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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sermon for September 23, 2012

Gospel: Mark 9:30-37 1st Reading: Jeremiah 11:18-20 Psalm 54 2nd Reading: James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a I’m sure you’ve all read the cartoon The Family Circus over the years. When I read the Gospel for today, for some reason, I thought of little Billy from that cartoon, as the one that Jesus placed in the midst of the Disciples. I thought Billy would be curious enough to be standing there close to Jesus, having wandered there on one of his excursions, halfway listening, replacing words he didn’t understand with cute phrases of his own, ready to report to Dolly all he’d heard. There he’d be with his big head and his golden cowlick with his head cocked and his big eyes soaking everything up, not realizing that he was about to become the object lesson—the one the Disciples would be looking at in envy, wondering how they could be more like him. Some of my favorite Family Circus cartoons over the years were Billy’s excursions, where they showed the dotted line where he had gone that day. In one frame, cartoonist Bill Keane could show so much and make our imaginations see Billy jumping over the dog and going round and round the telephone pole, kneeling at the pond, and climbing the trees. With a few dotted lines, we could picture Billy’s curiosity, his playfulness, his physical exertion, his imagination, and his joy. One thing about Billy, he always went unexpected places, because he was a kid. He went places you and I wouldn’t go, but we remember going there because we were all kids once. We might have forgotten hiding under the bed until Billy reminded us. We might have forgotten the feeling of catching a frog or getting all muddy. We might have forgotten how we used to imagine that the grass was hot lava and hop from one rock to the next, but Billy reminds us of the imagination we used to have and the joy we used to have as we explored our world. If you traced the path of the typical adult, it might look very similar from one day to the next. Go to work. Go to the store. Pay the bills. Make dinner. Water the yard. And thinking of the path of the good life for a typical adult it would look like this: get an education, get a good job, get married, buy a house, buy a car, have a few kids, get a bigger house, get a better car, get a boat, get nice clothes, keep up with the Joneses, and so on. But today’s readings don’t have a lot of good things to say about the path that the world values. The path the world values is in question in the first lesson. Jeremiah has shared God’s displeasure with the way the Israelites are handling things and treating the poor. Now those in power are coming after Jeremiah to shut him up, for good. In the second reading, James is also criticizing the normal path of envy and selfishness that the world values, where we want what we don’t need and we hurt other people in order to get what we want and how we get totally focused on our own pleasures. James draws us another path and that is a dotted line to God and God coming down a path, a dotted line to us. So we might be asking what a path to God might look like. What does the path of a disciple look like? How do we get there from here? What does success look like for a follower of Jesus? How do you know you are a disciple? Jesus draws a dotted line to the cross. That can’t be right! Nobody even wants to ask him what the heck he means. All our dotted lines are running away from the cross. Now Jesus gives them another example, and puts Billy in their midst. This another way the path of a disciple might look. When we think of children, today, we have a very different view of how they were regarded in Jesus’ time. Today they are lavished with attention, given I-phones and fancy clothes, treated to ice-cream, and assured of having their own bedroom. I’m not sure they are valued today more than they were in Jesus’ time, but they are valued differently. Today, it seems we pseudo-value them. Our nation’s farm bill gives them food that isn’t good for them, but doesn’t make nutritious food available for needy families. Families lavish children with gifts, but don’t want to pay taxes to fund the greatest gift of all—an education. In Jesus’ time, they did value them less than we do—they were a liability, a mouth to be fed, a dowry to be paid, land to be divided, an expense. So when Jesus puts Billy in their midst, it is the Billy who has gotten dirty and made mischief and interrupts and is not very cute at all. In fact, maybe it was Dolly in their midst, even more worthless—a girl, an expense, a nobody. And the disciples are supposed to look up to her. She’s on the path that you’re looking for, boys. I have to think that children today and children of Jesus’ times had many similar qualities, even though we value them differently. This is what I think Jesus was pointing out. Children are vulnerable and trusting. This was a quality that Jesus also had. Of course he came as a child, a baby in the manger and had to rely on others to take care of him. This isn’t just true of children, but true at various levels all throughout our lives and again when we are older. Billy’s path takes him to the neighbor’s yard, through the woods, over a stream, past a barking dog. There are dangers in his path. Yet he moves forward on that path with confidence, trusting that he will be ok and finding his way back to his family by the end. We, like children, are vulnerable. We may be able to do a lot ourselves, but we always rely on others to help us at some level. Someone picks up our garbage. Someone puts gas in our car. Someone writes our social security check. Someone cleans our teeth. We need other people to get by. This is good practice for learning to trust others, or knowing who to trust and who to stay away from. It is good practice for learning to turn things over to God. It is good practice even when we get hurt by those we trust, because we learn to forgive just as God forgives us. The next thing about children is that they find joy in the simple things. We think it is the right house or car or vacation or gadget that will make us happy. But children remind us of what really brings us joy—it is the simple things. Billy plays with a stick. He hops on one foot. He watches a bug. The other day Nick, Sterling, and I went blackberry picking. I gave the baby his toys in his stroller to occupy him and that lasted a little while. Next thing you know he’s throwing his toys overboard and complaining and I am trying to get him interested in his rattles and bright green sippy cup, and toy keys. Then I see him reaching for a long piece of grass. So I gave that to him and he lasted 10 more minutes. The natural world has so much to offer us. There is so much beauty in a piece of grass or a flower or a cloud or tree. Just sitting there watching the wind blow through the bushes and listening to the birds is so relaxing. There isn’t anything to do but to let your heart burst with thanksgiving at being a witness to this beautiful world we live in. I’ve seen so many times, as we age, we have to let go of all those things we thought were important and downsize to a smaller apartment, assisted living, or whatever the new living situation is going to be. Again and again, the people I’ve known don’t miss any of that stuff they had. They are taking joy in each day, in the people they meet, in the memories they have, and in their families. We can learn from children how to be old, how to find joy in the simple things. One more thing I think we can learn from children and from older people is how to be curious and have an imagination. Kids and old people are the ones who ask the inappropriate questions. They are soaking up information. They are interested. They tell tall tales, stories with adventure and embellished details. It isn’t lying. It is imagination. It is something that God wants us to have, because it is something that God has. Remember God, creatively creating the heavens and the earth? Remember God making humankind in God’s image? We are like God in that we are creative. Creativity helps us be better problem-solvers. It helps us see the world that God wants to create, where people are fed and share things with each other, where we aren’t in competition with each other but we work together to get things done, where our welcome encompasses all that God has made, and where having a child as your role-model, or having a slave as your role-model is a normal thing because we are on God’s path, not the world’s path. The world’s path leads to despair and fragmentation. God’s path, like Billy’s, leads back to family, to love, to connection, to hope.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

