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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

July 31, 2016 Gospel: Luke 12:13-21 1st Reading: Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-23
2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-11

How much is enough? How much is too much? How do I know when I have I crossed the line into greed? I wish Jesus would be clear with us, so we can follow a rule and know which side of the line we are on. But Jesus tells us and the crowd and the Disciples and the man with the complaint about his brother, only to be on guard against all kinds of greed. But it is so hard to do. We each have needs for food, shelter, and community. We don't want to be a burden to other people, and we like being self-sufficient, so we set aside for retirement and emergencies. I can't tell you how relieved I am that we were able to buy a house 11 years ago. With rents going up, like they are, we would be forced to move. We have a mortgage payment we can afford. We'll pay it off when I'm 66 years old, if everything goes according to plan. We are comfortable. We are wealthy. And we're looking at buying new windows this year. We'll probably take out another loan for that. And still I sometimes think to myself, if we only had 20 more square feet or two more closets, I'd have enough space. I picture where I would build on, if I could. Recently a friend inspired me to do some decluttering. There is always a new book or a new fad about it. It was very helpful for me, because when I look through my closet now, I don't have to look through all those clothes I never wear. Every single thing in my closet is something I like.

Instead of beating up on myself and you, I thought today we might be inspired by people who have lived this balance, who have not trusted in things, but found fulfillment in life and generosity. 

The first is my family friend Christine. We knew her from church. She sang in the choir and was assisting minister. She adopted Kiley from India. We assume that like many in India country, her family didn't want her because she was a girl, maybe a second or third girl in a poor family that couldn't afford her dowry. When Kiley came, she was the tiniest little child, less than a year old, with big brown eyes. I remember peeking at her in her blanket when she first started coming to church. My mom started babysitting Kiley in her daycare. I watched her at her house when her mom had evening meetings. She really liked “Scooby Doo.” Christine adopted Sylvia from Bulgaria. Sylvia was an unwanted child who was Bulgarian and Gypsy. Her eye was damaged in the womb because of an abusive partner. She wore an eye patch for a few years until her damaged eye was strengthened. Christine kept Sylvia's picture on the side of the microwave for at least a year while we waited for the orphanage to release her. We gathered items for the orphanage, clothes, bottles, toys, all kinds of baby things. They were a kind of bribe. It turns out that Sylvia was the first child released from that orphanage to the United States. Christine was a woman of means. She had an education. She was a teacher. But her life did not consist of her possessions. She used what she had to give two girls a new life. I remember Christine mentioning once when I was babysitting the girls, how she had almost got Sylvia paid off. She said it was like buying a house. And she also told me a story recently of when Sylvia first arrived and couldn't connect with the family, how Christine held and held her and wouldn't let her go. It was her way of communicating with a 2 year old through presence and touch that she was part of the family and she was loved and secure. Kiley and Sylvia are all grown up now and both very loving people. Christine is one of those people I always look up to when I think of people I would like to emulate.

The congregation of Bethlehem Lutheran in Portland struggled financially for many years. Their attendance was low and their building was huge. They welcomed community groups to use their space and rented office space to Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good. They had a preschool. They had a clothing ministry. When their pastor took a new call, their interim time was a time of reflection. They didn't have the resources to keep it all going. They would have to make some choices. What was most important, the church building, the ability to pay a pastor, or the relationships? Through a lot of conversation and soul searching, they let their building go and figured out how to continue without their own pastor. They kept their community, though. For several years they have nested in other congregations in Portland, as a group, worshiping at other congregations for a couple of months at a time. They continue to maintain their own identity and have their own council meetings and their own mission statement, but a building and pastor aren't the most valuable part of their experience of God.

The last example I am thinking of was the Tea Party held here this spring to benefit Backpack Buddies. A little girl, from our own congregation, wanted to be fancy and eat sweets and invite family and friends to be generous. Many of us put on our fanciest. I even dug through my jewelry box to find a bracelet, necklace, and earrings to please Kamryn. We baked and frosted and decorated and dug deep in our pockets and cupboards and donated to help kids who don't have enough to eat and we had a lot of fun.

Finally, I want to lift up a man who planted a million trees. He has spent his money and time reforesting a huge area, making sure the trees are doing well. He knows his life is not going to go one forever. He has a clear sense of what matters and what lasts and what doesn't. He has chosen to invest in generations to come. He knows the worth of a tree to this earth and the worth of a forest of trees.

This world values things. It measures the worth of things with money. Our society tries to tell us that we need more things to be happy and fulfilled. But look around. We are wealthy. We have what we need and more. But we don't have spiritual fulfillment, or we wouldn't come looking to Jesus. It reminds of me Jesse's music last week, “You can have all the rest. Give me Jesus.” Nothing else lasts. Nothing else matters. Nothing else fulfills.

The work we do, doesn't get us anywhere. The money we make, doesn't make us happy, doesn't fulfill our dreams. The education we receive is soon out of date. All is vanity---vapor, an illusion, fleeting pointlessness. We all find ourselves overcome with despair sometimes at the pointlessness of it all.

So if life doesn't consist of possessions, what does make for a fulfilling life? Jesus doesn't take sides in the dispute over the inheritance between brothers in the Gospel reading. The reading seems to bring up the point of what is worth more, the value of the inheritance or the relationship with the brother?  

What do these examples of generosity and balance have in common?  It is the wider view including generations which have come before and which will come after, it is the sense of imagination, it is the sense of imagination, it is the relationship building, it is about compassion and love.  And isn't that what Jesus taught us, the most generous one of all, coming among us, teaching us, loving us, and giving his life for us, so that we would truly have an example of generosity, so that we would know how much he's given us, so we can know what is possible when our possessions don't possess us, but we love one another.
 I want to share with you a hymn by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette.  Follow the link to read her hymn
Bigger Barns

Monday, July 25, 2016

July 24, 2016

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13 
1st Reading: Genesis 18:20-32
2nd Reading: Colossians 2:6-19

My dad was not much of a churchgoer in his adult life. He got enough church as a kid to more than make up for it. However, he did love to play church league softball. He was the coach of the Good Shepherd softball team for many years. As coach, though, he was expected to pray before games. He believed in God and he believed in softball, but praying out loud in front of a group was out of his comfort zone. So this is what he did. He wrote his prayer on an index card—I remember the card being that coral color, I think he always used the same one—and he'd tuck it in the inside of his baseball cap. When he took off his hat to pray, he'd have it right there in front of him and no one would be the wiser. It worked for him. And probably he could have prayed that prayer without the help of the card, but it gave him the confidence to lead the team in that spiritual part of the game.

