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Posts from the ‘Human Family’ Category

Let Love Happen

Proper 15A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:10)

What a week to read this gospel.  White supremacist, KKK and Nazi groups shocked America. Emboldened by the words of the President and elected leaders, they gathered in surprising numbers to chant their racist hate-filled slogans and violently confront their so-called enemies.  One news commentator had told us to expect.  ‘When you blow enough dog whistles you shouldn’t be surprised when the dogs come around.’

Words and intentions matter. They matter to God.  It makes a difference to God whether our intention is to hate or to oppose hate. Perhaps what is most sickening about the week’s events is that every hateful word came from the mouth of a child of God.

Hate is like an infectious disease.  Whenever we hate, we betray our birthright.  We undermine our humanity.  We obscure the image of the living God, the imago Dei, in which we were created.  Whenever our intention is to degrade, dismiss, deny, or harm another human being we are working at cross purposes with God.

It seems straightforward, but this is an especially tough lesson for us as we become increasingly locked in polarizing political debates. It is a tough lesson for the church considering its historical role in turning a blind eye toward slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration, or in some cases, providing bad theology to undergird it. This is a tough lesson when it feels like the whole country is going to the dogs.  The trouble is people on both sides of the debate agree with that statement.  Name calling is evidence you and I may be coming down with the hate disease.

Just look at Jesus in our gospel today. In an amazing role reversal, this time, Jesus is the pupil and not the teacher. Jesus called the Canaanite woman a dog. The disciples begged Jesus tell her to go away. He insulted her and said he’s not here for her and her kind. I’m so thankful to Matthew that he includes this story.

It’s not an excuse, but it happened on vacation. For the past three Sundays, we’ve seen Jesus in retreat.  After the death of John the Baptist he sailed across the Sea but the people followed him along the shore. After feeding and caring for them, Jesus sent the crowds away and walked up a nearby mountain to pray while the disciples headed out across the Sea of Galilee by boat.

And today we find Jesus 70 miles further north in the district of Tyre and Sidon, cities of Lebanon. He is traveling where no self-respecting Jewish person would go, someplace he expected privacy.  He is at least 50 miles north of the border. Perhaps he was searching for a place where he might prepare himself and the disciples for what was coming next in Jerusalem.

Yet even here news of his ministry had spread. He was recognized on sight.

Matthew uses the word “great” 20 times, but only once in connection to faith. Ultimately, Jesus commended this Canaanite woman whom he called a dog for her great faith.

Matthew goes out of his way to tell us she was a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). The label is strange. In Jesus’ lifetime, nobody was still called a “Canaanite.” It was part of ancient history even then. The region of the Canaanites no longer existed on the map.  It would be as if Matthew were calling New York City by its old name New Amsterdam!  Matthew calls her a “Canaanite” on purpose: it meant that she is not only an outsider, but she is part of an enemy people.

Love your enemies, Jesus says.  Everybody knows that.  But it’s never easy, not even for Jesus. Our gospel today challenges us to look beyond artificial boundaries and borders of ethnicity, nation, and creed that naturally divide people into insiders and outsiders –making us feel safe with some people and afraid of others.

Often in scripture, it is the outsider who turns out to be the true insider. One of the defining characteristics of grace is that we are surprised to see it where we found it. Christ is revealed in those whom we are expecting only to serve, and/or among those whom we are prepared to hate.

Over the years, Christians have tried endlessly to soften this story. Jesus was only trying to teach the disciples they say, or Jesus was merely having some fun in verbal sparring, or he wasn’t calling her a bad dog, but a cute cuddly sort of dog. These explanations fall short I think.

This encounter marked the turning point in Jesus’ own consciousness, confronting his limited perception of the wider mission at hand beyond the tribes of Israel, including people of every nation. The Canaanite woman proves she is not only worthy of Jesus’ mercy; in this instance, she is his teacher and preacher. Down through the centuries she offers a timely rebuke to political, racial, and religious divisions. We are reminded, “There’s a wideness in God’s Mercy, like the wideness of the sea” (ELW #588).

Words matter. Whenever religion becomes more about external regulations and observances it is going down the wrong road. Jesus’ iconoclastic teaching canceled out all the food laws of the Old Testament. It set people of faith on a new footing with God and each other. There is only one rule, the Golden Rule, love our neighbors as ourselves. In Christ, we are called to love even our enemies and pray for them.

If any rule, no matter how pious sounding, leads you to violate the Golden Rule then break that rule.  If exclusion becomes the rule –break the rule. If ‘I win and you lose’ is the rule—break that rule. If the rule is ‘need more to be more’ –break that rule. If white supremacy is the rule –break that rule.

Jesus commandment moves us beyond believing the faith as a way to the afterlife to practicing the faith in ways that make a difference in the here and now. Let love happen. You don’t even have to be good at it—just try.

While the world swirls around us there are always people, places, and opportunities to let love happen in answer. Later today there will be a short 30 minute Memorial service for a man named Aaron at our ECT sister congregation, Unity Lutheran Church.

Aaron was a 19 year old who happened by on Tuesday August 8th, interacted with other youth participants of a summer program run by RefugeeONE, and later committed suicide on the Unity front lawn. No one knew Aaron from RefugeeONE, from Unity, or the neighborhood. Neither he, or his family, have so far been identified. He left nothing but a few notes in his pocket and a chalk-drawing on the sidewalk of a cross, the Star of David, and a crescent moon—the three symbols of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Pastor Fred and friends at Unity will offer prayers, scripture readings, and sing hymns to remember his life before God. One or two mental health social workers will offer thoughts on suicide prevention and overcoming stigma.

“In Christ,” Paul writes, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Christians are radical egalitarians when it comes to the inclusive love of God. We are all equidistant from the heart of God—including our friends, our enemies, and the strangers among us who just happen by.  In every case our call is the same. Let love happen.   It’s hard for us to keep an open mind toward strangers about whom we’re afraid.  But Jesus has shown the way. He showed us he could be changed. Can we?

Folly and Wisdom

Proper 9A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

They said John the Baptist had a demon’ and the Son of Man was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Jesus chides the faithful for finding fault in God’s messengers regardless of their message. ‘To what will I compare this generation? [They are] like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:18 & 19)

I’m depressed thinking about how divisions among God’s people persist in our own day. In the red states and the blue States I wonder whether we are reading the same gospel?  How can we come to such different conclusions about women, about abortion, about sexual orientation, about our political leaders, about the stewardship of creation, about American exceptionalism, about capitalism, about the pernicious sin of racism, about Muslims, Jews, and people of other faiths, about what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ?

