Monday, October 14, 2013

I hope I'm wrong

It seems as if for the last several Sundays, the gospel readings have grabbed me,
shaken me, and compelled me to speak about those "inconvenient truths."

Yesterday, for instance, the gospel, Luke 17.11-19, told the story of Jesus'
healing of the ten lepers, only one of whom returned to thank him.

At first, I thought, "Oh, preach a safe sermon on 'thanksgiving,'
something no one will criticize you for (but, truthfully, somebody
would have probably taken offence, even at that subject)."

I almost preached on thanksgiving. I wanted to preach that sermon.
People would have benefited from being reminded of the importance of thanksgiving.
I would have.

But the Living Jesus, whom I meet in the Holy Scriptures, wouldn't
let me preach that safe sermon. No. He wanted me to say something
unsafe, provocative, controversial--again!

So I did, focusing on the lepers' plea: "Jesus, master, have mercy
upon us."

I preached about the lack of empathy today (drawing from a recent
column by psychologist Daniel Goleman) and the corresponding
lack of mercy and love, which is mercy in action.

(The essay below from the Alban Institute says more about the Christian responsibility
for a just world).

And I cited some specifics about a truly alarming deficit--that
in empathy, in mercy, and in loving attention.

I mentioned how today the hungry cry for mercy;
how the poor, children, the working poor,
the elderly, the sick cry for mercy; how so many are crying for mercy.

From us. From the followers of Jesus--Jesus, who is God's empathy,
mercy and loving attention to needy, suffering human beings.

Now, I hope I'm wrong. But I imagined that people
who listened to my sermon yesterday
were saying silently, and perhaps even aloud to friends later:

"Enough. We've heard it all before. Change
the subject. Stop bothering us with these inconvenient truths."

And I imagined my saying to them:

"I will. When the Living Jesus lets me.
When we finally have a society that exhibits empathy,
mercy, and loving attention to others' needs, which is God's will
for the world. Until then, I must speak."

The truth as God's Living Word, Jesus, gives it to me.

Caring about the Conditions of the World

by David Edman Gray
Moses's father-in-law said to him, "What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you . . . You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain . . . So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace. 
Exodus 18:17-23

Pastors are called to care not only about the members of their congregations, but also about the state of our nation and world. Many churches affirm this principle and are involved in some sort of mission or outreach. I believe congregations should also consider how to improve the conditions in society that affect people's work-life balance for the benefit of people everywhere. As we have seen, work-life imbalance is a significant challenge for millions of Americans both inside and outside the church. The structures of our society affect how well individuals balance work and life.
We make a living by what we earn; we make a life by what we give. 
Winston Churchill

Christ calls us to care about the world. Christian missionaries have long traveled the world to spread the Gospel, and Christian service programs have, for many years, reached out globally to help those in need. Chances are that your congregation is involved in some mission outreach. By influencing public policy and changing the structures of society at large, congregations can help many more people than they could just by ministering to people in their local area. That is why the churches throughout the years have been involved with public policies on any number of issues, from slavery and civil rights to defending life, foreign aid, and economic growth and justice.
We read in Mark 12:28-31 about a time when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment of God:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
All who seek to love God must also seek to love their neighbors. In 1 John 4, we read that if we cannot love our brothers and sisters, we cannot say we love God. Love of God and love of neighbor are inextricably bound together.
What does it mean to love our neighbors? In Luke 10, a lawyer asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered with words similar to those in the passage above: "You shall love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself." The lawyer then asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded by telling the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan comes upon a man who has been mugged, beaten, and left for dead. Other people have walked past, ignoring the man and his need, but the Samaritan stops and, out of compassion, helps the man, a complete stranger, to safety. Given the state of Jewish-Samaritan relations and the dangerous conditions along the road to Jericho, it was a risk for the Samaritan to stop.
This story is familiar to many of us, and it underscores that we all are called to care about the world-even people who are strangers to us, those whom we do not know. We demonstrate our commitment to God as we help others around us. If we are to love people, including those we do not know-and even our enemies-we must work to improve the structures of society that affect all of us.
Many congregations are involved in mission because they believe that they can make a difference in the world for others. If congregational leaders believe that work-life balance is an important subject, we should care about the structures of society, including public policy, that affect the work-life balance of not only their congregants but of everyone.

For Reflection

1. In what ways do you show you care for people whom you do not know personally?
2. Reread the Good Samaritan story. How does it affect your view of caring for people outside your church or who are different from you?
3. In what ways is the church called to care about the structures of society?
4. Is work-life balance an issue you believe the church should be involved in addressing? If so, how should it be involved?
Adapted from  Practicing Balance: How Congregations Can Support Harmony in Work and Lifecopyright © 2012 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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1 comment:

  1. I wish I'd heard the sermon. I'm thankful that I know you, and can sit and listen to your teaching.


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