Author: Christine Stanley

Lord, When Did We See You?

Matthew 25:44-45 44‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ The above text from the gospel of Matthew comes from a scene where people are being judged for their lack of compassion and caring for the needy of the world. Their excuse is that they never saw a need. The writer of Matthew is making clear to the Church and all who would follow Jesus that we are to be ever alert to the needs of those around us. In the words of Jesus, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” This teaching is the constant clarion call to Christians that we are to be about doing and advocating justice in all the world. Christian writer, Erik Kolbell, noted that importance of God’s grace is realized by our “human willingness to channel that Grace in our interaction with one another and the world.” To this end the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been about the task of being mindful of our role in making God’s grace real in the world by addressing issues of social justice. In our nearly 30 year history as a church the ELCA has produced 12 social statements that have offered voice and direction to congregations as to how we as a Church can respond to a variety of issues in our world. The importance of how we arrive at these social statements comes from a desire to first engage the members of ELCA congregations in a dialog about a given subject. Our social statements are not produced from within some mythical “Ivory Tower.” Rather each statement is the result of members of ELCA congregations coming together and reflecting on key issues of the day. Together we give input and direction that are ultimately brought together in a social statement that is approved by voting members at our triennial assemblies . The goal is always to present a social statement that has been shaped from the input of a multitude of ELCA Lutherans. In 2009, the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA authorized a social statement process “on the topic of justice for women in church and society.” A task-force was charged with the responsibility of creating a document that would engage people in a conversation on the subject of justice for women. “Faith, Sexism, Justice: Conversations toward a Social Statement” is the name of the study that has now arrived for study within the congregations of the ELCA. The leadership of Grace is inviting all of us to join in this conversation for three weeks during the month of February. We have a marvelous opportunity to contribute to a very important statement on social justice. My concern as a pastor is that we will dismiss this exercise as not worthy of our time or diminish its importance as though this topic is not relevant. I fear that in doing so we place ourselves in that uncomfortable spot as those in that text from Matthew; “Lord when did we not care for you?” Conversation alone will not solve the injustice confronting women in our society and in the world; however conversation will open our eyes to seeing a need so that we are better able to work on behalf of so many who have been confronted with injustice in our world. It is important that men become involved in this conversation in order to gain perspective, share insights and to help in crafting solutions that will bring real and lasting justice. Plan to join us on Sundays, February 12, 19, & 26 from 12:30 – 3:00 PM. Lunch will be provided! Please look for more details in the newsletter on how become involved in this conversation.

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Knowing Our Hope Is In Christ

I am writing to you from my sister’s home in Houston, Texas. Before we left for vacation, I did not have an article for Grace Notes and so you were going to get a break! But today, something happened that I wanted to share with you. We arrived in Texas on Thursday evening. While enjoying vacation, Pastor Kevin and I have been watching the various events taking place in our nation. We watched as President Trump was sworn in; we watched the reports about the Women’s March in Washington and in many other cities. After arriving at a hotel yesterday, we just happened to turn on the television as the first news conference of the new administration was taking place. We watched as the press and the new president’s administration bickered over how many people attended the inauguration. I must admit that I ranted and raved a bit about the sorry state that our country seems to be in. I know that at Grace, we are just like the rest of the country…. there are folks who have high hopes for the next four years, longing for business-friendly policies that will increase jobs and that we will find a way to bring down those horrible insurance premiums and deductibles. There are other folks who are fearful of what will happen during these years to the most vulnerable people, our relationship with other nations, and the global climate. Many of us feel a combination of the hopes and concerns that I’ve listed. Even on vacation one cannot escape reacting to and worrying about the events going on around us. This morning I had a profoundly moving experience that spoke to me during my own concern and dismay. It happened at the altar rail at Emmanuel’s Lutheran Church in Seguin, Texas. I must confess that I had not planned to go to worship on this vacation Sunday. I pictured sleeping in and then going out for a nice brunch. But last night, when we found ourselves in the hometown of Texas Lutheran University, Pastor Kevin and I decided to find the Lutheran Church. We decided to go to worship (even though we didn’t have “church clothes” with us!). I am so glad we made this decision. This morning, as I knelt at the altar receiving the body and blood of Christ, a feeling of peace washed over me. I realized that no matter what else is happening in the world, I am a child of God who is not only blessed but is called to be a blessing to others. I thought about you, my church family back in Maryland, and I knew that as people filled with the body and blood of Christ we will stay strong and we will do whatever we need to do to be the people of God. February, 2017 February, 2017 Grace Notes is also available online at www.gracelc.org/news/grace-notes Page 2 I wanted to share this experience with you. Those of you who have grown to know me well know that I am not one who gets caught up in the emotional side of spirituality. I tend to lead with my mind rather than my heart. However, today, this feeling of God’s blessing and God’s call rests squarely upon me. If we had not chosen to attend worship today I would still be left stewing about current events and feeling helpless. So, please, please, in these challenging days, make a commitment for yourself to attend worship regularly. Bring your children, your spouse, and your neighbors! We need to be together and we need to be filled with word and sacrament. Let us all join in praying for our new president, for the needs of the people, for God’s global community, and for all of God’s creation. In addition to our prayers, let us lend our hands, our hearts and our voices to the work of Christ in the world. We are God’s children, claimed and filled by Jesus’ grace and called to share that grace with the world.