sermon for September 9, 2012

September 9, 2012
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
1st Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
2nd Reading: James 2:1-17

On Tuesday afternoon I was drawn to my office window by some shouting down below. They’ve been paving Thiessen Road out here, and the delays can be quite long. I was trying to piece together what was going on. A red convertible sports car was stopped here at the end of this little private road and the driver was shouting and cursing. Then suddenly the driver took off up the hill and it was all over. I think what happened was he wanted to go left and there was a big backup of cars. I don’t know if no one would let him in, and it is hard to blame them since the delays were 10 or 20 minutes going down the hill, or if the traffic just never moved so they could give him an opening to go in. Whatever the problem, this guy was irate. His wife or girlfriend was embarrassed by his shouting. The drivers and passengers of the other cars were shocked. And an older gentleman on foot almost tripped as he was walking down to the post box to get his mail because he couldn’t take his eye off this ranting and raving driver.

I don’t know what it is about being behind the wheel, but I have occasionally flown off the handle in a similar situation. Maybe it is the expected convenience of driving and when we don’t have control of the situation we flip out. I don’t know, but I think you tell a lot about a person by how they behave behind the wheel. It tells a lot about how we deal with conflict and that’s what I want to talk about today: Conflict and how we deal with it.

Let’s look at another scenario of conflict. A healer sits at a table. He would really like a quiet moment alone. He’s been followed and harassed. People are making demands of him. He’s got limited time and energy. It didn’t always use to be this way. Once he was without limits, speaking a word and worlds appearing, organizing the stars in the sky, bringing people out of dust, and shaping animals and plants. Now he’s taken on limits and finds himself face to face with the very people he made and eating the plants and animals he created, and trying to meet all these different demands, and he’s exhausted. He’s trying to show them how to live life abundantly and how to share it. Sometimes they get it. Usually they don’t.

Here comes this woman that wants something more from him. He asks her, “Why should I help you?” He’s got a long line of people wanting his healing and wanting him to make dinner for them. Why should she go to the front of the line? And he calls her a dog.