Maybe some of you feel similarly about prayer. I know I even sometimes feel uncomfortable when I'm put on the spot and asked to pray, especially if I think the other person knows how to pray “better” than me! Is there anyone else who sometimes feels uncomfortable praying out loud? Whoever doesn't have their hand raised will be leading the prayers of the people today!
Today, we're talking about prayer, what it is, why we do it, what it says about who God is, and why we feel so nervous when the pastor asks us to pray out loud in front of a group. 

The disciples ask Jesus in the Gospel reading this morning to teach them to pray. I picture the disciples gathered around saying, “Yeah Jesus, we're already in the 11th chapter of Luke! Maybe it is about time you taught us to pray!” So Jesus teaches them the Lord's Prayer. This is great for Lutherans because we like to know what words to say. I can't tell you how happy I was years ago. I had a dream and the earth was shaking and all the buildings were falling down around me and in my dream I started praying the Lord's Prayer. I thought to myself, here is proof that I could stay calm, that I would know what to do. It was kind of like when you're learning a new language and you start dreaming in that language, you know you are really immersed in it. Praying the Lord's Prayer meant that I had internalized my faith so much that it was showing up in my dreams.

Jesus gives us these words of the Lord's Prayer. These are the words we say every Sunday. We say them after council meetings and other church meetings. This is our go-to prayer. Jesus said to pray like this. The concern is that we start to recite this prayer out of habit and we stop thinking about what it means. So let's take a closer look. The prayer starts with God, not as someone distant and inaccessible, but as a daddy, our abba. And this prayer says something about God, that God is Holy, that God is different from others we know. Our prayer is best focused on who God is. It reminds us of our powerlessness, and maybe helps us to let go of situations that we have no control over. But to remember that God is in that position of incorruptible power and love, means hope.

Then Jesus prays, your kingdom come. “This is about you God and your plan. We don't know how to fix this world. We know it doesn't work very well. We're asking for your Kingdom to come and we're preparing ourselves so when it does, we don't push it away and say, nevermind!” This is also about the big picture. We can't see what is best in any situation, so we remind ourselves to let God be God.

Jesus says, give us each day our daily bread. This is about basic needs. Not “Give us this day a Cadillac car or marble countertops,” but something we need for survival. However, this isn't just about me getting my daily bread, this is about each person having enough, and each animal, each creature in balance and health.

The prayer goes on to address how God treats us, that God forgives us, and that God's forgiveness impacts how we behave toward others. That forgiveness and love doesn't end with us, but goes on and is shared. The way God loves us, changes us for the better. We behave differently out of gratefulness for the way God behaves toward us.

The two stories that follow about asking for help from a neighbor and a child asking for food, put us in the right mindset when we pray. We can address God as beloved children, unafraid, familiar, knowing God is kind and wants to provide for us. 

The first reading from Genesis is also about prayer. For us there is a lot of baggage with this reading, because other Christians have tried to tell us what this reading is about and what the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was. However, if we go on to read Ezekiel 16:49 it is clearly explained that “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Sodom's sin was that of inhospitality and indifference. So now that we've removed that first distraction, I think there is only one other, and that is the idea that God might be destructive. This is another case of explaining something after the fact. Scholars agree that fire did rain down on Sodom and Gomorrah at one point, and this is scientifically attributed to a volcano. So people wanted to explain in the Bible why Sodom and Gomorrah would be so completely destroyed and this was their best explanation. 

However if we look at this story as a description of prayer, we can learn a lot. We have a lot of hymns about God never changing. “Built on a rock, the church shall stand.” “The wise man built his house upon the rock.” “Which wert, and art, and ever more shall be.” However, I don't find the thought of such a God very warm or comforting, not like the Abba that Jesus would have us pray to, not really the picture we get from these stories of Jesus about a responsive neighbor or a parent tending to the needs of his or her children. This story and many others from the Old Testament do show God changing God's mind, really listening to people. Remember Noah's ark? God regretted destroying all creatures and vowed not to do it again, even hanging his weapon, his bow, up in the sky and vowing not to go that route again. Then there is the story about Jonah and when the people of Ninevah listened to him and repented, God changed his mind about the destruction he was planning to visit upon them. In these stories, God seems to listen and respond.

In this story of Abraham and Sodom, Abraham is learning how to pray. He is practicing communication with God. This prayer has Abraham in his proper place. He's communicating with God. He's being humble, rather than demanding. He's speaking on behalf of others, hoping for the best for them, showing them mercy and appealing to God's mercy. This is a prayer about who God is, forgiving, careful, judging rightly, kind, accessible, and relenting. This isn't a God who just swoops down in anger at a few ruffians and gets rid of them. This is God who carefully considers each person and will spare even people who are inhospitable if there a few good ones sprinkled among them. And when we hear the story, of course, we know for the sake of one, Jesus Christ, we are not destroyed, although we might deserve it, but we are given new life and forgiveness and claimed as Children of God. We can almost hear Abraham saying to God, “But what if there were one who is righteous?” And God saying, “There is one, my son, and I am sending him to make you all my children, so that even if a volcano destroys you, you will still have life, and even if you are inhospitable, you will find another chance to show love, and even if you break the commandments, God will be with you to help you to find a more life-giving way.”

And one other important part of this stoy is that Abraham is persistent. Prayer is something that will come more naturally to us, like many things in life, if we practice it often. Be persistent. Set aside time. Set aside a space that is conducive to prayer. Make prayer a priority and it will become more a part of you.

Finally, our reading from Colossians is about prayer. It speaks of the church as one body, with Jesus Christ as our head. A body has many ways of communicating so it can work together in unity. When we communicate with God, when we pray, we are keeping the body working in unity. And when we act in ways that are consistent with God's love and with our faith, isn't that another form of prayer that builds up the body? 

