Proper 21(C): Know the Name

Proper 21: Know the Name

Luke 16:19-31

By: The Rev. Andrew Chappell

I once took a class on church-planting. The students were asked what our ideal church might look like. Many of us confidently agreed that an Acts 2 church was the ideal. Acts 2:42-47 reads:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (NRSV).

The ideal church: where everyone practices daily, shares in communion and prayers, grows, and holds everything in common, with joy and sincerity. There is no class. There is no status. Everyone is on equal footing.

This abolition of status began with Jesus, and worked through Paul, who articulated in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).

The only status that seems to matter from here on out is our collective status in Jesus Christ. In Christ there is no competition, no economic need or gap. There is simply one playing field, one status, one class, in Christ Jesus.

The writer of Luke-Acts makes this a major point throughout his narrative. Jesus is the ultimate destroyer of status, and he levels the playing field. When John the Baptist baptizes in the wilderness, Luke declares that John does so as, “A voice crying in the wilderness—Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” (NRSV).

What happens when you fill in a valley, and you lower a mountain? The ground becomes even. There is no longer a high place. There is no longer a low place. It is level.

As Jesus preaches this radical undoing of status throughout Luke, leveling mountains and filling in valleys, he tells a story of a rich man and a poor man.

The rich man wears the fanciest clothes, feasts every day, enjoying the finest foods, and lives in a nice, gated community. He has it all.

The poor man has nothing. He survives night and day at the rich man’s gate. His name—Lazarus—means “God helps,” but he receives no help. Every day, the rich man walks around Lazarus. Lazarus is sick, covered in sores, and continuously begs for any food, even the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but he receives nothing.

Both men die. Lazarus is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham, regarded in Judaism as the place of highest bliss. The rich man is buried, and falls to Hades, where during torment, he looks up and sees the poor man, reclining with Abraham.

The rich may cries out for assistance. Abraham declares that there can be no assistance given. During life the rich man received good and comfortable things, while Lazarus received the bad things. Now, Lazarus is in comfort, and the rich man is in torment.

The rich man begs Abraham twice to warn his brothers of this horrible fate. And twice Abraham declares that if they do not listen to the Torah now, they will not be convinced by anything else.

The end.

Now, in most societies, the following has historically been true—It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And typically, the WHO you know has been the wealthy, the powerful, the intelligent, the well-to-do. But Jesus turns this notion upside down, illustrating that if you are to know anyone, it should be the poor!

How does Jesus do this? He tells a story that demonstrates the unimportance of the current cultural status symbols dictating who is great and who is not, who is blessed and who is cursed. Riches no longer matter (in fact, they may actually hurt you in the long run).

Jesus also gives us a practical step concerning how to begin our status-less journey. He does so very simply in that only one of the two main characters—the rich man and the poor man—is actually named. We know the poor man’s name: Lazarus.

Why is that important?

The leveling of status begins with knowing the name. Think about it. When you know someone’s name, you begin a relationship. There is an attachment that happens. There is a responsibility that occurs (that’s why pet adoption agencies give you the name of the puppy you’re holding—once you know the name, there is a responsibility attached and you may be taking that dog home.)

At Yad Vashem—the Israeli Holocaust Museum and Memorial, there is a separate memorial to the children who were killed in the holocaust. The memorial is simple. The room is filled with darkness and lights that look like stars on a clear night. And every few seconds, a voice comes through hidden speakers for a few seconds and then disappears, and then reappears and disappears again. Over and over, every few seconds. All the voice says are the names of the children killed in the holocaust. One at a time. Again and again.

There is power in a name.

When you know the name, the 6 million+ killed in the holocaust becomes tangible.

When you know the name, you have a responsibility.

When you know the name, there is no status, just humanity.

And in Luke, Jesus tells a story, and beckons us, “Know the name.”

Know the name of the person next to you.

Know the name of the person you pass on the street.

Know the name of the person who asks you for food, or money.

Know the name of the person who waits on your table.

Know the names of those that serve you.

Know the names of these children that left here today, to go make a mess.

Know the names of their families.

You want to be an ideal church? You want to undo status, level the playing field, fill in the valleys and bring low the mountains?

Begin by knowing the name.