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Taking Time for God

In the book, “When Your Life is On Fire, What Would You Save” the actor Alan Alda is quoted as saying, “You think you get ahold of wisdom, and then you realize it’s only cleverness. It’s not wisdom if you can put it on the side of a coffee mug.” I recently saw on the side of a beer stein, “After a few beers, all words are words of wisdom.” It would seem that true wisdom is in short supply these days. In the aforementioned book I also stumbled on this thought about our age, “Intelligence is halfway to the stars, but wisdom remains on the launch pad.” We live in a time where we consume information at a frantic pace but do little to savor, digest or understand what we have taken in. This past week a childhood friend of mine traveled to the Holy Lands and she has been posting her experiences on Facebook. I have enjoyed reading about her adventures and have been flooded with memories of the same trip Pastor Martha and I took three years ago. One of my fondest memories is of our approach to the gates of an ancient, not abandoned, walled city. Just inside the first gate you could make out a stone block up against one of the interior walls. I was informed that this is where the judges and wise men of the city would often gather and where one could come for advice or judgment on an issue. A cluster of sages would ponder deeply the issues presented and render an opinion. Wisdom is the consequence of life experiences and a willingness to listen, evaluate and consider all the potential options. Such a careful approach indeed makes a difference in how one sees and responds to what is presented to you. I learned this art when taking a wine tasting class. I went into the class knowing very little about wine; it was pretty much fermented grape juice to my senses. Then I was taught how to appreciate the wine; to smell the aroma and give the beverage time to breathe, swirling the wine and noting how, in time, the aroma changed with the addition of oxygen. I learned about clarity and alcohol content and how different varieties of grapes and varying amounts of sugar could change the overall quality and nuances of the wine. I’m still not a great connoisseur of wine and if you blindfolded me I would be hard-pressed to tell you much about what I was drinking. But this I know; to truly appreciate a wine one must take their time and be observant with all your senses. The first step to enjoying wine is to not rush. A life of faith, a relationship with God, also requires us to be mindful and take the time to be cognizant to the wonder of God as revealed in all aspects of life. Worship, Bible study and prayer are all elements by which we can become more aware of the presence of God. More often than not it is the quality verses the quantity of life experiences that matter. The ability to contemplate on God’s love and grace and consider how this abundant love can touch our lives, the way we live and how we interact with others. March, 2017 March, 2017 Grace Notes is also available online at www.gracelc.org/news/grace-notes Page 2 The season of Lent is soon upon us. It is a tradition to practice the discipline of Lent which is often defined as Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Fasting is the process of giving something up to be more aware of God’s blessings and to perhaps reserve more time for prayer. We are also invited to share our blessings for the purpose of helping those in need and supporting the humanitarian efforts of the Church. Lent is a time to ponder the glory and wonder of God and to acknowledge our profound need to know the love God has for us all. May we take the time to embrace the richness of life that is wrapped up in the blessings of the God who loves us. Amen.