When we think of prayer, we often think of the right words. But prayer is communication with God. Prayer is about listening to God and being open to what God's will might be, apart from our own desires. Prayer is about how we live our lives. Prayer is about our thoughts. Prayer is about finding our proper place in God's Kingdom. They say that words only make up about 10% of communication. Most of communication is nonverbal. That's why they say, “Actions are louder than words.” So let our whole lives be a prayer, of gratefulness, of hospitality, of openness, of generosity and may prayer transform us to reflect our loving God.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 17, 2016

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42 
1st Reading: Genesis 18:1-10a
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:15-28

In last week's Gospel reading, a man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what it says in the Bible. The man responds, “ You shall love the Lord your God … and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus then gives the man an example of what this looks like in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I love the Gospel of Luke, because whenever there is a story about men, you can bet there will be a corresponding story with women as primary characters, and I have to respect Luke for doing that. So today we have the corresponding story of how to love God and neighbor with women as the primary characters, the story of Mary and Martha and their hospitality welcoming Jesus into their home. 

I'll go into this story in a minute, but first I want to go back to the story from Genesis that we heard this morning about Abraham and Sarah welcoming the three visitors. This tradition of hospitality and loving God and neighbor goes a long way back. Jesus isn't just inventing this from no where. It is part of the way the Israelites have done things even back to Abraham, the father of their faith, the father of monotheism. Abraham and Sarah extend hospitality to three visitors and to God. Some have likened these three visitors to the Holy Trinity, or to angels, but most scholars agree these aren't just men, but God or messengers of God. It is pretty exciting that not just Abraham, but also Sarah are seen as providing hospitality and that the three visitors also recognized that and asked after Sarah and gave a blessing to her. It is one thing to say that Abraham will have a son and many offspring. Big deal, he doesn't carry a child for 9 months at age 90. In those days, men were blessed with a child through a woman, but nobody cared what the woman thought. She was just the vessel. It was highly unusual in those days to say that a woman would be blessed with a son. So for the visitors to say that this child will be a blessing to Sarah—to bless a woman, who is normally hardly even acknowledged as a person, is really a step forward. How she responds to it is her business, I guess. She outright laughs at the prospect, but who wouldn't at her age, in her situation?

Abraham and Sarah are extending hospitality. In this case it is strangers, visitors, or is it? It is God. But how soon do they recognize that it is God in their midst? I know I am usually slow to catch on, and only after someone has left, does it hit me that I learned something about myself, that the other person shared something so profound. So they are extending hospitality to those whom they perceive as strangers. In that time, there was a code. You welcome strangers because you were lonely, out there in the desert, and because survival depended on it. It might be a long way between sources of water or food. And you extended hospitality because you need more allies—as many as possible. Whenever a stranger approaches, we have the choice to think of them as allies or enemies. Certainly three men could have overpowered Abraham and Sarah and stolen everything they had. But they chose to treat them as friends and by doing so entertained angels unawares.

The reading from Colossians, shows us a view of cosmic hospitality. First, that in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. A human body was a host for the fullness of God. That God became fully human and united heaven and earth in one person for all people, that heaven and earth co-mingled in Jesus and made room for one another, welcomed one another. Then that in Christ all things hold together in hospitality, so that Christ unites us all, humankind and all creation. And then that Christ is the head of the church and the church is Christ's body. 

The reading goes on to accurately name our divisions, that we were estranged and hostile in mind. Paul hits the nail on the head, except he makes it past tense. This is the reality we feel we live in. Wherever we look we are suspicious. We are on the lookout for enemies, for danger. I see all the finger pointing in the news media and the campaign trail, blaming cops, blaming people of different races, blaming immigrants, always looking for a way to divide and separate, inventing fears. We get so divided, but that is not the way God made us and not the way God intends the world to be organized.

We invent divisions, but that can't stop God's love. In the person of Christ, God absorbed all the hatred and anger and divisions that we have to throw at him and that violence killed him. But God is life, and by definition, cannot be killed, so he rose again to show us another way to live that is fulfilling and loving and uniting and welcoming.

Even families divide themselves and create enemies of people of our own flesh and blood. Mary and Martha both welcomed Jesus into their home. Yes, Martha gets chastised later, but at the beginning of the Gospel it says, “Martha welcomed him into her home.” Martha always gets such a bad rap. Let's give Martha a break. She did well. She welcomed Jesus.

Shall we take a poll. Who here identifies with Martha—busy, making sure the guests have what they need, worker-bee? Who here identifies with Mary—listening, taking it all in, carefree? 

I know there are a lot of Marthas, out here, because I see how much you do around here, and you've got your own lives at home, and then helping grandchildren, going to their games, and looking after them, and some of you still caregiving for parents or elderly family members or neighbors. We all do so much. Many of you volunteer in the community and give so much. So why doesn't Jesus appreciate us?!

I don't think Jesus is saying, as we may think, that sitting is better than working. Jesus points out some things that Martha could improve on and it doesn't mean that Mary can't improve, she just didn't put herself in the position of complaining to Jesus or asking his input on her situation. 

Maybe the problem is that, Martha was distracted and worried by many things. Mary was focussed on Jesus. Martha was focused on whether her sister was contributing in the way she thought she should. She missed out on the wonder of entertaining God in her home, because she was mad at her sister.

Maybe the problem is that Martha complained to Jesus. Martha was unhappy with Mary. Why didn't she take Mary aside and try to work it out with her? Maybe she had. Who knows how long this disagreement had gone on, or what the history was between them. I think we can take away from this that if we have a problem with someone, we should go to them and try to work it out. It often works out so much better than just complaining about it, but it takes courage and a willingness to have more than a superficial relationship, to be willing to see another side.

Maybe the problem is a lack of balance in life. Mary and Martha represent two aspects of life, faith and good works. You can't have one with out the other. Faith without works is dead, we read in scriptures, and good works without a chance to sit and reflect and restock the storehouse can be exhausting and damaging.

Maybe the problem is that Martha made her sister her enemy. So often when we have a problem with someone we forget to look deep inside to see what's going on with us and where these feelings are coming from. Maybe Martha was unhappy because she wanted to sit at Jesus' feet, too. Who was keeping her there in the kitchen? Her sister wasn't keeping her there. She was doing this to herself. Maybe she could have been creative and left the dishes until after Jesus had left. Martha had the choice to see her sister as a friend, to be happy for her that she could spend time with Jesus. Instead, Martha blamed her sister and saw her as an enemy, as we all do sometimes. 

God has created this world in unity, from all the same stardust, to work together in cooperation for the mutual benefit of all. God came as Christ to reinforce that concept, that God is with us and that we are one with each other. Jesus treated each person with dignity as an example to us of how to foster unity between us rather than divisions. And even his enemies, he forgives and saves, because we are all brothers and sister, children of God.