He doesn’t call her a puppy. The Israelites didn’t keep dogs as cute pets. Dogs were like large rats to them. This isn’t a very nice thing to say.

Let’s look at it from the woman’s perspective and see how she deals with conflict. Her back is against the wall. She’s got her eye on one goal—healing for her daughter. She’s got one hope left, and that’s Jesus. She goes to him. She doesn’t waste his time but gets right to the point. He brushes her off. She has several choices at this point. She could give up and go away. She could get herself in a huff and lash out at him in anger. Instead she stays focused. What good would either of those things do? She is steady. She doesn’t get sidelined by his insult. Instead she uses that insult and uses his analogy to make her point. Her point is that she isn’t asking much. Her point is that Jesus has enough healing to go around. She has faith in his abilities. He isn’t going to scare her away. She isn’t going to let hurt feelings keep her from getting what her daughter needs. When I am at my best, I can be like this woman. She is the way I always picture the conflict going later in my mind if I could have said what I wanted to say and remained calm.

So what can we learn that would be helpful to us from these examples of how to deal with conflict? As far as the guy in the car, I think it has to be this: Don’t do what he did. We all lose it now and then. But that yelling didn’t help anyone. It didn’t change anything. Forgive yourself. Move on. And don’t repeat this scene too many times.

As far as Jesus goes, yes, he said something he probably regretted. He was making distinctions between people like it says in James not to do. But he also stayed and heard this woman out. He listened to her. And then he changed his tune. He granted the healing. He learned from his mistake and went on to do other healings of Gentiles as it points out in the second part of the Gospel with the deaf man. From Jesus we see how we can learn from our mistakes.

As far as the Syrophoenician woman goes, we can learn several things. She really is the hero of this story. Maybe we can also learn from Jesus to let someone else be the hero sometimes! She asks for what she needs. We can learn from her to ask for what we need. She has her priorities. She is totally focused on this priority and nothing is going to distract her from her goal. We sometimes let our ego get in the way of meeting our goals. We sometimes have too much pride to ask for what we need or to admit we don’t know all the answers and need help finding them out. We can also learn from this woman to have a thick skin. I think that’s what Jesus recognized in her that he really connected with. This woman is a survivor. She has gumption. She’s not going to take no for an answer. And this is why it is worth it for him to help her. He casts the demon out from her daughter, knowing that it isn’t a waste of his time. This woman has what it takes to feed her family, to stand up for herself, to demand what is right. This is the kind of person Jesus wants to free up to kick some butt. If she’s not spending every minute of her day tending to this child’s every need, she is going to be a firecracker in her community. She will say what needs to be said. She will call people on their BS. This is just the kind of person Jesus wants active in the community, bringing in the Kingdom.

You’ve heard the quote, “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I don’t know if you know, that’s a quote by Nobel Prize winner and Harvard University Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a feminist and Mormon.

Jesus frees us from having to be well-behaved, whether we are a woman or a man. Jesus frees us to make a difference, to speak truth to power, to be active in our communities, to stand up to those who mistreat us and others like us.

It is so easy when someone insults us or tells us no, to just crumple in a heap or to give up on them immediately, label them evil or stupid. What is harder is to stay engaged when you’re in a conflict. Keep focused on the goal. Know what you want. And don’t let someone’s hurtful comments get to you. Let it roll off your back. Be more mature than that other person. “Be strong. Do not fear!” Be sassy.

When we were coming back from our vacation at the coast last month, we were stopped by a flagger about a half hour into our way home. They were trimming the bushes and trees along the side of the road. She explained there would be a wait of 3-4 minutes, then we would cross into the other lane. We’d pass one road crew vehicle, then we should get back in our lane. Also we should not exceed 30 mph. While we were waiting the man behind us got out of his truck. He said thank you to the flagger for letting him through the other day. He had to get his daughter to the hospital. She had injured her leg and punctured her lung. The man told the flagger his daughter was going to be all right.

