Friday, July 8, 2016
The parable of the Good Samaritan holds some important lessons and we know them well. The title given to the parable is an indication that we believe that our faith leads us to do something tangible for those who are hurting and forgotten. The parable clearly encourages us to broaden our definition of neighbor and reminds us that we are to find opportunity to do good for them. “While traveling” along, our well thought out itineraries just might need to change for the sake of the neighbor.
But as soon as we feel the call to such responsibility, we also recognize the barriers that can get in the way. Maybe we feel the limits of just how much we can care given the overwhelming needs of the world. Maybe we have tried to help but found that it didn’t have the outcome we had hoped. Maybe the pace of our lives has simply caused us not to notice. Or maybe there are days when we are too tired, too worried or too preoccupied to invest ourselves in the well-being of others. On any given day, we can feel the distance between what we feel we ought to do and what we actually accomplish.
The lawyer who tested Jesus with the question of eternal life knew the integral connection between love of God and love of neighbor when he quoted the great commandment. The parable highlights what this can look like. Over the ages, the parable has brought both great challenge and encouragement to people of faith. The love shown by the Samaritan involved a movement from taking notice to drawing near to showing mercy. The one leads to the other.
It is in such giving that we get a glimpse into what God desires for the world. The movement of the Samaritan reflects God’s unexpected movement in the world in Christ, who took notice of our suffering, drew near to it and showed compassion to all.
As our ministry is always being shaped by compassion both received and given, may we discover something new in this most familiar story. As parables go, we might see ourselves in a new light, inspired and surprised by what a difference we can make together as the church.
As we worship, grant us vision, till your love’s revealing light
in its height and depth and greatness dawns upon our quickened sight,
making known the needs and burdens your compassion bids us bear,
stirring us to ardent service, your abundant life to share. –
Evangelical Lutheran Worship 712
Check your sources, folks.
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
In the movie Princess Bride, Mandy Patinkin’s character finally speaks up after hearing Wallace Shawn’s character utter the word “inconceivable” in response to every single plot twist. After more than a dozen times, it’s definitely no longer “inconceivable,” and it’s getting pretty darn annoying.
If anyone is going to be using a word or phrase ad nauseam, they should make sure they have a real solid understanding of it.
Take note, Christians, especially, when it comes to the oft repeated term “Family Values.”
For when we look in scripture, we would be hard pressed to find any examples of the nuclear family (see image). The story of family is always a little more complicated, and often includes a few extra characters. Moral outrage would ensue if some of these characters showed up in the stick figure family on your minivan window (see Genesis 16:2).
In the teaching and life of Jesus that we find in the gospels, the concept of family shifts in a shockingly different direction. Up to this point in history, family was defined by birth, marriage, or purchase (yes, I mean slavery). One’s family and their place in it determined and defined all things. One’s responsibility to family was paramount.
Then along comes Jesus.
And when the family of his birth comes asking for him, Jesus responds only with, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
And to the man wanting to bury his father, Jesus says, “let the dead bury their own dead.”
To the one who wants to first say goodbye to his family before following Jesus, it’s basically “well, forget you, then.”
To be family in Christ is to be liberated from family in the conventional sense. Members of the family of Christ are set free from the expectations and responsibilities, the roles and the hierarchy, the traditions and the norms. Not just set free from the old, but set free for something new. These men and women are set free to be part of a new family that defies every prior definition.
And throughout the gospel of Luke we see this family adding to its membership:
Fisherman, strangers with unclean spirits or leprosy, the sick and the ones with all manner of disability, tax collectors and enemies, the dead, the hungry, all the single ladies, children, foreigners and pagans, lost ones, the poor, the blind, the curious tree climbers, the sinners.
And this family is full of surprises. The Samaritans who reject Jesus in this passage are just a short time later lifted up as the “good” example of how one should relate to another. The disciples, so quick to call down fire from heaven as judgment against the Samaritans, will later find themselves on the receiving end of mercy and forgiveness.
“Why are you doing this?”
I stood there at the front door of my house, and just shrugged my shoulders.
“Just don’t feel like hanging out,” I lied.
The truth was that I had been avoiding him.
The truth was that those mean spirited whispers had gotten to me—“Why are you hanging out with the new kid? He’s gay. He’s a fag.”
