Thursday, July 30, 2015

Crossing the Sea of Tiberias with the people of Detroit

Pentecost 9B, July 26, 2015
John 6:15-21
rough sea 2515When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Abby: Last week, John and I were blessed to travel with 4 of our youth to Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, were we served with 30,000 other Lutherans at the ELCA’s National Youth Gathering. Our time together opened our eyes to how God is present in our darkest and most difficult times and how God brings hope.
This is probably about 20,000 Lutherans in Ford Field. It was hard to get us all in the picture. 
Together with 2 youth and the pastor of the Lutheran Church of the San Juans, we served, learned, played, and grew in faith. On our way home, we reflected on the gospel for today in light of our experiences.

John: v. 17: “It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” Question 1: Where did you see dark places in Detroit or Toledo that seemed to be God-forsaken?

The local Toledo paper, THE BLADE, published this photo by AMY E. VOIGT about the problem of urban blight.
Madison: In the boarded up houses and buildings, also in the eyes of the people in Toledo.

The Summit Diner in Toledo, on the banks of the Maumee River, just 2 blocks from the church. . 
Elly: When we talked with people in Toledo to ask where we could go for lunch, they warned us not to walk to the restaurant a couple blocks away, even though it was broad daylight. The neighborhood had changed for the worse, adding violence to the challenge of poverty.
Dawson: In the boarded up houses and buildings, empty areas, empty streets, and sometimes even in the eyes of some of the homeless people.
Madison: In the kids who lived on blocks where they didn’t know if they could get home safe at night.
Abby: As we drove through Detroit, we saw building after building that was empty. Sometimes, there was only one occupied house on the block in a sea of boarded up buildings. Or sometimes there was only one house left on a block, the rest having been torn down. What must it be like to lose your neighbors, your job, your church, your community?

"Urban prairie Detroit 1" by Jtmichcock at English Wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by MuZemike.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
Elly: Verse 18: “The sea became rough.” Question2: What “rough waters” do the people of Detroit or Toledo face? What rough waters did you face this week?
Dawson: In the people’s sense of abandonment, especially that areas outside of downtown are on their own.
Madison: In Detroit and Toledo, people face poverty, lack of food, and a bad economy. I faced simple challenges such as homesickness and the heat because it is so much hotter in Detroit and Toledo.
John: Economic times are rough but seem to be getting better. Slowly, neighborhoods are rebounding.  My rough waters were getting enough sleep and having patience.
Elly: They experienced a bad economy, homelessness, food insecurity, and hunger.  I experienced lack of sleep and soreness.
Abby: The economy was rough on everyone.  Detroit’s rough waters are economic, racial divisions, prejudice, and gentrification. I experienced a lack of sleep.
John: It has been so long since times were good that there are entire families for whom poverty and despair are normal. Drugs and alcohol provide temporary numbness, and a lack of jobs means that there’s no hope for the future. 

*Here's a link to a news story from Toledo today. Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, who is a member of Redeemer Lutheran Church, where we volunteered, took City Councillors on a tour of neighborhoods experiencing urban blight. 

Madison: Verse 19:When they had rowed about three or four miles, Question 3: When did you work hard this week? When were you tired? Or when did you think that the task you faced seemed endless or insurmountable?
It was rainy, which was fine for Pacific Northwesterners. But others were discouraged by the downpour, which was discouraging to us. 
Abby: When one of the churches in our work group decided not to show up for the servant project because it was raining and they were tired. I was so sad that privilege blinds us.

Proclaim Justice Day- after we cleared out debris from this house and others on the block.
Dawson: Proclaim Story Day, our day with our synod, felt endless. I worked hard during our service projects. I don’t think I ever had enough sleep, but I had a lot of fun.
John: On Proclaim Justice Day, the pile of debris we cleared seemed endless. We worked hard that day, clearing and cleaning, and we were very tired at the end of that day.
Elly: I felt that I worked hard on the service day cleaning. But I was tired every day and the gatherings at Ford Field every night seemed endless.
Dawson: I worked hard on the service project, and I was almost always tired after the first day of moving sticks.
Madison: This week was hardest when we were standing in the rain. The service project was amazing, but it is hard to be cheerful when you are soaked!
Elly: Some days when I reached Ford Field, I was so tired and didn’t want to worship.
Abby: When we visited Toledo, and having lived there for a year, I was unprepared for the worsening of the neighborhoods. It looked worse than it had been 7 years ago, and I was so sad to think that instead of improving, it has just gotten worse. And then I heard about one of the kids that I knew from my internship. She is a teenager who has dropped out of high school and will have a baby this fall, even though her mom tried so hard to keep her on the right path.