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The Wonder of Easter

Why did Jesus come into the world? We often land on the famous line of John’s gospel; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16) This verse is a reflection upon the nature of individuals who have come to know Jesus. It is indeed a verse of comfort for those who have come to believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. However, I am struck even more so by the next verse in John’s gospel because it takes the mission of Jesus beyond thinking, only in terms of individuals, to embracing the work of Jesus for all the world. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17). We, who declare ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, are well served if we take the time to reflect upon this description of Jesus’ purpose in the world, “that the world might be saved through him.” Easter is fast upon us and in this great celebration we recall Jesus’ victory over sin and death. This great festival of the Church is a way of declaring that, through Christ, God has accomplished his goal in saving the world. The struggle for Christians is that the very victory we declare we also doubt. Jesus died for your sins, sounds good, but then we qualify this good news with all the things that you had better do… or else! Our ongoing problem is that we always want to qualify the good news of Easter. “Jesus died for your sins, But…” It is in the qualifiers that we run into trouble. Jesus saves… “as long as you believe” “as long as you say a specific prayer, or do a specific act or acts of contrition.” Then and only then are you really considered to be saved. Suddenly the work of Jesus is incomplete; it is only a partial work of salvation and it is up to us to do the rest; is that what we believe? Hear what Paul says ” 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9) The work of Jesus upon the cross and in his resurrection is complete, consequently all people are to be seen in light of the great Easter proclamation and we, who see ourselves as followers of Jesus, are to act accordingly in all that we say and do; this applies to all aspects of our lives. God sent Jesus in order that the world might be saved through him. It is not our place to put limits on God’s love, rather it is our task to proclaim that love and make it real in the world. In an ideal world it would all be so simple, but we all know that in our world we face less than ideal circumstances. Polarization has torn the fabric of our society. I remember when social problems in our country were acknowledged by people of goodwill, Democrats and Republicans would seek solutions, each offering solutions from differing perspectives. Now our two-party system seems to have disintegrated into warring camps that no longer seem to share any mutual interests or interest in compromise. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, push people to extremes where we no longer see mutual interests or needs and consequently see no need for compassion or civility with those we now deem as our enemy or at least our opponent. We have equated life to being a game where there are winners and there are losers. As long as we can view those opposed to us as different we have no problem with their loss as long as we win. Again, in John 3:17 we must remember that, Jesus came in order that the world might be saved, and that this is fully inclusive language. In this day and age it means that we who represent the body of Christ must in all cases challenge the language of polarity. We must speak out against any circumstance where we think it is okay to have winners and losers. This life God has given us is not a game and when any group of people loses, in the end we all lose. How do we begin? Jesus, by his life, revealed that we begin by caring for the most vulnerable people of the world; “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) This means that for most of us we must put aside our wants and desires so that the least may finally have a place at the table of the Lord. No matter our place in life, this is what we are called to do in order that we, for our part, can make real for others, the hope of salvation. What an honor has been bestowed upon us that we can serve the Lord in such a wonderful way. In our willingness to serve the risen Lord we make real the wonder of Easter.