We all have the same starting place.  We believe God has revealed the character of creation, for all time and in all places in Jesus.  The material universe has a face.  The material universe is alive and we have glimpsed the character and quality of all life in Christ Jesus.  It is the life of the holy three that invites us to dwell, face, to face, to face, to face, even now, in one body with each other and with God.  Holding so much in common, you might think we would all reason to the same conclusions about life–but this unity will never be enough to insure uniformity of thought—quite the opposite.

Again, and again the scriptures teach us the greatest sin we can commit is not bothering to care. You’d have a hard time finding another Christian who doesn’t agree the command to love one another as we love ourselves is central to the gospel.  But how we love is up to each of us. Is there a right and a wrong way?  Sure—there are better and worse ways.  There is such wideness in God’s mercy as to leave the particulars of loving up to us.

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Pay attention and the school of life will be our teacher.  Stay hopeful, be willing to do things that are uncomfortable, step closer to those who are suffering and get ready to learn some humbling truths, “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy) Indifference might be the most toxic human emotion we can share.

We learn wisdom in hospital rooms, bedrooms, classrooms, and just sitting around the kitchen table.  We find wisdom in holy communion, wisdom in the waters of baptism, wisdom in prayer. We come to the community gathered by the Holy Spirit to hear a word of grace and to discern together how best to walk the way of the cross—in other words—to learn how to be better lovers.

Whether we are Statue of Liberty Americans, or build the wall Americans matters less than the fact that we all stand in need of grace and that we are all bearers of that grace for one another.  We will not find wisdom in uniformity of thought, but in the mutual respect that makes room for everyone, inside and outside the church, to express their thoughts freely and fully.  That is what’s so dangerous about the current political climate in which we find ourselves.  This is what the institution of the church is perfectly positioned to respond to with members in every community across the country.

It is part of the shared wisdom of our Church, enshrined in the constitution of every congregation in the ELCA, that every person who comes through our doors holds a part of the truth.  Each of us must faithfully bear witness to the truth as we understand it, and prayerfully, humbly listen as others do the same. We find wisdom in speaking, and in listening more than we speak. Therefore, it is imperative we respectfully leave room for a wide range of opinions if we are to do everything possible to follow Jesus.  Diversity of thought is not dividing, but enriching.  This is the basis for the covenants of full communion we share as Lutherans with six other denominational partners, including Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America.

Today we hear Jesus declare, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

It seems counterintuitive to find rest in taking up the yoke of Jesus.  For most of us, I’d wager, a yoke connotes bondage and servitude –a diminishment of freedom and choice.  Indeed, Jesus was relentless in criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees for making the yoke of religion into a means to weigh people down with artificial demands of righteousness.

Jesus’ yoke is different from the religious zealots want to lay on you. It is the call to simply to love one another and bear one another’s burdens. In this we will discover the wisdom that is hidden from the wise and intelligent who rely on their own abilities.  They will not hear the gospel regardless if it is proclaimed by John the Baptist or by Jesus. Here is the wisdom written deep within creation: being good and kind is not a chore, but a natural and gracious response to the other.  It’s what we’re made for and in this we find our own humanity.

Each of us has different gifts for love and service.  For decades now, this congregation has had a special gift and passion for teaching and receiving children and young people.  Tutoring, after-school, play-groups, and the ECT youth group are examples of the way we at Immanuel wear the yoke of Jesus.  It’s why 20 years ago Immanuel’s leaders sought out and invited Families Together Preschool to come and partner with us. It’s why vacation bible school draws so many neighborhood families and children.  (I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the VBS slide show running in the narthex today.)

The yoke of Jesus is humility and concern for the despised. We bear the weight of this yoke in loving others.  This is how we bear the weight of the cross.  This is how we learn what wisdom is.  This is how we become disciples of Jesus.  This is how we heal our democracy. This is how we unburden ourselves from carrying our fear.  This is how we teach our children.  This is how we restore grace within our families.  This is how we find rest for our souls.  The yoke of Jesus is not a yoke of servitude, or of bondage but of connection, partnership, and sharing our burdens with one another and with Christ who labors alongside us.

On The Proper Use of Freedom

Proper 8A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

This holiday weekend we celebrate 241 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  We acknowledge with every rendition of our national anthem the struggle and sacrifice required by the founding generation, and nearly every generation since, to bring into being the opportunity for freedom we now enjoy as our birth rite. They died to make us free.

The American democratic experiment is not quite two and a half centuries old, but the question of how to properly use of our freedom within the span of a single human life is thousands of years old, perhaps as old as history itself.  It is the central question addressed by our bible in the great narratives of creation, of the Exodus, and of Christ. Each human being living under every permutation of governance ever devised or bumbled into has had to ask themselves what am I to do with the miracle of my life?

Paul writes, “…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Chapters 5-8 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome from which today’s second lesson was read is a majestic statement of some of Paul’s greatest themes: The love of God embodied in Jesus’ death; the hope, even during suffering, enjoyed by God’s people; Christian freedom from sin, the law and death itself; and the life-giving leading of the Spirit. Countless Christians, faced with times of struggle, have found strength and joy in Paul’s closing words: “Neither height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) (N.T. Wright, Commentary on Romans)

For Paul, the difference between slavery and freedom is not whatever political system in which we find ourselves but in dying and rising to new life in solidarity with the ever-living Christ. The exodus, the story of coming out of slavery into freedom—with all the new puzzles and responsibilities that freedom brings!—is the story of the gospel.  In the Exodus the Jewish people discovered the character of their rescuing God.  Likewise the covenant faithfulness of this same God is fully unveiled in the paschal events of Golgatha and Easter. In Christ, God extends an invitation to all people to become children of a new humanity.  We find the true purpose of our freedom, the highest and most noble version of ourselves by walking the way of the cross.

We must give ourselves away to be free. Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell the disciples, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) By walking the way of the cross Jesus taught us our freedom is not about how well we follow religious rules either. For Jesus, our hard-won freedom in Christ is about a way of living in which we find ourselves willing to give someone a cup of cold water on a hot day. Our freedom has no higher purpose than that.