Andrew
The Rev. Andrew Chappell

The Rev. Andrew Chappell has been in ministry since 2008 and currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, Georgia. Andrew has degrees in Religious Studies and Telecommunications from the University of Georgia, and an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Andrew loves listening to records, watching Seinfeld, and beignets from Roux on Canton.

Proper 20(C): No god but God

Proper 20(C): No god but God

Luke 16:1-13

By: Casey Cross

What a confusing parable. Really, it is definitely up there in the top five of weird parables Jesus tells. I am sure that much of what makes this parable seem so strange to me has to do with where I, a middle-class, English-speaking white woman, am reading it from, the 21st century United States. I honestly don’t think I could have more things working against my ability to relate to and comprehend this particular message from Jesus. I mean, those are serious stumbling blocks on the road to understanding. I could just throw up my hands and leave it there. Most would probably be okay with that. But then there’s that last paragraph—the paragraph where Jesus says something that sounds like a definitive instruction to his disciples. And it is actually kind of, I mean totally, clear. We are all *gulp* slaves. We cannot serve two masters. I think there is an impulse within us that immediately wants to argue with those two statements, even though they are the clearest in the whole passage. I can hear it now. “Slave is just a figure of speech.” And, “I’m not serving two masters, I’m multi-tasking.”

Do you feel silly yet?

Ultimately, Jesus’ summary of the parable is an indictment of his listeners, a harkening back to the Shema Yisrael, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is One.” We have one God. We serve the One God. There are no other gods but our One God. This is a truth that extends not just into our individual beliefs and personal life, but to the life we share in community. When we forget, ignore, or put something/someone else in place of our One God, the community is affected. When something or someone else takes the place of God, our life together shifts and changes in posture, practice, and accountability to one another.

Applying this truth to a life of faith in our world today is not simply a matter of “putting God back in our schools” or printing “In God we trust” on our money. Speaking of money, Jesus clearly refers not only to money, but to wealth, saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” This phrase is stated immediately after referencing a slave’s inability to be loyal to two masters. With these statements, we cannot deny that Jesus fully understands the power of wealth and our susceptibility to become slaves to it. What happens when a community shifts from serving the One God, our Creator, and instead serves wealth? What does the administration focus on? What policies and laws take shape?

When we say we believe in God, we harken back to the words of the Shema, that we are a people of the One True God. This powerful, counter-cultural commitment simply does not make sense to most people today. So maybe this strange-mess-of-a-parable has nothing to do with context and everything to do with the fact God’s wisdom is foolishness to us.* We have bought the message that wealth, belongings, prestige, and beauty deserve our worship. We have bought the message that it is our wealth, power, and rhetoric that make our community strong. Rather than putting our faith in a God of covenant and promise, we put our faith in wealth—the accounting of ever-changing green, black, and red flickering numbers. The more we buy into that message, the more God’s wisdom is convoluted and foolish to us.

This is why we need to be reminded again and again who we are and whose we are. When we serve God, we not only love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and strength, but we also live out a love for our neighbor and ourselves that transcends social status, abilities, differences, and all other categories we use to divide ourselves from one another. We live as individuals within a community that recognizes the divinity in one another. We live in celebration and support of each sacred life, rather than in competition with someone who might take what we think is due to us. We participate in dialogue for the purpose of understanding and compromise, rather than power and division. We call for laws that benefit the whole community rather than a select few. Above all, we serve no god but God, centering our lives through prayer and service to God’s will rather than our own, freed and empowered by the knowledge that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

* See 1 Corinthians

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Casey Cross

Casey Cross is the Young Disciples Director at Hope Lutheran Church in Eagle, Idaho. She loves her husband, dog, and being an aunt. You can find more of her writings and random reflections at caseykcross.wordpress.com.

Proper 19(C): Our Crazy, Loving God

Proper 19(C): Our Crazy, Loving God

Luke 15:1-10

By: Chris Clow

The fifteenth chapter of Luke contains one of the most famous passages in all of the Gospels. Truly, the story of the Prodigal Son has continued to inspire millions ever since it was first told by Jesus himself.