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“A Taste of Grace”

I am writing to sincerely invite YOU to join me for dinner on Saturday, April 29 at 6:00 p.m. The dinner is being provided by our congregation’s Social Ministry Committee. The planning has been very intentional to make it an evening that will be enjoyable for people of all ages. I have no doubt that the dinner will be delicious. The entertainment will be informative and fun. We hope that you and your family will join us! We are planning a “progressive dinner” in the sense that you won’t stay in one room. Thankfully, we have a large enough building to accommodate some moving around without having to go far! When you arrive you will find appetizers in the Library. Then we will move into the Fellowship Hall for salad. Finally, we will go into Grace Hall for the main course and onto the Lower Gathering Space for dessert. During the main course, we will hear from Kristin Vought, Philanthropic Associate at Lutheran World Relief. Kristin will share her first-hand experience of visiting LWR projects and will tell us about an especially exciting project in which LWR is helping to bring bread to the war-torn city of Aleppo, Syria by helping to restore bakeries. In response to this project, we will be selling some baked goods at the dinner in order to give LWR an extra gift of love! During dessert, a popular local band, Three Sheets and the Wind, will play for us. You will see familiar faces in the band because they are also members of Grace’s Praise Band (including Erik Piisila, our Director of Contemporary Music). This will be a great time to relax, enjoy an evening out and make a few new church friends! Throughout the evening there will be activities for children. They will be a big part of this event. Tickets can be purchased after most worship services in April or by contacting the church office. The cost is $8 per adult; $4 for children ages 5-12; with a family cap of $20. The cost at the door goes up!!! We really need to know how many people to plan for, so please purchase your tickets in advance. We are trying something new!!! Our Social Ministry Committee coordinates so many important ministries all year long. We want to share with you just how meaningful these ministries are to the congregation and the community. Please join us for a great evening. I am looking forward to it and hope you will be there too!!!

 