Dawson: Verse 19: “They saw Jesus walking on the water… they were terrified. Question 4: When might have Jesus been near us without our awareness this week?
Madison: When we traveled and got everywhere safely, Jesus was with us.
John: When we interacted with so many people, helping them and learning their stories and serving.
Abby: I believe he was with us the entire time. He was with us all the time, even if we didn’t realize it.
Elly: Jesus is at work in the dark places of Detroit and Toledo. Jesus knows the darkness of the tomb, so where we are dead or hopeless, Jesus stays with us and brings us new life. He’s working in all the places of despair.

Abby: Verse 20: “Jesus said to them, “It is I.” Question 5: Where or when did you recognize or see God in our midst this week?
Elly: When we got to do things we thought wouldn’t work out- like on the Proclaim Justice Day. The previous day, other groups weren’t able to go out to serve because the Gathering had some logistics challenges. But by the time we went out the next day, it all worked out.
John: When we were in Toledo, we cleaned the house of Mr. Fred and his daughters. Mr. Fred was an electrical lineman until a few years ago when he was in an accident at work. Now his arms end just after the elbows. So we deep cleaned his house for him and even hung some shelves in the closets. When we came back to tell him and give him his keys, he beamed at us. I saw God’s presence in Mr. Fred’s smile.
Dawson: I saw God in the people we served, especially in the children and whenever we received welcome.
The grocery store's fences puzzled us until we figured out that it was to keep people from stealing carts. We were greeted by a stern guard and there was an armed guard in the back of the store. 
Madison: I saw God’s presence in the stories of the speakers who were living testaments to resurrection, like in Miss Cindy in Toledo who is shepherding her neighborhood and feeding the hungry. And I saw God in the opening of our eyes as we learned the stories of the people of Detroit and Toledo.

Dawson: Verse 21: “The disciples wanted to bring Jesus into the boat.” Question 6: What “boat” or situation would you like to bring Jesus into? What difference would it make to have Jesus there too?
Painting murals on boards for abandoned buildings
Elly: In Toledo, we went to a grocery store to pick up yogurt, milk, cereal, and fresh fruit for our breakfasts for the week. Our clerk was a young African-American woman, and we chatted with her while she rang up our purchases. She wants to go leave Toledo, get out and explore the world. She wants to move to Chicago. But she’s stuck where she is. I want to bring Jesus to that situation, because I think that Jesus might help show that woman that there is a reason to hope for better things- that it is possible with God. Jesus opens our eyes to see possibilities in the world, how change is possible.
Madison: I ask for Jesus to be with Detroit, to help the people stay strong. And I ask for Jesus to be with our people here, especially with migrant workers.
Abby: I want Jesus presence especially where there is violence. I think about gang members who add terror to the misery of poverty.  Having the love of Jesus in their hearts would change things, and it would remove at least part of the burden and make disciples of the least and lost.
John: I ask for Jesus to bring the light of hope into each heart that is despairing, that we may be strengthened for the tasks ahead of us, wherever we might be. He will bring healing and wholeness, restoring us as the Body of Christ.
Abby: Jesus comes to meet all of us in the rough waters of life. May Jesus love bring peace and healing to the whole world. Amen.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Stewardship Thoughts: Learning from the Zucchini

Image result for vegetable garden
How many of us have gardens? Given our fertile land in the Skagit Valley, many of us enjoy planting seeds in the spring and seeing what comes up.  This month, many of us are starting to see the beginnings of an abundant harvest. Some of us (you know who you are) already have gardens overflowing with more produce than you can consume. Sharing the abundant harvest is a great way to learn about stewardship. 

Image result for zucchini harvestThink of a garden full of zucchini. Every Sunday I say out loud the same words just before I pass out the offering plates: "All that we have and all that we are have been entrusted to us by God, so that we might care for all in need, so that all may have enough and no one might have too much."