Yes we have procedures to keep everyone safe and to make sure we all have the chance to get where we are going. We have flaggers and road signs and an order that directs traffic. But there people who are injured and hungry waiting in those lines who will die if we don’t move them on through. Jesus is the flagger, deciding that it isn’t about what’s fair but what is right. He stops this woman with his stop sign on the stick and says, “Wait here.” And she says, “I can’t wait any more. Please let me through.” And he finds the energy to give life to her.
Jesus should have been at the front of the line and got an easy life. He did everything right. Instead he let everyone else go ahead of him and gave his life rescuing us. Now we who are most privileged in the world get the chance to make sure God’s saving power reaches those who need it most. It is our turn to let others go ahead of us, even though it might not be fair, but because it is life-giving. In our lives there will be conflicts. May we learn from them. May we grow from them. May we stand up for ourselves. May we stand up for those at the back of the line and let them move forward into life abundant.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sermon for Sept 2, 2012

September 5, 2012
Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Psalm 15
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
2nd Reading: James 1:17-27

When I was growing up, we were fortunate to live only 20 minutes away from both sets of grandparents. Four kids meant a lot of mouths to feed and gas prices were low, so almost once a week we went to one grandparents or the other for dinner. At Grandma Nana’s (named so because I couldn’t say grandma as a baby, but only nana) I remember she would call, “Go wash your hands for dinner!” That meant everyone lining up at the one bathroom in the house and washing our hands before we could find our place at the kids’ table to eat. At Grandma V’s house, (so named because no one wanted to have to say Grandma Vorderstrasse, even though it was all our last names) the ritual was praying before our meals, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let thy gifts to us be blessed.” It sounded a little to me like, “give us more gifts,” but that was the prayer we said. At home, we didn’t do either of these two things, but we did have our own rituals such as where we sat at the table and having to take three bites and having the timer set for 5 minutes if we were not taking our bites. These rules and rituals were to help us know what to expect. They helped prepare us to eat together in community, in family, not to waste food, to get along with each other, to have good health in our bodies, and to remember our food comes from God who we remember and thank.

At our house, now, our routines are changing due to a child in our midst. We still haven’t got our family meal ritual together—we eat at different times. But we are getting the bedtime ritual down pat. It helps our son know what to expect. It helps prepare him for healthy sleep. When he sleeps, we all sleep, which is good and very good.

So the Israelites, too, needed rules and rituals to help them interact together in community, to be healthy and get along and respect each other, and to know what to expect. So God gave them the commandments. And we, too, in society and in church need rules and traditions to help us on our spiritual path and to progress in our relationships. In church, we have many of these rituals. We are so attuned to say “And also with you” when the pastor says, “The Lord be with you” that we even say it when someone says, “May the force be with you.” We are ready to say the Lord’s Prayer, when the pastor says, “God remember us in your Kingdom and teach us to pray.” Or we are ready to respond, “Thanks be to God” when the reader says, “Word of God, word of life.” We are ready to hear the scriptures having sung a hymn in praise to God. We are ready to go to communion, having heard a word of hope. We are ready to go and be the good news to someone in need having gathered in community to worship God.

Our way of worshipping is helpful to us in many ways. Like dinner or bedtime rituals there is no one right way of doing it. We use words from scripture in our worship and we use a formula that makes sense to many of us. And there are other, completely legitimate and wonderful ways to worship God, different words we could use and different order to the elements of worship. And our way of Lutheran worship allows for much flexibility and openness to different options in worship. What matters most is not the words we say, but where our heart is and what our motivations are. What is behind the actions we do and the words we say. Do we worship this way to serve ourselves? Are we flexible enough to be relevant to the world we live in? Do we try to help others understand why we do what we do? Do we leave room for the Holy Spirit in, with, and under our rules and traditions so She can teach us new ways to interact with God that help us grow spiritually?

And one of the biggest questions of all is this: Do we worship the rules so that they cannot be questioned? Or are we willing to examine our traditions to make sure they are still doing what they were intended to do, which is to help us move along a spiritual path toward greater love?

Jesus cautioned us toward worshiping the rules. He said the rule and the tradition is not the thing. They are meant to point to God. He was constantly breaking rules. He picked grain and healed people on the Sabbath. He touched lepers. He talked to prostitutes. And he didn’t wash his hands before dinner, which would have been ok with grandma V., as long as he prayed, but not ok with grandma nana and not ok with the Jewish people and probably not ok with many of us here today. And of course don’t forget that God’s rules were used against him at his trial and because he didn’t deny saying he was God’s Son, he was crucified.

We all know the rules aren’t perfect. Innocent people get sent to jail. People find loopholes in the rules and exploit them, like with the Adjustable Rate Mortgages. The banks were following the rules, but that didn’t mean they were doing the right thing. We often interpret the rules in ways that benefit us. We use the rules to get more power for ourselves or our group and to take that power away from everyone else. Is anyone else as glad as I am that this election will be over soon? Is anyone else as disgusted as I am that both parties are using and misusing power so blatantly? What a waste of time!