The enemies seem to be all around us, but really they are few. Friends are truly all around us. Jesus is all around us. Jesus is in the lines of hundred standing in line to give blood. Jesus is in all the many peace officers who do their job well because they want to make a difference. Jesus is in all the people who encourage and help. Jesus is in all the people who give selflessly. 

If we look, we can see friends to extend hospitality to. We can see Christ. I invite you to see a congregation united in Christ, willing to reach out to those with different opinions and find out why that person acts the way they do, a congregation open to all the gifts that God has given us even when they are unfamiliar and a little frightening, a congregation with a view toward the future, willing to take risks and try new things in order to be relevant and approachable, a congregation able to let go of human habits that are getting in the way and dividing people, keeping others from Christ.

I invite you to look for and see a community united in Christ, getting to know each other more and more, extending hospitality to newcomers, caring for one another as life circumstances change, learning new languages to accommodate those from other lands, teaching one another and learning from one another, tearing down fences and sharing all things in common. 

I invite you to see a nation where the least are cared for, the hungry are fed, and the sad are tended to, in which every person is known and valued, where no one feels afraid, where dialogue between groups is standard practice, where the people most affected make the decisions about their own lives, where people are treasured because of intrinsic value rather than the money they have or the car they drive, where each person can contribute out of their gifts and talents.

We might, like Sarah, laugh at the prospect! It seems so far away. We've heard it all before. But to God, this is no laughing matter. This is what God is bringing to us, so we'd better get ready to be part of it, to let it happen through us. And I know when it does, I will be laughing in a whole new way, without cynicism, but with joy.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

July 10, 2016

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

This has just been one of those weeks. It just felt like bad news heaped on bad news. The news this week was in some ways unsurprising, after all that has gone on this year and year after year. I felt numb. I felt helpless. Two unarmed black men had been killed by police in 24 hours and it seemed like more of the same. Are we ever going to learn? Are we ever going to do better, or are we doomed to continue this violence in our country? And then I heard the tape of the girlfriend of Philando Castille, shot by police as he reached for the ID the police had asked for. I heard her calm voice, pleading, “Please don't tell me my boyfriend is dead.” And I heard the panicked voice of the police officer telling her to keep her hands where he could see her. And I heard later that a 4 year old girl was in that car, trying to calm down her mom from the back seat. And then her mom was arrested. Of course it is hard to stay numb and distant, when I think of my own son witnessing such horrors. For a few minutes I felt like I was in the car with them and I couldn't hold back my emotions. And then I didn't hear until Friday morning about the 5 police men in Dallas, and on the radio, the recordings of gunshots and shouts of “Officer down!” Sometimes it is hard to find hope.

It used to be, we'd read about this stories in the paper or see a 30 second clip on the evening news. Now, people are taking video. There are police body cameras and there are cell phone cameras recording all this. These videos bring us right into the action and emotion of the moment. They let us see and hear almost as if we are there. They bring us near.

The point of the readings this morning is that the word of God has come near, that God is making God's words and commandments and way of doing things our way of doing things. In the reading from the book of Deuteronomy, God is talking to the people, reminding them that God's word is very near and asking them to turn toward it, to face it. For Paul and Timothy, they are far away from the people in the church of Colossae, but through this letter, through their prayers, and through their faith, they are near to each other and to God. And finally in the story of the Good Samaritan, we all walk along the same road and encounter each other there and God walks on that road with us. We are near to each other and near to God. We can see who is in the ditch. The question is whether we will let that affect us and whether we will allow ourselves to see a person there that we can care for and help, or whether we will walk with our eyes averted and do nothing. How do we make the leap from just loving ourselves, to loving our neighbor? How do we change from the one who walks by to the one who stops to help? How do we let God's words penetrate our hearts so that we are transformed, so that our world can be transformed into a more compassionate, loving place where people find relationship and healing?

The first inclination I have when I hear this story is to go directly to guilt, because I can think of a thousand times I walked right by someone who could have used my help. I have ignored my neighbor. I have failed to have compassion and take pity on countless people. However, I don't know that feeling guilty really helps any of us. None of us can go back and change the past. That's part of the reason we started with a confession this morning. We are honest about how we have not lived up to our potential, how we have let God down, turned our back on our neighbor. And we let that go. We receive forgiveness and the chance to move ahead in a new way.

The truth is, we can't become the Samaritan who helps, until we recognize that we are the one in the ditch who is helpless. I have been in the ditch many thousands of times, with illnesses, with fears, with my own failures, and with sin—separation from God and separation from my fellow human beings. We've all been there and we are still there in one way or another. But there is hope. This story is not called the bad Priest and Levite or the robbers who beat up some poor guy. The story is called “The Good Samaritan.” Someone stopped to help, and that person is Jesus. For all the times I've been in the ditch, I may be a little groggy from a head wound, but I know what and who saved me. Jesus, the great healer, brought me back to life. Jesus, my savior, long ago took me from having no purpose to my life, no reason to live, no hope, and got down in that ditch with me to lift me up and heal me. Jesus has brought me out of the ditch every single time I've failed him, every single time I've failed any of you, every single time I wasn't even sure if I could move, if I would live to see another day, if I could ever find a way to go on. And I know Jesus has saved you, too.

Once we acknowledge that we don't get ourselves out of ditches, that we don't heal ourselves, that we don't bring ourselves to full life, that it is Jesus who makes our paths straight, lifts every valley and makes the mountains level, Jesus lifts up the ditches so we all stand on level ground, when we admit that it is Jesus, the one we rejected, the one we betrayed and denied, that reaches into the ditch and hauls us out, who cleans our wounds and gives us food and shelter and everything we need, we see that person in the ditch in a new way. That could be me. 

That could be me, sitting in a car with my kid in the backseat, pleading for medical attention for my partner. That could be me afraid every time my son leaves the house that he won't be treated fairly that I might never see him again. That could be me, there to protect a crowd of peaceful protesters, fired upon by a maniac, that could be me desperate, and alone and helpless, acting out of anger instead of love. To each person, Jesus reaches out a hand of love and understanding and forgiveness. And because of what he did for us, we don't have to get stuck in the guilt of all that we should have done and didn't. We can be thankful for the times he helped us.

We live in a world where people get robbed and beaten and left in a ditch by the side of the road. We live in a violent and cruel world. And we live in a world where people help each other, where they pull each other up out of the ditch, share of what they have, bring healing to one another, are generous and loving to people it seems they have nothing in common with. The question is, what kind of world do we want to live in and then to take action. Every time we do reach out with compassion, God is working through us to make a Good Samaritan world. 

