Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who Are We Kidding? It's Not Someone Else's World, It's Ours

If only we could say we didn’t sin, the Lamb of God wouldn’t be nearly so busy. But we do. It’s been said that a preacher should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. But with all of the news of this past week, rarely have I wanted to get rid of that paper, and TV and internet so quickly as events in our world are spiraling.

Paul Raushenbush writes, ‘there’s a sense of despair and disbelief that the world can unravel this fast and anger at our (powerlessness).  But we are not powerless and this is not “happening to us.” We as the human race are doing this to ourselves. These are not natural disasters or “acts of God” – these events are just us, humans, having completely lost our humanity- warring, hurting and killing each other- intentionally or unintentionally, through direct assault or indifference or neglect.” We have forgotten that we belong to one another, we are connected, we are brother and sisters, and that we need each other.

He suggests its time to take back the power- in keeping with today’s reading – it’s time to turn up the light.

We hear in I John- This is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you- God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet keep on walking in the darkness we are lying and not practicing God’s truth.

But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light- we have fellowship with one another and with God, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

If we say we have not sinned- we make a liar of God and his word is not in us. That’s pretty heavy.

Thanks be to God that we know that in spite of our failings our salvation is assured and our sin removed!

That’s not God’s only concern- Because we are part of God’s community, and what is happening in the world is our concern because it is God’s. And the news is not the sin of some other world, but ours.

 The opening line of the gospel last week spoke of the Word that created all things in the beginning. And then I John shifted the focus to the “Word of life” as the Christian message. This life finds its beginning in the incarnation- Jesus is God in a body. The point of the message is to create “koinonia” often translated as fellowship. But it’s more. My Greek professor in seminary said it is a “Participatory partnership.” The word God speaks is an embodied love. That love and mercy are shown through us- our speech, and action and presence.

That is authentic faith and authentic community. And that means that what happens around us is not some other person’s world, but ours. And we are saved to participate in making known God’s work for the world. That Christ who died for our sins- died not only for our sins, but for the whole world, promising that darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

It’s too late to bring back the innocent lives lost in the Middle East but it’s not too late to get serious about real peace, and to stop the killing that is happening now. And shine the true light.

It’s too late to save the lives of those lost on that disastrous Malaysian Airlines flight- but we can insist that this is unacceptable and not let it be a springboard for further violence and hatred. Shine the true light.

It’s too late to spare the victims of death and destruction in Honduras and around the world who have lost their lives- but it is never too late to advocate for peace and to provide life for those children who long to be whole and not fractured. Shine the true light.

Because if we say we are in a participatory partnership with God, yet walk in darkness, we are lying and not doing the truth. There is a contradiction between saying we are partnered with God and God’s kingdom yet living in ways that contradict that relationship. We’re kidding ourselves. There’s a contradiction between saying we love God but conveying a lack of love by what we say and do. We can say we care, but what do we do to embody that love and participate in that partnership?

It’s hard to know exactly what to do in these times, but we need to continue to insist upon the possibility of peace and light, starting with our own hearts. We can give to the ELCA earmarked for the church in the Holy Land to keep those schools I read about in Bishop Eaton’s letter-open. And we can pray.

You already heard the letter of our Bishop in response to the escalation of conflict and bloodshed in the Middle East. It might seem too big or far away but we can pray for peace and wellbeing for Israelis and Palestinians and to refuse to accept that war is inevitable or hate is natural. We could pray for God to empower us for peace. We can pray that while we are indignant at the loss of life that we not be swept into a rage calling for revenge. And since I’ve said it several times now that we could pray, let’s take a moment and do that… Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We continue to watch with horror at events in the Ukraine. At the beginning of Lent, our Bishop wrote that she “watched with dismay, along with the rest of the world, as tensions rise and peace is jeopardized in Ukraine. Recent dangerous developments in the Crimean region of the country put the lives of many innocent people at risk, and threaten peace and security far beyond that region of the world.” Now we see more.  We could pray for all of those involved -- whether governments, movements or individuals -- to repent of aggression and violence, and turn instead to the way of peace through dialogue. That wisdom, peace and justice to prevail. And pray for those who are grieving losses because of this aggression.  And we can pray for the world’s church leaders including the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches.  So let’s take another moment of silence and pray…Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

This past week Bishop Mike Rinehart of the Texas Louisiana Synod and others traveled to Texas to the border to learn what’s going on in the surge of unaccompanied minor children. Bishop Rinehart shared that the misinformation about unaccompanied minors is staggering. News of the surge of 60,000 unaccompanied minors since last fall makes people think that border crossings are up. In fact border crossings are down, way down. Border crossings in the 80s and 90s were over 1.5 million. Now only 420,000. So what’s going on?

