Thursday, October 25, 2012


I confess that I literally feel swept by the Holy Spirit in ways that continue to move me to tears of joy and to just tears. And frankly I feel very inadequate because I used to be a person who was never at a loss for words, but lots of times these days, I am. We have been blessed with 88 kids coming to our church in the city for our afterschool program. Kids who are hungry, kids who need help with homework. Kids who want to be safe. Kids who want to None of the stories I hear are unique, and maybe that is in part why they touch me. I want them to be unique and they are not. I want to believe that the three kids who started with us who have already moved, again, are not upended one more time. Or that the girl who has said she knows she is only here until November 1 does not really live that life. I want to believe that the mom who is on welfare but getting her GED through welfare is not still, and she is STILL on a waiting list for her book to be paid for, and is already ready to take the first three parts of the test. I want to believe that when we say we will help you achieve that we mean it. As today, I gave her the money for the first three parts of the test and she promised to tell me the date she is taking it so we can pray, and then hopefully another day celebrate. As she comes each day to volunteer after class so her girls know what matters. I want to believe that the girl who I worked with to do the 100 multiplication problems and who another volunteer helped with averages really doesn't have to say that she is grateful because we are the first people who stuck with her. Or that we aren't really going to have a community meal where we cook together because one mom has no stove, and one can't pay the gas bill and one is afraid because when she turns it on, las cucharachitas come out.
I wish that the mom with the protection order was getting support so she could buy diapers as she promises me to pay back next week so someone else who needs it more than her can have money. I wish that someone's dad had not paid $10,000 to someone for an immigration visa only to end up in detention and with no hope of being here legally for at least the next five years.
I wish a lot of things.
And I wish that the public schools had not cut afterschool tutoring, and that no one joined a gang and no one sold drugs because then we would not have been in lockdown until the raid finished. I wish mandatory Sundays were not reality for people lucky enough to have jobs and that landlords paid their taxes so people would not be evicted by constables and that broken windows would be fixed before winter.
And yet, here we all are. And I have way too many ideas so I keep asking God for patience and wisdom and self-control as I marvel. This was once a neighborhood church full of kids. And now it is again. And because other saints of the church built a large building we can take it over. And we are- the whole lower level and two rooms above.
And because people give we can feed, and we can offer help out of the pit, and we can stand in the face of all of the pain and violence and injustice and proclaim that the cross is greater.
As Lutherans this Sunday is often about remembering our history with a sense of wistfulness and singing and history.
Yet where I am re-formation is what we are about. Re-forming our lives. Because Christ offers us new life and promises that even though things may seem to lie in a wreck at our feet, what God does matters most and that what is most important, just as it was for Luther, is that real people can encounter God's word in their lives as they are.
And that fortress is not just about squirreling ourselves away and holding on while the rest of life is outside. But about believing that God is present and helping us in all of our trouble and that when it all seems too much, we can speak again those words of promise and cling to them because they are true.
We may take turns being strong, but we keep coming back to the truth and re-membering to add more and more and more people as we hold on to the thing that matters- that only God can save us. A God that over and over does just that.
And it may be that we tell the story over rice and beans, or a happy dance about scores, it may be that we laugh at our children who though they try us, bless us.
Today I realized that every time I thought in English, I also thought in Spanish.
Today I was blessed to hear we can start with a small group for a bilingual womens Bible study. And I met a man who will come and teach drumming to our kids. And got the card for a fitness instructor. Today I had a man offer a piano and accordion he cannot keep as he hopes to spend time with his kids here. And today I saw again the hope of our kids as they make this place their own, and as they tell me their dreams and sometimes their prayers.
Re-forming and re-membering
There is no reason for it but that God wants it.
When I ponder it all, I cannot explain it.
And though words fail me, I know that we are all being re-formed into an entirely different critter, but as one person said recently- entirely different critters is what God is all about.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Onward Christian Soldiers

When I was talking with the girls, one of the things they immediately told me when we were planning the service was the fact we had to sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” because it was Donald’s favorite. As I looked at the many accomplishments in Donald’s life I could see that pattern of always moving vigorously forward the way the music suggests by its very beat. Always onward. Throughout his life’s work, and his commitment to conservancy, evidenced this day, his commitment to local government. And vigorous describes his commitment to this place, where it was well known and understood that unless you were sick, you were here! Onward! And in his life in the military and many years beyond he also lived in that overarching theme of victory. But then I thought about this day.

