Proper 14(C): It’s Just Stuff!

Proper 14(C): It’s Just Stuff!

Luke 12:32-40

By: The Rev. Kevin W. Cravens-Koch

 

“Do you think he really meant that?” a classmate asked the professor as we discussed this passage one day in a seminary class.

“Yes, I do think he really meant that. Give half of your possessions to the poor. Why wouldn’t he have really meant that? It seems idealistic, yes. I’m not there yet and I hope one day I will be, but I think it’s something we should absolutely be striving for,” my professor responded.

I don’t think that was really the answer that anyone really wanted to hear, but it was an honest answer nonetheless. It is our humanity getting the best of us. We want the Gospel to be easy, but rarely ever is the Gospel easy. We know that when Jesus taught, it was rarely straightforward; there was always some larger meaning behind his teachings.

Recently my husband and I moved. It wasn’t quite cross-country, but it was a 9-hour drive from our old home to our new residence. Packing was an absolute nightmare. We didn’t have enough boxes for all of our things. The boxes we did have weren’t big enough. And at one point, the movers came back in the house and said, “Well, we’re almost out of room. What would you like to make sure we get on the truck?” I looked around and noticed that all of our bedroom furniture and all of our dining room furniture was still in the house sitting by the door. I panicked. As I was pacing back and forth, my family reassured me that it was going to be okay.

On the day that the landlord was set to come do a walkthrough of the house with us, I sat in the living room looking at all the stuff that we had left, looking out the window at my tiny subcompact car sitting in the driveway, back at the stuff, and back at the driveway before I just broke down. “How am I going to get all of that into there?!” Truthfully, I wasn’t. There was simply no way that even the most strategic of packers could get everything into my car. Calling my husband in a near breakdown, he said, “Relax. It’s just stuff…It can all be donated. We don’t need it anyway.”

He was right. We didn’t (and still don’t) need all of it. “It’s just stuff” is a mantra that we continue to repeat to ourselves as we unpack our boxes and decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to get rid of. But it’s a mantra that has played itself out in our everyday spending too.

The reality is this: we all have a lot of stuff, figuratively and literally. This scripture is reminding us that it isn’t any of the stuff that actually matters. It is the experience. Experiencing each other through relationships, experiencing life without distractions, experiencing creation, and experiencing God through all of those things. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t take it with you when you go,” which reiterates that the stuff of real value is not what you can possess, but what you can do for yourself, do for others, and do for God.

It seems like a very eschatological idea to think of the kin-dom. It seems very other worldly to think about Jesus coming back. Perhaps that isn’t really what is at the heart of this passage at all. Perhaps it has very little to do with the afterlife. Perhaps this passage is drawing from the part in the Lord’s Prayer that suggests that “thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Maybe, we are being called into deeper relationship through this text. Maybe really, at the core of this scripture, there is a call for repentance—a changing of hearts and minds to shift the focus back to God where it has gotten distracted by materialism. Because, perhaps the kin-dom isn’t so far away after all.

The kin-dom of which the text speaks is one of love and grace. Be alert, be prepared, we know not when those times will find us; when we are called to speak up and live out the Gospel, but when we live by love, through love, and in love, we are much closer to that kin-dom.

I wonder if, perhaps, this is not even a command as much as it is an invitation—an invitation to live into and to be. How will we respond?

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The Rev. Kevin W. Cravens-Koch

The Rev. Kevin W. Cravens-Koch is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and lives in Erlanger, Kentucky with his husband, Ryan, and their three dogs, Bailey, Rey and Lexi. He was born and raised in Northern Kentucky and attended college at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky where he earned his BA in Religion. He received his MDiv from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. His passions include Chipotle, ice cream, reality television, bowties, family, and animals.

 

 

 

 

Proper 13(C): Getting Closer to the Whole Gospel

Proper 13(C): Getting Closer to the Whole Gospel

Luke 12:13-21

By: The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about my two different Christian “families” I’ve been a member of: evangelical Christianity and progressive Christianity. Because we use these words in so many different ways at different times, I’ll start with a quick personal explanation of my use of these terms, and I’ll also apologize in advance for the simple reduction in terms. When I say evangelical, I’m not actually positioning it politically against progressive Christianity, but instead, I’m thinking of a whole culture. Evangelical culture, both of my youth and today, centers the New Testament and the salvation narrative of Jesus and Bible studies and worship music and personal relationship and well, evangelism. The progressive Christian culture of which I’ve also been a member centers the social justice messages of the Bible and the Jesus that suffers with and stands for the marginalized and is careful not to proselytize about Heaven, but instead, preaches a gospel of a more just world here on earth.

