Living in Ordinary Time: Liberation
Rev. Dr. John Judson
August 21. 2016
Exodus 20:8-11, Luke 13:10-17
Good guys and bad guys; they are usually easy to spot on the movie screen. The good guys are generally better looking than us, inventive, indestructible and almost always do the right thing. They do not have to be perfect, in fact many of them are flawed, yet we know that they will save the damsel in distress, or in the case of Disney’s Frozen, the damsel will do the saving. They care for the weak and powerless and they keep evil at bay. The bad guys are those who look slightly off, slightly evil. Often they have foreign accents or they look scary and mean; just consider the orcs in Lord of the Rings, or the aliens in well, any movie. They look like we should be afraid of them and so we are. In a sense these types of guys and gals in black or white hats are caricatures of human beings, set apart in order to make the story easy to understand.
For many of us this is the way that we read this morning’s story about Jesus and the head of the synagogue. We know who the good guy is, it is Jesus. We know that Jesus is the good guy because, well first off because he is Jesus. We also know Jesus is the good guy because he is going to heal the crippled woman regardless of anything thought or said. Even knowing that he might irritate some people he went for it. He knew that she had been crippled for perhaps, most of her life and so as we see it, love must be love in action and so he liberates her…he sets her free. The bad guy is the president of the synagogue. We know he is the bad guy because he appears to be a legalist who does not care that this woman has been crippled for 18 years. Even though it might be her only chance of being healed, he does not care. He is so stuck on the Sabbath rules and regulations he is willing to see this woman left as she is. So there you have it, the good guy and the bad guy face off and the outcome is that love wins out over law; good over evil. Except…except that is not what is actually going on here. And if this is where we leave it then we miss the heart of this story.
In order to understand we need a bit of background in how Jewish religious life actually works. First Judaism was and is a living tradition. What this means is that Jewish teachers are constantly arguing about what God desires. And in so doing they bring to their arguments, arguments from the scriptures, especially from the Torah. Rabbinic literature refers to this as Arguments from Heaven, meaning each side is trying their best to do what they believe God would have them do. In this case the president of the synagogue is not being a legalist, he is instead arguing directly from the Torah that the Sabbath is to be holy. There is to be no work done on it, and even healing is work. If one reads the Old testament, time and time again, the people of Israel are criticized for not following the Sabbath rules. He is not the bad guy. He is striving to do what the Torah tells him to do. Jesus is doing the same thing. Jesus is arguing from the Torah that liberating a cripple is a greater good that keeping the Sabbath. I realize that for many of us here this morning this seems like a strange thing to say because we don’t know of any Old Testament rules about healing. But what we need to understand is that the Torah is not just the rules of the Old Testament but it is the entire narrative story of the first five books of the Old testament. And because of that reality, Jesus is arguing that liberation, setting God’s people free is greater than the Sabbath because the Exodus, God’s greatest act of liberation comes before Moses and the people are given the Sabbath. Thus liberation makes Sabbath possible…for both animals (leading an animal to water so it can rest) and for humans (allowing a woman to be healed so she can rest). The end result is that the leader is shamed because he understands that he had missed the clarity of Jesus’ argument, and the people celebrate because liberation has arrived.
This story then is not about good guys and bad guys. This is a story about God’s desire for liberation. This story is at the heart of all that Jesus says and does. At the beginning of the Gospel of Luke Jesus describes his ministry as proclaiming release to the captives and letting the oppressed go free. And we see Jesus do this throughout his ministry. He frees people from hunger by feeding them. He frees people from spirits by casting them out. We see Jesus freeing people from sin by forgiving them. We see Jesus freeing people from the power of sin and death by going to the cross. Liberation is what Jesus is all about. And so this story is one more episode where he lives into his mission; into the vision that God had given him. And this is what we were about these past two weeks in Kenya.
On the surface our trip appeared to be a construction trip. We went to complete the building of two classrooms on an existing school in Olongai in Maasai Land and a church in Tala, which is in the Kamba region of Kenya. Yet what we, and all of you by extension, were involved in were acts of liberation in the name of Jesus Christ. The school in Olongai offers Maasai children an opportunity for an education they might night otherwise have received. This brings liberation because it offers them a glimpse of a life beyond the customs of child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). It also prepares them for life in the wider world which is slowly but surely moving in upon them. We saw liberation when we met with Faith Kasoni. Faith is the first girl, now a young woman, to refuse to be circumcised by her tribe, the Samburu. And even though she was an outcast from her village she returned to other Samburu and taught health practices, and became an inspiration to other girls to say no to FGM. Our part in Faith’s life and work is that First Foundation is helping her to receive an education so she can continue her work with the Samburu, and we delivered the money for this while we were there. The church in Tala offers liberation in that the Kamaba are a largely unchurched tribe, some of whom still live in the fear and superstition of their ancestors. By offering a permanent church we offer them liberation through knowing the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ. We also visited a girl’s rescue center in the Maasai Mara that takes in girls who have been rescued from child-marriage, for some girls as young as eight, girls whose parents cannot feed them, and girls who do not want to undergo FGM. We pooled our money so that they could be hooked into the electric grid, thus enabling the girls to study at night…and through education break free and become whatever it is that God is leading them to become.
Liberation is what God is all about. Liberation is what Jesus Christ came to offer us; liberation from fear, need, hate, ignorance and all that keeps us from becoming the full human beings were are created to be. Liberation is then what we are to be about. My question to each of you then, my challenge to you, is to ask, how am I being an agent of liberation, helping my friends, my family, my city and my world become the kind of creation God desires and longs for us for all human beings?
Living in Ordinary Time: Your Choice
Rev. Joanne Blair
August 14, 2016
Isaiah 5:1-7, Luke 12:49-56
Well, this passage from Luke certainly doesn’t sound like the loving, benevolent, compassionate and peaceful Jesus we like to talk and preach about, does it? Earlier in this very chapter of Luke, Jesus has assured and reassured his followers of how precious they are in God’s sight, and how they should not worry. Yes, just last week Amy started her sermon by reading these words to us from verse 32, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This is the reassuring Jesus we like to think about.
Now, only 17 verses later, Jesus speaks of bringing fire, being stressed, and dividing up families. These words have a bite to them. Jesus appears to be on edge. Instead of sounding like a peace-maker, Jesus sounds like a home-breaker. What happened?