Many today are misled in believing that, if you are lucky or strong or bold or beautiful and powerful enough, freedom is about living without any obligations, any commitments, any requirements whatsoever. By contrast, Paul invited the Christians in Rome and each of us, to consider the choice we face is not between obedience or freedom, but rather a decision about what we will be freely obedient and dedicated to.

It is human nature to slide toward whatever seems easiest in the short run. Sacrificing short term gratification for long term happiness is always difficult for us.  That is why we cannot rely on will power alone to be truly free. The ability to strive for things that bring long term happiness and eternal blessings comes from God—and specifically—from dwelling in God as our small, selfish, frightened ego-self is transformed by connection to the One-life we have in God and to all the living things God has made.

For Paul, we find the power to be free in our baptism, in Christian community, and in the prayers of the Holy Spirit working in us too deep for words that draws us more closely into relationship with God and neighbor and serves to remind us that we are, indeed, God’s own children. (David Lose, Working Preacher)

From here, we can begin to see what makes service to others so central to the Christian message and to the exercise of true freedom. Ancient people were amazed and drawn to Christianity because they said, ‘See how they love each other.’  Hospitality is credited with being a big reason why Christianity spread and grew.  Yet, this was never just an outreach strategy.  The key component of our mutual welcome and service to one another comes from the presence of Jesus who has joined us all together. My self is become part of your self, your suffering has become part of my suffering, your joy part of my joy. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

Here at Immanuel, we exercise our freedom in Christ by welcoming guests here to worship on Sunday, or to play groups, pre-school, tutoring, neighborhood meetings, or simply to come from the park across the street to use the restroom.  For Vacation Bible School this week we shared the humble, hospitable gospel with over thirty neighborhood children with the help of twenty adult volunteers. Yet Jesus’ call to hospitality doesn’t stop at our front door.  These past several weeks in worship we have read through the entire 10th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and know what Jesus is taking about here to the disciples is their charge to become missionaries.

We say our mission here at Immanuel is to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace.  Yet, we know this mission did not come from us, but from what God is already, always, and everywhere doing in the world. We exercise our freedom and walk the way of the cross not by always playing host, but also by relying upon the hospitality of others by being guests.  Not only by inviting people into our space, to eat our food, and use our bathrooms—but to go where we are sent into other’s homes, eating their food, navigating their customs, and using their bathrooms. One of the most difficult parts of hospitality is vulnerability.  Mutual hospitality –welcoming and being welcomed as we would welcome Christ—is how we abide in the One life of God and discover the true purpose of human freedom.

All people, all things, no matter how marginal, ugly, or shameful find a place of dignity in this welcome. Let me leave you with the words of Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread.  She writes, “What I heard, and continue to hear, [in this gospel] is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely. It [Christianity] proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn’t promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God’s. (Sara Miles, Take This Bread: The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first century Christian)

 

The Way of the Cross

Proper 7A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with the words “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Becoming a follower of Jesus was painful for early Christians. Imagine, what would it take for you to disown your children—or your parents?  Yet, these were the kinds of choices many were forced to make. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;” (Matthew 10:35).

This sword is not one of violence but of decision. We must decide to put Christ first before family in order to find our family.  We must decide to speak truth to power in order to honor those in authority. The decision to walk the way of Christ’s cross calls us to be bold even as our path leads us more deeply into the troubles, difficulties and sorrows of our families and of this world in order to find joy and purpose in serving.

Two paintings by Caravaggio hang opposite one another in the Contarelli Chapel of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome: The Calling of Saint Matthew and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (1600). The contrast reveals Matthew’s transformation from tax collector to martyr.  The paintings depict the beginning and the end of Matthew’s life following Christ and powerfully illustrate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words: “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” In the Martyrdom, as tradition tells us, Matthew is shown as he is being murdered by agents of the disgruntled king of Ethiopia as he baptizes new people into the faith. While Matthew’s gesture in the Calling suggests hesitancy, his hand in the Martyrdom shows confidence, reaching toward a laurel from heaven, even as it has been seized by his accuser.

In facing our fear of God’s truth and grace, change and transformation, what is lost in us is spiritual narrowness.  What dies is our fear of others, whether as competitors or enemies.  What is born is compassion and freedom. “Those who find their life will lose it,” Jesus said, “and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador is another famous example of the kind of compassion and freedom we find in Christ when first we decide to follow him. Archbishop Romero was killed by extremists while standing behind the altar celebrating Holy Communion in 1980. He said, “Those who, in the biblical phrase, would save their lives—that is, those who want to get along, who don’t want commitments, who don’t want to get into problems, who want to stay outside of a situation that demands the involvement of all of us—they will lose their lives. What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably, with no suffering, not getting involved in problems, quite tranquil, quite settled, with good connections politically, economically, socially—lacking nothing, having everything. To what good? They will lose their lives.” (Oscar Romero 1917-1980)

I suppose today we would be amiss not to mention another example of courage and faithfulness central to our own history as Lutherans.  On this day in 1530 German and Latin editions of the Augsburg Confession were presented to the Emperor Charles of the Holy Roman Empire. The Augsburg Confession was written by Philipp Melanchthon and endorsed by Martin Luther, and consists of a brief summary of points in which the reformers saw their teaching as either agreeing with or differing from that of the Roman Catholic Church of the time.  Today is the feast day in our liturgical calendar celebrated by the whole Church of both Philipp Melanchthon and the Augsburg Confession.

We might happily talk for hours about what Tolstoy meant by his beautifully evocative opening sentence.  From a Christian perspective, this teaching is true. Happiness is like a flower that grows to scent our homes with compassion, truth and love when Christ is at the center, while the unhappiness in our homes arises from all the many ways we depart from Christ and his gospel.

Our pursuit of happiness will be more successful in our homes and in our society as we learn when to accept and when to challenge the authority others have over us, and also learn how to embrace and to properly exercise the authority we have been given.

The fourth commandment, “Honor your father and mother”, and our gospel, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”, stand in creative tension.  Our understanding of each is made more profound when viewed from the perspective of the other.

To honor father and mother, Luther says, we must do more than love them.  We are to serve and obey our parents, treat them with great deference, humility, and respect.  Parenthood, according to Luther, is a divine office given special distinction.  Parents are literally God’s representatives in their families.

Luther broadened this commandment to include all those who are in authority –we should honor our boss, government officials, police officers, school teachers –and crossing guards –anyone who is in a position to issue commands.  The command to honor our parents compels us to honor the authority of all those in power.