A day where we are here to celebrate the life and witness of a man who touched lives and lived fully and also here to proclaim resurrection victory through Christ in the face of his death. And in our loss we sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” No matter how strong or weak we feel this day, joining that same voice across time. Yet words that sound different as the cross is not leading a throng of mighty men, but a single casket. “Like a mighty army moves the church of God, walking where saints have trod.” We join the song across the ages of the many who now are the saints. And it is at this moment made clear-these are words we can only sing in faith. Grasping in faith that improbable kingdom of God where our only weapons are faith and the Spirit. Reminded that our hope comes from reliance on more than the promises and protection we can muster, but what comes only from the power of God.

As I read Donald’s obituary he seemed larger than life, he was a giant. Not in a self-proud way, but simply a man who used well the gifts he was given by the Creator. I only knew him in this past year- in a very different time. And he was aware of its difference. He had suffered significant chronic health concerns though, in spite of them, in later years, he marveled in the year 2000 that he never expected to see the turn of the century yet through the power of prayers God brought him moments of unexpected healing and another 12 years after that century mark. All the way to 85, sharing yet again that birthdate he and Donna have in common. I believe in these fading years Donald grasped not so much a feeling of marching by one’s own strength, but a feeling of being carried by God.

Our Scripture readings this day all point to the fact- that no matter how accomplished we were in our lives, no matter whether you can trace your family back to the 1700’s, it all comes down to what God gives us- new life in Christ, and faith and the Holy Spirit to believe. In the words of Isaiah, and the words of our Psalm- we hear we can look to God for comfort, and strength, believing that we will receive them and have peace. That God is our helper. Certainly in these last days for Donald and for his family God has provided what only God could give- helping hands, moments of serendipity and the ability to be together with him at the critical time. In these waning times, there have been many such tender moments to sustain.

In later years as Lillian and Donald were separated in two different units for care, Lori was able to arrange to take them to a Hampton Inn overnight so that they could have a meal together and stay together and share in times of closeness that feed our souls. A great act of love shared made even greater by the fact that the Hampton Inn chose to not charge Lori for the room- an act of love and kindness. And there are many of these stories- of God placing people and blessings at just the right time. Right down to the loving care of the folks at St Joe’s who were able to let the family know it was a critical time. They say that the last of our senses to fade is hearing and I believe it brought peace and comfort that he could hear his family in that moment God gave them together. They could gather like that small but mighty army, to surround him with love that greatest of gifts- To be able to be there to complete an earthly circle. As someone said, he was there for our first breath and we were able to be there for his last.

These are the moments when we truly hang upon Jesus’ promise in the gospel- I am the resurrection and the life as an earthly life ends. This is the moment when we have to believe that it is more than living this life excellently. We are here to speak and sing that resurrection and to say-I believe. Over and over again Jesus uses this word in the Gospel of John often. Believe, believe believe…It’s actually best translated “keep on believing, keep on living into belief.” Over and over again. Said by a God who knows we need to be reminded and offering up for us to hear-Jesus words as we read them, and as we share them with one another. Sharing faith in the cycle of places we travel- not only in places of joy or victory or birth, but in places of fear, and death and doubt. Keep Speaking, keep believing.

Words for us this day. These words of Jesus day came as Martha meets Jesus to tell him that her brother is dead and to chide him- “if only you had been here.” This day we instead give thanks not only for Donald’s life but for eternal life he has now received through the power of the cross of Christ. And to this we say- Lord we thank you that you are here!

And that because of you, death does not have the last word

Because ultimate victory is yours in Jesus the Christ. A victory you give to us to share. This is what pushes us onward- your power alone. And this is how you carry us- as we await the day when we’re gathered with Donald and all your army of saints

In peace and for eternity. Amen.