In preparing for this sermon, I learned that this is not a favored passage by preachers (shock!), and that many skip it when it comes up in the lectionary. And I must admit, I was tempted! But it’s important. And it’s important for us to remember that there is so much more to being a Christian than worshipping a “feel-good Jesus.” If we skipped this section of the lectionary, we would miss an essential side of Jesus. The side of Jesus that is demanding.
Before we go any further, I think it is critical that we set this in context. Earlier in Chapter 9, verse 51, we are told that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This seminal phrase must be kept in mind. When Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem”, it marks the beginning of the end of his earthly life. Jesus is running out of time to talk with the disciples about living their lives in total commitment to God. Jesus says he came to bring fire, and how he wished the fire were already kindled. He has a baptism with which to be baptized, and he is under stress until it is completed. Jesus is moving toward the completion of his earthly mission. He knows what lies ahead, and he wants it finished…accomplished.
Water and fire…two elements that each have the capability of destroying… and of purifying. Images that can lead to transformation. Fire can surely be destructive, but it can also be refining, and a way to transformation. This has been a very hot and dry summer, and the number of forest fires, especially in the west, has been staggering. And yes, some were caused by human error or intent. But many are burning as an act of nature. So much destruction.
But some trees…like the Jack Pine found here in Michigan, and the Sequoia…regenerate by fire… The giant sequoias of California grow to nearly 300 feet tall, and 50 feet in diameter. They are the world’s largest trees in total volume. Their cones contain up to 200 seeds and mature in just two years. Once matured, those seeds remain in their cones and await a forest fire. The heat from the fire causes the cones to open and release their seeds. A dramatic, intense form of regeneration…and transformation.
Transformation, real transformation, is most often a painful process. Anyone who has gone through a personal transformation knows the pain of the process. An addict, going through withdrawal to become clean. A wrong-doer, taking the difficult steps toward reconciliation. A hater, struggling to put aside their preconceived notions to open their heart and mind.
It doesn’t happen in an instant. Transformation really is a lifelong journey. And Jesus asks us to take this challenging and demanding journey. The one we call the Prince of Peace knows that his own nonviolent efforts to proclaim the kingdom of God will soon result in violence. Violence that others will inflict upon him at the cross. And more violence will follow.
Jesus has been preparing himself and his disciples. Christianity does not teach that we are saved by being martyrs. Few, if any of us, in 21st century North America will ever be in danger because of our belief in Christ. But Jesus does call for a loyalty so profound that we would be willing to make the most extreme sacrifice if necessary.
Jesus talks of bringing division. It is interesting to note that the divisions he names in the family are generational. The core social values in first century times had the family as the fundamental building block of society. A person’s place in the family describes not only their personal identity, but their place in the community as well. Honoring one’s parents was viewed by many as the highest social obligation. To divide a family was to leave its members on shaky ground, both socially and economically. It cut at the very base of the social structure.
Many of us hold the family structure as our most valued institution as well. So is Jesus saying that family is unimportant? Of course not. Scripture is very clear about honoring and loving one’s parents, one’s spouse…and even one’s neighbor. But Jesus is saying, quite simply, that our first loyalty should be to him.
We, today, tend to determine our identity by our jobs, our families, our standing, our power. Jesus is calling us to define our identity by our relationship with God.
My mother and father had a solid marriage for 62 years until my father died. They had actually gone to school together since eighth grade and started dating in high school. After college, my father enlisted in the Navy, and right before he was shipped out, my mother took a crowded train to San Francisco and they got married. Apparently my grandfather had quite a talk with my mom, reminding her that my father might not come back from the war, or might come back quite different from the man she knew. But my mom had made a choice. And my mom was committed.
Earlier, when my parents were in college, my mom was mad at my dad about something and she gave his fraternity pin back to him. (My mom did later say that she kind of overreacted.) Anyway, I guess my dad came and found her and told her she needed to decide if she was, or wasn’t with him. And I guess he ended his little speech, cocked his head and said, “Iz you is, or iz you ain’t?” To which my mother apparently responded, “Ah Iz.” Right before he shipped out, my mom gave my dad this I.D. bracelet. His name is engraved on the front, and the inscription on the back says, “Ah Iz.” From then on, whenever my parents faced a tough situation like a job loss, or my father’s MS, or any number of other situations that come on life’s journey, they would look at the other and say, “Ah Iz.” They were committed to each other. As they grew together in life, as they stepped into the fire, their priority became God. God came to be first, and in the center of it all. God transformed them…as individuals, and as a couple.
I came across the bracelet this past week and it made me think of today’s scripture. The silver had to be melted, to go into the fire, and be transformed. My parents had to be melted, and transformed. And the choice of a commitment was made. “Ah Iz.”
Isn’t that what Jesus is asking of his disciples? Isn’t that what he is asking of us? We are offered a choice. We are offered the choice of choosing God to be the one primary relationship that determines who we are and what we do. To be first and foremost. And if we choose God first, it does shift things. It puts our careers, our nation, our possessions, this church, our family and friends…it puts all these things within the context of our relationship with God…with being disciples of Jesus.
Jesus was not naïve. Jesus was aware not only of what lay before him, but what lay before those he asked to follow him. He was aware that it would bring violence, conflict, and division. Still he asked. And he’s still asking today. Jesus is letting us know that to follow him is not easy. The more we are transformed…the more we change and refine habits, behaviors, beliefs and values… the more conflict and division we may feel at times. But through our transformation…then will we know true joy. The joy of Christ.
As Presbyterians, we say, “Reformed, always reforming.” As Christ followers, we are also always being transformed. As Jesus chastised those who predicted future weather but did not look around the present time, so he reminds us to not pick and choose what we turn a blind eye to. While we seek to make a better future, we are called to do it now. We turn our lives over to God, or we don’t. We follow Christ, or we don’t.
“I came to bring fire to the earth…Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” There are some who hear today’s scripture and want to turn away, or tremble at the severity of the words. But I hear God’s promise. “Come with me. Let me transform you. The process may be painful. But it is rich…and it is good.”
“Iz you is, or iz you ain’t?” It’s your choice.
Guide us to make you our priority.
Give us the strength to choose you.
Let your Spirit fall afresh on us.
Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.