Luther writes, “Through civil authority, as through our own parents, God gives us food, house and home, protection and security” (LC 385 [150]).  Christians have long recognized the vital importance of good order, both in the home and in society, for creating the conditions which makes lives of faith and praise possible.  Here lies the biblical rationale for authority, as well as the principle that defines its limitations.

It is God who sets the standards for the proper use of authority.  It is God and the purposes of God toward which our authority is properly applied.  Do not think, Jesus says, that I have come to bring peace, when through your misdeeds or your oversight you have neglected my children, brought them pain or fear, made them to feel small, or taught them how to hate. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword whenever a child goes hungry; not peace but a sword, wherever another person in the world dies of a curable disease; not peace but a sword, wherever another species becomes extinct because of your unbridled desire to consume; not peace but a sword wherever there is someone who does not know they are a beloved child of God. For my house is not built to glorify you, says the Lord, but so that all people may know that I am God, and that you may know each and every human being is my beloved son and daughter—for I have counted even the hairs on their head.

If we see someone we love acting destructively, confronting their behavior may provoke a hostile, angry reaction.  That is why we often decide not to speak even though their behavior is contrary to everything Christ teaches us.  We keep silent because we ‘want to keep the peace’, or because somebody counsels us to ‘just let it be’.  But the peace our silence buys is not an authentic peace.  It is a simmering volcano: the landscape looks peaceful and the same as before, but there are tremors underneath, and down deep, we are frightened that our shaky world will one day, blow up.  What happiness, peace, and joy is ours when we choose to walk the way of Christ and his cross.

Called by Compassion

Proper 6A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

[Jesus] “had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) This is the third of three sermons exploring Martin Luther’s theology of Christian vocation in recognition of the approaching 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  How does Jesus our Good Shepherd call us to be good citizens?

The question has special resonance here in Chicago where we are experiencing the perfect storm of political dysfunction in our City, our State, and Federal governments all at the same time.  The question only deepens as we lift our eyes beyond our borders and consider the plight of people around the world ravaged by poverty, war, and natural disasters.  Since we were little children we learned to pledge allegiance to the flag but to what extent has our baptism made us citizens of the world? Or put another way, does citizenship in the kingdom of God take precedence over loyalty to country?

Of course, the short answer is yes.  Luther wrote, “God is the kind of Lord who does nothing but exalt those of low degree and put down the mighty from their thrones, in short, break what is whole and make whole what is broken.” (LW 21:288-300)  We are called to speak truth to power, to be a voice for the voiceless, to strive for the greater good, to put the human in our humanity, to protect and defend the life of all creatures, and to do all this as far as the light of our shared faith and conscience will guide us, trusting in God’s forgiveness and mercy when we fail. Love of the other and our neighbor became our calling starting with baptism.  We live out our calling whether at home, at work, or in the world cleaving to the grace that embraces us just as we are regardless of what we do and at the same time calls us to be than we have ever been. Like Jesus, we become who God created us to be when we are moved by compassion for the harassed and helpless.

As many of you know, this was a frenzied week in the Johnson household. We went two for two high school graduations and all the events that go with it. This week it was Sam’s turn to graduate. The ceremony was at the Auditorium Theater in downtown Chicago.  He dropped off his books, paid his fees, picked up his cap and gown, and eight commencement tickets on Wednesday afternoon. In a few hours all the tickets were gone —lost!  He left them on CTA redline train.  It looked like two grandmas, a grandpa, mom and dad, step-mom and step-dad were all going to have to find something else to do Thursday night because we weren’t going to get in to be seated at the graduation.

But as grace (not luck) would have it, the tickets were found by a CTA conductor who saw they were graduation tickets for Jones College Prep High School, went online to the Jones website, somehow recognized one of the senior students, contacted them through Facebook—who then contacted another friend who knows Sam, who then went to the station and picked up the tickets.  That conductor was moved by compassion and that made all the difference for our family.

What would a compassionate budget for our state, our nation, or our city look like and who would pay for it?  As U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky frequently points out, the United States has never been more wealthy at any point in its history than it is today.  We can afford to be more compassionate for the harassed and helpless and maybe that is how our nation, our state and our city will find its true calling again and help restore our civic life to health.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins squeezing the life out of our neighborhoods and communities.  Evening parking in the lot across from Sam’s school is usually $8.  I suspect you won’t be surprised that for graduation the rates go up.  You want to guess how much?  We paid more than 300% the usual rate or $25.

Many people know Martin Luther protested about the abuse of Pope Leo using fear of God to extract money from the poor throughout Germany and the rest of Europe to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Lessor known are his complaints about the newly forming business community. Luther writes, “The merchants have a common rule which is their chief maxim: ‘I may sell my goods as [costly] as I can.’ They think this is their right.  Thus occasion is given for avarice, and every widow and door to hell is opened.” (The Forgotten Luther: Reclaiming the Social-Economic Dimension of the Reformation, Edited by Carter Lindberg and Paul Wee, p. 34)

Luther famously taught the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of the world are separated by God with Christ ruling in the one, and civil authorities ruling in the other.  But this does not mean God intends for people of faith to be passive in the political realm or to respond to the needs of the harassed and helpless only with our charity. We are called to battle injustice with clarity about our values, the dignity God affords every human life, and the call of grace to be people of compassion just as Jesus was and is.

And here we must go beyond what Luther taught if we are to be consistent with his vision of our Christian vocation as citizens operating by grace out in the world.  We must become more aware of the original sin of the United States of America and how we have all either benefited or have been diminished, and often a combination of the two.  I’m speaking here about the deep and pernicious sin of racism.   As Bishop Miller said at last week’s Synod Assembly, racism is the text, the subtext, and the context of any meaningful conversation about justice. We must be going about the difficult and honest work of raising our awareness and rooting out racism within the powers, principalities, institutions, political parties and economic systems in which we live, beginning with our congregation and our church.    (The 2 1/2 anti-racism training sponsored by our Synod is the envy of our church across the nation.  If the Spirit is moving you in any way toward this opportunity you should know the Immanuel Council is resolved to pick up the fee.  All it will cost you is your time.)

As Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) You are called and equipped.  You are filled with the Spirit and are able.  With your hands, your words, your listening, your actions God is ready to fill you with an animating compassion so none of us have to live like sheep without a shepherd, but all shall dwell in peace and in dignity in the house of the lord—because we are a living sanctuary of hope and grace!

