Gather us In

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August 20, 2017

Matthew 15:10-28

This past week has not been easy. It has been full of anxiety. Anxiety about the current dialog in our country and an uneasiness of what will happen in the months, if not days to come. Today’s gospel lesson makes us pause.

First, the disciples come to Jesus to discuss how he offended the Pharisees with his talk of what defiles a person. We could look at this discussion and say that it revolves around the food laws of ancient Israel and what you can and cannot eat. What is clean and unclean. We can also look towards what it means for us today. The fact that what we surround ourselves with often affects our own behaviors and actions. It shapes our thoughts and the words that come out of our mouths. It is then those words that can defile.

Much of the speech that we heard last weekend and this past week defiled. There was hatred, bigotry, and an exclusivism that radiated from it. The actions of one individual driving into a crowd of people and killing one woman and injuring others stemmed from the hate. Unfortunately, we saw a similar act play out in Barcelona on Thursday where fourteen were killed and many more injured. The beginning of this weekend there were stories of police officers being targeted and one officer losing his life. All of this is unacceptable.

Returning to our gospel, Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman. This is where I was taken aback. Jesus’ reaction at first seems to be one that we have seen in those spreading hate. He ignored her. He then said he was not there for her, only the lost sheep of Israel. Who is this Jesus? He does not sound like the one in whom we find love and grace. Depending upon the commentary you read, there are many different theologians trying to explain Jesus’ response.

I believe that in this moment, we witness the Jesus of humanity. The Jesus that walked in this world was just as human as he was divine, and in this moment, we see a bit of this humanity. Perhaps he was distracted. Perhaps he had his mind set upon his next destination. In this, we can relate because whether we want to admit it or not, we have all been in this same place. It takes the words of the Canaanite woman to stir him and he sees the faith that she has in him. “Lord, have mercy on me.” It is a cry for help. It is a cry we can relate to in our own brokenness. It is her persistence and courage to step up that we all need to have at this time.

I will be honest with you, there are some days that I really must conjure up the courage to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Because it seems that the gospel speaks so counter to what we practice within our own country and culture. Yet, today the Canaanite woman leads the way. In my ordination vows, I was asked, “Will you give faithful witness in the world, that God’s love may be known in all you do?” To this, I answered and continue to answer, “I will, and I ask God to help me.” I cannot be a faithful witness if I do not talk about where our faith is leading us today.

I believe we have reached a time where we must move beyond the politics. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend and what we will continue to see and hear in our country points to a belief that is weaved into the fabric of our nation. Unfortunately, some of those strands have been weaved by evil.

It started with the genocide of the Native American people when Europeans first set foot on this land. It was weaved into the fabric through the slave trade and the exploitation of black people and others in the minority. The Civil War may have brought an end to slavery, but those strands had already been weaved in. Those strands were quite visible during the Jim Crow Law era and in the segregation of our public-school system. Those strands separated humanity in the red-lining of our major cities where leaders used their authority to say who could live where. We have even seen it continue to this day in the prison system and the unfair treatment of black people.

The first time I witnessed a similar display of hate was in my own hometown of Charlotte nearly thirty years ago. An inter-racial couple lived a few blocks down the street from my parents and had a cross burned on their yard. I also recall in high school the opposition to having the KKK come rally in front of the historic courthouse. All part of the fabric.

This fabric affects all our lives. Living in a rural white community keeps us insulated from the happenings of our larger diverse cities. Yet, we are only forty-five minutes away from downtown Detroit where the worst effects of these evil strands have been wove.

To borrow the words from Brother Chris Markert, Minister General of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, “this isn’t a right vs left, liberal vs conservative, Republican vs. Democrat situation. It’s confronting evil that has decided it’s safe to come out in very public and blatant ways.”

I also believe that for us to address the racism and evils that occur in our country, it must be made visible for us. We can then enter into conversation. It has always been present, but now it is fully out in the open, and hopefully we will not sweep it back under the rug. There was a sign of hope yesterday as more people stepped up to call out the hatred in a mostly peaceful counter-protest in Boston.