POSTSCRIPT: Because the deceased was a former Fish and Game Commissioner, there was an honor guard in uniform who stood watch at the casket and who served as pallbearers. Because he was a military veteran of distinction there were military honors at graveside. As we arrived at the cemetery, there was a dove that came and sat in the tree above my head. (A little worried about how that would turn out for me) After the committal, and the salute and taps were played, the dove flew away. As it happened the Fish and Game officers caught notice as did I. When we shared this with his daughters, one said that when he father helped her work on her house, every day there was a dove that came and sat there while they worked on her porch. It gave her comfort to think of her father checking one last time before flying off.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reflection on Blessing of the Animals

Yesterday Toby and I set out in for the trail in the woods, probably with different objectives- Toby intended to sniff and mark everything while I intended to photograph some outstanding mushrooms and toadstools I had seen earlier and get a little exercise. We started from our cottage down the street and through a grassy section toward the highway. Suddenly along the walking path there was a man who asked if we had seen a runaway beagle. After noting that I had not, I remarked that I assumed he was looking for his. He said the dog actually belonged to a friend but they had spread out looking for it. We had just exchanged names when I saw out of the corner of my eye a short beagle snoofing its way through the grass down the hill from us. As her tags jingled I saw she was sporting a pink collar. I asked if the dog was a girl and pointed to the beagle ahead. He paused and said that he thought so, but then he stopped and asked,
 “ But even if that’s not the beagle I am looking for, it is SOMEONE’S dog headed for the road, right?”

We split up. He called her name while I hoped to draw her to Toby for the usual sniffing exchange. This was foiled by two things- one was Toby’s desire to sniff everywhere she had been as I was tugging on the leash to get him to my more important task. The second was the beagle’s belief that this was a game of chase as she careened closer to the road. We were able to coax her back and ultimately to us where we grabbed hold of her to check her tags. On the pink collar was a Minnie Mouse tag which in the back had her name. “Puzzle.”

It turns out this was the runaway in question. We had been looking for a Puzzle.
For want of a leash the man took off his belt and fashioned one and away they went after the usual thank yous and pleasantries. As we were about on our way a van pulled up and asked if I had seen a man named Drew. I was able to report that Drew had Puzzle and they were headed back to the cottage. More thank yous and off we all went. Exchanging only minimal and yet necessary information. Deed accomplished. Yet each of us in some way still thinking about what had reconnected or connected us.

As Toby and I headed on to the trail I was struck and still thinking about the comment of the man named Drew as we looked for the missing Puzzle.
“It is SOMEONE’S dog” as the precursor to why we should care no matter what.
Today we had our Blessing of the Animals which this year was Blessing of Animals and Their People. All kinds of dogs, and some who brought pictures of departed pets or named them, and one brave lone cat. One dog named Mercedes even sported pearls. In a circle of sorts, in the park, surrounded by the fall Flea Market, the two and four-legged gathered. We read from Genesis and the arranging of all things by our Creator, as we named ourselves and our pets and received blessing, and as we gave praise for all of creation, it really is the point-We are all someone’s.

This is why we have pets, and long for relationships. And it was obvious there was much love and care for our critters. But there are two things to take away that I think are even bigger- one being the most important- that we are all someone’s- we are all God’s. God who created an entire arrangement for our care and companionship and did so out of love. God who redeems all creation so we are always someone’s in the work of the cross begun at our baptism. And that as much as we love our pets we are then called to look for others so that no one is ever under the impression that they are no one’s someone.
After all of the pets and owners were blessed, I invited anyone else desiring a blessing to come forward in our little circle in the park. Probably about 6 people did. I assumed all was complete when an elderly gentleman came to me and said, "Pastor, these two guys were not blessed." Because everyone is SOMEONE'S.

Today we gathered as young and old, Christian, Jewish, a little of everything, gay and straight, single and married, partnered and widowed, to remind ourselves that we are someone’s and that those relationships are with each other and with God.
And no matter when it seems like a puzzle in life, there is a place for us
 and we are the ones God is looking for.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Proclaiming Jesus-God's Power Rising Out of the Hurt

Here in the city we have an afterschool ministry three days a week, offering a safe place for kids to get a hot meal after school, get help with their homework, work on literacy, and sometimes do crafts and games. Last year we were averaging about 45 kids a day and another 30 kids on top of that, who did not come for the program but came to pick up weekender bags of groceries we distribute one day a week.
Last year we found we needed more space and moved the program from a row house by the church into the basement of the church with a larger kitchen and more space.
This year when we opened our doors, and by day 2 we had 60 kids. By the second week we had to cut it off at 70 but between others coming who we could not accept and a few kids we had to ask to leave for behavioral reasons we could have been at 90.
When we had hit 60 kids on day 2, I literally went into re-think mode with our volunteer director and we grew again, moving into another room of the basement. We are now in all of the rooms of the basement.
And we are scrambling everywhere for volunteers but God is gracing us in many ways.
This is all the backdrop for what I really wanted to write about.