In the midst of all this vying for power, the apostle James asks us to hold up a mirror. He asks us to reflect on ourselves and to stop and take a good long look at ourselves and the rules and traditions we use. It is a good thing to do individually. It is a good thing to do as a congregation. Rather than just go through the motions of our laws and traditions, we should look at them. We should assess whether they are accomplishing the work of God. Are they spreading God’s love? Are they helping people on their spiritual journey? Do we do them just because that’s what we’re used to? Do these laws and traditions draw people together into deeper relationship with each other and with God? Do they drive a wedge between people and show who is in and who is out and become ways of excluding people who aren’t like us?

When we look in the mirror, the world tells us not to like who we see. They tell us that we need something to make us likeable-whether it is a new truck or a certain brand of paper towel or a certain food. They promote the tradition of “Buy more stuff until you feel better” because it benefits them. They sell more stuff because of our fear that we aren’t good enough without this that or the other.

God tells us that we are created good and that we are beloved. When we look in the mirror we should see a beloved child of God. We start from a place of love and hope. God also gives us an honest assessment that we are afraid, that we are self serving, that we bend the rules to benefit ourselves, that we compare ourselves to other people. God doesn’t want that for us because it isn’t good for us and it isn’t good for others. So God offers us a better way. It is a way that we can reach for but never fully attain. It is our spiritual path to do God’s word and not just pay it lip service. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God meaning that we are unable to follow God’s commandments. But that doesn’t mean we give up. We want to serve. We want to try to follow God’s rules and commandments so that we can live long in the land and so that we and others can have enough, life abundant. Widows and orphans are still relying on us to be God’s hands and feet helping them. The world is hungry for justice and compassion and hope that God brings through us living that word. God’s rules help us to act justly so that people are fed and clothed and relationships are built.

When we look in the mirror God asks us to see Jesus within us. God wants us to treat that person we see in the mirror as we would treat Jesus. God wants us to have love and compassion for ourselves. God asks us to see the holy within us. God asks us to see Jesus in the eyes of all we meet—all our brothers and sisters, too. When we see Jesus there, we don’t see a rival to compete with. We see a brother who we love and who loves us. We see someone we want to empower rather than to take advantage of. We aren’t to judge that person, but to have a relationship with them.

When we see Jesus in that mirror, we see ourselves like God sees us. We get credit for Jesus’ perfection. God sees the family resemblance. And when we see Jesus reflected back in our neighbor’s eye, in our enemy’s eye, our hearts soften in love.

Jesus takes our place in that mirror and instead of our failures that we would normally see when we look at ourselves, we see what can happen when God works through our hands and feet to help others. Instead of judgment of our shortcomings, we find forgiveness from God and from ourselves. Instead of hatred for ourselves or others, we see our divisions going away. Instead of despair at our inability to do anything about our shortcomings, we get a picture of what could be. Instead of being stuck and hopeless, we get imagination to build a more just and loving future. Instead of seeing rules and traditions to cling to, we see the life and hope the rules point to. When we look in that mirror and truly self-reflect, we find hope, not just for ourselves, but for others. When we become doers of the word, we share that hope with others.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sermon for August 19, 2012

August 19, 2012
Gospel: John 6:51-58
Psalm 34:9-14
1st Reading: Proverbs 9:1-6
2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:15-20

Eating flesh and drinking blood. It sounds like a zombie or vampire story right? These have been all the rage the past few years. A couple of years ago I stayed with a pastor friend of mine in Eugene for part of my vacation. We went into a bookstore looking for a particular book in the “Son of a Witch” series. Finally, after not finding it where she expected to, she asked the clerk where it could be found. The clerk replied, “That’s in ‘Teen Paranormal Romance.’” I had to stifle my snicker! Number one, an adult was reading these books. Number two there was a whole section for this type of book. Number three, I am superior since I’ve never even picked up one of these “Twilight” books or seen any of the movies.

Of course on further reflection I admit that I am not superior or immune. When I was growing up the vampire movie was “The Lost Boys.” I went to the theater to see “I am Legend” when it came out, a zombie/vampire story. Just this year Nick and I started watching the “Walking Dead” series that we stream from the internet. I also watched a season and a half of “True Blood” until I just couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to watch it anymore. I can say that my tastes are less geared toward teenagers, and less about romance, but my friend who was looking for her teen paranormal romance book is probably more in touch with today’s cultural references, and can have a more informed conversation with a teenager than I can.