There are differences between the two, sure, but as someone who has been formed by both, I’m pretty defensive for each when one of them comes under attack by the other. I’ll stick up for the loving evangelicals and the activist progressives when the other team dismisses them because I recognize in both a commitment to love and serve Jesus. And what happens when we turn we clearly delineate between groups? We fall into the trap of thinking there’s a right group and a wrong group, and often, we like to think whichever group we’re on is the right one, or else we would be in the other group.

One thing I’ve discovered about my progressive Christian family is that we often like to discuss action above heart, what we do above what we believe. I myself have taught in class that “impact is greater than intent,” which is a suggestion that it matters not what you meant to do, but what your actions accomplish. (For example, this is an important distinction in conversations about the harm inflicted by policies that have disproportional consequences for people of color. A voter might say, “I’m not racist,” but the implication of their vote says otherwise.) For this group, it is essential to get away from personal language because sin and evil in society tends to be systemic, it is written into the codes of public policy and institutional life, so a single person’s intention is irrelevant.

This text in Luke, though, pushes us beyond action and into the realm of actual intent. Here, the heart matters too, because the heart is the root of the actions. In this case, it is greed that is undergirding the hoarding of resources for the rich man.

My progressive family knows what to do with a message about not storing up treasures—this is an anti-capitalist message against the hoarding of resources by “the rich” at the expense of “the poor!” It fits our categories of activism, and it preaches easily in a progressive context. (That’s probably what I’d do if I were preaching in my UCC context.)

My evangelical family knows what to do with this message, too—guard your heart against greed. Know that your time will come at any moment, and your heart should be right with God. Your life is not your own, so get your heart on board with that.

I have a nagging suspicion that neither approach is enough, which brings me back to my recent reflections about my two different church families—the evangelicals and the progressives. The social justice commitment deep in my soul knows that this text pushes us beyond individualistic hoarding, which has a detrimental effect on our society. The message missing from that, however, is the actual heart of the matter. You see, when progressive Christians focus solely on the societal implications of the text, they miss the individual conviction of how we are tempted to live on a daily basis. On the other hand, if we only personalize the texts every time we read them, we miss the conviction about what this radical idea might mean in an individualistic society.

If the only message I receive about this text is that the rich hoarding resources is bad, then I’m off the hook. I ain’t rich. And I vote for social safety networks to make sure poor people aren’t hurt by the corporations that practice corporate greed and underpay their staffs. So if I am only called to look at actions, to examine impact rather than intent, I never go to the deeper level in myself that is undergirding my actions. Why am I tempted to hold on tightly to what I have? Is it greed, fear, anxiety? Evangelical Christians are more likely to admit that we are broken people that act out of our brokenness, and if we’re willing to prayerfully examine ourselves, we might be able to grow through these broken patterns.

If the only message I receive about this text is that my heart needs to be unselfish, then our society is off the hook. I ain’t rich. And I donate money to causes that are important to me to make sure I’m not greedy. So if I’m only called to examine myself and make sure my own heart is right, I never look beyond at the impact of my actions or the actions of the larger group. Progressive Christians are more likely to look at society and see how people are being hurt by greedy systems, and if we’re willing to pull back the lens, we might see more that needs to be addressed outside the church walls.

What if we find a way to preach the whole gospel at once? What each group has in part can be integrated as one transformative, liberative message for both the individual and collective. Perhaps I am to be convicted to look at my heart, how I’ve tried to shore up safety and security for myself by holding tight to my possessions, while also looking at my actions as an individual and as a member of society. The gospel is so much bigger than any one church group. If we open our ears to each other’s messages, we might get a bit closer to what Jesus was trying and is trying to do with and for us.

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The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram

The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram serves as the Director of Religious Life and Chaplain of Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana. She grew up in non-denominational evangelical land and is now an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She earned a BA from Anderson University, a Master of Theological Studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, and a PhD in Religion and Psychological Studies from the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology. Her areas of interest include education, practical theology, and escaping overthinking by baking, crafting, and watching TV.

