’re sinking ourselves too.

When he says to cut your hand off if it’s causing you to sin, he’s not literally telling us to run your arm through a table saw. He’s pointing out that we cannot be righteous alone. Therefore everything we do affects everyone else. So we need to quit just looking out for ourselves and our own righteousness, and take seriously the fact that we sink or swim together.

It’s the same thing with the divorce verses here that so often catch us up. It’s not about feeling guilty because I’ve gone through a divorce. It’s pointing out that relationships affect each of us and we can’t simply take them for granted. What we do affects others. We sink or swim together.

This is true not just in families, but in all communities. As a congregation, like it or not, we sink or swim together. When one ministry disregards another, or one part of the congregation resents another, or one group believes they are above the rest of the church, we are all hurt. In our attempts to lift ourselves up over others, we end up pulling everyone down. That’s what Jesus is pointing out. If we are only concerned about our own righteousness, our own place in the church, our own ministry, our own preferences, the congregation as a whole cannot benefit. And we all stand to lose. We sink or swim together

Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God is constantly calling us to care for the least, the lost, the victims, the helpless, those pushed to the edges? As a country—as a world—we are only doing as well as those at the bottom.  As God’s children, we sink or swim together. We cannot claim godliness or righteousness when any of our brothers and sisters are starving, uneducated, ignored, or left out.

We are thinking about helping out LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) for Sundays in Lent. Watch for information about how you can help lift up the lowest among us. But as disciples of Jesus, we know that we cannot rise above the most vulnerable among us. We sink or swim together.

I read a story David Lose posted that brings this all home for me. A little boy got into an argument with his younger sister. It escalated until the boy pinned her down and was ready to punch her. Their mom came in, saw what was going on, and told him to stop. “She was wrong,” he yelled. “Besides, I’m bigger and I can do what I want to my sister.” “No you can’t,” replied the mother. “It doesn’t matter who’s right or who’s wrong. She’s my daughter.”

When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter who’s stronger, who’s more righteous, who claims to love God more. God reminds us we are all God’s children. We are here not for our own individual righteousness, but for those who are most helpless, weakest, and most vulnerable. Since we are all God’s children, it doesn’t matter who’s more righteous and who’s less. I can claim nothing just because I haven’t murdered someone. My own righteousness—and yours—our righteousness is tied intimately to the fate of refugees, and the poor, and Blacks and Hispanics, and the LGBT community, anyone who does not have a place at the table. We sink or swim together.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Syria, Paris, Mali, and Christ the King (John 18:33-37)

 

This text for Christ the King Sunday reveals a clash of two kingdoms. Make no mistake, they are distinctly different, but they are both present. Each kingdom has different rules, and each one operates differently. And they are both operating among us now.

These kingdoms aren’t places, like one is earth and the other heaven. No, both of these kingdoms function here and now, side by side. Both are seen in our everyday lives, and both are vying for our loyalty. Each one uses different tools to try and win us over.

Jesus shows us how one kingdom works and what it looks like, and Pilate shows us the other. Each kingdom proclaims similar goals sometimes, but they couldn’t be more different.

Pilate understands that he has power; with a word he can condemn Jesus to death. He knows how one kingdom works. And he is in a position to take advantage of that. The kingdom he affiliates with runs on power and the things that give a person power. So strength, position, recognition, and money are important tools of Pilate’s kingdom. Weapons and force and control are some of the things at Pilate’s disposal. One belief of his kingdom is that if you have enough power, you can bring about peace, because those who are threats to his kingdom are eliminated. Pilate is working toward peace through intimidation, through fear, and through brutality.

If Jesus is a king, Pilate wonders, then Jesus is a threat to the emperor (you can’t have two kings!). He would be a threat to the oppressive, forced peace of Rome.

If we can get past the fact that this is Pilate here–the one who condemns Jesus to crucifixion–we’d likely admit that this is the way the world works. Those with power win. Those with money win. Those with position and strength and backing and friends in high places win. The prize goes to the biggest, the strongest, the mightiest, and the smartest.

We know this kingdom. Because to move up, to get ahead, to win in this world–perhaps even to survive–these are the things we must do. We don’t even think about it, because the ways of this kingdom is so prevalent, so common, so every day. Everyone operates more or less in this way.

And then there’s the kingdom Jesus reveals. Way different. While Pilate uses strength, Jesus uses weakness. Pilate uses intimidation, Jesus uses vulnerability. Pilate uses force, Jesus uses mercy. Pilate uses power, Jesus uses forgiveness.

Jesus points out how different these two kingdoms are when he answers Pilate. Jesus says that if his kingdom were of this world, you’d know it because there would be fighting and a struggle for power. But, since his kingdom is not of this world, those things aren’t happening. Instead, Jesus’ kingdom is about something deeper and more significant than strength. It’s about truth. You can tell the people who affiliate with Jesus’ kingdom, because they listen to the truth of mercy, the truth of compassion, the truth of forgiveness, the truth of loving others. These are the principles by which they operate.

And we know this kingdom too. Because the Spirit keeps filling us with with love and forgiveness. God continues to forgive us and show us compassion. We sometimes experience the truth of divine mercy when we experience compassion; someone going out of their way on our behalf. We can the truth of that, and we can live the truth of that.

Never is the battle of these two kingdoms seen more clearly than right now in the argument about Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. One kingdom says there’s a threat there. Let’s not be stupid and take unnecessary risks. The other says showing compassion to our neighbors compels us to make sure they have safety—even if that means some of them come here.

We are pulled by the lures of both kingdoms. Power and force might impose a superficial and temporary lack of conflict, but do so based on fear and intimidation. Love and mercy appear weak in the world kingdom and leave us vulnerable, but are the ways Jesus reveals.

Today, we confess Christ as King. Which means we defer to his kingdom as his disciples.

The kingdom of force, of violence, of power, of fear, of intimidation may be able to put Jesus to death. It may be able to put 129 to death in Paris, take hostages in Mali, and wreak havoc all over the world.

But the kingdom of violence, fear, and power has already been defeated. Christ the King took the worst threat this world’s power could throw at him. And then he rose from the dead. And he breathed the ways of his kingdom of compassion into frightened disciples. And he inspired them to live and reveal his kingdom of mercy and love. Right in the face of fear and oppression.

Jesus came not just to bring mercy and grace to us. He came to show us the truth of mercy and grace so we can live it in the world. May we hear the voice of Christ the King. And may we follow him.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Sermon

 

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