One of the strengths of our ministry is that we offer something different than the street and in some cases, offer something different than home. We know that sadly there are many reasons why the kids bond heavily with us- some are starved for attention as much as for food. Some have no role models for how to get along in the world. Sadly I can look at some and see their future stretching out in front of me and know it will involve jailtime, teen pregnancy or substance abuse.
But most of the kids we see are delightful, and funny and loving and trying hard to get by in school.
A few of our kids are gifted academically or are real models of leadership in places like JROTC or the arts.
These are the things that sometimes surprise others-
just like it is easy to assume what means to live in the city, we can fall into a pattern of thinking we know what city people are like. And when you live here it is easy to succumb to the belief that only certain things are possible. Or only certain people can be trusted and quickly people fall into defensive or offensive strategies. These are the things that our neighborhood kids learn.
Some learn that yelling and fighting are the answer. Some learn that lying and accusing are a good way to avoid things. And in groups of 60, this means we have to try hard to reinforce why the culture of this place is different.
Last week a small group of kids began to gather around one young girl. I have watched her almost patrolling the neighborhood. She is fiesty and bossy and physically confrontational. More importantly she has the capacity to get others to do her bidding.
Last week as she had left on our grocery distribution day, she came back to the door and demanded I find her little brother because she had forgotten him. I suggested she walk to the other door where people were not lined up to get groceries and others could help her. She began yelling and encouraging her posse to yell at me. She and another girl held up a cell phone and demanded that unless I left what I was doing to find this boy she was calling 911 to say I had kidnapped him. I laughed it off and sure enough he came out from around the corner from the door I had said would be the place to go.
I have watched this girl shakedown others for things she wants and at 10 years of age, she has well developed patterns and minions to help her.
Fast forward to this week when I could not be at the program on a rainy day but was called and told that outside the building of the church there had been a big fight. Where kids were holding down a boy so that this same dominant girl could hit him. The noise had made a local mom go to the window to see what was going on only to see that it was her son being hit. She came out and the fight broke up. But needless to say there was a lot of commotion and emotion as she came to our volunteers and wanted to know what had happened. And at least two moms were furious with each other about what had happened.