We can also let go of the guilt of not responding every time. It is easy to get fatigued by all the people in the ditches. We start with those close to home, situations we know personally, right here in our neighborhood. And we also know that I am not the only one. Yes, Jesus works through me, but he also works through neighborhood organizations, and nonprofits, and thousands of other people who are also close to the situation and perhaps more prepared to handle it. 

Share a time you were the one in the ditch. Who helped you get out and come to healing?

Monday, June 27, 2016

June 26, 2016

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62 
1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
2nd Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Nick and I have enjoyed attending some comedy shows. A few years ago we saw Eugene Mirman and he told this joke: “I was thinking about truth or dare, and what the first dare was. I bet it was a cave man daring a cave woman to throw a burning stick at a monster. And I bet she was like, ‘Fine, truth.’ And I bet he was like, ‘OK. What’s your biggest fantasy?’ And I bet she was like, ‘Agriculture.’” It was hilarious the way he said, “Agriculture.” 

We take so many things for granted, and agriculture is one of them. Here we have two stories involving agriculture—plowing a field, to be specific. In the first, Elisha is plowing, with a team of 12 yoke, meaning 24 oxen. In the Gospel reading, Jesus refers to plowing, which takes persistent focus, just like following him, does.

What a leap it must have been to go from hunter-gatherer societies to ones of agriculture. Of course, it took place over time. In fact, my family used to go hunting when I was kid, and I still like to go pick berries in the summer. However, I am not going to get the majority of my food that way. When humans began to cultivate the land, we started to be able to feed ourselves better, and we started to survive longer, but it is not the end of the story.

We have found that our intense way of doing agriculture is damaging our home, the earth. Working the soil so much releases a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and is depleting the soil. We are not replenishing the nutrients in the soil as quickly as we are taking them out. Our current way of agriculture may not be able to meet all the needs of humans and animals moving forward. 

I've been reading a little about an alternative way of growing food called permaculture or food forests. We saw this working in Nicaragua. In some places people chop down all the trees and grow rows and rows of coffee plants. That takes a lot of fertilizer which is expensive. But the coffee co-ops we visited were shade-grown in food forests. There is a canopy of trees, dropping leaves and fruit which are fertilizer for the coffee plants, and providing fruit to eat for the people who live on the land. The birds in the high trees also provide fertilizer in the form of droppings which nourish the plants below. Below that are coffee plants, and other medium sized shrubs. More fertilizer comes from leaves and fruit dropping on the forest floor. Then in the ground, even lower, are other plants, like beans and squash. In this way, food can be grown in a way that is sustainable and which may not need added fertilizer. It takes some time to establish a food forest, but it might be worth the wait. The people who lived in the cofee co-op ate better, more variety of food, and were able to send their kids to school longer than other places we visited, because of the economic benefits of this way of farming. Look for shade-grown coffee in the store. You'll be doing the earth a favor. Drink fair-trade coffee and you'll be helping to send one of these kids to school or ensuring proper nutrition for a family like the ones we met.

In Galatians, too, it seems people went from one extreme like hunter gatherer society and then the other like agriculture and then found an even more life-giving way. People had been slaves to the law. If you want to be a good Jew, you followed God's law. Once the people were called into freedom, they didn't necessarily use their freedom very well and used it as a chance to do whatever they wanted, like the freshman boys at my college 20 years ago. It was like they never had the chance to make decisions for themselves, so they didn't know that if they drank all day and night, they wouldn't pass their classes. 1/3 were on academic probation after the first term and a large percentage of those boys flunked out after the second term. I don't know why, but the girls seemed to be a little more mature. The Galatians are like the freshman boys, given their freedom there was a lot of drunkenness and carousing. And now God is saying, let's be sensible. Let's practice a little self-control, love, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and gentleness. It may not be the law anymore, but isn't it a better way?

Jesus' Disciples are following him to Jerusalem. Several of them were fishermen with their own priorities and entitlements and expectations of life. They find themselves following Jesus, but they are still focused on their old priorities. They walk with him, but they are out of step with him, otherwise they would know better than to ask to command fire to destroy some people they didn't like. Jesus face is set toward Jerusalem and the cross. He is single-minded in his focus. And here are all these immature Disciples goofing off and being rude and not taking their task of following Jesus very seriously. So Jesus rebukes them, scolds them. Here, we have the way of the Disciples, the way of the world, focused on glory, focused on power, on greed, on violence, and here we have the way of Jesus, focused on love, focused on sacrifice. Jesus is telling them they have to do more than put one foot in front of the other in order to follow him, they have to completely reorient their direction, or they are going to miss this amazing thing that is about to happen. They are going to fail to get it, to live life differently from the way they did before, a transformation as big as going from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, or from being slaves to the law or slaves to sin to servants of one another and of God.

We are all slaves to sin. We live in a world that values power, money, celebrity, selfishness, and greed. We have our focus. We are trained in it from childhood. It is our culture. It is who we think we are. But God knows who we really are and has plans for us. God comes by and puts his mantle on us, his coat, like Elijah does to Elisha when he is picking out his disciple, and we are clothed with Christ. We have a new identity. We are claimed for love and community and hope and life and equality. We are called to follow Jesus from the moment of our baptism. The old way is washed away and a new direction, new priorities emerge that are God's priorities.

In the Old Testament reading, Elisha is allowed to go back and have a big goodbye barbecue before he heads out on his journey, his ministry with Elijah. It is a big transition, a lot to take in. He's not sure if he will ever see his family and friends again. Elijah wants him to think it over, to prepare himself for what is ahead. But in another way he doesn't look back, because he burns all the yokes, eats all the oxen, destroys all the other allegiances to money and his identity as a farmer. He doesn't give himself the chance to turn back and change his mind. There is nothing left for him there if he does. When he goes to follow Elijah and God, he gives himself completely to that endeavor.