The Canaanite woman was used to being pushed to the side. She would not have been given the time of day in the past by an Israelite. They would have looked down upon her as if she were a dog. Someone not deserving of their attention. This was not acceptable in Jesus’ time and it is not acceptable today. It may have even took Jesus a minute to see this. Yet, once he did, he showed compassion for the Canaanite woman and carried it to the cross for all of humanity.

While we are in the majority as white Americans, it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to proclaim his message of love and inclusion of all. We are called to speak to the hatred and evil. We are called to step up boldly and name the evil as we see it. We are to be bold like the Canaanite woman and persist in spreading the love of the gospel.

We must also listen. We must listen to our brothers and sisters that have experienced the hatred and evil. We must not be quick to interrupt as we give them space to share their stories. We must enter relationships as God calls all of humanity together in the hopes of the Kingdom to come. In this all embracing love of God, grace is showered upon each of us.  In this we shall rejoice and be gathered in.

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Where Do Your Feet Take You?

barefeetwalking

August 13, 2017

Romans 10:5-15

The selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans opens the possibility for us to discuss a dirty little word that scares us in the Lutheran church. It is a word that makes people cringe whenever they hear it. At times, it can make people uncomfortable and anxious. Well, maybe not all people, but the majority would agree.

So, are you ready for it?

Are you sure?

The word is EVANGELISM!!!

Believe it or not, even though the word is part of our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, it still scares us. Are we really expected to talk to people about our faith? Do we really have to share about Jesus? Perhaps we think we are just comfortable sitting right here. If people want to come to our church, they know how to find it.

I will admit, I may be exaggerating just a little. However, most of the mainline denominations take the same approach to evangelism. Perhaps it is the word that scares us. When we hear evangelism, we are reminded of those in the greater church that have co-opted the word and call themselves Evangelicals. Our Lutheran theology is often very different and is focused on grace instead of hell and damnation.

To evangelize, means that we are going to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Within it, you can find the word angel. An angel is a bearer of good news to those in our bible stories. Who wouldn’t want to share good news?

That good news is present with us all the time. In Jesus Christ. I like the Message’s translation of Romans 10:8,

The word that saves is right here,

as near as the tongue in your mouth,

as close as the heart in your chest.

 It is this good news that we are called to share with all those we encounter. Paul is learning this as he continues his ministry and wonders what will happen with his Jewish brothers and sisters. Evangelism is not about conversion. As much as we think we can make people follow Christ, that is impossible. Evangelism is about sharing the good news of Christ. It is about introducing people to the hope and wonder that is found in the bible. It is about living into the mystery that guides our lives daily. Evangelism can look like inviting people to church. To come experience the word alive and well in this place. Evangelism can look like inviting a friend to help you go serve food to the homeless. Evangelism can take on the image of those protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. Ensuring that the love of Christ is for all, and making sure that those voicing hatred are not the only people being heard. Evangelism is about sharing our belief in the way that we know best.

Once we have that word of Christ on our lips and in our hearts, we can go out and share it.  It is a beautiful thing. As Paul concludes our passage, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.”

Those feet have a lot of miles on them. The feet of God brought the good news to Elijah in the silence, and in turn Elijah spread that good news to the people of Israel. Jesus’ feet brought good news to the disciples as they were anxious in the storm. They in turn journey forth to bring good news to others. Paul’s feet brought him to the many churches that were beyond the Jewish territory and people were encouraged to continue to spread the good news forward.

Where do your feet take you? Perhaps it is to speak up for the injustices in the world. To stand beside those in protest to hatred and racism in Charlottesville. It may be to spread love to those in your neighborhood. Your feet may even take you to social media to reach out to friends and family.

Are we expected to be perfect? Of course not. We are going to stumble while on our feet. Look at Peter, he fell face first into the water. Jesus was there for him when he cried out. Jesus is present for us when we cry out.