Of course the challenge was, while these were all kids from the program. The fight happened outside and just down the street, not inside. And we had not seen it all go down. But following the policy we had put into place, the director called the adult contact for each of the kids connected with the fight and invited them to a meeting the next day. The goal was that each kid would come with his or her parent or guardian and we would talk about what happened and who was involved in what way and what it all meant.
The moms connected with the victim, and those seen as holding the victim came.
No one came connected with the girl who was the hitter.
There we were with the three kids and the two moms, the volunteer director and myself as the pastor.
Since the moms are Hispanic and this was an emotional subject, English quickly turned into Spanish as the mom of the boy who was hit and then the boy himself talked about what happened. Then the mom of the other two kids began to talk and to ask questions first of the boy, but then quickly turning to her own two kids and demanding them to tell the truth. She told them she would not punish them for telling the truth but that they needed to be honest.
What emerged was that they had been with this aggressive girl and another larger boy who was not connected with our program but was known to the girl. That when the physical confrontation began the one kid was trying to break it apart and the other was trying to keep the victim from responding with aggression. That it all went down fast and that it was too big for them. That they had not realized what would happen.
I pushed a little bit on this and reminded the one girl of the events of the week before, pointing out that when she was not with this aggressive girl, she was a totally different person. That I was saddened to see who she became and that it would not be a path she should choose.
Both of the moms knew of the aggressive girl and shared other stories of bad connected with her, how they have told their kids to stay clear and this is why.
At this point the mom of the two kids confessed that she had no idea when she signed her daughter and son up that our program was at a church, but that as a believer she now was embarrassed. She spoke of having been in a bad car accident and being brought back to life and how she promised God she would live because she knew there was something she was to do. And how it was a blessing that while this was hard, God brought her here.
She and the other mom commisserated about being single moms and both looked at their kids and told them- these people are doing great things for us because they are Christians- they are doing this because of Jesus. You all need to apologize and remember that we are not going to act like this. They pushed hard, almost too hard, as the kids have tears in their eyes.
I turned to the bookcase behind me and picked up the cross sitting there. I held it up and told the kids that things went down fast and we all make mistakes but what matters most is what this cross means- forgiveness because God loves us. That I wanted each of them to be there and to be the really great people I know God has made them to be. And that this cross is also about the power of peace.
Transformative love was taking shape.
The two moms not only were no longer ready to take each other on, but had connected.
We talked about how our neighborhood is not the place people assume it is, and does not have to be the place some want to make it be. That this is an opportunity to think about how we walk together and with Jesus to make it be the place it ought to be.
We stood up to end our meeting and as we did, the door opened and in came the aggressive girl with four kids in tow but no adult. The moms looked at her and said
"We're done here, let's not revisit all this again."
We reminded the girl that to be here she needed to have an adult. That when we could sit with her and an adult, she could return and that we hoped that was possible.
She was escorted out.
I really wish she could return but without adult buy-in, my fourteen months of knowing her suggest there is not great hope otherwise.
Sometimes when I have said that we could reach out to the parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents of these kids, there has been trepidation, a kind of "if you think so" that belies lack of trust by our volunteers. We're not sure perhaps that we should. While in some cases this reaching out is not possible or fruitful, God showed that for us to use the broadbrush approach that keeps others as recipients of our benevolence and not co-workers in the kingdom, means we miss out on a part of the amazingly transformative power of that cross.
As we stood to end our time and before I could ask, one of the moms asked if we could all hold hands and pray. What a perfect way to solidify where we had been and who now united us.
As the kids went down to the program, we talked about our vision and hopes and about how they might be helping hands as they were able, not only because they now have a more connected interest, but because we have others who need to hear, and how some of those need to have people they can culturally relate to. I apologized that my speaking of Spanish is not as quick as my understanding what I read or hear.
"Oh Pastor, we help you. This is how we can help you."
We talked about worship and their desire to come, but also the possibility of developing an informal Wednesday night worship time that connected with the ending time of our afterschool program.
We talked about how to share this vision in their respective parts of the neighborhood and the power of women to nurture change rather than be victims. And to demand more. I am reminded of Leymah Gbowee's work- "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."

This fall I wondered why now the sky rained kids, then I wondered why this violence, but out of this I am increasingly convinced that God is breaking open something new. Healing and hope and promise.

There will still be violent kids, but my prayer is that we won't just turn away or yell about it.
We are going to proclaim Jesus into it.
Step by step, trusting in God's work in all of us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reflectionary thoughts and a sermon with no title

Spending alot of time thinking about this weeks Lectionary- for those who do not know I practiced family law for 22 years before entering seminary. But in my own family tree, divorce and heartbreak are pretty rampant. At the same time I am seeing this week's lesson not so much for the easy to grab onto- man and woman=marriage, or what do we say about divorced people or even only the treatment of women and children in society. These are all worthy of conversation but what about the larger picture of all the ways we cut out and cast off in relationships while God says it's not good to be alone? Right down to the techno savvy debates about friending and unfriending and following in Facebook and Twitter (though this last bit is probably lost on most of my flock) Here is my rambling so far- thoughts?

There was a couple who long ago had made their vows, and could proudly say that they had stayed together no matter what. They could at least say that. But long after the days of hope and promise and being bound together as one, little by little it had all fallen apart. And they found themselves in a place where she cut all of the pictures of them in half and threw his side away, and he had cast her aside for the affections of another. And she gave him the silent treatment which made every meal at their table exquisite torture. And he would disappear but then return. And she would get up at 4 am and make his lunch for work each day. But no one would call it a blessed relationship. Or even really a relationship at all. Some might even say that a divorce would have been a blessing. There are many such relationships where in some way, it all goes wrong. And many reasons why. Places where people wondered why they ever walked away from where they had been, to end up in such a place of pain or shame, or anger or regret. Places where people wondered why if this was a relationship blessed by God, it had gone astray, and where some in pain would shout out that God would judge the other in the end. people would come to see me in my first career as a lawyer to find out how the law would fix this. I listened as one woman told me that her abusive husband said that the church would shun her if she left, and as one man told me he was met at the door by his wife who told him she had found someone on the internet and she just didn’t need him anymore. I have hours or perhaps days’ worth of stories. Over and over again I saw people walking with great wounds and disappointment and bitterness. Moments of regret for so many things that had been done or they wished had been. Some came seeking justification, some revenge, some a life raft in the swirl of financial and emotional needs. How can two households run on what can only sustain one? It was hard to not reduce people to laws and numbers and statistics in the challenge of whose needs matter most. What do we do with this brokenness? I used to start out by telling people at some point that there were three things I could not guarantee they would receive no matter how gifted in the law I was. I could not get them “a pound of flesh”, or a meaningful apology and I could not turn back the hands of time. In short I had no real solution for the brokenness.

