God’s Grace is Sufficient

grace

This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen

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Called to Serve

Peter_Mother-in-law1

February 4, 2018

Mark 1:29-39

Preparing a meal for over 100 people weekly can be a challenge. That challenge is multiplied when your ingredients are dependent upon what the local food warehouse receives for the week. Imagine getting, 10 lbs of leeks. Ever tried leek soup? It was interesting. Or 20 lbs of onions. I learned how to make a pretty good french onion soup. Sometimes, you never know where a calling is going to lead you.

The calling to run the Wednesday Community Lunch at the Presbyterian church during my last call was part out of necessity, since my calling as a pastor was part time, and part because I could pass the food safety manager certification. However, I would not trade that time for anything. I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people and serve those in the community that truly needed a hot meal and especially a friendly conversation.

It is great that Jesus was able to serve others throughout his ministry. How are we expected to live up to those same expectations? How are we suppose to make time for helping others when we stay so busy? Of course I am being a little facetious. It is true though that we want to make sure that everything in our own little corner of the world is taken care of first. I may be able to help, but let me make sure that all the needs of my family and self are taken care of first. I may be able to support such and such cause, but let me make sure that I have money left at the end of the month. These are struggles that most of us have had at one time or another.

When we insulate ourselves from the world around us, then we are missing out on the opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ working in the world to bring healing and reconciliation. We can do this at all levels of our society, from the individual, to the household, to our greater communities, and beyond. Insulating ourselves from others can create a paranoia of the other. It is where fear is born.

We witnessed that fear last week in the story of the man with the unclean spirit. Again this morning, as the gospel of Mark continues, Jesus continues to heal those that are sick or possessed with demons. It starts when they arrive at the home of Simon and Andrew and Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. There is an urgency to their request for Jesus to go and be by her side and bring her healing as well.

After a while, Jesus had to start feeling like a vending machine. People coming to him nonstop to heal whatever ailed them. It may have appeared that Jesus was inundated with request upon request for healing, yet he continued to cure many. It was tiring work, yet work that carried out his calling to share the grace and love of God. In the healing, it reveals God in the brokenness and pain. God in the midst of the people bringing hope and compassion where it had been lost.

However, Jesus cannot stay in the same place. He has a mission that he has been called to and that requires walking many miles. There are others that must be healed. There are parables to share through his teaching and preaching. First, as we witness many times in the gospels, Jesus must step away to rest. While he is divine, he is also human and his body requires rest and care just as ours. Stepping away to a deserted place also provides him the opportunity to pray and be renewed for the journey ahead.

In the healing that occurs, we witness Jesus serving. It was for this that Jesus came into the world. Later in his gospel, Mark reveals that, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

The serving begins as soon as Jesus’ ministry is underway. From the healing of the man with the unclean spirit, to many and varied healings in this mornings gospel. It is in the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law that we witness God’s grace and the mother-in-law’s faith played out. This is a tender moment that Jesus has with Simon’s mother-in-law. He reached out and took her hand. To hold her hand in his, in her sickness, was a visible sign of love and compassion that Jesus will continue to show through his ministry. It is a love that knows no boundaries and fears nothing that comes in its way. The fever that she has breaks and he raises her up to new health.

And what does she do? She gets up and begins to serve those in the household. Now, this is not a call for women to be the ones that serve in the household. This passage has been wrongly used in the past to attempt to bolster this very idea. However, it is a reflection of the calling that Simon’s mother-in-law has in her own life. A reflection that shows her thankfulness to Jesus for bringing her healing. In the way that Jesus serves others, she is able to reflect this in her own household for those that she loves and cares for. She moves beyond herself and opens her heart up to everyone that is in her presence.

In Jesus’ serving, he lays the foundation for our calling in the world to be with one another. Not to insulate ourselves, but to surround ourselves with the beauty of humanity that comes in all shades, shapes, genders, orientations, and abilities. What does it mean for us to serve as Simon’s mother-in-law did? What are we doing to serve those in need, just as Jesus did?

Every time that we reach out with love and compassion to the outcasts and those that the greater society has brushed aside, we bring Christ to them. Every time we welcome MCREST into our church, we live out the calling that God has placed upon our hearts. Every time we give a Christmas bag or bike to someone in need, we are God’s hands in the world. Every time we welcome visitors we are given the opportunity to proclaim the Good News and love as Jesus loved. Our faith and thankfulness for the gifts that God has given us are made visible in our actions when we reach out with love instead of ridicule and disdain. Jesus came into the world to show us the way of love and to remind us that God is present with us.

Let us pray. Serving God, you came to walk this earth showing a love and compassion like no other. While we may stumble and fall, continue to be that reminder for us that you are always present and working through us when we love in return. Amen.