 

 

Grace Amid Heartbreak

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August 6, 2017

Romans 9:1-5

James and Elena were longing for the wedding of their dreams. They were both in their early thirties, so they each had some time to think about what that wedding may look like. It would be a fabulous celebration that their friends and families would remember for some time and would be just the beginning of their lifelong commitment to one another.

Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to meet Elena in the emergency room. Her fiancé, James, had been struck by a car while crossing the road and was barely hanging on to his life. Elena was heartbroken, and their dreams for the future had come crashing down. She would be called on, along with family, to help make the decision to remove him from any form of life support.

Heartbreak comes in many forms, with this story being one of the more devastating I encountered while doing my Clinical Pastoral Education. We may also experience heartbreak in broken relationships, a job loss, expectations not being met, and many other things that I am sure you could name.

Paul is not unfamiliar with heartbreak.

He laments for the first time in our lesson from Romans this morning. While he has been busy speaking of the overwhelming grace of God that has been made aware to us through Jesus Christ, there seems to be a little something that is bothering him.

His heartache, and heartbreak, comes from his relation to the people of Israel. He has grown up among them as one of their own. He was taught in the finest schools.  He was seen as a leader among their leaders. Things change. He is called into a place in which he is now proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. It is this good news and the affect that it may have on his Jewish brothers and sisters that he is concerned.

There appears to be a division now between the followers of the Way of Jesus Christ and those that are following the Torah. There is a dualism that is apparent to Paul, and in his rationality, there is either/or. Either the Jewish people must start following the way of Jesus, as it has been proclaimed, or the promises that have been made to them through God’s word in Abraham may not be fulfilled. Paul states, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh, comes the Messiah.”

This is the source of Paul’s dilemma and heartbreak. What will happen to his friends and family if they do not come to know Jesus Christ as he has? There is a division that occurs in their midst that Paul seems not quite sure how to account for now.  It is still Paul’s hope, as he states in the opening verse of chapter 10, that, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.”

This is heartbreak in the midst of relationship. We can relate to Paul today as we encounter many of the same issues. What about our friends and family that have not grown to know Jesus Christ the way that we have? What about those that are following other religions? What about those that state they are atheist and do not follow any religion at all? Our own hearts break over these questions and concerns for those that we love so dearly.

We have a great and powerful God that is above all and we can never truly know God’s intention on this earth. It is a mystery that we learn to live into, yet will never fully experience it until the kingdom of God is fully revealed to us. God has not given to us the gift of judgement upon others. We have been given the gift of grace.

We will all have our hearts broken at one point in our lives, if not multiple times. Yet, God is present with a sign of grace for all of creation.

I returned from Arizona late Thursday night after spending a wonderful week with my sisters and brothers of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. We met amid heartbreak. Earlier this year there were some disagreements that threatened to tear our order apart. People felt called to go in different directions and it left many wondering what was next. This past week proved to be healing. Where there appeared to be death and ashes, God was playing in them. Bringing the promise of new life and helping us to refocus on our call as Lutheran Franciscans. Our hearts have begun to mend and reconciliation is occurring.

The rabbis note that God writes the word, the law, on the heart rather than in it (Jeremiah 31:23). They say this is so that, when the heart breaks, the word falls into it. Absent the heartbreak, the word is never internalized as completely. Maybe this is how we come to know God, when God enters our hearts as fully as we have entered God’s and we share some of the pain of God’s love rejected. Because surely God, embodied in the Messiah (v. 5), grieves at our refusal to be part of the blessed community. [i]

We see this community revealed in the feeding of the 5000 in Matthew’s gospel. It is Christ’s love for all people that appears in the abundance of food that is available for all that are there to listen. We are fed and nourished through the word of God, and weekly at the Lord’s table. While heartbreak is always going to be present, may you feel the healing in the promise of Jesus made to us in the bread and wine.

[i] Highsmith, Martha. Meditations from Feasting on the Word: Year A, pg 401.