Of course, that story starts on verse 11, and today we end on verse 10. Yes, much like Billy to his brother Alec Baldwin, we have the far less famous part of Luke 15 to reflect upon today. Yet, I think in order to understand the story of the Prodigal Son properly, we need to take the other two parables we hear today into better account, as it helps to show even further just what kind of a God we have.

When someone hears the Prodigal Son story, they (most likely) are left in awe at the great love of God that waits for us to return from our wanton lives of sin. Not a bad message. However, the parables that precede it make it clear that our reading of God’s love there doesn’t go far enough. The God we find in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin isn’t just a great lover ready to forgive.

This God is nuts. Completely crazy. You might say unbalanced. A bit wacko. This God is weird, and strange, and must have completely lost it.

Am I blaspheming here? Let’s look a bit further.

Let’s start with the parable of the lost coin, since—unless you grew up farming sheep—I think that one is probably the easiest for us to relate to. The coin the woman loses is essentially a day’s wage in Jesus’ day, so it’s not nothing. But come on—would it really be worth throwing a party and inviting over with your friends for this? Say you lost $50. If you suddenly found it again, you’d be happy sure, but you probably aren’t calling up your buddies and inviting them over to celebrate it. You might wind up spending more money than you found just to feed them! I know that if I had suddenly found a bunch of money I thought I lost, spending it wouldn’t be the first thought on my mind…ok, it would be, but I’m weak. For most people (I would wager) this isn’t prudent.

The lost sheep story is similar. I’m sure some of us have seen that beautiful, western image of Jesus holding a lamb over his shoulders and carrying it. A nice picture, to be sure. But come on, let’s think about this. If you’re watching a flock of 100 sheep, you’re probably not counting on keeping all of them by the time you get them to market. That’s a fair number of sheep, and come on, there are lots of things outside your control that are probably going to take some of them: disease, wolves, thieves. Sheep are fragile. If another sheep wanders off, it makes sense to just let it go. You put the others in harm’s way, not to mention your own livelihood, and you’re going to lose a few sheep anyhow. Why lose sleep over the one?

These stories always get depicted as signs of great love, but let’s be real. The “heroes” in these parables are crazy people. No one in their right mind is going to celebrate with all their friends when they find a coin worth a decent bit of money. No one who cares about their own wellbeing is going after a lost idiot sheep when you’ve still got 99 perfectly good sheep to focus on. These people are nuts. Completely crazy. You might say unbalanced. A bit wacko. They are weird, and strange, and must have completely lost it.

And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

Jesus is constantly reminding us in Scripture and in our lives that our vision of God and what God wants for us is always too small. God doesn’t just love us. God is wacko, crazy, out-of-God’s-own-mind in love with each and every one of us, to the point where God will do something absolutely insane for us. And that’s what God is hoping we will dare to try as well.

What sparks these parables, and why we need to hear them, is found in verse 2:

“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”

How often do we mirror their thoughts and actions in our own lives? Even in my best moments, I still find myself looking down on others way too easily, wishing I could just not have to deal with them. As ministers, we need to draw boundaries (and most likely we aren’t very good at that), but we also need to be careful to not ignore those who otherwise might be lost. Are we truly willing to celebrate when a lost person is found again, or do we bemoan their presence with us? “Ugh – I can’t believe she’s back again.” “I hope he doesn’t talk to me this time.” Do we really strive to welcome everyone with open arms, or do we put up barriers or requirements to keep some people out—hoops to jump through, so they can prove they really want to be here? Do we extend that welcome to the Kingdom to everyone we see, or really more to those we like, those who are easier to get along with, those who we want to belong with? Don’t sinners and tax collectors do the same?

I think that is both the challenge and the good news of this passage today for me. I need to look more honestly at myself and recognize the times when I too easily sound just like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, looking down at some in the community, and thinking too highly of myself. But I can also rejoice that when I am an idiot just like this, and get to thinking too much of myself and too little of others, it’s at that time that the Master is leaving the rest of the flock behind to come after my wandering self again. Just like last time, and just like the next time, yet God still never fails to find me.

After all, our God is nuts.  Completely crazy.  You might say unbalanced.  A bit wacko.  This God is weird, and strange, and must have completely lost it.

For that, I am grateful.