 

Proper 12(C): Teach Us to Pray

Proper 12(C): Teach Us to Pray

Luke 11:1-13

By: The Rev. Sean Ekberg

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you…”

The last two decades have been riddled by terrorism, natural disasters, and heinous acts of social injustice. Initially, we were shocked. When the twin towers sent smoke billowing into the sky on September 11th, we watched in absolute horror. The following weeks served as a testament to the American spirit and how we could come together…for a time. Then, one by one, atrocities seemingly began to abound. School shootings, night club massacres, bombings, floods, hurricanes, injustices afflicting many groups…the list built. As these moments came and went, the words, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” started becoming trite. People began to decry the phrase’s usage due to the lack of outcome and a sense of insincerity—we wanted prayers to be answered. And answered the way in which they were presented. In essence, people were treating (and still treat) God like a cosmic coke machine, expecting that the heinous crimes against humanity and the loss of life would cease simply because we were ‘prayin’ hard enough.’ Now, it seems that our patent response of, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you…” has become a tagline that isn’t even accompanied by prayers. Or thoughts, for that matter. Sometimes I think they’ve become mere meaningless words. (I know that many of us humbly pray and do so with intentionality, but much of the outside world does not.)

Because we want action.

We don’t want to sit faithfully and pray, awaiting the Marvel-esque God to sweep down and avenge the evils done to us. So, we march. We organize. We speak out. And we should. We are called to speak out against hatred and we have a sacred desire to come together in community to try to make this world a better version of itself through our actions. But we shouldn’t lose the true sense of prayer, nor should we cease reminding those around us of its power and importance. Luke 11:1-13 provides step-by-step instructions for us. “How do we pray?” could also have meant, “How should we pray when we’ve lost hope; or, have no idea how to ask/discern what’s best for us?” Our congregations and ourselves need reminding—the WORLD needs reminding—that prayer is the most potent tool in our everyday toolbox. Reteaching those around us (and perhaps ourselves) that prayer is more about a relationship with God, and is less about controlling the free will of others, is of paramount importance these days.

When travesties occur, our thoughts and prayers do matter; we have to remind ourselves of that. We may not always get what we want, but we will be granted the grace to help one another through our darkest moments. The times of trial only come when we face them alone—that is something we too often forget.

Perhaps a prudent plan for preaching Luke on Proper 12 would involve walking people through The Lord’s Prayer with intentionality. What does it really say? What is it really asking for? The people sitting in church on Sunday are most likely on auto-pilot during The Lord’s Prayer (thinking of lunch when ‘daily bread’ is mentioned) and aren’t being intentional about the prayer at all. If we’re honest with ourselves, some of the priests/pastors/ministers are guilty, too. But if we can successfully walk our people, and ourselves, through the lines of Jesus’ recommendation for prayer, maybe new meanings will emerge. If we think about what we’re praying for, our prayers will become more about encountering the Holy in times of joy, need, sorrow, and pain, and less about “Okay, God, I prayed. Now make all this go away.” Because, to quote a recent humorous commercial promoting Facebook, “That’s now how this works. That’s not how ANY of this works.”

If you’ll remember, Christ prayed multiple times to be taken from the hands of his enemies while in Gethsemane. Was he delivered from captivity and death? No. But he prayed anyway. I have to believe that, during those frightening moments, Christ’s heartfelt prayers were answered. They were answered with a sense of grace that gave him the courage to keep moving, regardless of the outcome. That’s the point of prayer: to remember God’s promise of salvation and that, while we ask, we may not always get what we ask for, but in the words of theologian Mick Jagger, we’ll get what we need. In the end, God will recognize part of Godself in us.

Preaching on the power of prayer—and the importance of it—is something we should never stop doing. Just like we should never stop praying. By reminding people to connect or reconnect with the words they’re praying while they’re praying them, we’re repairing a broken promise typed out in response or said aloud in rote tones…

Because our thoughts and prayers really will be with them. And within us.

Fr. Sean Ekberg
The Rev. Sean Ekberg

The Rev. Sean Ekberg is the Rector of Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He earned a Master of Divinity from Seminary of the Southwest in 2015. His favorite pastimes are talkin’ bout Jesus, enhancing his terrible golf game, and taking vacation time with his favorite person in the world—his wife, Nicole. They have a thirteen year old pit bull named Ty. He likes Jesus, too.

Proper 11(C): A Focused Way of Living

A Focused Way of Living

Luke 10:38-42

By: Mashaun D. Simon

There is this saying, “What you focus on becomes your reality.”

Not too long ago I preached a sermon on the topic, “The Theology of Disappointment.” In the sermon, I engaged the power of perception. I argued that sometimes, we get distracted when what we desire becomes more of a priority for us than reality.