Living in Ordinary Time: Re-Gifting
The Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 31. 2016
Psalm 107; Luke 12:13-21
So, how many of you here this morning ever had a piggy bank, even if it was not shaped like a pig? I had been thinking about piggy banks this week, for a reason that will become clear in a moment and so I asked my father if he had had one. Yes, he said, it was a small metal box. In the top was a slot for the coins. But that was about all that he could remember. Chances are, that growing up during the depression, his parents had given it to him to teach him the value of saving. Well if that was their purpose then it worked. My parents, like many of you, made saving an almost religious-routine part of their lives. They saved for cars…always paying cash. They saved to pay for my, and my brothers college educations…savings bonds. They saved for retirement. And in the process they passed that ethic on to their children and grandchildren. Which brings me to my second question, how many of you save? Great, that says that we all value saving when and how we can. Which raises the point…why does Jesus seem so opposed to saving in this morning’s story.
To be sure that we are all on the same page…let’s recap. Jesus is out teaching. A man comes up to him and wants Jesus to insure that the man receives his fair share of his parents’ inheritance from his brother. A fair share is that to which he is legally entitled. We would think that Jesus would get the brothers together and help them work this out. Yet he doesn’t. And in fact he not only doesn’t intervene but he tells a story about a farmer who saves. The story goes like this. A farmer has a bumper crop. Rather than waste it betting at the chariot races in Capernaum, he decides to save. He hires a contractor; builds a bigger barn; stores his grain and then relaxes. It is time to enjoy the sweat of his brow…something that the book of Ecclesiastes says that he ought to do. As soon as he does so though, God shows up in the story and says to the farmer, surprise, you are dead. And guess what! All of that stuff that you saved is going to someone else. Somehow this does not appear to jive with the lessons we have been taught about saving…especially for retirement. So what gives? The answer comes in a single word…re-gifting. Let me explain.
When Cindy and I got married, everyone knew that we were headed off to seminary and that I was going to become a minister. They also knew that if there is one thing that all ministers do, it is to go to potluck suppers. They also knew that the one thing people who go to potluck suppers need is casserole dishes. What that meant was that when Cindy and I began to open all of our wedding presents, it seemed as if every other one was a casserole dish. Cindy estimates that we received between twenty-five and thirty casserole dishes. We had several choices. We could return some of them. We could save them all for that one potluck dinner where we needed to make twenty-five or thirty dishes. Or, we could re-gift them. For those of you unfamiliar with re-gifting, it is the process of taking what you have been given, usually in excess of what you need and you give it away to other people, which is what we did. I would guess that we were covered for wedding gifts for about ten or twenty years. I realize that some of you may think that we were cheap…but no…we were actually demonstrating two profound Biblical principles, which are: everything that we have in life is a gift and our task is to give away to others from our excess.
The first Biblical principle is that everything we are and everything we have is a gift from God. It is a gift because we didn’t create our bodies, our intellects, the rain, the earth or even the seeds that grow into what we eat. Those are all gifts. I realize that unlike the birds of the air and beasts of the field we have to work for a living. We have to take what God gives us and transform it into something useful. But still, what we do is manipulate…not create, thus it is gift. The second great biblical principle is that since these are all gifts, we are to re-gift the excess of what we have been gifted. We see this in the Torah where God’s people are commanded to not harvest to the edge of their fields but to leave the excess for those who are in need. This second principle tells us that on a regular basis we are to share what we have with widows, orphans, the poor and the stranger. There is even something called the year of Jubilee in which all debts are forgiven so that no one finds themselves forever in debt. We are to re-gift the excess of what we have.
This is what is at the heart of Jesus’ story about the farmer. The farmer thinks that he has created his bounty and he believes therefore that the excess is his, therefore he does not need to re-gift. We know this because Jesus carefully crafts the story. Jesus begins by making it clear that the land produced abundantly…not the farmer. Thus what was produced was a gift from God. The farmer misses this as we can see in his use of “I” and “my” in verses 17 and 18. “And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” Thus the farmer is not criticized for saving. He is criticized for ignoring the two great Biblical themes, namely that all is gift and we are to re-gift. He assumes that the gifts of God that have come his way, the earth, the rains and the crops, are his and his alone and therefore do not need to be re-gifted. They do not need to be shared with those around him who are hungry and struggling for food.
Re-gifting - this is what we are called to do. And this is what we, meaning the Kenya mission team, will be doing over the next two weeks. We will be sharing with a congregation and a community in Kenya, some of the gifts that we as a church community have been given…by you and by us. We have been given gifts from the Vision Fund, First Foundation, individual donors and we are using our own funds as well to participate in this endeavor as we help to build a church and school. But we are not the only one’s re-gifting. The church members in Kenya have re-gifted sacrificially to pay their portion of the construction. The community where we will build the school has re-gifted a portion of the cost of construction. And in so doing we are all re-gifting for generations to come; generations of children who will learn; generations of worshippers whose lives will be changed by their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Re-gifting - it is what we are supposed to do. So here is my challenge for you for the coming week, to ask yourselves, how am I re-gifting from the abundance of gifts that God has given me; re-gifting so that this world looks more and more like the world God desires it to be?
Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 17, 2016
Genesis 1:26-31, Luke 10:38-42
Her name is Homa Hoodfar. My guess is that few of us know who she is. She is the professor emeritus of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal. She holds dual citizenship of Canada and Iran. Over the years Hoodfar focused most of her work on the democratic rights of women in Islamic societies and how religious symbols and interpretations of those symbols have been used to both support and repress women’s rights. With family in Iran she often traveled back and forth from Canada to Iran for both work and pleasure. This past March, however something unexpected happened. The day before she was supposed to leave to join her family in London, Hoodfar’s computer, passport and her research papers were all confiscated by the Revolutionary Guard. They refused to allow her to leave the country and would regularly bring her in for questioning asking her, “Are you a feminist?” She has now been formally arrested and charged…though no one is sure with what since the indictment is sealed. Since her arrest she has been sitting in the infamous Evin Prison with no access to family, friends or an attorney. The official Iranian media has hinted at the charges by accusing her of fomenting a feminist revolution.