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Chris Clow

Chris Clow is currently spending his days away from a more “professional” ministry for the ministry of feeding, cleaning, chasing after, and worrying about the new master in his house, Xavier Joseph Clow (born September 23, 2018). He and his family have just moved to Omaha, and are learning more and more about their new hometown. In the scant free time he has, he enjoys cooking for his family, watching his St. Louis Cardinals and Blues (Stanley Cup Champions!!!), and finding moments to relax with his wife, Emily Kahm.

Proper 18(C): This is Harder Than I Thought

Proper 18: This is Harder Than I Thought

Luke 14:25-33

By: Anne Moman Brock

This past spring a friend asked if I’d help co-facilitate a Bible study with her at church. During the eight-week study we spent a few weeks in the first testament, a few weeks in the second testament, then jumped back to the first for the conclusion. Although some in the group had been part of Bible studies in the past, for most of them this was new, especially the amounts of reading required each week (apparently none of them have participated in the year-long Disciples study!)

They didn’t like reading all the rules and consequences found in the early books of the Bible. They didn’t like seeing God as a judge or enforcer. They were eager to jump into the more loving, Jesus-focused texts.

I’ve been reading the Bible most of my life. I went to seminary. I was a youth minister for fourteen years. I mean, I did the year-long Disciples study, for goodness sake! I get what they were saying—the first testament can be challenging and hard to understand on the surface. It requires work to uncover the deeper meanings and historical contexts. I can see why they wanted to jump ahead to the warm and fuzzy Jesus stuff.

Except, Jesus isn’t really all that warm and fuzzy, is he? For the first time I realized, sure, the rules of the first testament are challenging and hard to follow, but in actuality, Jesus’ commands are more challenging and even harder to follow.

I pointed that out to the group. I shared with them that in the first testament, the rules are specific and laid out. Folks back then knew what they should and shouldn’t do. There really wasn’t much gray area. It was pretty cut and dry. However, when we fast forward to the Gospels things get a little trickier.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that mean exactly? Well, Jesus responds with a parable.

Or, take the text for this week: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). Hyperbole much?

Clearly, Jesus was not calling his followers to hate their relatives. The familial bond was a strong foundation to the Hebrew people. However, Jesus was also aware that people could find any excuse in the book to get out of a commitment, including family.

Just before this passage in Luke, Jesus tells another story — one about a Great Banquet. When the table was ready, full of food and drink, those invited slowly started backing out.

“Oh, I completely forgot about that! I just bought a field and need to check it out. Next time?”

“You see, I just bought some new oxen and I need to go break them in. Rain check?”

“Oh, I totally would except that I just got married. You understand, don’t you?”

The host responds: “Fine, the invited guests don’t want to come? I bet there are others who will drop everything they’re doing to join me here. Invite them!”

After that parable Jesus goes right ahead and lets everyone know — there is a cost to this discipleship thing. It’s not easy. Sacrifices will be required of you.

So, no, I don’t think Jesus calls us to hate our families, but I do think he calls us to stop using them as an excuse to set our faith aside. I do think he calls us to consider whether we are willing to pay the costs required of us to be his follower.

Before you start building, figure out if you have the money and labor and willingness to see it through. Before you start a war, make sure you’ve got what it takes to win or consider if making peace might be a better option. Before you decide to follow me, make sure you know what’s being asked of you, make sure you’re clear on the expectations.

Following Jesus isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires something of us. Are we willing to take that risk? Taking the risk means putting God first. Taking the risk means following through with commitments even when a better offer comes through. Taking a risk means admonishing words of hate and actions of injustice. Taking a risk means standing up for the poor and vulnerable. Taking a risk means losing friends who disagree. Taking a risk means following the one who knowingly walked toward his death.

Are we willing? Are we willing to take such risks? Or will our newly acquired wealth and safety of home be more important than the invitation to join the host at the banquet table?

 

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Anne Moman Brock

After fourteen years of youth ministry in the United Methodist Church, Anne Moman Brock is now in another form of ministry with Lake Institute on Faith & Giving, part of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She is a graduate of Christian Theological Seminary. Anne lives with her husband and two dogs—an 11-year-old husky and a 1-year-old chocolate lab—in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find more of Anne’s musings on running, quilting, infertility, and writing at www.annebrock.com or on Instagram.