In the other reading, Jesus tells the Disciples their focus must be singular. No going back to your father's funeral. No saying goodbye. Keep your eyes on the road or you will lose your way. It seems like Jesus is being pretty mean. But he is saying what mattered before, doesn't matter anymore. There is new way, and if you take your eyes off the road now, you are never going to make it. The Disciples don't get it that this part of the journey is different than before. They've been in training up until now. This is where the rubber hits the road. It won't be long until Jesus is arrested and crucified, and they need to be able to remember what's most important and focus on what will give ultimate hope. It won't be violence. It won't be hatred or anger. It will be love and forgiveness. And I suppose, once Jesus was resurrected and forgave the Disciples for betraying him, they never did lose focus again of what is most important. Once Jesus was raised, they went from being Disciples to being teachers, they became leaders in the Jesus-following community, the loving and merciful community. It was incredibly uncomfortable for them, but because they took off the yoke of the world, the fear based values of this world that said that it is always about glory and power and that death was the final word, and put on Jesus' yoke which isn't as heavy as it looks (“My yoke is easy and my burden is light”), they found a new way of living that meant fulfillment and truth and hope.

Jesus has been resurrected for us, too, not with accusations or anger or to rain fire down on us, but with love and forgiveness. We focus on Jesus. We focus on love. But the thing about Jesus is that he never stays in one place for long, so what that love means for each time place might look a little bit different. The needy in my community might be different than the oppressed in your community. Your gifts are different from my gifts, so discipleship, or following Jesus looks a little bit different for each person and in each time and in each place, just like feeding people looks a little bit different for each person in each time, in each place, just like caring for the earth looks different in every place and time. So we go from one life-giving way to another, Jesus teaching us a better way all the while, and we grow up from disciples into teachers and finally pass the mantle on to the next generation and trust them to carry the good news forward and to learn new ways of conveying it to ears longing for hope.
We get to be focused on Jesus, the source of all life and love, to direct us in the most life-giving way to live in our time and place, the most life-giving and loving way to be church, so that none of us gets stuck in one way of doing things, but so we are always on the move with Jesus into difficult places where mercy is most needed.

Monday, June 20, 2016

June 19, 2016

Gospel: Luke 8:26-39 
1st Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9
2nd Reading: Galatians 3:23-29

One fun game in our household, these days is “Hide and go seek.” Sterling is beginning to branch out in his hiding places. In fact yesterday, he thought of a hiding place all on his own and I might have had a hard time finding him if he had not had to move a box out from under the bed to fit there. For almost a year, he always hid in the same place, under the kitchen table. Now he hides in various other places, enjoying the surprise when he is found or when he jumps out to scare us. He was happy to hide in the same place again and again, I think, because it wasn't the hiding that was thrilling at the time, but being found—the anticipation as the seeker went from room to room, his heart beating as he held his breath and his giggles, and then the excitement as the voice got closer and then finally being found, hider and seeker meeting eyes and smiles. It is a more advanced version of peek-a-boo—another game about object permanence. Not really about the hiding or going away, but the being found and coming back together.

I remember as a child, I was one of the older ones in my mother's daycare home. One cruel thing we would do to get rid of a pesky younger child was to have them hide and then not go and seek them. Of course I feel bad about it now, but what can I do? I would never do that to Sterling. Sadly, in the first reading for today, that's just how God feels, like those little kids we left in their hiding place, as one who has been abandoned in the game, who is waiting to be found, trying to reach out to those around him, “ready to be sought be those who do not ask, to be found by those who do not seek.” Why don't God's people seek the one who gave them life, who is the source of all love and goodness? Some are distracted by other gods, idols, priorities. Some separate themselves from God and others around them like we did as kids, from the younger kids, saying by our refusal to seek, “I am better than you,” “I am too holy for you.” “Holier than thou.” Christians get accused of acting like this quite frequently—who do we think we are, passing judgment, making ourselves better than other people, refusing to spend time with people based on prejudices and fears and superiority. In this reading, God is pleading for us to listen, because God has what we need to live well and treat each other well, but we ignore God's pleas. At first God gets pretty mad, but then relents in mercy.

In the second reading, we see a similar pattern going from anger to mercy. It says that at one time we were imprisoned by the law, but now we live by faith. At first we needed a disciplinarian. Children in the time and place of this Galatians reading might have been walked to school by a tutor or nanny, a slave who made sure the kid made it to school. Here the word for that person is translated “disciplinarian.” For a time, we needed someone to walk us to school, to remind us of the rules and limits, and ensure our safety. Now that we have grown up in the faith we have Christ, and he's pretty gentle. He isn't an enforcer of rules. He's a friend. He offers forgiveness and mercy. He offers relationship. He gives us a chance to be free, make our own decisions, learn from them, and grow into a more loving person. 

Furthermore, this reading from Galatians points out, God's grace extends to all of us, because we are all in one family. Because of God's love for us, we get to love one another, and to behave as loving brothers and sisters to others. We don't get to say to one another, “I am too holy for you.” We don't get to abandon one another during the game. We don't get to walk away from one another and separate ourselves or make ourselves superior based on race or religion (there is no longer Jew or Greek), gender (there is no longer male or female), class (there is no longer slave nor free), ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or “any other differences between people” as we state in our Reconciling in Christ Statement. In fact we don't walk away from one another because we are one another and we need one another to be whole. Hence the phrase, “We are Orlando.” No one is far away. No one is disposable—those wounds are our wounds, it hurts all of us when people are killed, when people live in fear, when families abandon people because of who they love. We must act as urgently as we would if I was in that nightclub, or if you were afraid to be true to who you are, or if Christ were shot by an automatic rifle, because we are all brothers and sisters, we all matter, and we need one another. 

In case we don't quite get it, we get this profound story in the Gospel reading for today. This man living in the tombs was abandoned there by his people who couldn't figure out what to do with him. He was intolerable in every way, naked, out of control, dirty, wild, possessed or mentally ill. They kept him out in the caves of the graveyard in shackles so that he wouldn't hurt himself or others. All they could think to do was to separate him from others.

We all know what it is like when unexplained terrors wreak havoc on our families and communities—sometimes it is natural disasters, sometimes a terrorist or homophobic madman, sometimes mental or physical illness, sometimes socioeconomic pressures like the economic downturn or losing a job. We stand there helpless to explain it, helpless to get out of it.

And we find that Jesus has more authority than all the terrors we face. We find that Jesus is here to upend all the chaos and fear that we face. Jesus is with us, way out in the graveyard, way out in the farthest reaches of our minds, in our sickness, in our misery, in our fear and pain, in our grieving. Jesus doesn't just cross over to the country of the Gerasenes, a land of the Gentile heathens and barbarians. Jesus crosses over to all those places at great risk to himself. He crosses the boundaries he's not supposed to cross as the clean, holy, Son of God, Messiah, so that God with us is with the very most despised, lost-cause, abandoned person out on the edges of nowhere. He goes there and he has authority and strength and power. He tells the demons where they can go.