Sometimes, I argued, we get so trapped by what has our gaze that we miss out—we miss out on lessons, we miss out on experiences, we miss out on opportunities because we are laser focused on something else that really should not have our energy or attention.

That which has our focus becomes our reality. The problem with being so laser focused is that what we perceive as reality may not truly be reality.

When considering the text, I cannot help but to consider that this could potentially be the problem for Martha.

Here is Jesus, in her home, the home she shares with her sister Mary. This is Jesus, the same one who, by this time, has performed countless miracles—from raising the widow’s son, to feeding the five thousand, to healing a leper and the paralyzed one. Today, we have come to know this Jesus as the Messiah, the answer to the prophecy, the one who sacrificed his life so that we could be made free. This is that Jesus. And while that Jesus is sitting in the living room of Mary and Martha, it is Martha who seemingly doesn’t get what is going on before her.

Or maybe she does.

My knee jerk was to criticize Martha. My knee jerk was to chastise her for being distracted, for being so focused on the chores of the home that she was missing a moment; she was on the verge of missing her blessing.

My knee jerk reaction was to praise Mary, to celebrate Mary for recognizing the moment and being responsibly fixated on what matters most. Good job, Mary. Good job, Mary, for sitting at Jesus’ feet listening; and shame, shame on Martha, poor Martha, for being distracted.

Because, isn’t that the point? Isn’t it the point that when we place our focus on Jesus all is right, all is well, and because we have placed our focus solely on Jesus, we will be rewarded for our maturity and obedience?

Or could something else be at play here?

My knee jerk, like most others who have been “brought up” and conditioned within Christianity, is to pass judgment on Martha. Like most of us, our conditionings have taught us to almost robotically and naively turn our heads to “the Messiah” without a second-thought. Right?

But when taking a deeper look, when looking beyond the text and excavating more deeply, there is a revelation that I had honestly never had before.

What you focus on becomes your reality.

According to the text, Martha was distracted by all of the preparations that had to be made and Mary has chosen what is better, and that will not be taken from her because few things are needed.

Both Martha and Mary had made choices. Martha was more focused on preparation and as a result was distracted; but Mary, Mary was laser focused on one thing and was listening. Martha was frantic. Martha was emotional and angry and frantic because she had chosen to be more concerned with things that were creating for her distractions. But Mary, Mary was seemingly calmed and at peace. And because she had chosen such, the state in which she was in was not to be taken from her.

Maybe, just maybe, Martha’s problem was not that she was distracted but that she had placed too much emphasis on things that did not matter. And because she had made such a choice, maybe it was not that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening, but that she was chosen something, one thing to place her focus and because of that she was obtaining something that Martha was not.

Maybe, just maybe it was less about Jesus and what he was saying and more about Mary’s choices and how those choices would serve her best.

Most people who know me know that one of my favorite television shows of all time is The West Wing.

In the fourth episode of the fourth season, President Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, is once again dealing with some kind of international issue while at the same building up to his re-election campaign.

Of course, there will be opposition from the opposing party in the upcoming election, but President Bartlet has recently learned that there would also be opposition from his own party, from a seasoned senator who has gotten into the race in order to “raise issues.”

Yet again, art imitates life. But, as far as Oscar Wilde is concerned, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Eventually, the senator decides to end his campaign for the presidency and endorses the President.

The senator communicates his decision to President Bartlet after a speech the President gave at a church. The senator tells the President,  “I was telling [one of our aides] about a friend who just got his pilot’s license. He told me the most remarkable thing. He said a new pilot will fly into cloud cover. There’ll be no visibility. And they’ll check their gauges, they’ll look at the artificial horizon, it’ll show them level, but they won’t trust it. So, they’ll make an adjustment and then another and another… He said the number of new pilots who fly out of clouds completely upside-down would knock you out. My office will make arrangements for me to endorse you in the morning. You keep your eyes on the horizon, Mr. President.”

I like this episode and its message because it’s simple: focus on what’s important.

All too often, we allow things to knock us off track, to detour and deter us, becoming overwhelmed, frustrated, and distracted. But sometimes, it is necessary to sit still and listen, to choose focus and peace and calm in the midst because being upset and worried about too many things is not needed.

At the end of the day, there is purpose in our choices. At the end of the day, that which we give our focus must be fulfilling and life giving. Life is meant to be lived. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Life is not meant to be spent worried and stressed, overwhelmed and distracted.

What you focus on becomes your reality. Let your reality make you better.