My guess is that to many of us this kind of behavior seems archaic and odd. In the 21st Century it might boggle some of our minds that a person could be arrested for being a feminist. Yet it ought to be a reminder of the power of culture and tradition. As Americans we live in a culture that has been in flux from the moment the first settlers arrived on this continent. We have in fact become a powerful mix of cultures which often clash yet somehow manage to hold together. As a recent Syrian immigrant said, as he travels on the subway to and from work in Boston, it is unfathomable how we as such a diverse nation hold together. That being said, this ability to hold together causes us forget just how powerful tradition and culture can be. In places like Iran, Afghanistan, India and elsewhere the culture and traditions clearly outline the boundaries for men, women and children. To step outside of those boundaries means one runs the risk of punishment by family, society or both. With that in mind then we have the background necessary to understand our story.
Mary and Martha understand clearly what their culture and tradition expected of them. They were Jewish women living in the first century. What this means is that they knew their place. As women they were to cook, clean and watch over the children. They were not to speak to or be around men who were not their relatives. When men come to the home, women were to stay outside unless they were invited in for a particular task, such as serving food or wine. To do otherwise was scandalous and was to invite not simply the anger of their spouse but the condemnation of the community. Only women of ill repute would violate these cultural boundaries. These were the culture and the traditions which guided Martha and Mary as they prepared for the visit of Jesus and the other men of the community. They knew what they had to do. And Martha did it well. She lovingly and carefully fulfilled her end of the societal social contract. Her sister Mary, on the other hand, decided to not only break that contract with tradition and culture but to shred it to pieces.
Mary’s actions were scandalous, revolutionary and so completely outside of the norm that it is remarkable that Luke would tell this story. Here’s why. First Mary did not fulfill her role as hostess. She should have been helping Martha to cook and serve. Second Mary refused to stay in the background. She placed herself in the presence of men who were not her relatives; in the presence of men who were strangers. Third, she placed herself at the feet of Jesus. What we need to know about this description of her location is that it is about more than simply the geography of the seating arrangement. To sit at the feet of a rabbi is to sit where not only where disciples sit, but where rabbis in training sit. It is the language used by the Apostle Paul when he describes his rabbinic training. He sat at the feet of Gamaliel the rabbi. What this means is that when Martha comes to Jesus says, “Make Mary help me,” she is not simply asking for help because she is overwhelmed in the kitchen. She made a plea for Jesus to put Mary in her appropriate place; to right the ship of culture and tradition; and to insure that the house of Mary and Martha will be respected in the village. Yet Jesus refuses to do so and in the process said that Mary had chosen the better way.
It is at this point that people go off in multiple directions trying to explain what Jesus meant by the “better way.”. Some, who are “Marthas” in this world, want Jesus to send Mary back to the kitchen because they understand what it’s like to have to do all of the work by themselves. They understand that there is something wonderful about working hard to show hospitality. Those who advocate for equality between the sexes see this as Jesus advocating for a first century feminism, releasing women from having to always be the perfect hostess and instead inviting them into the religious community as equal partners. Still others see this as simply reminding people that there are different kinds of spirituality. Unfortunately, all of these interpretations miss the key word in the story. And that word is “distracted.” In other words, when Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better way, it is that Mary has chosen to be focused on what matters; on the presence of Jesus and the kingdom that he offers. Mary has chosen to risk everything, her reputation, her place in the community and possibly even her life in order to discover this kingdom of love and grace that is unfolding in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not criticize Martha for following the traditions of her culture. He criticized here because she was so distracted by them that she could not see what was right in front of her…the messiah who was offering a peace that passes all understanding. What this means is that Martha did not need to quit serving, but that in the process of serving she needed to pay attention to the message that Jesus was bringing.
Being distracted is something to which most of us can relate. We live in a world of distractions: television, computers, tablets, phones, all of which bring us constant stream of entertainment and information. We live in a world of meetings, activities, schedules and obligations, all of which keep us in constant motion. It becomes difficult for many of us to stay focused on any one thing, for any period of time. And thus we run the risk of becoming “Marthas” who miss what Jesus has to offer, not because of custom and tradition but because we are those who are distracted from focusing on Jesus Christ and the lives he calls us to live. We find ourselves not being distracted drivers, but being distracted believers. For many it is hard to focus long enough to pray, to worship, to serve or to sense what God is doing in our lives, church and world. The challenge then becomes for us to intentionally focus our faith through practices such as regular prayer, Sabbath observance or scripture reading. The challenge is to stay focused enough that the love of Christ might be made real within us that it might be made real within the world.
My challenge to all of us this week then is this, to ask ourselves, how am I focusing on my faith such that I am not missing the love that Jesus Christ offers through the kingdom that is unfolding all around me?
Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 10, 2016
Psalm 82, Luke 10:17-24
It was the original Mission Impossible. Jesus had sent seventy of his followers out on an impossible mission. Their mission, which they chose to accept, was to go throughout Judea and essentially tell people to love more and hate less. They were to go ahead of Jesus and offer the people of Judea the very peace of God. The peace of God that is possible regardless of the circumstances. And this mission was seemingly impossible because, as I explained last week, the people of Judea were in no mood to hear it. They were filled with anger and hatred toward their Roman oppressors and their Jewish lackeys. They were filled with hate because Rome and its allies were introducing a culture which was diametrically opposed to that of observant Jews. They were filled with hate became Rome and its allies were buying up all of the agricultural land and making people refugees. They were filled with hate because Rome taxed the people for the benefit of Rome and not for the local populous. And so it was into this moment of rising hatred and rebellion that the disciples went with a message of peace; of love more, of hate less.
What is remarkable about this story is that it would appear that they were successful. They return to Jesus all pumped up, filled with joy, saying, “Look Jesus even the demons submitted to us!” Meaning that the demonic forces of hate and anger had given way to the very peace of God, to the love that God had to offer. Jesus’ response was right in-line with their excitement. He said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a bolt of lightning. See, I have given you the authority to tread on snakes and scorpions as well as over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.” Jesus then reminded them that their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, in heaven itself. Who could ask for more? Who could ask for a greater victory. Let’s hang the championship banner, bring out the band and have a parade. Victory is ours, they seem to say. We can now retire because all is well with the world. Unfortunately, there is only one thing wrong with all of this…and that is, well, the last two-thousand years. For the last two-thousand years appear to have been about more hate and less love.