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Community

Community In 1965, Paul Simon released the song “I am a Rock” a song that captures the feeling of the age, a lament of sorts to the isolation that people feel. The lyrics speak of the the fear of relationship; “I’ve built walls, A fortress steep and mighty, That none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship; friendships cause pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island.” A portion of the last verse reflects “Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock and I am an island.” The song concludes “And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.” Safe from the vagrancies of life, removed from the pain of human interaction; some hear this ballad as a lament of isolation; others the challenge of sturdy independence. Written 52 years ago, yet these words harbor the pent-up emotions of a new generation that often finds itself cut off and isolated. Johann Hari explored, in an article within the Washington Post, the struggle of the war on drug addiction. He noted “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; It is human connection.” Hari goes on to suggest that human beings are bonding animals who need to connect with others, to love and be loved. Yet the culture we seem to have created brings about disconnection. We declare that our technology has linked us closer together than ever before. Yet, with our noses buried into tiny screened devices we seldom see much of the world around us. Our interpersonal skills falter since we seem to prefer to text rather than talk. We capture selfies of ourselves with others all the while staring into a camera lens; ear-to-ear rather than face-to-face. Our fortress walls indeed are steep and mightily built, digitally, rather than with brick and mortar. But no matter the building material the consequence is isolation. Johann Hari quoted another writer, George Monbiot who has labeled this time in history the Age of Loneliness; I think the description fits. What is sad is that even in gatherings we seem to have found a way of remaining isolated from each other. I am haunted by stories of people who have left churches because they felt isolated and alone. I have experienced it myself in visiting other Churches where I have been politely ignored. I am haunted by images of people who sit or stand uncomfortably as everyone around them is being greeted but no one seems to notice them. How excited I am when someone, active in a church connects, then excitedly introduces the stranger to others making room for them in a circle where they can feel as if their presence matters. I was thinking about how we approach our place in the context of a worshipping community. Everyone present matters and when you aren’t present then the whole community is less. A few weeks ago in the height of Lent and Easter I was delighted by all who had come to worship. The songs were powerful because of the many additional voices joining in the singing. At one service, traditionally very small in size, the number of May, 2017 May, 2017 Grace Notes is also available online at www.gracelc.org/news/grace-notes Page 2 people in attendance was 2½ times greater than usual and I nearly lost my place in the worship service because the responses were so much more powerful. Years…. many years ago when I was a teenager, my family was late for Easter worship and I ended up sitting by an elderly woman with whom I had to share a hymn book. I was not a happy camper, but worship began and what else could I do but sing and respond along with everyone else. About halfway through the worship I noticed that my worship mate was crying, dabbing her tears with an embroidered hankie. She struggled to sing and choked her way through liturgical responses. An awkward teenager, I had no idea what to do except hold our shared hymn book a little more in her favor than mine and to sing and respond on behalf of both of us. In the back of my mind was the simple desire for the service to end so I could extricate myself from this uncomfortable position. A little background about this elderly woman beside me. Clara Jones was a hero of the faith, who in the 1930’s, found herself hiding in the mountains of China fleeing with many from the invading Japanese army. As a missionary she proclaimed the gospel by word and deed in refugee camps and in the process met the competing leaders of China: Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong. After the war she was imprisoned by Mao before being expelled from communist China. She spent the next twenty years starting and maintaining an orphanage in Taiwan before retiring to her hometown. I was very aware of this great woman’s life and a bit intimidated by her presence and now freaked out by this display of emotion. I remember that as the service was ending I was prepared to bolt out as quickly as I could, but as the final verse of the final hymn was being sung she placed her hand on mine. I was trapped. The service concluded and Miss Jones dabbed her eyes a final time, cleared her throat, took both my hands and looked me straight in the eyes. “Thank you for worshipping with me today.” Then gripping my hands a bit tighter she said, “I have been worried about the Church, that people don’t care anymore about worship, or for that matter care about Jesus. But today you sang with me and you prayed with me and through you, God has assured me that the Church goes on. I needed you today.” And with that I mumbled an uncomfortable “you’re welcome” and wandered off confused by the day. I have never forgotten this moment and it has reminded me over and over again of just how important each person is to a worshipping community. Since that day I have always striven to participate in worship even if I didn’t like certain songs or styles of songs I have sought to sing as best I can; to participate in prayers and responses. Joining with those around me in worship, I often remember the gentle tears of Clara Jones and am reminded that in the simple act of participation, I can make a difference. I am now becoming more mindful of the presence and participation of others in worship, perhaps in ways similar to Miss Jones. I am overwhelmed by the number of young people who desire to help with worship; worship assistants, lectors, communion assistants, reading prayers, acolytes, Bible bearers, asperges, musicians, ushers and coming forward for children’s sermons. I am ministered to in their ministry of participation and frankly we are all ministered to as one generation prepares the next. Worship is one of the most important ways in which we build and maintain community and breakdown those walls that isolate us. God created us to be in community. We are not meant to be rocks or islands, but rather members of the body of Christ and our participation in worship is a grand and wonderful way that overcomes the isolation of our current culture. So my plea is this: do not underestimate the importance of your role in worship. Your place in the gathered community makes a difference; from sitting with friends and family, greeting the stranger or singing joyfully off tune! A worshipping community is the best way to end the tyranny of isolation.