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Mashaun D. Simon

Mashaun D. Simon is a licensed and ordained preacher and writer from Atlanta, Georgia whose research, writing, and preaching engage topics of race, faith, identity and equity. He serves on the board of directors and ministerial staff of House of Mercy Everlasting Church in College Park, Georgia.

 

Proper 10(C): “First, Kill All the Lawyers!”

Proper 10(C): “First, Kill All the Lawyers”

Luke 10:25-37

By: The Rev. Kim Jenne

Antipathy toward those in the legal profession has been around for a long, long time. Even Shakespeare had one of his characters in “Henry VI” proclaim, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”[1] Luke, the author of today’s Gospel lesson also seems to lack affection for those in the legal profession. But, I don’t think this parable is specifically about lawyers, nor do I think all lawyers are bad. In Shakespeare’s play, Dick the Butcher was referring to corrupt, unethical lawyers. Shakespeare meant it as a compliment to attorneys and judges who instill justice in society.[2] And for those in Jesus’ early audience, lawyers would have been considered positive figures. Lawyers, at that time, studied Torah for their interpretation of the law. Their close connection with Torah would have been a good thing. So, this story is not about whether lawyers on the whole are good, but the foolishness of this particular lawyer (and those like him). Consider the following depiction of the lawyer in this scene.

First, the lawyer calls Jesus “Teacher.” The very first political campaign I got interested in was the candidacy of my political science professor for Missouri’s 27th Senatorial District Seat. My professor, active in Democratic politics in southern Missouri, was up against the Republican incumbent, a lawyer by trade. I remember attending one of their debates in the fall of 1996 on campus. The incumbent had a funny way of referring to my professor, a tenured faculty member, as “Professor” throughout the debate. I and my classmates referred to him as Doctor Althaus as a sign of respect and deference for his experience and credentials. When the state senator referred to him as “Professor,” I quickly realized he didn’t mean it as a sign of respect; he meant it as a sign of contempt. When the lawyer calls Jesus, “Teacher,” it’s in a similar way that the Republican incumbent referred to his Democratic rival as “Professor.” It was meant to establish a power dynamic. If you read much of Luke, you begin to realize that for gospel writer, “Teacher” is only used when someone does not understand what Jesus is saying or when they do not respect him. For Luke, the better title for Jesus is “Lord.” Strike one.

The second negative against this lawyer is his reason for engaging Jesus in conversation in the first place. He doesn’t ask his question to gain knowledge, but to test Jesus. The fact that he is testing Jesus aligns him with Jesus’ critics and opponents. They are likely trying to catch Jesus in a mistake. Strike two.

And finally, the question the lawyer asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (NRSV) is the wrong question. The verb tense used here suggests a single, limited action. The lawyer thinks that this is just something to scratch off his to-do list: say a prayer, offer a sacrifice, put a $100 bill in the offering plate and “bada-boom, bada-bing, you getcha some eternal life!” Strike three.

Typical of Jesus, he responds to the man with a question of his own, forcing him to reply with something the lawyer should know, the law, and yet, in response to Jesus’ second question, “What do you understand from it?” The man fails to see the law’s full meaning.

Now, Jesus is a teacher even if Luke considers it a slight. He is a great teacher. And, standing before him is a man who is failing to understand today’s lesson plan so the lawyer “is about to become the recipient of a parable.”[3] As Jewish scholar Amy Jill-Levine says, we know “that if a parable is directed to a particular individual, the individual is likely to come to an unwelcome realization.”[4] This lawyer is not likely to enjoy the short story Jesus is about to tell.

The Do-Gooder

The modern understanding of the term as a synonym for a charitable “do-gooder,” sometimes takes the power out of the story. In order to fully appreciate Jesus’ parable, a skilled preacher will help a congregation realize that Samaria was an actual place in time and history and that Jews and Samaritans had a complicated relationship to say the least. Emphasizing that the two groups saw one another as mortal enemies will help congregations understand Jesus’ dramatic teaching.

Despite a common heritage through the ancestor Jacob,[5] Samaritans were in no way good in the minds of first century Jews. They are people to be avoided at all cost.[6] Samaritans were not righteous in the eyes of Jewish law. You could not scrub them hard enough to make them clean or holy. In John 8:48, the religious authorities call Jesus a “Samaritan” and a demon! Portraying a Samaritan, any Samaritan, as “good” would have been a shock to Jesus’ original audience. It would have been as contradictory as referring to someone as a “good murderer” or a “nice rapist.”