I have to point out here, that another word for “demon” is “idol.” Apparently demon possession was something more common among the Gentiles, because they believed in other gods. So you have all these idols, other gods, competing for someone's allegiance, their mind and spirit. It made me wonder about the idols we worship in our own lives, the things we give our attention and money to (our cell phones, celebrities, sports, guns) and what we get out of those attachments—certainly not love and mercy. Only allegiance to God and God's way of live will break down the barriers between us, will lead us to new life for us and for our communities. 

The next scene, here sits the man. How can we even recognize him from before? He is clothed—It reminds me of the phrase “clothed with Christ” that we read in Galatians this morning. He is at Jesus' feet, the position of a Disciple. He is in his right mind—calm, clear, level-headed. He is ready to be reunited with his family, with his community, to become a productive member of society. You would think this would be one of those happy endings where everyone stands in awe and one person starts to slowly clap, and then in comes another one, and another until the whole crowd is loudly clapping and cheering. 

But no. They were seized with great fear and they asked Jesus to leave. Why? Because he threatened the balance of power that were already in place. He caused a herd of pigs to be drowned. We're sorry for the pigs. This may be another story where they explain what happened after the fact. Why did a herd of pigs all run into the water—maybe it was an evil spirit. However the symbolism here would be clear to someone who was Jewish—of course the unclean spirits would go into the unclean pigs and of course they would go into the water which is the symbol of chaos and the origin of unclean spirits. However people were upset because the loss of the pigs was an economic loss to the owner of the pigs and restoration of a man to his right mind means this man needs a house, a job, a wife, etc., and that means competition, it means fear for the rest of the townspeople that they might have to make room for this person, to give something up so that he can have a share in the good life. They were happy to draw that line between themselves and this man. They are too good for him, no matter how he seems now. They think they know his potential, and unfortunately, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy when we draw those lines and decide we know how things ought to be and how they ought to benefit me and only me. People are left in their hiding place, like the little kids in our game of hide and seek, with no one to seek them out. 

Again and again we find ourselves abandoning God and missing a chance to learn mercy and compassion. But God won't forget us or abandon us so easily. Sure, God gets frustrated, but God's primary way of acting is out of love and forgiveness, so we get another chance tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, until we find ourselves not acquiescing to the damaging, wild, chaotic ways of this world, and instead doing the thing that brings the most peace. Then we find ourselves clothed with Christ, close to our Savior, sitting as Disciples at his feet, learning from him to be merciful, to seek and be sought, to experience the great joy and excitement of a life that has been lost and then been found. And we get to experience the joy of knowing how this will all come out in the end, that God is always looking for us, locking eyes with us, laughing with us, and taking us into those strong and loving arms, so that we can go out again and lose ourselves in ministry and service and find and be found again as the divisions between us fall away.

Monday, June 13, 2016

June 12, 2016

Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3
1st Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
2nd Reading: Galatians 2:15-20

Last Saturday I spent the day at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival. Over the weekend Nick and I saw about 10 different shows, and maybe 25 different comedians. On Friday I was laughing so hard my stomach muscles were hurting. Saturday afternoon we saw several shows at the Doug Fir on Burnside, but I had plans to see a movie with some friends downtown. It was also the night of the Starlight Parade, so instead of taking public transportation, I decided that walking about a mile and half would help me get my exercise in and allow me the chance to walk over the Burnside Bridge, something I've never done before. It was a beautiful evening. There was a breeze. The sun was behind the hills and the sky was a lovely orange, that kind of magical light as evening is beginning. And just as I was beginning to cross, a woman started talking to me. She had a cart full of her belongings with her. She was very tan from being out in the sun. She first assured me she wasn't crazy and I thought, “Here we go.” So my lovely, leisurely walk across the Burnside Bridge became a little quicker walk, as I was basically trying to leave her behind, and one with the company of someone who lives on the edges of society. She was mostly pleasant and I was, too. I asked her name. It was Stargazer. She asked mine and I told her. She told me she'd been assaulted on the streets, beaten as a child, and other things we don't usually tell strangers. I told her it was my first time walking across this bridge. She thought that was pretty funny and told me I should walk around downtown more. I asked her if she was going to the parade and she said she was. Then as we got to the edge of the bridge, something else caught her attention and she went off in another direction. She seemed a little irritated that I didn't offer her money, but she never asked me for it.

I thought I was going to spend time looking at the river, looking at the sky, taking in the breeze. I thought I was going to have a prayerful time, just God and me, with people around, but not bothering me. But instead I found this person that wanted to connect with me, have a conversation, tell me about her life. It was uncomfortable. I felt irritated. But then I wondered if I had any less of a conversation with God than if I had just been taking in the world around me. 

This Pharisee thinks he is going to have Jesus over, they will enjoy a quiet meal together, and he will have an experience of God that will confirm everything he already knows and he will go away comfortable, happy, and satisfied, and continue his life just as he has. 

However, here is this woman in the Gospel. We usually think it might be Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Bethany, but Luke doesn't name her. Anyway, she makes things very uncomfortable for the Pharisee. It turns out that when we invite Jesus, for dinner or into our lives or into our communities, we don't just get Jesus, but we get his friends, and we don't get little baby Jesus who can't challenge our comfortable lives, we get fiery grown up Jesus, who sees right through us, right into our thoughts and corrects us, invites us to see the world in a different way, to see one another as fully human. 

It says in the reading for Galatians, that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” What does it mean for Christ to live in us? It means that Christ's priorities are my priorities. It means Christ's friends are my friends. It means my life is different from the way it was before. 

Without Christ, my priorities are myself and my family. That was my mindset walking across the bridge. I spent the day laughing. I was going to have a nice, quiet little walk and contemplate whatever came into my little head. I was off to another event that I could afford a ticket to, to spend time with a friend in the air conditioning. 

But that's not really letting Christ fully live in me. I did not engage this woman fully. I didn't have time for that. I don't know that it would have helped anything if I had. I was civil to her. I looked her in the eye, but I did not look for Christ in her. So what do I do about that? I can feel guilt. I can try to do better next time. But I can also work for homeless rights, for affordable housing, for mental health services, for a more just city, for drug and alcohol services. I can leave intentional spots in my day to listen to people that I don't usually listen to.