Mercy

The title of Anne Lamott’s new book caught my attention: “Hallelujah Anyway – Rediscovering Mercy.” I’ll put my negative critique of the book out on the table first. I found this book to be something like looking for an intact seashell in a pound of sand. It’s exciting when you find the beauty of the shell, but you have to sift through quite a bit of sand to get there. Now, having shared my critique, let me tell you that I still recommend Lamott’s book. The nuggets contained in it are quite helpful and thought-provoking. Because I was reading this particular book, I heard the reading of 1 Peter 2 differently when we read it in worship a few weekends ago. Listen again to verses 9 & 10 (in reverse order): 10Once you were not a people, But now you are God’s people; Once you had not received mercy, But now you have received mercy. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Now you are God’s people because you have received mercy. Now you are God’s own people (race and nation here does not refer to a particular blood line, geographical location, or timeframe of human life). Because of the mercy you have received from God you are now in a position to live in the light and to have a new purpose in life. That purpose is to be a reflection of God’s mercy in the world. Anne Lamott suggests that mercy means that “we no longer constantly judge everybody’s large and tiny failures, foolish hearts, dubious convictions, and inevitable bad behavior.” When you look up “mercy” in Frederick Buechner’s book, “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC” you are referred to the definition of the word “judgment.” What both of these authors are suggesting is that mercy begins with the fact that God has chosen to love us in spite of the fact that we don’t deserve it. Likewise, mercy becomes an expected characteristic of how the people of God will treat other people in the world. It seems to me that mercy becomes the act of living out the grace of God that has been shown to us. The temptation is to say, “Thank you God for treating me with mercy.” Yet, we are being asked by God to take it a step further by demonstrating mercy to others. Acting in mercy and considering someone I have problems with, I will think, “Even though I don’t think you deserve it, I will still give you the benefit of the doubt and will treat you with respect and kindness.” June-July, 2017 June-July, 2017 Grace Notes is also available online at www.gracelc.org/news/grace-notes Page 2 Anne Lamott does a beautiful job of examining the Old Testament story of Joseph. You remember Joseph whose brothers left him in the ditch to die; yet, he ended up distributing the food for Pharaoh during a great famine. Suddenly Joseph’s brothers were standing before him asking for life-saving grain. Lamott proposes that in Joseph’s life situation mercy began as forgiveness. Then forgiveness grew to “here’s the food you need.” (That was an action of compassion.) And finally, Joseph opened up the relationship and in essence said, “Let’s be brothers again.” (That is the attitude of mercy.) Our world seems to be a bit short of mercy at the moment (perhaps it always has been!). As disciples of Jesus we need to rediscover our call to show mercy. We do give thanks that in Christ, God’s judgment on humanity is merciful. I pray that we will not only be thankful for the mercy we receive but that we will learn to show mercy to the rest of God’s beloved creation.

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The God Who Justifies

The God Who Justifies… “… the God who justifies expects all people to do justice.” (The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective). In the latter half of this summer a group of people have been meeting at Grace to discuss a book entitled, The Forgotten Luther, Reclaiming the Social-Economic Dimension of the Reformation. The book is a collection of talks delivered in November of 2015 at the Church of the Reformation in Washington DC. While participating in this study I found myself going back to review some of the social statements that have been produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since it was formed in 1987. I am reminded that as the children of God who follow Jesus we are called by word and deed to make real the kingdom of God for all people. The words of the ancient prophet Micah reverberate in my mind: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) How do we live out this calling to do justice? One of the contributors to the above mentioned book, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, points out that our sinful human nature is to turn inward upon ourselves. A disturbing reality is that we can have faith in Christ and turn it inward so that our singular focus becomes having a relationship with Jesus. At the time of the Reformation, Luther challenged the notion that the task and duty of being a Christian was to earn salvation. The disturbing reality of the day was that the vast majority of the economy of the Church was about aiding people in earning their salvation. When Luther declared that God and not human works makes us righteous he radically changed the focus of the Church and the purpose of what it means to live out a Christian life. Rather than focusing inward people of God are called upon to do justice in the world. Yet the noble cause of doing justice is indeed easier said than done. In our modern age the Christian Church flounders, and in many ways again is turning inward as we seek institutional survival or measure our worth by how successful we can be by some set of numeric goals. This turning inward blinds us to the needs of the world around us. We become blind to the pains of social and economic injustice or the environmental issues that make toxic our air, land and water. Too often we measure the quality of our lives in terms of what makes us happy rather than considering the needs and issues of others. August, 2017 August, 2017 Grace Notes is also available online at www.gracelc.org/news/grace-notes Page 2 How do we live out this calling of justice? It begins in our own lives by examining how we might make better the lives of others around us. How do we be better family members for the sake of those we love; how do we become better neighbors to those who live around us? What actions can you personally take to make a situation better? When the scale of need is too great to address alone, looking for ways to gather with others can indeed make a difference. This is how the churches of Westminster came together to meet the immediate needs of hunger in our community providing between 35,000-40,000 meals every year so that people can have at least one good meal every day. This is how the Lutheran churches in the Westminster area were able to come together and build Carroll Lutheran Village to provide excellent and safe housing for the elderly. Churches coming together to meet the needs of the hungry throughout the world, provide aid in meeting the needs of refugees and advocating for those living under tyranny and oppression. How do we live out this calling of justice? We begin by recognizing the needs of others and acknowledging that their need is our calling to serve. It is also important to remember that the management of personal resources are important for more than addressing all our personal wants and desires but to aid others in need. We live out this calling of justice by recognizing that human pain and suffering is real and we are the ones called to ease that pain. The miracle of faith is found in discovering how much we can really do when we turn outward to see the world and hear the voices of others and thereby discover just how we can do justice, love, kindness and walk humbly with our God.