So, Jesus uses a shocking perspective in order to teach the lawyer in Luke an important lesson about what it means to be one’s neighbor (Lk. 10:29) according to the law. Ceremoniously unclean, socially outcast and religiously a heretic, the Samaritan is in all ways the very opposite of the lawyer asking the question. For first century Jews, lawyers were the ones who studied Torah all the time. They were considered among the most righteous of the community. By using the very opposite of the lawyer as the principal figure in his story, Jesus forces the lawyer to investigate a deeper understanding of the law. This is a theme that Jesus comes back to, time and time again. When he heals on the Sabbath, Jesus is choosing mercy over following the law to exactness (Mk. 3:1-6, Lk. 13:10-17). And here, he is asking the lawyer – one who is obsessed with rule-following – what is the better answer? For Jesus, that answer is always mercy marked by love. Love marks one as a disciple (Jn. 13:35). Love is the lived example of eternal life.

Resurrected Living

Jesus’ short stories are meant to incite action, to propel us toward something, to force us to question what we know of God and ourselves. Jesus’ story tells us of another way to live as one resurrected – as one who is living as an inheritor of eternal life and not as someone just trying to scratch something off their salvation list. That way of living is as the Samaritan in this story – as one who has no reason to serve another save for the love that you have for God. It is that kind of love that spills out into the world as mercy, kindness and compassion for those are overlooked and hidden from our world. Love is how believers do good in the world. Jesus has given us permission to not solely be moved with pity. Jesus tells us to move it into action. Take care of those battered in your community as you might your own flesh and blood: bandage their wounds, anoint them with healing, share your food with them and provide them shelter. This is the true meaning of neighboring in a God-filled world. Jesus tells his audience and now us to “Go and do likewise.”

[1] William Shakespeare, “Henry VI,” Part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73.

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/17/nyregion/l-kill-the-lawyers-a-line-misinterpreted-599990.html

[3] Amy Jill Levine, “Short Stories by Jesus,” 87.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jn. 4:12.

[6] Jn. 4:7-10: Jesus and the woman at the well. The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

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The Rev. Kim Jenne

The Rev. Kim Jenne is the Director of Connectional Ministries for the Missouri Annual Conference. The Office of Connectional Ministries is responsible for Boundaries, Conferencing, Communications, Discipleship Ministries, Safe Sanctuaries, and Leadership Development through the Nominations Committee. Before her current appointment, Kim served as senior pastor of Webster Hills UMC in St. Louis. She is a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan, loves NASA, and is sorely disappointed we aren’t already living on Mars. She considers herself an inconsistent but persistent disciple of Jesus Christ.

Proper 9(C): Bearing Witness, Even in the Dust

Proper 9(C): Bearing Witness, Even in the Dust

Luke 10:1-11; 16-20

By: The Rev. Jerrod McCormack

By the time this article is published I will have been a priest for a very short time. My ordination to the priesthood comes some 20 years after the journey began. It has been a long and at times a circuitous route to arrive here. And there have been moments along the way where I was tempted to give up or just go home and do something else, but my conviction that God has called me to this work has called me to push on into God’s preferred future for myself and for the world. Luke’s Gospel, maybe more than any of the other gospels, contains an enormous push toward discipleship of the gentiles and toward the evangelical nature of the Church itself. It should not be possible to look at this text and understand it apart from those two natures. It would be too easy to think that this word is about making new priests or pastors to labour in God’s kingdom, but instead I would suggest that this passage is a call to all believers to come and work in the harvest and find the depth of faith.

This text poses a number of challenges to the would-be preacher. It would be so easy to get caught up in one of the rabbit trails that could take one away from the primary missiological and evangelical nature of this text. It would be tempting to get caught up in the woes that the lectionary has so graciously skipped over. And I say this not to diminish the text, but to acknowledge the challenge it presents to anyone who would proclaim the good news of God present here. This text mimics the sending of the 12 Apostles from chapter nine all the way down to the instructions to leave all the non-essentials behind. Focus on the mission that is really at hand. And that mission is the proclamation that God’s kingdom has come near.

I have been the Spiritual Health Practitioner (Chaplain) at the Alberta Children’s Hospital for just under a year now. It has been a journey full of both great difficulty and great blessing. One of the things that has been so amazing about this journey is that I get to journey alongside people through tremendous moments of joy and celebration and on the opposite side I walk with people through the darkest moments of human life. It isn’t easy work, but it is work that needs someone with a heart for those who are suffering and a tremendous amount of empathy. But one of the things that this work has helped me to realize is that God is always present. God’s kingdom is always right there in the voice of a mom or a dad who has been left in distress because of their sick son or daughter. There may be days in my work where I don’t use the name of Jesus at all, but that doesn’t mean that I am not pointing people towards the light of the divine and the holy. By practicing great compassion and mercy to those who are suffering I am doing my part to expand the kingdom of love and mercy. It is not a work that fits within the model of Christendom, but it is definitely the work of God in the world.