The Called Life

Holy Trinity Sunday

June 4, 2017

 

Today is the second of three Sundays to explore Luther’s theology of Christian vocation.  What if anything, does it help us understand about how we live out our Christian calling in the workplace?  Let’s start by looking at the front cover of your worship folder.

This is Trinity Sunday —as in the Holy Trinity.  Trinity is not a word you will find in the Bible.  The Trinity is not a teaching of Jesus.  Yet Trinity is the name for God in which we baptize.  Since the early fourth century, it has been the Church’s name for God.  The name says something essential about who God is.

About 100 years before Martin Luther published his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, also known as the 95 theses, the Russian artist and iconographer Andrei Rublev painted the famous image you see today called “The Trinity.”  Inspired by the story of Abraham entertaining the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah as they camped beside the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1-8), the icon depicts the Holy One in the form of Three eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves.

The Father, in the foreground on the left, is wearing a golden robe, depicting for Rublev perfection, fullness, and wholeness. In the middle, Jesus wears a blue robe over a brown shirt. They are the colors of earth, sky, and water. His hand resting on the table makes a two finger gesture to tell us he has put spirit and matter, divinity and humanity together within himself —and for us!  On the right, the Holy Spirit is dressed in green. “Hildegard of Bingen, the German Benedictine abbess, musical composer, writer, philosopher, mystic and overall visionary, living three centuries before Rublev, called the Spirit’s endless fertility and fecundity veriditas —a quality of divine aliveness that makes everything blossom and bloom in endless shades of green.” Likewise Rublev chose green to represent the divine photosynthesis that grows deep within us transforming the light of God’s grace into itself. (Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance)

Notice, the hand of the Holy Spirit is pointing toward the open and fourth place at the table!—for you!  As magnificent as the fellowship among Father, Son and Holy Spirit is—there’s something missing. The Three are circling around a shared table, and if you look on the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole painted there.  Most people pass right over it, but art historians say that the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps a mirror glued to the front of the table!  Standing before this icon, peering into the divine life existing in, with, and under the entire universe, Rublev intended us to see the reflected image of ourselves!

This image is our starting point today.  The Holy Trinity where we begin to find answers about our Christian calling in the workplace and anyplace, because this is where we find our true self—living in community and communion inside the circle of the divine life of God. Here at Immanuel, we repeat the same mantra in the statement of our mission to be a living sanctuary of hope and grace. 

Dwelling in Christ, quickly dispels two fallacies about our vocation that persist today.  The first being the our vocation is synonymous with whatever we do to make a living.  Luther’s understanding of vocation is much broader.  It includes whatever we do to advance the cause of God’s grace.   Because we abide in Christ, we strive to do our work well and with fairness.  We

have concern and compassion for colleagues, employees, employers, clients, and customers.  We find more delight in serving than demanding. Mindful of any opportunity to glorify God we invite others to find a seat at the heavenly banquet table beside us.  We evangelize not to conquer others but to share the gift of grace by which God has set us free and made us all part of one life in God. This is our Christian vocation whether at home or at work or really, any place we find ourselves. Our vocation may change depending upon opportunities and circumstances, but it the aim always the same —to love and serve others as we have been loved and served and to invite all people into community with us in God.

The second fallacy Luther’s theology of vocation demolishes is a misunderstanding about the gospel that has persisted and even thrived among people of faith for centuries right up to today. It is sometimes called called “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”  It sounds abstract but I think you’ll all recognize the idea. It boils down to the belief that God will reward good people with heaven and send bad people to hell. Also, the main object of faith is to enable you to feel good about yourself. And finally, God is “out there” somewhere, but not very involved in daily life.”

Just about every point of this perspective contradicts Luther’s understanding of vocation. We see in Rublev’s image of The Trinity, God’s grace does not divide the world up into “good” and “bad” people. Rather, all have fallen short of God’s glory and depend solely on God’s mercy. Further, the point of religion is not to make you feel good about yourself. That turns faith into something that is basically self-serving. The point of religion is to love God (something enabled by God) and serve the neighbor. The view that God is simply indifferent and aloof from creation and human affairs is a vast distance from Luther’s belief that God “daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life.” And it certainly is in dramatic tension with the teaching that, in Christ, God has entered deeply into human flesh and human experience.” (Mark D. Tranvik. “Martin Luther and the Called Life.”)

We do God’s work with our hands.  God uses our callings to tend to the needs of the world. Bread does not happen without the work of the farmer, miller, baker, and merchant. Luther says that people function as God’s “masks” to accomplish God’s will on earth. It is God at work in vocation. We are God’s instruments. God is not absent, but hidden behind the various gift and talents of the laborers.

God is One in Three.  Face-to-face-to-face we enter into community, mystery, Love for the other and the other’s love for us, when we enter into relationship with God through faith.  This divine life shatters the sins of empire, opens our eyes to hate and racism, and teaches us how to forgive and be reconciled. This transformation becomes our joy, our vocation and our work and our mission.

So rise, shine you people.  See how God sends the powers of evil realing.  God brings us freedom, light and life and healing.  All men and women who by guilt are driven now are forgiven.  Tell how the Spirit calls from every nation God’s new creation.  (ELW # 665, Rise, Shine you People!)

A Glorious Life

Easter 7A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

Memorial Day means the end of school is near. For lots of families, it means graduation. Yesterday evening Kari and I spent about an hour filling our phones with prom photos. I took pictures of Sam and his date in a locked condo courtyard near Chinatown. Kari snapped memories of Joe and his date in the backyard of somebody’s home in Evanston.

Joe’s baseball team is in the playoffs. When they face off against archrival New Trier this Wednesday, it will likely be Joe’s very last baseball game after twelve years of organized play. Sam, who attends CPS, still has finals. The next three weeks on our family calendar include two commencement ceremonies and one shared graduation party.   We will have caps and gowns, valedictory addresses, and well wishes times two.   The end of school, of course, is only the beginning for both of them. The are already planning their next big thing. Joe is heading off to Colorado State in my hometown, Ft. Collins, Colorado; while Sam will be attending DePaul here in Chicago. Within this community there are six High School graduates this year—all of them headed of to college. In addition to Sam and Joe, congratulations are due to Katie Brink, Savita Gupta, Ruby Massey, and Allison McDonough.

The high priestly prayer in our gospel today is a kind of commencement address for the early church and the apostles on the night of his arrest following the Last Supper. Jesus prayed his death and resurrection would be just the beginning of zoe ionias, or life eternal (John 17:3). Here Jesus himself explains what this phrase means: “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus the Messiah whom you have sent.”