What Should We Do?

John the Baptist was holding a revival in the wilderness. Crowds of people were coming to him to be baptized. John warned them, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:8a NIV). The people who responded were sensitive to his message. They also wanted to make sure they didn’t fit into the category, “brood of vipers”. So they asked John this question, “What should we do then?” (Luke 3:10a NIV). Here is John’s answer.

 

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. “ (Luke 3:11b NIV). If you have extra, share with those in need. He told the tax collectors, “Don’t collect anymore than you are required to.” (Luke 3:13a NIV). Tax collectors in the 1st century had a reputation for collecting too much money and pocketing the extra for themselves. John knew they had a job to do. Taxes are necessary, but don’t take advantage of people. He gives the same answer to soldiers, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:14b NIV). Roman soldiers could easily cross the line and earn extra money by extorting it from others. Notice what he doesn’t say. John doesn’t say, “Now, you are a believer. You must not be a soldier. Those two are incompatible.” Generally, there have been a segment of believers who say a Christian must be a pacifist. That is not the answer John gives.

 

So what does all that mean for us today? What should we do? First, notice that John is direct. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He isn’t long winded. He gives direct answers. He gets straight to the point. I like that in the preaching and teaching that I hear, don’t you? Let’s be like John. Be clear and get to the point. Second, he answers people’s questions. Give to the poor. Do your job. Don’t take advantage of others. Those answers are still applicable today. Share what you have. Whatever your job is, do it and do it well. Don’t take advantage of others. Treat them with respect. That is the Christian thing to do. Let’s give those right answers to others. But before that, let’s be people who live those right answers. Let’s be known as people who give freely to others. Let’s be known as people who do their job extremely well. Be people who treat others with respect. People should know we are Christians by our giving, by how well we do our job, and by how well we treat others. How about you? What are you doing?

 

written by: Jimmy Hodges

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The God Who Could

The God Who Could

 

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20,21 NIV) As a teenager, I began thinking more about the God who could. At youth devotionals, we often sang a song that was the above passage in lyrical form. The verse/song taught me that God is able to do more and in different ways than I thought.

 

In Numbers, the people rebelled based upon the doubt of ten out of twelve spies. The Lord is frustrated with Israel. He tells Moses, “I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Numbers 14:12 NIV) This is not the first time God says this. When Moses comes down from the mountain and sees the golden calf, God says the same thing. (Exodus 32:10) Therefore, I don’t think this is an idle threat. God could easily wipe out the Israelites and bring up a greater people for Moses to lead. Moses shows his loyalty to Israel by not saying, “Go right ahead!”

 

John the Baptist develops this thought further in his preaching. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones, God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:8,9 NIV) God could do things differently than he has. He could start from scratch and make a better people. This aspect of God is amazing.

 

All this gets me thinking about the church as God’s people today. How great could God make the church if we would let him? If we could outgrow our selfishness, if we would let go of our pettiness, and truly let God be God. When I reflect on all the sin I have seen in church, I am impressed the Heavenly Father hasn’t told Jesus to step back and destroy us like he threatened with the Israelites years ago. God could make a people even stronger than us. Thankfully, Jesus is even more loyal than Moses. Otherwise, we would have been gone a long time ago. Considering the God who could, what kind of people should we be?

 

written by: Jimmy Hodges

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