It is perhaps most interesting that this chapter, which begins with the sending of the 70, would end with the parable of the Good Samaritan. That story ends with the question, which of these: the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan, was a neighbour to the man who fell in amongst the thieves? And of course, the answer is the one who showed him mercy. Jesus gives us instructions to go and do likewise. Not asking if these people are worthy to receive mercy. Not stopping to enquire about church membership or belief structure. Not querying their theological background or being sure that they subscribe to our particular way of being in the world, but offering a hand of assistance and help in times of desperation and trouble.

As God’s sons and daughters, we are called to go into the world and share mercy with those who haven’t seen it in a while. Including those who are on the church’s no go list. Maybe especially those who have been scared by the ministry of the church.

Every holy week in the Anglican Church, the priests and deacons attend a service where the Bishop makes new holy oils for the coming year. I was in downtown Calgary on my way to the Cathedral church for the Chrism Mass and I was verbally accosted by a homeless gentleman on the street. He began asking me how I could possibly wear my collar after everything that ‘you did to us.’ I hadn’t any clue about what sort of pain this man had endured in his life. And honestly, in my rush to get where I was going, my initial response wasn’t so holy. Instead of mercy I offered defensiveness, but that only fueled his fire. As he continued, I looked into his eyes and I offered a simple apology, “I am sorry for whatever pain you have endured in your life.” I wish we lived in a world where I could say that the Church was innocent, but I am not that naive.  Here in Canada as well as in the United States, though it is often unspoken there, there is a legacy of residential schools that set about stripping indigenous peoples and children of their language and culture in order to ‘civilize’ and ‘evangelize’ the indigenous populations.[1] It is an absolutely horrendous legacy and it is a stain on the life of the church.

On Friday, Aug. 6, 1993, the then Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, The Most Reverend Michael Peers said,

“I accept and I confess before God and you, our failures in the residential schools. We failed you. We failed ourselves. We failed God.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that we were part of a system which took you and your children from home and family.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that we tried to remake you in our image, taking from you your language and the signs of your identity.

I am sorry, more than I can say, that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally and emotionally.

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada, I present our apology.”[2]

We in the church have so much work to do. It begins in speaking the truth and then going into the world to offer mercy and love to God’s lost sons and daughters. Some of whom have been deeply wounded by the Church; and in those places, it means offering additional understanding and being willing to take upon ourselves the impetus to offer an apology for pain that we might not fully understand in a moment. I have thought about my encounter with that gentleman on the street corner and I hope and pray that the sight of a guy in a collar being able to say “I am sorry for whatever pain you have endured in your life” can offer a step towards healing and wholeness.

Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest who are willing to speak truth, own their own failures and shortcomings, and who will share mercy instead of judgement.

[1] Pember, Mary Anne. “When Will U.S. Apologize for Genocide of Indian Boarding Schools?” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/when-will-us-apologize-fo_b_7641656

[2] Peers, Michael. “The Apology- English” The Anglican Church of Canada, Truth in Reconciliation https://www.anglican.ca/tr/apology/english/

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The Rev. Jerrod McCormack

The Rev. Jerrod McCormack was ordained a priest on June 22 in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of Calgary. He is the Spiritual Health Practitioner (Chaplain) at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and an assistant priest at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Calgary and a member of the Society of Catholic Priests. He enjoys time spent with friends, hiking, and photography. He is originally from Alabama and now resides in the land of prairie and mountains in Southern Alberta, Canada.

Proper 8(C): What Would Jesus Do?

Proper 8(C): What Would Jesus Do?

Luke 9:51-62

The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen

When I was a kid in the early 90s, WWJD swag was a big deal. I had bracelets, t-shirts, and even a bible with the letters emblazoned across it. With every action we took, we were to ask ourselves the question: What would Jesus do?

Now, at its core, this is not terrible advice. The trouble, of course, comes in knowing what Jesus would actually do. Anyone who has lived in any sort of community (a family, a seminary, a camp, etc.) knows that it is next to impossible to actually know the mind of someone else. It stands to reason that knowing the mind of God, even when God arrives incarnated as a human being, is even more difficult.