Proper 17C: True Humility

**Editor’s Note: This essay originally ran in 2016**

Proper 17C: True Humility

Luke 14:1; 7-14

By: The Rev. Jerrod McCormack

Humility: What does it mean to be a truly humble individual? This is a question that I suppose in some ways I have struggled with my whole life. For many years, I believed that it meant that I had to check every emotion before allowing it through the cracks in my well-honed and polite southern exterior, and every time the strongest of those emotions did make it through I felt guilty and carried shame because I wasn’t being understanding enough toward others. The ‘humility’ of much of my adult life wasn’t true humility at all. It was a masquerade of my own ego—not that I could have named it as such in the time. So what is true humility?

St. Augustine of Hippo says that, “almost the whole of Christian teaching is humility.”[1] That still doesn’t solve the problem of defining humility. Most definitions of humility involve some use of the word humble in them which isn’t very helpful. Many others define humility as the opposite of pride. For me, my best definition of humility is having in myself a profound understanding of my own reliance and need for God’s love and mercy in my life. This humility arises from the conviction that I need God’s love and mercy as much as anyone else. Humility is also about understanding our place in the cosmos. I am only one person among the estimated 7.4 billion people living on this tiny globe hurling through space in this little corner of the Milky Way.

My sense of humility today is profoundly different than it was only a few years ago. I have embraced a new way of engaging with the world. It is easy when we do not encounter those who are significantly different than us to assume that everyone must necessarily think the way we do. I think it is a natural thing for us to project our own way of thinking onto all humanity. In a culture where people of different religious faiths, spiritual practices, ideologies, social groups, ethnic identities, and origins come to live side by side, we cannot have the privilege of projecting onto the world our own ways of thinking. In post-modern thought, we need to bring a certain amount of humility to our interactions with the world. Post-modernists talk about this in terms of epistemological humility.

This idea of epistemological humility is actually fairly simple though the name makes it sound really complex. It means that we have to be honest about what we can and cannot know for certain. It means at the core of who we are that we must accept our own human experience as limited to the culture, religious faith, family of origin, ethnic identity, and nationality in which we’ve lived our lives. It is ultimately about honesty and integrity both spiritually and intellectually. St. Paul speaks of this humility when he says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

When we understand that everything we know is but a fraction of the collected knowledge of humanity expressed in the faith of the Christian Tradition in our western culture, we can be more open to understanding the places from which others share their journeys in faith and doubt. It is this sense of our own place in the universe and in the world of God’s redeeming that allows us to approach others with understanding instead of judgement, with true humility instead of pride in assuming that we know what is right for them. Jesus tells us at the end of the first half of this reading that, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” This isn’t about jockeying for a position at the table.

It is about the gospel that turns the world on its head. It’s about the young Israelite woman who at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel sings out, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (1:52-53) This call for the righting of all things has its roots in the hope for the messiah. Jesus connects this hope to the rewards of the resurrection. Reward will come on ‘the last day’ when God will give away seats at the banquet table to those who have humbled themselves first and then to those who have been proud and conceited. Notice that here in Luke’s gospel there’s no exclusion of the people who haven’t acted humbly. There is only a lesser place at the feast.

I can’t help but wonder what it means to have a lesser place at God’s banquet table. I imagine it to be quite contrary to the experience of being at the back of the line. Being at the back of the line brings with it a certain connotation that you will have to eat the crumbs and the leftovers after everyone has already had all the good stuff, but at the banquet in God’s kingdom there is no limit to the good stuff. The concept of limited resources doesn’t apply to the One who is boundless.

Jesus taps into the understanding of a radical hospitality when he says that when we invite guests to a feast we shouldn’t invite those folks who can repay us for our generosity, but instead we should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. I can follow why Jesus would point us toward these marginalized groups. I have to wonder in what way it changes our perspective on the world when we hang out with the outcast, the friendless, and the downtrodden. Maybe it is here among the lowly that we embrace our own lowliness, explore our own disabilities, and find that deep sense of humility. I would say that when our lives intertwine with these marginalized groups we cannot be left the same.