Violence in Central America is on the rise. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. Jennifer K. Harbury is an attorney in Texas. She’s a first generation Jew, the daughter of a man who came to the US to rebuild a shattered life. Fortunately, her father’s boat was not turned away like the SS St. Louis, when European Jews were seeking asylum in the US. After the Holocaust, the US promised, never again will we turn away asylum seekers. If we send these children home we send them to die.

Harbury housed a refugee from Honduras. At 13, the gangs told this refugee he had to join or be murdered. He refused and they beat him nearly to death. A year later they came back again with the same demand. After refusing they ran him over with a car. His mother gave him $30 and told him to go north. Hitchhiking on trains he made it to Mexico, where he was kidnapped and held for ransom. Escaping, he crossed the river and was picked up by US Border Patrol. He was treated poorly in a harsh detention facility until the local sherriff stepped in. In time he was settled with a foster family, but after a month he was picked up by immigration. Harbury now meets him through a glass window in jail, fighting to bring him home. When the issues are in real live flesh before us- it brings the truth home.

Rhinehart writes, “Look into their eyes. These are not cartels smuggling drugs across the border. These are children seeking asylum. They’ve been battered and mistreated. Who, with a heart, could deny them protection? The Gospels tell us that Jesus was once a refugee, who crossed the border into Egypt fleeing for life under the threat of violence by Herod. Jesus welcomed children into his arms when the disciples wanted to turn them away, saying, “What you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” And told stories like the Good Samaritan, in which a victim is shown kindness by a stranger. Fear teaches us the lie of seeing others as enemies. Love in Christ shows the truth and teaches us to embrace strangers, even enemies.

The good news is that churches are partnering through Catholic Charities, Baptist churches, Lutheran Social Services and people who seem to understand the problem better than the mainstream media.

Unaccompanied minors journey a week to 2 1/2 months. Some were mistreated on this trip. Once they present themselves, border patrol has 72 hours to process them. If possible they are repatriated. If not, border patrol gets them into a transitional facility, like the one operated by Lutheran Social Services. Thank God for our church’s response. This surge has overtaxed facilities, but Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service is currently helping connect close to 100 generous families every day to programs around the country who are seeking loving placements for the children and youth they serve.

Some people suggest that these children are running drugs. Border patrol told us this is not the case. Drugs are being run by Mexican cartels, not from children seeking asylum from Central America. These children are not running from border patrol. They are running to border patrol and presenting themselves as refugees and asylum-seekers wondering if there room in the inn? I believe so.

This is a challenge now caused by an escalation of violence and poverty in Central America. And hopefully funds will be made available. But what can we do?  We can learn, we can advocate, we can give to Lutheran Disaster Response.

And we can pray- for the children, for their families, for the border patrol, for the communities affected here and in Central America, for our government, and for compassion in our hearts. We could pray that while the throng of children trying to come here is overwhelming that we might be guided by God’s love to see this as a humanitarian concern. That as we have before we have offered a haven to those fleeing darkness and fear and ask God to help us set aside our own fears and bring peace and empower us to live out the gospel.

Let us take a moment now…Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We’re called to tending and mending of relationships. It starts with being honest about damage that’s been done while saying that what has happened does not determine the future. A future that has been blocked by something that has damaged a relationship can be opened up by the word that offers release and a new relationship.

This is what God in Christ offers us- this is the true light for the darkness of our world. This is the word that breaks the pattern.

God knows real people will not always act this way- no matter how truthful the gospel is, we are all capable of kidding ourselves, capable of believing nothing new is possible, so why start. But Jesus didn’t die for us to continuing living the world’s lies. Easter is God’s refusal to leave the world in a lurch. This is the message we hear and can embody- that God promises to reclaim us and everyone else. Our prayers matter, our voices matter, our resources matter.

Let us pray- Lord, empower us to be faithful in embodying your love and your word for the sake of your world. Amen

This week, I am indebted to Bishop Mike Rinehart's reflection upon time at the border, as well as the fine work of Working Preacher and Rev. Dr. Rick Carlson for his translation of "koinonia"




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