Our lectionary reading comes at a turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus has ended his Galilean ministry and is journeying toward his passion in Jerusalem. Here, he will confront the civic and religious leaders, and his message that God’s kingdom includes everyone will ultimately get him executed.

When Jesus sends messengers ahead to proclaim his arrival, a village of Samaritans rejects Jesus and his disciples. Given the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, this is hardly surprising. I can’t help but laugh when I hear James and John’s response to this rejection: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” How many times have I thought about destroying my own enemies or those who speak ill of me?

The comedian Daniel Tosh has a brilliant, if vulgar, routine where he remembers his WWJD bracelet. When an obnoxious man in a movie theater talks on his phone during the film, Tosh recounts that he wants to punch this man. One look at his WWJD bracelet, however, changes his mind. “Oh I was going crazy,” Tosh says, “but then I looked at my bracelet—what would Jesus do? So I lit him on fire and sent him to hell.”[1]

Ok, so maybe not a joke you’re comfortable using in the pulpit, but I think it’s exactly where James and John go. They remember the story of Elijah who sent fire down upon the worshippers of Baal (2 Kings 1:9-16). Wouldn’t Jesus want them to do as the great prophet did?

The inability of James and John, and presumably the other disciples, to understand Jesus gives me a kind of hope. When I read the second part of our Gospel lesson, I have an uneasy reaction. I’m supposed to ignore my family and become a religious zealot? My grandmother recently died, and I took time off from my church job to go home, be with family, and bury her. Is Jesus telling me in this passage that I should not have done that? Knowing the mind of Jesus is difficult.

As with most biblical passages and characters, I think Jesus has to be understood in light of the greater story and its context. This passage in Luke is not simply Jesus strolling through the countryside looking to create disciples. This is Jesus marching toward the center of Roman civic and Jewish religious authority where he knows that his proclamation of the Kingdom will lead him to execution. He has limited time.

The urgency of Jesus’ story and the Lukan community’s expectation of the Parousia gives us some parameters to set around our understanding of Jesus’ teachings. Clearly, Jesus has great concern for compassion. When James and John suggest lighting the Samaritans on fire, Jesus rebukes them. When the first man tells Jesus that he will follow him, Jesus makes sure that the man understands what he’s signing up for. When another wants to follow Jesus after he’s tended to his own needs, Jesus reminds him that the time has arrived for action. Harsh? Maybe, but they are truthful statements.

As I think about how I might preach these two difficult passages, I think the theme throughout is discerning awareness of the magnitude of the work of discipleship. As followers of Jesus, we need constantly to turn to Jesus in prayer and through Holy Scripture in order to understand better how he calls us to follow. Furthermore, we need to be able to make that discernment in light of our own time and context. Just as Jesus in Luke’s Gospel has immediate political and religious challenges, we too have immediate challenges that come from our own social and religious realities.

One way we can bring this Gospel into our own contexts is to ask the question, who would I like to light on fire and send to hell? I’m fairly confident that this is NOT what Jesus would do. There is wisdom, however, in identifying those who impede the work of ministry and understanding that sometimes the most loving thing we can do is move on to the next village and trust that God will continue to love and care for those to whom we cannot minister. Likewise, we can ask ourselves these important questions: What things are standing between me and Jesus? What cares of the world are outweighing the immediacy of God’s kingdom? And where is the Spirit leading me as I follow Jesus’ path?

There is no one correct response to these questions, and I’m certain that different communities and individuals will have differing realities. That is the beauty of discipleship—we are not called as individuals, but as a collective Body of Christ. I am not singularly responsible for the evangelism of the world or the building of the kingdom. I am but one part of God’s great plan. God will utilize me as best suits my gifts, and God will utilize others as best suits theirs. Jesus reminds us in Luke that we should discern his will in our immediate context, keeping in mind the realities of empire and other power structures that attempt to work against us.

[1] http://www.cc.com/video-clips/0hwk4x/comedy-central-presents-what-would-jesus-do-

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The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen

The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen is Associate Rector of Trinity Episcopal Parish in Wilmington, Delaware. Utilizing his former acting career, Charles enjoys engaging with Holy Scripture through various forms of storytelling and performance. Since completing his M.Div. at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas in 2018, he has put much energy into learning the Spanish language and Latino culture in order to better serve the Latino community in Wilmington. When he is not at church, Charles can be found walking the many beautiful parks in Delaware or attending theatre and music performances.