I can speak up. Pacific Gas and Electric called me for a survey on Wednesday and when I finished answering their questions, they asked me if I had anything to add. I said that service outages and interruptions don't just happen when a tree falls on power lines. They happen when PGE shuts off power to a customer who can't pay. I told them I believe that people ought to have a right to electricity and that they can and should do more to help people who can't pay, especially people with kids and people who have health problems. Furthermore, to charge them exorbitant reconnection fees is ridiculous. It's not that people don't pay their electric bill because they don't want to. They don't pay it because they can't. I gave them pretty low scores on how they give to the community. What would it take to get all the Lutheran pastors of congregations that use PGE to call in and give the same feedback, or some congregation members? Would it make a difference? 

For PGE, maybe I am that woman who barges in on their feast, on their survey to confirm that everyone likes them and they can keep on, business as usual, and makes them just a little bit uncomfortable. Sometimes I am the pharisee, like I was on the bridge, and sometimes I am the weeping woman, full of emotion, and unwilling to shut up to make someone else happy. 

The Old Testament reading for this morning is pretty disturbing. It is a story that explains in retrospect why something happened—why David and Bathsheba's first son did not survive, which those who are hearing the story will know that led to King Solomon, one of the few good kings that ever served Israel was anointed King next, reigning after his father David. They will also remember the story of how the people of Israel had pleaded to God to have a king like all the other countries, and how God warned them that wasn't going to solve their problems, but would probably cause more problems, but they insisted, so this is what they are getting. Even their good king, their best King David, feels entitled. He is like the Pharisees, spoiled, not expecting anyone to critique him, getting everything he wants, and taking what isn't his. No one can stand up to him, but God sends a prophet to tell him a story so that he will truly see what he's done and repent—turn back to God. Once he gets it through his head what he's done, that he sexually assaulted the wife of a General in his army, Bathsheba and once he learned she was pregnant by this encounter, sends that General to the front lines to be killed, he is truly sorry and hopefully he learned something from this experience. God forgives him. However, he still has to face the consequences of his actions. In the story we feel bad for Bathsheba, that she is assaulted, that her child dies, that no one ever asks her for consent. We feel bad for the child, who didn't do anything wrong. But like I said, this is a story that tries to explain why things happen in retrospect. David has an experience that gives him empathy. His child dies. Now he knows the impact of what he has done. He has ensured that Uriah the Hittite will die by placing him at the front lines. He has taken away someone's son. He has taken away someone's husband forever. He has done all this in order to take someone's wife, when he had plenty of wives already. And now his beloved son is gone and he is in profound pain. We would not wish it on him, but he's done it to himself and he's done it to many others. We hope he's not going to act like this again. We hope he's learning compassion for others. We hope he's learning that even the king faces consequences for his actions and that God doesn't show favoritism even to God's favorites. We all face the consequences for the broken world we help create, from the greatest of us to the least.

When we welcome Jesus, it is Christ who lives in us, not our own desires. As it says in Galatians, “If I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.” If David does whatever he wants to suit him, he is not serving God. He's like every other king that ever lived, like every other privileged person who wanted their own way at the expense of others. And if he welcomes God, he welcomes God's friends who are the vulnerable little lambs and the poor man in the story that Nathan tells David to reveal to him the error that he's made. When David experiences the loss of his son, he becomes the vulnerable, poor man. He knows how it feels to be helpless. Now he will begin to see the helpless people around him as actual people instead of obstacles to him getting what he wants.

Who are we in this story? Usually we are the Pharisees. We stand in judgment of people by the side of the road with signs asking for money. We think we know them. We say we know they will spend any money we give on alcohol. We say they make hundreds of dollars a day. We say they are faking being in need. We don't know squat. Until we sit down with them and listen to them and look for Christ in them, we don't know. And we are not ones to judge. How much do we spend on alcohol? We even sip it at church in Holy Communion! Jesus sees through our self-righteous judging. He knows that our judging keeps us at a distance from other people. He knows we judge because we fear—because we know that could be us, because we are embarrassed at our helplessness, because we don't know where to start. But where we start is with ourselves—noticing when we begin to judge and question ourselves. What emotion is under there? Fear? Anger? Sadness? What if that was my family member? What if that was my son or daughter or grandchild? What if that was God? And then we ask, how can we move from judgement to compassion, to let ourselves feel as deeply as this woman weeping at Jesus' feet, grateful for this relationship, forgiven and free. And we ask ourselves each day, “What is my life going to look like, now that Christ lives in me?” How do I divide my time? How do I spend time in sabbath and rest, listening to God? What do I see in my community where I can make a difference? What is worth shedding tears about? What do I see that hurts me so deeply? How can I work together with others to do something about it? 

And each of us is the weeping woman, full of gratefulness and compassion, because we know pain and we know forgiveness and healing because of our relationship with God. We know that we have made plenty of grave mistakes. We've hurt others. We've been selfish and shortsighted, but God continues to say, “Your sins are forgiven. You're all right with me. Probably have some things to learn in this world and consequences to face here, but I will never leave you.” We are grateful for Jesus' sacrifice for us, the pain he endured, and the new life he shares even with those who've betrayed him. He even agreed to live in us, as messed up as we are.

One final thing, Bathsheba is never named in this part of the Old Testament story. The woman who washes Jesus' feet is never named. Yet, she is held up as an example for all the men. In the Old Testament, women were not considered full people. Bathsheba had no say about who she married. It was revolutionary that Jesus should see women as people, and even hold them up as examples of faith. The point of the Gospel, isn't that women are better than men, but that the outsider, the one everyone dismisses, has value in Jesus' eyes. This story is about seeing one another as fully human, as important and valuable as we are. At the end of this story in Luke, I always give a cheer because he talks about the Disciples and also some of the women who were with Jesus, and he starts naming them. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Stargazer from the Burnside Bridge, and Phylicia and Chloe, two transgender women I met at Synod Assembly. These are people, who have names, who have value to Jesus, and who are part of our community, who help make us whole, who teach us compassion and faith, and who we are to learn from and look up to. Whoever you are, God calls you by name. You matter in the Kingdom of God. Jesus not only tolerates you following him around, but welcomes your company, expects you to be there, because Jesus needs each of us with our full humanity, all our gratefulness and praise, to help reshape this world into one where each person is valued as fully human and each of us grows beyond our own desires toward compassion and love.