We find ourselves today in another challenging place with Jesus. Last week we heard graphic language about how God feels when we place stumbling blocks in people’s relationships with God, and cut them off from community. We heard that in the times we cast others aside or disregard the dependent, God wants our attention. And we move from hearing about the plight of children who were often caught in the wake of the decisions of others that left them hurt or worse, to the plight of women who were the object of marriage contracts and yet sometimes viewed as disposable and without concern for their being separated from the embrace of companionship and support. More talk about the pain and heartbreak of what happens when we cut off and cast out. And I would like to suggest that just as last week we could get caught up in the language about body parts, we could today get caught up only in the words “divorce and adultery”, or even the language of “man and woman.” There are lots of ways we divorce each other all the time. Cut off and cast out.

In the broader narrative across our lessons we hear that God does not intend us to be alone. We are created and intended to be in relationships- to have companionship and joy, to know embrace and love, to share comfort and care and to help each other. And when for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of ways, we are both on the giving and receiving end of broken relationship, it grieves God. Because God’s hope is even deeper than ours that we will be blessed and be a blessing to others in our relationships. And that when others see this, they will be amazed at our God. Sometimes it is hard to even hear that we are a part of God’s family, when our earthly understanding of families may look and feel more busted up than whole. It is in these moments Jesus again sees our need, and reaches out, embraces and blesses. Because beneath all our words and actions, justifications and regrets, we are those little children who need this. And so do our brothers and sisters around us in God’s world. Even the ones we cannot remotely fathom ought to be so blessed. We are forgiven and claimed by a God who in Christ, casts off our brokenness and failings and claims us through the cross. We can’t really expect or earn this, yet, by God’s grace, today again we meet Jesus at the table and hear the good news that in all of our need and need for forgiveness that we are not cut off or cast out but invited. Even in our conflicted places, we are invited, forgiven, healed and fed. The solution to our brokenness can only come from this. And yet in union with Christ, it does come.

Today happens to be World Communion Sunday, and if we really think about those words –World Communion- the whole world drawn together and made one in a relationship forged by Christ’s love, it means that it is a comfort and challenge that God’s family and table are that wide. But Thank God there is a place for us all. Blessed indeed.

Let’s listen to God in the words of Jan Richardson, a blessing entitled- “And the Table will be Wide”

And the table

will be wide.

And the welcome

will be wide.

And the arms

will open wide

to gather us in.

And our hearts

will open wide

to receive.

And we will come

as children who trust

there is enough.

And we will come

unhindered and free.

And our aching

will be met

with bread.

And our sorrow

will be met

with wine.

And we will open our hands

to the feast

without shame.

And we will turn

toward each other

without fear.

And we will give up

our appetite

for despair.

And we will taste

and know

of delight.

And we will become bread

for a hungering world.

And we will become drink

for those who thirst.

And the blessed

will become the blessing

And everywhere

Will be the feast.