The last two-thousand years have seen hatred turn into mind-numbing violence. We have witnessed wars of conquest in the name of religion, national pride and ideology. We have witnessed genocide over and over again in every continent, driven by hatred of the other; of those we see as inferior or as a threat. We have watched the industrialization of slavery and the denigration of entire races of people because of the color of their skin. And even when we think like the disciples that we can celebrate because somehow we are beyond that, we are brought back to reality in the present moment. We are brought back by the death of five Dallas police officers who were killed because they were white policemen. We are brought back by the shooting of a Muslim physician on his way to prayers, the beating of two Muslim youth outside their mosque and the painting of the words, go home terrorist on a Muslim woman’s car. We are brought back by the attack of ISIS inspired slaughters of LGBTQ persons, and other innocent Americans in similar attacks. We are brought back by the often unjustified killings of people of color. We are brought back by anti-immigrant attacks in Great Britain following the Brexit. We are brought back by Buddhist attacks on Muslims in Myanmar. We are brought back by the attack of Palestinians on Jews in Israel…and of ultra-Orthodox Jews on Palestinians and on their own soldiers. We are reminded that in this world there often seems to be more hate and less love.
So what, we might ask, could Jesus and his disciples have been thinking when they were celebrating two-thousand years ago? What they were actually thinking and saying was that while they may have achieved a few small victories, the need for their proclamation was going to continue. I say this because all of the language in this story points us to the future, even though the church may have wanted to see it as pointing to the past. When the disciples returned they spoke of demons submitting using language that implies it will continue to happen…not just that it happened in the past. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall, he is speaking of continuing action, that Satan, that evil, may be down but it’s not out. When Jesus says he has given the disciples power, it is a reference to power that is intended for use in the future as they continue their mission to proclaim more love and less hate. Jesus understood that the mission was just beginning. He would still need to go to the cross to break the powers of sin and death. He knew that a new community based on more love and less hate would need to be created. He knew that he would have to send the Spirit in order to empower this mission. It was not over; it was just beginning.
Unfortunately, what happened was that the church forgot its main mission; the mission of the seventy; the mission to invite all persons into the Kingdom of God centered in Jesus Christ, who offers us peace and where there is to be more love and less hate. Instead we got busy seeking power and privilege. Instead we spiritualized our faith such that heaven mattered and earth didn’t. Instead we found it easier to hate than to love; to condemn rather than to forgive. And so if there was ever a moment in recent memory when we need to remember; when we need the seventy, this is it. In a time in which the shrill voices of hate seem to be all around us. In a time when love seems to be in short supply. We need to remember. We need the seventy. So where will we find them? Since you asked I will tell you. First, look at the person sitting next to you or near you. Second, say to them, “Hi I’m one of the seventy.” Yes, you and I, we are the seventy. We are those who are being sent on what seems like an impossible mission to teach more love and less hate. To offer the peace of God to all. And even though this may seem like a mission impossible, it is not. We know it is not, not only because of the disciples’ success, but because we know that love of God is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. It has the power to change lives, nations and the world.
That then is our task. It is to show in word and deed more love and less hate. My challenge to you then is this, to ask yourselves, “How am I, in word and in deed, proclaiming to the world more love and less hate, such that people will want to be a part of God’s new kingdom of peace.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
July 3, 2016
Psalm 146, Luke 10:1-16
He wouldn’t let them do it. Duncan would never let them decorate the sanctuary like a 4th of July float. Every year at my former congregation there were people who would go to my predecessor, Duncan Stewart, and ask to decorate the sanctuary on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July, so that it was awash in red, white and blue. Yet every year Duncan would turn them down, which was, at least on the surface, a bit odd. It was odd because if anyone loved this nation, it was Duncan. I say this because he spent 30 years in the Army, rising to the rank of Colonel. He had earned a bronze Star and purple heart in the Pacific in World War II. He then served in both Korea and Vietnam. In other words, this was a man who loved his nation so much that he had risked his life on multiple occasions. For whatever reason, I never had a conversation with Duncan specifically about this issue, but I think I have an idea why he declined to decorate in this way, and it had to do with his realization that we are living in two worlds…the world of nation-hood and the world of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
If that seems a bit obtuse I hope that our morning’s lesson will help shed some light on what I mean. As our story opens Jesus is heading toward Jerusalem and the final showdown with the religious and secular authorities. As he does so he can sense around him the growing calls for revolution against Rome. Throughout his life-time there had been would be messiahs who called upon the people to rise up and defeat Rome. The result was they and their followers had all died. (And unfortunately only about thirty-three years after his death the entire nation would rise up and hundreds of thousands of people would lose their lives in a futile rebellion.) So as Jesus proceeds he sends out a message that calls the people to peace and not violence. He tells them that the Kingdom of God is already present in and through his life and work. In other words, they do not need to be politically independent to be at peace. Thus when Jesus speaks of judgment against individuals and cities that refuse his peace, he is speaking of the coming cataclysm with Rome and not punishment from God. He has come as the Prince of Peace and not a military messiah.
These then, as I said a moment ago, are the two worlds in which we live. We live in the world of human revolutions that are waged for freedom; freedom to worship as we please, freedom to make our own laws, freedom to speak our minds and freedom to pursue our own dreams and destinies, the freedoms which we enjoy and often take for granted. This world is one that tens of thousands of men and women have fought and died for. This world is one that we are called upon to celebrate and appreciate. Yet we also live in the other world, that is in the world of Jesus Christ, who called upon us to love and pray for our enemies, not return violence with violence, to not hate, but to love, and to realize that true peace is not found in revolutions but is found in the peace that God gives through God’s only Son Jesus; a peace that passes all understanding. What Duncan understood was that our task is find a balance which honors both without allowing one to consume the other.
Here is what I mean. If we allow the world of revolutions to become the only world, then we risk being led down a path toward being a people who will do anything to anyone in order to maintain our national security. We will resort to torture and conquest. We will attack and seek to destroy anyone we deem to be the enemy. We will demonize “the other” because they are not like us. And in so doing we run the risk of losing our souls in the name of freedom. At the same time, we run great risks if we choose a pacifism in the name of the Prince of Peace. We risk allowing the real evil in this world to run amok, dealing death wherever it turns. We run the risk of allowing injustice to have its way, while we fail to protect the widow, the orphan and vulnerable. We run the risk of losing our souls as we watch the innocent suffer knowing that we could have done something to prevent it.