One of the things I learned while I was in seminary was that the honor and shame culture of the ancient near east is a foreign idea to many western readers. It’s just something we don’t get because we aren’t embedded in a culture where honor is prized. I would argue quite the contrary. I am deeply a product of the southern culture in which I was raised. It is a culture with a hefty dose of honor and shame for all. In the small rural town in north Alabama where I grew up, honor was handed out primarily to those families that had been a part of the community for generations. Shame was heaped on the doorstep of anyone who dared to challenge the status quo and people who weren’t ‘like us.’ My experience of being an outsider in this culture has greatly shaped the way I have lived and the types of ministries in which I have invested my life. I worked or volunteered in churches, hospitals, homeless shelters, prisons, and long term care facilities. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the people whose lives I have been privileged to enter had as much effect on my life as I believe I have had on theirs.

[1] Augustine of Hippo, as quoted by Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologicae, Question 161: Article 2.

HeadshotThe 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 16(C): Punching Down

Proper 16(C): Punching Down

Luke 13:10-17

By: Dr. Emily Kahm

I can’t remember where I first heard the concept of “punching up” and “punching down,” but I think it had to do with how comedians decide who or what in their lives they can turn into stand-up material. There’s something of an unspoken rule that you’re allowed to punch up as much as you want – to make fun of people or institutions that have more power than you. As the thinking goes, those people aren’t likely to be bothered by the musings of some random comic at an open-mic night. Maybe they’re public figures and know that being in the public eye means that people will occasionally poke fun at their lives, words, choices, etc. Regardless of whether this is entirely fair or good-hearted, it’s considered a good rule of thumb – if you’re going to mock someone, make sure it’s someone who can take the hit.

“Punching down” is the logical opposite – making fun of a person or group of people who are already on the margins. Making jokes at the expense of people who are LGBTQ+, or people of color, or disabled, or who are undocumented; creating material that denigrates women, folks living in poverty, people who have little or poor education. We know these “downward” jokes when we hear them because even when they are well set up and delivered, we don’t feel entertained by them. We feel awkward. We feel icky. Our gut sometimes knows better than our brain when we’re hearing something that isn’t okay.

What strikes me most about this passage where Jesus heals a woman who had been bent and in pain for 18 years of her life isn’t actually the part about the healing – it’s the reaction of the synagogue leader. At first glance, when you see that he gets angry and Jesus rebukes him, it looks like he’s directing his frustration at Jesus. It makes sense – Jesus is the one breaking the commandment this leader is so preoccupied with maintaining. Why wouldn’t he go yell at the guy?

But that’s not what the leader does. He admonishes the people who came to the synagogue seeking healing. He tells them they shouldn’t be there on the Sabbath; if they want their miracle, they can get it any of the other six days of the week. Maybe he was intimidated by Jesus’ following, his charisma, his power (and who wouldn’t be?) But instead of confronting the person who was really bothering him, he reprimands those who have come looking for relief. He berates the people who don’t have what he has – the sick, the hungry, the impoverished. He punches down.

This is where Jesus’ intervention turns from looking like a tough conversation to a refusal to witness injustice. He sees that this leader is taking out his frustration on the wrong people and he intercepts it. He isn’t just calling out an overly scrupulous leader, he’s taking the abuse that was rightfully his instead of letting somebody else get yelled at. He’s taking responsibility and using his privilege to protect people who can’t defend themselves.

Again, we know this sort of good leadership when we see it – it’s the boss that takes responsibility for the mistake of her employee and deals with the lecture from upper management so the underling can focus on fixing the error and learning from it. It’s the spouse who takes over when they see their partner’s tiredness and frustration is at risk of spilling onto the kids. The pastor who meets with the self-righteous parishioner who just doesn’t think it’s right to let “those people” (the gay couple, the unmarried parents, the family who might be undocumented) worship here too. It’s the kind of leadership that nobody really wants to have to do, but good leaders know it’s part of the system – you have the power, and sometimes you have to run interference for those who have less.

This isn’t the sort of Christian living I think we can expect to do elegantly; stepping in the way of an angry person’s rant is always going to make us nervous and it might be too much to hope that our outcome will humiliate the ranter and gain us the love of the spared in the tidy way Luke tells it. (I wonder if Jesus also got all shaky and tongue-tied after he’d been yelled at. Luke doesn’t say so, but maybe.) But it’s part of the mess of Christian living. When you see someone punching down, get in the way. Make them look at you. Defend people who don’t have your power or privilege, even if they don’t respond with gratitude. And maybe the world will become a little more just in the meantime.