The truth was that my church has taught me that my only obligation to God as a teenager was sexual purity.
The truth was that the only gay person I had known up to that point was the gym teacher. And I knew from my family and community that it was justified to be afraid of her.
The truth was that to my 15 year-old self, trying to fit in mattered more to me than being a friend to this lonely person.
The truth was I just wanted him to go away.
And he did.
There is so much fear in our gospel lesson this week.
The Gerasenes are afraid of the man with demons, so they keep him under guard, bound with chains and shackles to keep him away.
This man is also afraid of what the Son of the Most High God will do to him, and he begs Jesus to leave him alone.
When the people see the once demon possessed man, sitting clothed and in his right mind, they react with fear. They ask Jesus to leave.
Out of fear comes distancing, isolation, rejection. We can see in this scripture that the impulse to push away results in greater tragedy. We can see healing is costly, but the cost of refusing that healing is without measure. Saying “go away” means missed opportunities for new life, for healing, for the presence of God among us.
I have changed a lot in the last 20 some years. But the truth is I am still often afraid.
I know that there is a cost to proclaiming the healing grace of God for all people in Jesus Christ. I know that there is a risk to openly welcoming all people, and fighting for that welcome. Despite the example of Jesus, the church struggles to welcome, to invite, to embrace all people. Still there is great fear for the changes that may come if those divisions are healed.
Sometimes it seems that my career as a pastor, my family's tenuous financial stability could go crashing over a cliff at any minute.
The anonymous nasty note.
The church member threatening to leave, actually leaving.
The people punishing the congregation by withholding their financial support.
Other pastors fanning the flames of suspicion and contempt for the “Lady Pastor” in the community.
These are not hypothetical possibilities for me. They have been realities.
However, those risks are nothing compared to the ones who have been cast away from their communities, exiled from their families, pushed away with violence even unto death.
And from watching Jesus and what he does in this lesson, the calling is clear. If I want to keep following where he’s leading, I’m just going to have to keep facing that fear.
Thursday, June 9, 2016
It’s finally here, vacation bible school week! We feel like the mothers of the bride, just before the wedding. We are constantly monitoring the weather forecasts, double checking our to-do lists, finalizing with vendors and volunteers, and we have our fingers crossed that we have not forgotten anything. Nothing is certain until the event actually starts. Invitations were sent a few months ago, now we must wait for the kids to show up. After all, all of our preparation and planning all comes down to what this means for the kids - how can we engage them in the lessons, the crafts, the games?
This is the first year that there is no charge for a child to attend VBS at Faith! It is our hope to make this a true outreach project of our ministry. Children made invitations to invite their friends from school. We want children from across the community to attend VBS, even if they can only come for one or two nights. We want children who have never attended church here to feel loved, to feel welcomed here, to make new friends and grow friendships that may have already started at school.
In the gospel lesson this week we will learn about the woman who cleaned Jesus’ feet. She was not invited to the dinner at Simon’s house, but went anyway to meet Jesus and show him love. While she was the least “desirable” guest, she showed the greatest hospitality to Jesus.
Hospitality is a common theme during VBS. Of the over 125 children attending, some of the kids are members, arriving full of confidence and knowing many people here. Others may be preschool students or members of our community attending Vacation Bible School for the very first time. But amazingly, they all come to VBS with open hearts, with the desire and ability to faithfully and happily jump into new friendships and new experiences. Are we as adults that open? How quickly do we offer our hand to someone we have never met on Sunday morning? Do we have to wait for an invitation to join that bible study or volunteer for an event; and are we inviting new faces to participate or are we more comfortable asking those we know will say yes?
The challenge is for us all to learn from the woman in the Gospel and from our children when it comes to our level of hospitality, to jump in headfirst like our kids, without fear, to welcome new people, new experiences, and to do it with our hearts full of Jesus’ love for us. Let’s start with VBS. We think the most uplifting part is the closing celebration (which begins each night at 7:40). If you have ever witnessed the sanctuary full with over 125 children singing and dancing you will know you have seen God’s love in action. We invite you to come, join us and witness God’s love and the hospitality of our children! They make it seem so easy!
Ericka Weber and Andrea Stone, Interim Directors of Children and Family Ministry