We live in two worlds. We live in the world of political freedom and obligation as well as the world of the Prince of Peace who calls us to a particular way of life. The challenge for us, as I said, is to find a balance between the two; which is never easy. It is never easy because there will always be competing claims upon us from both sides as well as moral decisions, whose appropriate outcome is difficult to discern. Yet we are still called to try to find that balance.
This Fourth of July weekend then I encourage you to do three things. First to give thanks and celebrate the freedoms that have been given. Second, to give thanks to God for the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ that offers us peace even in a war torn world. Thirdly, I challenge you to ask yourself this question, “How am I finding the balance in my life such that I honor the freedoms I have and the Savior of the world who gave his life for me?”
Living in Ordinary Time: Demonized
Rev. Amy Morgan
June 19, 2016
Psalm 42, Luke 8:26-39
Maybe it started out small. He said the wrong thing, dressed the wrong way, acted a little different. And he was teased, then ridiculed, maybe even bullied a little.
But eventually his behavior, his dress, his manner fell so far outside the norm that he was declared to be possessed by demons.
Now, I love it when I get to preach on the demon stories. It immediately conjures up images of The Exorcist and people start to worry that this will end with pea soup.
But demons are so much more interesting than Hollywood makes them out to be. Especially the demons in this story. First-century cosmology attributed a wide range of maladies to demon possession, from what we would today diagnose as epilepsy or mental illness, to run-of-the-mill bad luck or ill temper. The power that demons held was supernatural. All that couldn’t be explained or controlled could be blamed on demons. Demons embodied the corporate fears of the community.
And so, in today’s story we encounter a man with demons, a man who is demonized by the fears of his community.
But what is entirely unique about this demonization is the scale. Now remember, is Jesus’ day, a legion was a very specific military term, a unit of the army made up of as many as six thousand men. This is not a general term for more than a few. This man is possessed by thousands of demons, thousands of fears. We don’t see this anywhere else in scripture.
This isn’t epilepsy or mental illness or a behavioral or medical disorder. This man has been demonized. His community has taken all they can’t explain or control, all they can’t fix or cure, and they have focused it on this one person. When he comes too close to town, they lock him in chains. When he breaks loose, those demons of fear run him out of town and he lives among the dead.
But when Jesus steps onto their shoreline, things are about to change.
Because the demons of fear immediately recognize Jesus for what he is: the one with the authority to command the wind and the waves, the one with the power to destroy the forces of sin and death, the one with a love great enough to cast out fear. And that is just what he does. He casts out the demons of fear this man has carried for so long.
The demons of fear enter a herd of swine, and the terrorized pigs drown themselves in the lake.
And just like that, Jesus robs the Gerasene community of their demoniac. When the one who was savage and unsafe is suddenly clothed and in his right mind, when he suddenly looks and acts just like everybody else, the people of the community are filled with fear. Their demons have been released from the one they had demonized, and they have returned to their rightful owners. The scripture tells us twice that the people are afraid, and they tell Jesus to get out of town.
We are all possessed by demons of fear right now. Every last one of us. It doesn’t matter if our fears are reasonable or unreasonable. We are fearful.
And we are faced with a choice. We can be like the man who was demonized, throwing ourselves at Jesus’ feet in our naked vulnerability. Or we can be like the Geresenes, casting our fears onto someone else, finding someone else to demonize.
For most of our country’s history, we’ve chosen the latter. We’ve demonized the English, the South (or the North, depending on which side of the Mason/Dixon line you’re from), the Irish, the Jews, the Germans, the Japanese, the blacks, the Hispanics, the homosexuals, the transgender, the Muslims. The demons of fear just keep moving from place to place to place.
But we can make a different choice. We can choose trust instead of fear.
A child who is frightened of monsters under the bed can sleep because he trusts his parents to protect him. People who live in neighborhoods where they know and trust their neighbors are not afraid to let their children roam freely. Citizens who trust their government are not afraid of their elected leaders, and they can work together for the well-being of all people.
The man who trusted Jesus was freed from the demons of fear that plagued him. He met Jesus as soon as he stepped off the boat, fell at his feet, naked and vulnerable, while the rest of the community looked on with suspicion. When the rest of the community became infected with fear, they compounded their ailment by sending Jesus away, filled with mistrust.
Mind you, we’re not expecting Jesus to be the great fixer, making our world safer, more prosperous, more peaceful. We are trusting the hope of Jesus Christ to cast out the despair we are all feeling. We are trusting the love of Jesus Christ to cast out the hate that we see building. We are trusting Jesus to cast out the demon of fear that separates us from God and neighbor.
The only cure for fear is trust. Trust in God and in the goodness of God’s image reflected in humanity. Trust in God’s promises for a world made new.
This isn’t a blind trust, not at all, quite the opposite. We have every reason to trust. We trust in a God who rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. We trust in a God who gave us a plan for living in peace and righteousness. We trust in a God who sent prophets to lead us in that plan. We trust in a God who chose to become one of us, to know the pain of being human, the grief of losing a loved one to death, the ugliness of the demon of fear, the horror of execution. We trust in a God with the power to command the wind and the waves and to cast out fear. We trust in a God with the power to destroy sin and death forever.
That isn’t blind trust. We have every reason to trust.
When events like the one this week occur, and it sickens me that we can even say that, that we even have other tragedies to compare this to, but each time this happens, we wonder where God is in all of this. Skepticism about God’s goodness and God’s power run high. And the church has done a poor job of responding to that skepticism. We’ve struggled to know what our role is in the face of devastation or what message we have to share. And that is truly tragic.
Because we have a message of hope, a word of comfort, and a commitment to justice that is unique and powerful and vital.
We, as the church, are the body of Christ. We are Jesus on the shoreline. And falling at our feet are all those who are being demonized right now. And watching from a distance are all those who distrust the church.
We are called to follow Christ, to step out of the boat, and cast out fear.
And not everyone is going to like it when we do that.
Because when Jesus steps out of the boat, we might build a relationship with our Muslim neighbors, and we won’t be able to fear them and blame them for all of the horrific acts of violence carried out in the name of their peaceful religion.
When Jesus steps out of the boat, we might have to empathize with the depth and breadth of discrimination and hatred experienced by the LGBT community, and we won’t be able to fear that who they are in any way undermines anyone’s moral or religious values.
When Jesus steps out of the boat, we might develop compassion for the plight of people seeking work or refuge in our country, and we won’t be able to fear that they will take all our jobs and blame them for the state of our economy.