Jesus’ commencement prayer is that we may have an abundant life starting today. In the Hebrew context, the great project of God’s redemption was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay. (NT Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, pp. 44-45) Jesus’ wish for abundant life is different than what most parents say they most want for their kids.

Years ago I was involved in the peaceable schools project at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois near St. James Lutheran Church, which was my first call. At that time, parents became concerned that their race for greater academic achievement and higher test scores was having ugly and unintended consequences contributing to bullying and racism.

In extensive surveys parents said over and over what they most wanted for their kids was not Harvard or a high-flying career. They just wanted for their kids to be happy. This insight provided clarity about the importance of taking time within the school day to teach conflict resolution, teamwork, service and citizenship skills to support growth in emotional maturity among young people at LTHS. But as an over-arching life goal it turns out, just wishing our kids to be happy in life is not enough.

Generations of youth launched with this heart felt advice have sought meaning in being constantly entertained and pampered. They’ve sought salvation on cruise ships, adventure vacations, and in Las Vegas –not to mention food, drugs, alcohol, sex, and massive quantities of new stuff mostly bought on credit only to discover this does not make them happy but depressed, stressed, and alone. Jesus did not die so you and I could live worse in a bigger house. Jesus’ commencement prayer was that we might have abundant life by dwelling in relationship with God.

We have met life itself. He has told us his name is Jesus. Jesus is the key that turns the tumblers in us to open the way to abundant life and our true self. By the way, Christians do not own the copyright on this Jesus. In John’s gospel Jesus is the revealer of all life on earth and throughout the universe. Therefore, if any religion is true, it is true only to the extent it reveals the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus—whether in the name of Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Vishnu or any other name.

Jesus prayer for us, and all God’s children, is not happiness but glory. It is a life full and overflowing, a higher life centered in interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Glory, not happiness, is Jesus’ ultimate goal for us and in a great insult to our ego it comes as God’s free gift and not by anything we can do or achieve. Among the gifts God imparts for glory I’ll name three—compassion, forgiveness and wisdom.

From God the Father we receive the gift of steadfast love and compassion. “The Hebrew word for compassion whose singular form means ‘womb,’ is often used of God in the Old Testament.” (Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 48). To say God is compassionate is to say that God is womblike. Like a womb, God is the one who gives birth to us. As a mother loves her children and feels for them, so God loves and feels for us. One who is alive in Christ dwells in God the Father abides in compassion and reflects this love for all life.

From Christ Jesus we receive the gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and peace. Jesus prayed that we might all be one (John 17:11). Jesus came among his betrayers and imparted his peace. Forgiveness is the great gift of glory that breaks the endless circle of vengeance and acrimony and leads us out beside the still waters of belonging and community. By this gift we find resilience in relationship and the ability both to impart strength and to receive strength from one another.

From the Holy Spirit receive the gift of wisdom. In scriptures, lady Wisdom or Sophia, is like a master worker, working with God to bring all things into service of grace. Factors that promote wise reasoning spring from humility, an openness to other perspectives, and the ability to compromise. Wisdom often flows from adopting third-person perspective that places our own well-being in the same framework with that of others.

Jesus’ prayed that we may have zoe ionias. The eternal and abundant life Jesus desires for us is a glorious life often filled with happiness, but also sorrow and a willingness to tolerate pain and sacrifice.

We can glimpse what glory looks like in Facebook videos posted this past week of ten people on marching on our behalf along lonely stretches of the historic highway route 66 on their way from Chicago to Springfield. They’ve carried on now for 14 days through wind, rain and generally miserable weather since we sent them off with cheers and a rally on May 15th from the James R. Thompson Center. They’ll arrive on Tuesday like the ragtag bunch Joshua led around the walls of Jericho hoping to bring down the walls of inaction, greed, and hard-heartedness that’s led to the budget impasse in our State that has stretched on now for 1 year, 10 months and 27 days. On Tuesday they’ll deliver a people and planet first budget that generates billions in new revenue by closing tax loopholes for corporations, eliminating the flat tax, and placing a small fee on financial transaction. I plan to be there with them when they do and I invite all of you to come with me.

The great 14th century English saint and mystic Julian of Norwich said of God: “I am the one who makes you to love; I am the one who makes you to long; I am the one, the endless fulfilling of all true desires.” As we yet linger in these days after the ascension and before Pentecost and prepare to commence in discipleship and the long season of being the church, a living sanctuary of hope and grace in the world, Jesus has called us beyond mere happiness and to reach for glory. We strain forward for glory knowing that even if it eludes our grasp the mere pursuit of it fills our hearts and illumines our lives with dignity. We live the good life by living the life Jesus lived. It is the glorious life for you and me. Life eternal and abundant, the life of the Father to the Son, the life of the Spirit of our ascended Savior, life in God, now and forever. Amen.

Love Your Enemy

Easter 5A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

Death by stoning is a horrible way to die. Yet despite the hostile violence wrought against him, Stephen prayed for his enemies. “He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.” (Acts 7:60)

Hatred is a powerful thing. Cain hated Abel for being more admired by God than himself, so he killed him. King Saul hated David for becoming more popular with the people and tried to kill him every chance he got. Saul of Tarsus hated the followers of Jesus because he thought they were blasphemers and heretics and made a career of rounding them up so they could be stoned to death like Stephen. Horrible self-deception about our own righteousness can be deadly, not to mention the effects it has on families and relationships.

Today’s scriptures offer us a lesson in resiliency and reconciliation. Learning to repair relationships damaged by hate and violence is not a luxury. Learning forgiveness is the way we return to what has been taken from us and restore the love and kindness and trust that has been lost.

Jesus says we are to love our enemies and pray for them, meaning love not in an emotional sense but in the sense of willing their good, which is the sense in which we love ourselves. It is a tall order even so.  Jesus lived this kind of life. Even now, Jesus lives this kind of life in us so the way of forgiveness and reconciliation is not impossible for us.