Jan Richardson the Painted Prayerbook

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

They Don't Call Him Prince of Peace for Nothing

It sure is a little hard to say “Praise to you, O Christ” to today’s gospel, isn’t it? With all its talk of cutting off body parts and casting off people. The language is graphic to be sure, intended to get our attention. And it does. Yet I want us to look beyond that to what is behind those words. To point to the idea that we, as those trying to follow Jesus, are supposed to focus upon the fact that what do is in Jesus name and by God’s power. How this is lived out is always broader than we think. When I was growing up, our church hd about 2000 members, and a vibrant afterschool program and lots of fellowship meals. So of course the real hub of the church was- the kitchen. There were teams of kitchen ladies who worked to produce massive quantities of yummy things. Some had special aprons and a regimen of what needed to be done to keep the kitchen humming. Overseeing it all was THE kitchen lady whose first name was Alice but even the other ladies did not call her by her first name. She ran a tight ship, with everything in its place and time. The ladies were friendly and helpful, but you knew NOT want to go to the window to ask for a drink or anything else when they were cleaning up. Only certain people could be kitchen ladies or be in the kitchen at all. Once we put together a sub sale and were making subs in the kitchen on a Saturday to sell for our mission trip. We got in trouble for using the kitchen without them. In later years, as the ladies aged, it became harder to do the same work. Yet it was a challenge to allow others to join in the work- they resisted. People still needed to be fed, but the question really was whether they would accept that others could also give someone that glass of water or a meal for a mission trip, or whether they would go down preserving that only the right people do this. By the way, I am talking about a church…I am not mocking the ladies who had their heart in the right place, but we all fall into patterns even when we didn’t mean to. But whether we are talking about kitchen ladies or landscaping guys, or whatever, the question really is when we claim to follow Jesus are we really just serving up the same dish as the rest of the world or whether there is something distinct in our flavor? We’re trying to live into following Jesus, but we dosome crazy things when we feel insecure. And let’s be honest- we are the ones who are here – but we can forget whose name matters.

The disciples in the gospel were a long way from that first moment of new possibility when the journey with Jesus began. Not ready to let all that “deny yourself” stuff sink in. Still preferring to grouse or take matters into their own hands. Jesus sent them out with power to cast out demons, but they discovered it was trickier than they thought. They forgot to put their trust in God’s power. But then they focused lots of energy on who is the greatest and the most right, only to be reminded it’s not about power the way they think. Now they’ve come upon someone who’s entirely beyond their circle who has no fear in invoking Jesus’ name and casting out demons, and those who’ve have been there day in and day out with Jesus are stymied. How dare this guy just say a few words and do it! It can’t just be anyone doing this. They repeatedly try to stop him until they succeeded, and they come tell Jesus they have taken care THAT! Quality control! Never mind that people were being healed, right?

But…And Jesus corrected them yet again. We can all lose sight of the fact that what matters is remembering this all is in Jesus’ name. Not ours. We get uncomfortable with those who are different, or have insecurity about ourselves. And it might lead us to travel from good order or to bureaucracy, to manage our anxiety. We want to be affirmed in our value and point out who is NOT one of US. But again Jesus insists otherwise- whoever does a good work or deed in his name won’t be able to do otherwise later. We say “whoever is not for us is against us,” but Jesus says the much broader and more positive- “whoever is not against us, is for us.” Then we hear the real switch-up. Jesus promises that anyone who does a good deed for one of his people because they follow Him, will be rewarded. Not only might they do good, it might be for us.

As those who are care givers, can we imagine being on the receiving end of care in Jesus’ name? Dependent upon grace in another? Even from the “the wrong person”? We’re prone to draw lines between the “in” and the “out.” We want to decide. Sometimes we even decide what we believe about entire groups of “others” always assuming we are the “in.” There is sadly a lot of this in the news. When we fall into this, we spend more time focusing on the negative rather than promoting the good. And more time focusing on ourselves and our name than promoting the one in whose name we are to live and serve- JESUS.

Again this day Jesus is calling us to open up how we think about who God will use, even those who name God differently. To step farther into God’s broader view of community so desperately needed in our city, much less our world. This is how we can share life among ourselves and our neighbors in peace. To be a community that gathers and remembers our mutual responsibility for each other, willing to share both in our struggles and well being, accepting we can both give and receive from each other. We have a chance to break open a new possibility- it’s not only possible, it’s essential and central to following Christ. As one writer notes, sometimes our zeal for the gospel – or perhaps, more honestly, our fear of those who are different from us – places a stumbling block making it harder for others to see and feel the love of God in Christ.

Years ago, there were popular bracelets that said, "What would Jesus do?" More importantly we are pointed to "what Jesus actually did." Jesus says don’t stop someone who is doing good even if they're not a member of your group, nor refuse the help of someone even if you don't know what they believe. Instead focus on making Christ known. Promote what you love instead of bashing what you don’t.

God has given us love and life so we can respond by loving God and each other.

This is being distinct from the world and how we can "be at peace with one another" and have life.

Again this day, Jesus gives us pretty good advice, but then again they don’t call Him the Prince of Peace for nothing.