When Jesus steps out of the boat, we might have to look at our whole culture’s addiction to violence instead of pinning all our fears on the NRA and the gun-rights lobby or on gun-control advocates.
When Jesus steps out of the boat, we might not be able to blame Trump or Clinton or any other politician for our collective greed, bigotry, and dishonesty. We might just all have to own that’s who we are.
We are humans. And we are possessed by fear. And the only way we know how to deal with that demon is to cast it onto somebody else.
And so when Jesus steps onto our shoreline, when the church steps out of the boat, people more likely than not will ask him, ask us, to leave. Because once fear is cast out, once the demoniac is dressed and in his right mind, once the enemy looks and acts just like everybody else, we have to deal with the only thing we rightly have to fear: ourselves.
We have to look at our own darkness, our own inhumanity, our own greed and apathy. All those demons that take up residence in each one of us. John Calvin was clear that humanity, at its core, is totally depraved. Not one person or group or institution or ideology. All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God, all of us participate in systems of injustice, all of us have to take responsibility for our own sin and the sin of our society. We don’t get to pin it on someone or something else. Demonization does not cure fear. These are our demons.
And if we can own that, then there is hope. Because Jesus is on our shores today. Jesus is ready to cast out fear. Jesus is ready to remake this world, to put us in our right minds, to clothe us in love and justice and peace. If only we will trust. Trust him. Trust one another.
And as the church, our challenge is to step out of the boat and use the power given to us as the body of Christ in the world. The power to cast out the demons of fear, the power to speak the truth in love, the power to bring hope in a darkened world. Lying at our feat are the demonized from all sides of the political spectrum. We are Everybody’s Church. And we will not allow any group to be demonized.
And we will send those who have been freed from fear to go and proclaim all that God has done for them. It is not enough to come here each week, to feel refreshed, renewed, re-affirmed. We can’t hop in the boat with Jesus and stay there. We are sent back to all those who are still demonized by fear to share our trust, our hope, our peace.
Let us go out and cast out the demons of fear. Go and be hope. Be light. Be comfort and peace. Return to your homes, and declare how much God has done for you.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
June 12, 2016
Psalm 5:1-6, Luke 7:36-49
Inappropriate behavior. Those are the only two words that seem to fit this entire story. From beginning to end everyone in here is completely inappropriate. But to make my point let’s take a quick inventory of all of the inappropriate behavior. First there is the woman who comes to Jesus. Jesus is at supper with the local religious elite. They are probably having some deep theological discussions when this unnamed woman wanders in, stands behind Jesus and begins to weep. Then she bends down, opens a jar of costly ointment and anoints his feet. Not satisfied with that she sheds her tears onto his feet and then dries them with her hair. This is about as inappropriate as one can be. First she enters the male dominion of the dinner. Then she touches Jesus (a really big no-no) and finally lets down her hair to wipe his feet. While this might not seem a big deal to us, the only women in the Roman world who let their hair down were, how shall I put this, women whose reputations and business were not socially acceptable. She was totally inappropriate. But she is not the only one.
The second person to be inappropriate is Jesus. Yes, that’s right, Jesus is inappropriate. And he is inappropriate in two unbelievable ways. The first way Jesus is inappropriate is that he lets this woman do what she does. Jesus could have stopped her. He could have and should have castigated her and sent her packing. That would have been the appropriate response. It would have been so because everyone in First Century Judaism understood the rules which governed male-female relationships in public. First there was no physical contact. There were no public displays of affection even between husband and wife. There were certainly no public displays of physical contact between non-related individuals. Second Jesus was a rabbi. Rabbis especially were to not only have no contact with women, they were not even to speak with them, or acknowledge their presence. Finally, Jesus knew what kind of woman this was. She was, as Luke puts it, a sinner; a woman with a reputation. Jesus’ willingness to allow her to touch him was socially and religiously inappropriate behavior.
Second, Jesus is inappropriate when he forgives her. So often I think we focus on the woman’s inappropriate behavior and fail to notice that the Pharisees get as upset about Jesus act of forgiving as they do about what the woman is up to. The Pharisees, and as a reminder, were a religious political party that tried to live holy lives guided by the 613 commandments, or mitzvot of the Law of Moses. As such, they believed that only God could forgive. And when God forgave, it was through the rites and rituals of the Temple in Jerusalem; meaning that forgiveness was to be found not in the words of some wandering rabbi. Forgiveness was not and could not be offered by just anyone. If this woman wanted forgiveness there were means by which it could be achieved. She could gather up the requisite sacrifices and head to Jerusalem and find the forgiveness of God there. We can sense this when those around the table asked, “Who is this that forgives sins?” The fact then that Jesus tells her that she is forgiven is the most inappropriate action that takes place at this table.
Inappropriate behavior. A story filled with inappropriate behavior…or is it? On the surface that is all that this story is about, yet somehow Jesus manages to take all of this inappropriate behavior and make it appropriate. The woman’s behavior, Jesus explains to his dinner guests, is completely expected because she is showing the deep gratitude she has for being forgiven. Evidently this woman and Jesus had met some time previously and in an act of compassion for her Jesus had forgiven her. Overwhelmed by that gift, by that love, her love for Jesus drives her to show her gratitude. This is the heart of Jesus’ short story about the cancellation of the debt. Her forgiveness was great and so then was her response. Jesus’ inappropriate action of allowing her to carry out her work of thanksgiving is allowed by Jesus because it is an act of hospitality, something that Jesus’ Pharisee host Simon, had failed to offer (which by the way is one more inappropriate aspect of this story). Why, Jesus asks should he stop this woman from doing what Simon ought to have done. Finally, the act of forgiveness for Jesus has never been tied only to life and work of the Temple. Drawing on the great prophetic tradition Jesus understands that forgiveness comes through a changed life that reflects the love and grace of God; something which this woman has demonstrated with her actions…thus forgiveness is warranted. In a sense Jesus offers us a vision of inappropriately appropriate behavior.
Being inappropriately appropriate is what the church and all of us in her are called upon to be. I say that because it is what allows us to truly offer the love and grace of God to the world. Let me explain. As human beings, we build walls between what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. We do so in all sorts of ways; in terms of social interactions, manners and cultural taboos. What we fail to realize is that many of those walls are merely social constructs that have no basis other than the traditions of our elders. The problem with those walls is that they divide people. They separate people one from another, allowing certain people in and walling others out. Those who are inside receive all of the benefits society has to offer. Those on the outside are left out and their lives are diminished.