Now add in the word "zucchini". "All the zucchini we have and all that we are have been entrusted to us by God that we might care for all in need, so that all may have enough zucchini and no one might have too much." 

This is good news for those of us who have so much zucchini that we will be tired of it and for people without a garden. Stewardship is seeing the zucchini as a resource that God has placed in your hands, so you keep only what you need and share the rest.   

May God bless us with as much generosity in sharing money as we have when we share the abundant harvests of our gardens. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Silent Bystanders and Scattered Sheep

Pentecost 7B, July 12, 2015
Gentileschi's Salome and the head of John the Baptist
Mark 6:14-2914King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 
Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio, "Salome with the Head of John the Baptist"
25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Think about a classroom when the teacher steps out of the room. They’re no longer there to impose order, to keep the kids on task. What happens next? Usually, there’s a rabble rouser who starts launching paper airplanes, or worse, spit wads. The target of the trajectory responds with yelling, and chaos erupts. But when the teacher returns, order is restored.

In our gospel text today, we hear about an important teacher, John the Baptist. We know from other descriptions that he was the kind of guy that could draw a crowd. People came from miles around to hear him. He boldly spoke the truth that no one else could say, and he did it in such a way that people wanted to change their lives, seeking to wash away the old ways in baptism ceremonies in the Jordan River. The gospel writers tell us that the students in his classes were a mix of ordinary folk and high ranking officials, and people as different as Jesus and Herod listened to him.
Nicolas Pousin, "St. John the Baptist Baptizes the People"
Jesus liked what John had to say and his ways enough to be baptized by him, but Herod, even though he liked to listen to John, never did get baptized, which is unsurprising when you think about how thick the Herod family was with the Roman emperor. They were puppet rulers for Caesar, and they were Roman-wannabes, living by all sorts of Roman customs. Those Roman traditions certainly didn’t make Herod very popular with the locals in Israel, however. Marrying your sister-in-law was a perfectly acceptable thing to do in Roman circles, but in Jewish tradition, although it’s not explicitly forbidden, would not have been as a faithful observation of a marriage covenant.

Beheading of St John the Baptist
Benozzo Gozzoli, The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 1461
So Herod might have liked to listen to John, like a student likes to listen to an interesting teacher, but he hadn’t been swayed enough to leave behind his wayward life. Which leads us to today’s story. While the hungry poor are suffering elsewhere, Herod throws a lavish birthday party, at which he makes a public and rash promise to his stepdaughter-slash-niece. When she asks for the head of John the Baptist, Herod finds himself in an ethical quandary. He could either go back on his word in public and spare a man’s life, or he could stand by his word, thereby keeping his reputation in the eyes of his constituents, but in so doing, kill an innocent man. Perhaps needing to impress his Roman guests, he keeps his word and executes John. And then, Mark tells us in verse 29, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Rubens, Feast of Herod
They laid it in the tomb? They didn’t riot or complain? What about the Roman guests? Didn’t anyone stand up and name how twisted Herodias’ request was? And where were all those people who had been baptized by John? Why were they not crying out for justice?

This beheading story is so weird, so strange, that it’s difficult to see how it might speak to our own lives today. But essentially, this story is about bullies and people in power who aren’t using it well. It’s about fear and victimhood, and it’s about what happens when we as humans stand by when injustices are done.  

Where do you fit in this story? Are you like the disciples, standing by as injustice is wrought upon others? Are you like Herod, afraid to step up lest you lose your reputation? Or perhaps you are like the Roman guests, more powerful to stop the injustice than you even realize? What makes this story so uncomfortable is that we are all of these at different points of our lives. 

Wherever we find ourselves in this story, in the next chapter, we hear how Jesus felt about the crowds of people, many of whom would have gone to listen to John. “The crowds gathered,” Mark tells us, and “Jesus had compassion on them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus has compassion on us, too. Where there is chaos, when we are wondering what to do, when we are trying to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and wondering how to counteract injustice- Jesus comes with comfort for our wounded hearts. And then he calls us to work together, to act with love and grace and mercy and compassion, and to work for peace and justice for all- the bullies and the victims, the Herods and the disciples, the wolf and the lamb together. Amen.