These vampire and zombie movies, books, and TV shows may or may not be what you’re watching or reading, but they are what your children or grandchildren are watching and reading. Some religious leaders have condemned these books as well as Harry Potter, because of its connection to black magic and witchcraft, but they do have strong spiritual themes. This can be a convenient way to talk to your child or grandchild about spirituality and even Christianity or even think about it more deeply for yourself.

The eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood might not be the first theme you want to go to, but it is front and center. It is pretty gross to think about. But the truth is, Jesus asked us to do it and it is the central ritual, the Sacrament that we gather around every Sunday. It is at the table that we meet and eat Jesus.

Vampires and Christians share something in common and that is the view that blood is life, it is empowerment. Vampires and Christians find eternal life by drinking blood. When vampires do it, they damage the person from whom they drink. In the Lord’s Supper, when we drink the blood, we share in the eternal life of Jesus, but we go from damaged to whole. We take on Jesus’ kind of life that is eternal, but we also take on Jesus’ manner of life that is self-giving and loving and welcoming. Some questions to consider when thinking about the Lord’s Supper and literature and movies about vampires is this: What does it mean to live eternally? What does it mean to truly live? What gives life? What takes it away?

In these vampire stories there is usually the theme of “us verses them.” There is the fear of the unknown. There is the “other.” Often these films take on a Romeo and Juliet flavor in which two young people fall in love, when that is forbidden because they are from different groups, one a human and one a vampire. Through their love, they teach others to lose their fear and instead embrace differences and break down barriers separating the two groups. Another sub-theme is about judging a book by its cover.

Now maybe I should have preached separate sermons on zombies and vampires, because they are very different creatures, but I don’t know if you would sit through two of these sermons or if I could stomach preaching about this twice, so here we go.

Zombies eat flesh. Once they do, the one they’ve eaten also becomes a zombie. They are dead and yet they move and hurt people and spread this zombie disease. I think zombie stories are so interesting because they challenge the life we live now. Sometimes I know I feel like a zombie, going through the motions, in my routines, walking through life in a daze unaware of my surroundings, drawn in by advertising and the messages culture gives me about what to spend my money on and what is important in life.

Jesus is the anti-zombie in this case. When we eat of his flesh, instead of becoming less alive, we become more aware and more alive. Instead of then going and feasting on other people, we invite them to feast with Jesus and truly live. Through this meal we become more aware of how we treat other people. We are invited to share our food. We are invited to see every meal as a gift from God. We are invited to sacrifice our own wants and desires to make sure that others have life abundant.

Finally, both vampire and zombie stories are about the world falling apart all around us and how we behave when we are faced with tough choices. Faced as we are with the loss of environment and habitat, pollution and a warming planet with extremes of weather, it does seem that we are living in times of desperation and fear. Other moments in history have had their own notions of a world torn apart, whether it was The Black Plague, times of war, the fear of “the bomb” or whatever. And we know that there are places in this world that have fallen apart and would look very much like the set of a zombie movie. It isn’t that far-fetched to see ourselves in a world where we are desperately trying to survive. We do have to make tough choices every day. And sometimes those choices are made for us as we age or get sick or financial markets take their toll or whatever.

These stories make us think about the question of who we are. When it is easy to be generous and loving, sure I will be those things. Would I still be the same when times are tough? Jesus showed us God, loving even as we were crucifying him. This truly showed that God does not resort to violence, no matter the situation. It shows God welcoming the criminals on either side of him as he hung there on the cross, even as he suffered and died. Who are we really? Are we really loving and faithful even when it isn’t easy to be? We don’t know until we come to that point and our faith is tested. But you don’t have to wait until the world is a desolate wasteland and you’re being pursued by a pack of zombies to know. We go through hardships that help us practice loving kindness. We know we’d give a jump to a woman with a baby stuck in the grocery store parking lot. But what if it was a guy with a lot of tattoos? What if it was our enemy? What if it was hailing? What if there were zombies coming after us? It isn’t often life or death. That just makes for good TV and sells a lot of books. But it is a matter of how we live our faith in a response of thanksgiving to God who does give us life and life abundant through the flesh and blood of his son Jesus. It is God who makes us flesh of his flesh and blood of his blood and invites us to help join others to the body of Christ through acts of love and grace.