It would be nice to think that the church was different. But it wasn’t. In fact, the church has been one of the primary places where the walls separating appropriate and inappropriate exist. There are inconsequential walls; how we are to dress for church, whether or not we are to applaud, or whether we sing from hymnals or screens. These are the obvious walls. But there are also the not so obvious walls; those walls that essentially declare certain people to be inappropriate to be within the community of faith. Those walls have excluded people of color (just look at the slave balconies in older Southern churches), people within the LGBT community and persons with disabilities. While the church would say that God loves everyone, we would make it clear that certain people’s presence was simply inappropriate. And so it is only by being inappropriately appropriate that we can break down the walls that keep some people out and thereby invite everyone in to know the great love that God has for them in Jesus Christ.
This past week I began my eighth year with you. And one of the things I value the most about being your pastor is your willingness to be inappropriately appropriate. Once upon a time it was inappropriate for women to be in leadership in this church, whether as elders or ministers. Then the church decided to be inappropriately appropriate and change that. Once upon a time children were not welcome in worship, except to sing as a choir. Then the church decided to be inappropriately appropriate and make children an integral part of worship. Once upon a time, persons with disabilities were not fully welcomed into the church. But then the church decided to be inappropriately appropriate and created Celebration station, then an inclusion program and then call the first pastor in our denomination dedicated to the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Once upon a time, members of the LGBT community were essentially excluded from our community. But then the church decided to be inappropriately appropriate, and tear down the wall of separation and welcome all persons regardless of sexual orientation into the membership and leadership within the church. What this means is that we are a church that is constantly asking ourselves, how do we bring down the walls that keep people from knowing the full love and grace of God in Jesus Christ? How do we follow the example of Jesus in that evening meal when he broke down the walls to invite in an unnamed woman into the love and grace of God?
The challenge for us then is to not assume that we have broken down all of the inappropriately/appropriate walls that keep people away from God’s love. It is to continue asking ourselves what barriers still need to be broken…and then break them. So this week, my challenge to you is this, to ask yourselves, how am I being inappropriately appropriate in helping all people know that they are loved and cherished by God.
Rev. Dr. John Judson
June 5, 2016
Exodus 22:21-27, Luke 7:11-17
“I don’t know what to do.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know how to help all of the people around the world who are in need. I’m not rich. I have bills I have to pay. And the needs of people all over the world are so great that what I could give will not make a dent at all.”
“So why don’t you just choose one thing and give to that?”
“But how can I choose? If I choose one, then the others will go without.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I just don’t know.”
The person you have just met has just been afflicted with one of the western world’s great diseases, compassion paralysis. Compassion paralysis is a disease that occurs when limited resources come into conflict with unlimited need, causing people to not do anything because they either cannot decide who to help or they believe that what they can give will not really make a difference. The question this morning then is, is there a cure?
The answer is yes there is a cure, and the cure is to look to the compassion of Jesus. I realize that many of you will say, “But John, Jesus was all about compassion. It was his middle name. It was in his job description. He would never have been afflicted with compassion paralysis.” My response would be that if we look at the time in which Jesus was living, if anyone ought to have had compassion paralysis it was Jesus. This is so because Jesus lived in a time when infant mortality was extraordinarily high, the average life span was probably no more than 40 years, diseases were rampant, simple cuts could lead to infections that were incurable thus making life for ordinary Greeks and Jews short and tenuous. You might reply, well sure, but Jesus had the ability to heal. That is right but even so had Jesus healed people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he would not have made a significant difference in the overall outlook of life. It would have been easy for Jesus to have just given up and retired to Nazareth.
Yet as we see in our story this morning, he didn’t. Our story begins as Jesus and his followers are about to enter a small town called Nain. As they approach, they see a funeral procession. In the procession and mourners, a funeral bier and a weeping woman. Jesus senses that the woman is a widow, meaning there is no husband with her. There are also no other son’s supporting her. Jesus realizes that this woman, without her son, will be left impoverished and alone, reduced to begging without a place to go. As Luke tells us Jesus had compassion for her. He moves to the dead body, commands the young man to rise, and as the man is resuscitated he gives him back to his mother, thereby giving life to two people; physical life to the child and a life with a future to the mother. By this act Jesus demonstrates the heart of the compassion of God. He demonstrated Biblical compassion…the compassion that is the cure for our compassion paralysis.
I say this because Biblical compassion, Jesus-like compassion is, simply put, the desire to give life when and how we can. Let me say this again, Biblical compassion, Jesus-like compassion is, simply put, the desire to give life when and how we can. When I say give life, again, I don’t mean raising people from the dead. Life in scripture refers not merely to physical life but to lives well and fully lived; lived with enough to eat, a place to sleep and an opportunity to live to the fullest of one’s abilities. Giving life in scripture means to offer resources and opportunities to enhance the lives of others even if it is in a marginal manner. Compassion begins when we desire to do any of these things for another. Let me ask then, how many of you want to help give life to another? How many of you as a follower of Jesus believe yourselves called to offer life? Great, then your compassion is at work.
The second part to curing compassion paralysis is to actually offer life when and how we can. All of us know that the needs of the world are greater than any one person can address. Bill and Melinda Gates with their amazing foundation know they cannot solve all of the world’s problems, and so have chosen to focus narrowly on a couple of significant issues, including Malaria prevention. Former president Jimmy Carter, through the Carter Foundation, decided to focus on getting rid of Guinea worm disease. Even Jesus never raised every dead person that he saw, or healed ever sick person around him. The task of compassion then is to choose to do what we can, when we can, and how we can. It may be to assist with SOS. It may be to buy a Church World Service blanket. It may be to help at Alcott once a week, or with shop and drop, or with meals, or perhaps to give a small gift to the International Children’s Network or similar organizations. It may be to offer a kind word, a smile or a hand up to someone in need. Remember, compassion does not require solving all the problems of the world, or even a single problem, but giving life where and how we can.
The cure to compassion paralysis is right in front of us. It is in front of us in the compassion of Jesus, who showed compassion when and how he could. And that is my challenge to you for this week, that as you come to the communion table to ask yourselves, how am I allowing my compassion to give life even as I have been given life?