Many people know Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa for the leadership he provided with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the process of racial justice following the end of apartheid. Less well known is his own personal struggle to overcome the damage wrought by violence. He writes:

“There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother’s eyes, and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. …If I dwell in those memories, I can feel myself wanting to hurt my father back, in the same way he hurt my mother, and in the ways of which I was incapable as a small boy.” (Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, p. 15)

The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them. It is perfectly normal to want to hurt someone back when you have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. It does not lesson the pain but makes it deeper, less conscious, and spreads it around to infect others. “Without forgiveness, we are tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped.” (Tutu, p. 16) Even when we realize our interconnectedness, the common humanity of victims and perpetrators, our need for healing and for grace, forgiveness can still be a difficult path for us. There is a Gaelic proverb which states “Nothing is easy for the unwilling.”   Willingness is the first work of the Holy Spirit. “Without willingness, this journey will be impossible. Before compassion comes the willingness to feel compassion. Before transformation there must be the belief that transformation is possible, and the willingness to be transformed. Before forgiveness there must be a willingness to consider forgiving.” (Tutu, P. 8-9)

Like Jesus on the cross, Stephen proved willing to forgive his murderers even as they were killing him. Somehow he could see his shared humanity with them even as he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus. Somehow, I wonder whether these two things are connected. And what could be more revealing of Jesus’ power to forgive and to heal our bitter, hard-won divisions than the story of Saul who would become Paul?

Scripture says, “The witnesses [to the stoning of Stephen] laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” This is the first mention of the great missionary apostle whom Jesus will knock from his horse and claim for himself. In 8:1 we are told that this Saul “approved of their killing of [Stephen],” with the implication that Saul himself may have had a hand in instigating the entire event. Yet this same man would become the apostle to the gentiles, spreading the gospel message to many “even to the ends of the earth.” The good news of Jesus Christ is that the risen victim of unspeakable violence declared an end to the cycle of violence, enmity, bitterness, and contempt.   Christ Jesus returns again and again to us who rejected and betrayed him with the gift of shalom—peace—that is the seed of willingness planted in us that can lead to forgiveness, compassion, transformation, and reconciliation so that trust is restored and kindliness may abound.

Like Stephen and like Paul, we begin this journey from wherever we are. The heavens stand open before us and our common humanity is revealed when we come to dwell in the mystical and living sanctuary of the body of Christ. The gospel of John tells us this over and over again. The little verb “meno” appears 69 times in the gospel of John.   It means to “stay,” “remain,” “abide,” or “dwell.” Jesus is on a mission to reveal the source of his glory is to abide in the Father and the Father in him, and to invite us to do the same. As we come to dwell in God, God’s love and light comes to dwell in us. Desmond Tutu has said the willingness to forgive grows into the capacity to tell the truth, name the hurt, and in either renewing or releasing relationship. We can do this with grace and mercy while we abide together in Christ the true vine, the one body, the temple not made with hands, the living sanctuary of hope and grace in which heaven and earth are one.

We cannot create a world without pain or loss or conflict or hurt feelings, but with God’s grace we can create a world of forgiveness. We can create a world of forgiveness that can allow us to love our enemies, to heal our losses and repair our lives and relationships. But ultimately, no one can tell you to forgive. We, and the Holy Spirit, can only ask. You and I are invited on this journey. All of us must walk our own path and go at our own pace to discover the power forgiveness has to change your life and change the world.

Our Gate and Shepherd

Easter 4A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

Jesus said, “I AM the gate for the sheep.” (John 10:7). “I AM the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) These are not throwaway lines in the gospel of John, but icons. We are meant to look through them like windows that open into the inner life of God. Every time Jesus uses the phrase ego eimi,” I AM, he is connecting his own identity with the great I AM—Yahweh—whom Moses heard after he took off his shoes beside the burning bush because he was standing on holy ground.

It sounds as if Jesus has mixed his metaphors. It’s hard to imagine in what way Gates and Shepherds go together. That is, until we understand ancient sheepfolds didn’t have a door. Once all the sheep were safely inside, the shepherd would lie down in the opening and literally become the gate to the enclosure. The shepherd’s body was the gate. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus says. (v. 11b) The shepherd placed his body between the sheep and anything that might harm them.

Ancient shepherds routinely lead their sheep into a pen, or “sheepfold” with lots of other sheep belonging to other shepherds. It was a safe place to keep them from harm, prevent them from wandering off, or getting lost. When it came time to leave, there wasn’t any problem sorting out the sheep of various shepherds. Once the sheep heard the voice of their shepherd, they sorted themselves out and followed, because over time they had learned to trust in the care and compassion of their particular shepherd.

Jesus is the door that closes to protect us, and the door that opens out beside still waters. Jesus the gate frees us from the prison of scarcity mentality. Jesus the shepherd shows us the path to abundant life, which has nothing to do with what we buy, put in our body, what we wear, or how we look. Trust in Jesus breaks us out of that pen.

Abundant living is a matter of walking through the right doors. The life to which Jesus call us is life that passes through the grace of God. Phony grace, false security, and make-believe shepherds abound—and so do misleading doorways.

Pastor Peter Marty has said, “The idea of Jesus being the access door to a new world of living and being is something that people in bondage tend to appreciate more easily. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted the advantage of celebrating Easter from inside a prison cell. You become entirely aware, he reasoned, that the door is the only way out. More than that: The door of a cell can only be opened from the outside. When Jesus speaks of saving those who pass through the door, he has rescue in mind. Those who find that door are saved not only from the pernicious activity of phony shepherds on the outside aggressively seeking their soul; they’re also saved from a potentially much worse enemy on the inside—themselves.” (Adaptations from Peter W. Marty, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Kansas City, MO)

For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 peter 2:25) Both his shepherding and his sheepfold are essential elements of Jesus’ care for us. But in these bewildering times, perhaps we are more aware of our need for safe places where we can rest and be strengthened in the shelter of one another. In this unexpected era of alternative facts and shifting narratives, I am increasingly aware that I need sanctuary where God may strengthen me, create in me a clean heart, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

In the middle ages, Christians who entered a radical form of solitary life, seeking the experience of God through prayer and interceding for the world, were called “anchorites.” In her wonderful book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard explained her own experience with that image: “An Anchorite’s hermitage is called an anchorhold; some anchor-holds were simple sheds clamped to the side of a church like a barnacle or a rock,” Dillard wrote. “I think of this house clamped to the side of Tinker Creek as an anchor-hold. It holds me at the anchor to the rock bottom of the creek itself and keeps me steadied in the current, as a sea anchor does.”