 

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Dr. Emily Kahm

Emily Kahm, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Theology at the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Nebraska. She lives with her spouse, Chris; son, Xavier; and two floofy rabbits, Exodus and Hildegard.

Proper 15(C): Compression

Proper 15(C): Compression

Luke 12:49-56

By: The Rev. Cn. Lee Curtis

I fully recognize that I’m out of line with many in my generation in saying that I’m going to mourn the (good, right, and necessary) loss of the internal combustion engine. As we move away from storing the potential energy in our vehicles in gas tanks and move it into batteries, there is a mechanical poetry that starts to disappear. Bruce Springsteen is never gonna write a song about a 188 kilowatt motor under the hood, or the limited freedom that 200 miles to a charge provides.

It’s a small price to pay for avoiding climate catastrophe, but still, it’s a price.

Much of the poetry of internal combustion rests in the pure simplicity of what it does. At its core an IC engine takes an explosion and directs it. Small explosions thousands of times a minute. Sips of refined hydrocarbon, puffs of air, flashes of spark pushed into an airtight chamber and changed into a rotational force that will take you as far as you want to go—as long as you keep that trinity of fuel, air, and spark running through pistons.

More and more I find my life in ministry to be wrapped up in essentially the same task. Take small explosions, and channel them into forward motion. Into movement.

When Jesus says to the crowds “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:49 NRSV) Our first instinct, many times, is to recoil. Many of us in pastoral work are conflict averse by training and inclination. We fall into a binary categorization of peace and conflict, to the point where many of us will dive to prevent any form of conflict, even if it has the potential to be generative, even if it has the potential to call us further into mission, and into line with where Christ is calling us in the world.

The snapshot the lectionary provides us for this Ordinary Sunday brings us in at the beginning of a long string of parables after Jesus has left a rather tense dinner at a Pharisee’s house. Standing nearly on their doorstep, Jesus opens his dialogue with this beautiful and inviting line “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.” (Luke 12:1 NRSV)

It’s not hard to see how, through a line of parables about attentiveness and diligent work, we get to a place where households are set on edge and the kingdom appears yet again at hand.

Jesus is making movement. In every sense of that word.

There is an invitation here, difficult as it might be to see it. To live into the call of Christ is to enter into patterns of behavior and belief that will require change, movement, and motion from us. And that movement is going to cut to the core of our households and our families. Christ didn’t come to bring a false peace. Christ came to move us into liberation, to call us to fullness of life.

Our hope and our joy, then, is that Christ doesn’t call us into a vain hope. Christ doesn’t call us to work that Christ will not see to completion.

That’s the promise for us who are about the work of tending the Lord’s sheep. We are held, supported, and sustained in the work. We have already won, because Christ has already won. We are held together, even in the midst of conflict; of explosion.

We have compression.

Anyone who is familiar with the words “you blew the head gasket” can tell you why compression is important. Compression is the key that enables those thousands of small explosions to move the force of the piston down through the rods and into the driveshaft. If you don’t have compression all you have is a small explosion with nowhere to go.

So many of the conflicts that we fear the most are just that. Small explosions without direction. Conflagrations that burn through our energy and our effort with no tangible result in the life of a community. It’s one of those aspects of community life that is as frustrating as it is inevitable. Thanks be to God, then, that this kind of conflict isn’t the only kind. Those conflicts that stem from a frank, honest, and charitable conversation around value, around priority, around mission can, with careful guidance, bring about the kind of movement our world is so hungry for. The kind of movement worthy of the mechanical poetry of Springsteen and Pirsig. The kind of movement worthy of the Saints and Martyrs cut down so that the work of Christ may continue. The kind of movement that knows peace precisely because it knows conflict.

Curtis Headshot
The Rev. Cn. Lee Curtis

The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis, Florida native and graduate of the Candler School of Theology at Emory Univeristy, serves as Canon Missioner at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis where he works on integrating the life of the Cathedral more deeply with the life of the City. He and his wife Hannah are the exhausted parents of two remarkable boys and two very good dogs. You can find pictures of those dogs on Instagram @thebrokechurchman