We need to find places and persons who will become our anchor-hold. We must examine where we will go, what we will do, and whose company we will seek to provide a steadfast, trustworthy experience that connects our lives indissolubly to God’s love. We need places where we can be constantly re-rooted in the knowledge that “resurrection is not a one-time miracle that proved Jesus was God. Jesus’ death and resurrection name and reveal what is happening everywhere and all the time in God and in everything God creates. Reality is always moving toward resurrection.” (Richard Rohr, “Dying into Life,” Daily Meditation, 5/7/17

Theologian Scott Hahn has said, “memory is more than just a psychological exercise of data retrieval,” but the “faculty that tells us who we are.” We need the Sacraments to remind us of the deep communion we share with all living things; and the abiding solidarity God has fostered among us, claiming and naming all people his beloved children.

Recently, Dorothy Butler Bass, who wrote a book called The Practicing Congregation, described what intentional communities of Christian practice look like. They are communities that focus their energies on supporting one another to enter into the sacred relationships—the sheepfolds—of their lives through the Jesus gate and not by any other way. They are communities that draw upon the experiences of other Christian brothers and sisters, both here and now and around the globe, but also especially those accumulated through the long history of the church, which are time-tested to be effective shaping our faith.

Practicing congregations become communities where people are constantly practicing –rehearsing the way of Jesus –by living simply, by seeking justice, by learning how to pray regularly, by worshiping ardently, by helping one another to share their stories that testify and give witness to Grace, by supporting one another to make personal, one-to-one connections, by remembering the Sabbath, and by observing other spiritual disciplines as seem fitting for you.

Let us create and name our anchor-hold. With the Holy Spirit, let us be a living sanctuary of hope and grace rising from these stones and becoming a sacred shelter among and between us, arising from us and moving beyond us, and flowing to us from those whom God has gathered in other places. Let the our hearts and minds be renewed so that our lives, our families, our society, and our world may be restored. Alleluia. Christ is Risen! R: Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Let’s Go for a Walk

Easter 3A-17

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

 

“While they were walking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:15) Today’s gospel offers very good advice. When stressed, go for a walk. When bewildered, walk with a friend—and don’t be surprised that Christ walks with you.

On the road to Emmaus, the disciples learn what resurrection means: Christ is present in, with, under, and among us. C.S. Lewis once observed, “The human search for God is like speaking of a mouse’s search for the cat.” The disciples’ do not find the risen Christ, but rather, they are found.

The 19th Century English poet Francis Thompson famously told the short story of what it is like to be found by the risen one. He wrote:

“Once upon a time, a carefree young girl who lived at the edge of a forest and who loved to wander in the forest became lost. As it grew dark and the little girl did not return, her parents became worried. They began calling for the little girl and searching in the forest. As it grew darker, they returned home and called the neighbors to help with the search.

Meanwhile, the little girl continued wandering in the forest and became very worried when she could not find her way home. She tried one path and then another and became very tired. Finally, she came upon a clearing in the forest where she laid down and fell asleep.

 Her frantic parents and neighbors scoured the forest. They shouted the little girl’s name. Many of the searchers became exhausted and returned to their own homes. But the little girl’s father continued searching through the night.

Finally, early in the morning, the father came to the clearing where the little girl had lain down to sleep. When he saw her, he came running and yelling with such relief and excitement that he woke the little girl up. When she saw him, she shouted out in great joy, ‘Daddy, I found you!”” (The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 108)

St. Paul proclaimed to the philosophers of Athens, “In him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28). Our entire lives are lived in God. There is no place we can go outside the loving and eternal circle of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the living sanctuary in which we dwell which gives inspiration to our mission at Immanuel. Dwelling in the shelter of God and one another, we seek to open and extend this welcome to those who have yet to discover that they too are so deeply embraced, accompanied and loved.

It’s a well-worn story, the day-long walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, hours of plodding along on sore feet by disciples with sore souls. A stranger joins them early, drawing them out of their silent brooding, getting them to talk.

Jesus places their sad journey in a new frame. He opens the scriptures for them to reorient their minds. He points to a Messiah who, through suffering on behalf of the people, brings freedom from bondage and victory over anything and anyone that oppose God’s work in the world. Suffering, death, even death on a cross, and resurrection are not mutually exclusive, but are act one and act two of the Messiah’s ongoing journey, and of theirs as his disciples.

But the day is spent in victim mode, as the disciples spill out all that has been done to Jesus and to them. The stranger interjects rays of hope, but they are overshadowed by the gray grief of the grieving men.

And then, at sunset, in a roadside Inn, the stranger breaks bread and vanishes before their eyes. And the disciples suddenly know that Christ had been with them, all that day.

Letting go then, of everything they had known: terror, tears, suffering, death, silence, life’s love lost; sore feet, sore hearts; their need for rest and their fear of the open road at night: letting go of all this, they ran back to Jerusalem. And they were filled with sunshine, hope, and joy, as they sped along the unseeable road into an unknowable story. (Nancy Rockwell, The Bite in the Apple, 4/27/17)

Brothers and sisters, let’s go for a walk. Once again, we Christians find ourselves living in bewildering days. Recent events put us in an unfamiliar landscape. Many of us feel lost. Set aside politics for a moment, regardless whether you identify as a Republican or a Democrat, the presidential election has opened our eyes to some ugly truths about Christianity in America that I believe are instructive for us all.

We now see that many Christians are terrified by the fact that by 2042 the majority of Christians in America will be people of color. We see that many Christians have trouble separating the cross and the flag. We see how many of our brothers and sisters have trouble envisioning an America that is not a uniquely Christian nation. We see how many Christians today believe their material prosperity is evidence of God’s blessing.

Seeing these things makes it easier for us to confront them. Raised awareness helps refocus our hearts and minds on Christ. Broken traditions and shattered dreams are a necessary prelude for renewal.

As we journey together toward a new church and a new country we can be confident that Christ travels with us to restore our hopes and set our sights once again what is good and holy. We are not afraid to become part of a Beloved Community that includes people of all races and nations. We do not reject an America shared by people of good faith representing all religions. We embrace the challenge to live more simply and tread more lightly upon the earth in harmony with all life. We do not count our blessings by balancing our checkbook, but rather in accounting for the people we have loved, the lives we have made better, and the opportunities for faith and service we have helped to open for others.

The Risen Lord walks by our side to lead us now on a journey into the unseen and unknowable future. Yet, the breath of Christ will continue to flow into our hearts to dispel our despair and reframe our aimless, anxious journeys according to his Way, the way of the cross, the way of abundant life for all thing living. Come, let’s walk together.