Posts Tagged ‘God’s Love’

Salt, Light & Caring – Thankoffering Sermon

Salt, Light, & Caring

Thankoffering Sermon based on Matthew 5:13-20

Deaconess Jennifer Clark Tinker

 

To learn more about the Thankoffering tradition, you can read about it in this PDF from the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

 

All About Thankofferings

http://www.womenoftheelca.org/filebin/pdf/resources/AllAboutThankofferings.pdf

 

Listen to the sermon by clicking the link below, or scroll down to read the manuscript.

 

Audio of “Salt, Light, & Caring”

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/salt-light-caring

 

Fleeing from inside my in-law’s house, I urged my son, “Quick, get in the car!” Once inside the car, before I turned the key in the ignition, I took a few deep breaths. My son was good to oblige my sense of urgency, but he’s old enough that it seemed an explanation was in order. Why did I feel the need for this quick get-away?

Well, I had to get away from my mother-in-law…

Now, don’t get me wrong here. My in-laws have been very dear to me. And my mother-in-law, Elaine Tinker, died a month ago, so I want to tread carefully here and honor her memory. She was an extraordinary woman. She was kind and social, involved in women’s ministry at her church, and various clubs and associations in the community. She was very smart, excelled in her education and kept sharp throughout her lifetime by reading a lot. She was also very detail-oriented, my father-in-law even bragged that she ran the family from her hospital bed in the weeks leading up to her death.

She was fabulous in so many, many ways. And I learned so much from her. But sometimes that “detail-orientation” of hers…well, sometimes I had trouble orienting myself to it. So, you understand, this is a confession about myself, and not speaking ill of my mother-in-law.

On the day that I fled to the car with my son, I was planning to take my son to run an errand while my husband and in-laws went to a meeting. I had it all worked out in my mind how the day would go. But my mother-in-law was concerned about the details.

How would we get back into the house if we finished our errand before their meeting was over? I tried to dismiss the concern telling her we’d be fine even if I didn’t have a detailed plan.

But she continued to wonder aloud. Finally I explained that we would just go for ice cream to fill time until their meeting was done.

But what if it took longer that that? I had to assure her that we had brought work to do, books to read, and paper to write or draw on. For good measure, to allay her worries I made sure she knew we had electronic devices to keep us busy if all else failed.

I think I set those concerns to rest.

And then she turned to worry about how they were going to get out of the driveway since my car was behind theirs. I said, “We’re leaving when you do.”

“But we have to leave very soon,” she countered.

“Well, we will too.”

“We need to leave any time now.”

Exasperated, I finally said, “We’ll just go right-right now, so we’re out of your way.”

That’s when I grabbed my kid and got out of there. After I caught my breath in the car, I explained to my son, “Sometimes I feel really stressed out when Grandma Tinker frets over details like she was just now.”

“Yeah, I know,” my son acknowledged. He knows me too well. There was a pause as I continued to breath deeply. “But,” he broke the silence, “at least it shows that she cares.”

He couldn’t have been more right about that. Every detail Elaine relentlessly followed up on was because she cared. She wanted so much to know that each of us had what we needed and would be okay in life. Even when I slipped out of her questioning, I was always blessed by how much she cared for everyone.

I think the “why” of someone’s detail-orientation makes a difference in relationships. People can be detail-oriented for less-caring reasons: perhaps out of a sense of compulsion, maybe to control other people, or for selfish gain. When it is less-than-caring, relationships are jeopardized, but when it is for caring reasons, relationships are enhanced.

We have before us in the Bible reading from Matthew 5:13-20 the vision of being salt of the earth and light for the world. This is then quickly followed by Jesus talking about the law. In verse 17, Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Now, in one way of looking at it, the idea of keeping to the law can sound like a pretty nit-picky, detail-oriented prospect. Indeed, Jesus even goes so far as to say in verse 18, “not one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all is accomplished.”

Now, the pharisees were big on keeping the law and Jesus often got himself in trouble with them when he didn’t stick to the details quite like they thought he should. For instance, the Pharisees were pretty angry when Jesus healed on the sabbath because it was unlawful to do work on the sabbath.

But Jesus showed that the details of the law are not to impose arbitrary rules on our lives. The whole of the law can be summed up as loving God and loving our neighbor. In other words, keeping to the details of the law is about caring rather than control.

Whenever sticking to the law gets to be about something other than upholding relationships with God & neighbor, then those details get in the way, that obsessive, detail-orientation can actually do more harm than good. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense relationally to leave someone ailing just because no work is to be done on the sabbath!

It is in this spirit of wanting to do good for our neighbors that we celebrate Thankoffering this morning. The special offerings collected here will go out to be “salt and light” to neighbors near and far to show our care. And it is in this same spirit that our women’s ministries go about being “salt and light” throughout the year, making quilts, putting together school kits, and health kits, throwing birthday parties in nursing homes, supplying food pantries, and much more. There are many details that go into carrying out so many ministries: funds to manage, supplies to gather, and people to mobilize.

And this isn’t just in women’s ministry. There are many details involved in other ministries of the congregation, in our jobs, in our schools, in our recreation, and in our homes. And even though some of us have more patience with details than others of us…we see to all of the details because we care.

Except, there may be times when the details themselves become overwhelming. How should we direct our funds? What supplies do we need? When is this or that going to get done? And who is going to do what needs done? When all the details begin to press in on us, it may be tempting to flee the situation altogether. Or we may decide to stay and seize control, barking out orders to others to get everyone in line!

If we begin to feel burnt out or stressed by the details, there’s a good chance that something is off kilter in our relationships. It is in those times that we need to be reminded that it is not up to us to do the work of caring on our own strength.

When Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law, I believe part of what he is telling us is that his example is the ultimate representation of loving and caring. Indeed, Jesus loves and cares for us without limits, even to the point of giving his very life for our sakes. But Jesus’ fulfilling the law goes a step further in his rising from the dead. Jesus’ victory over death means that Jesus himself, through the work of the Holy Spirit, empowers us to tend to the details, to be the salt and light that the world so needs, and to be the loving and caring presence for our neighbors that we are called to be.

We give thanks for the details that have gone into caring ministries by all people in and through this congregation. We give thanks for women’s ministry in particular. At the same time, we honor the source of our loving and caring—the God who first loved and cared for us. And it is that God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that we look to for support in tending to all of the details involved in being salt and light in loving care for the world.

Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

Oppressed

The question “Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?” came up in one of my favorite 0nline discussion groups. My simple answer is “yes,” but there is much more to say about that…

God is always turning things upside down on us: greatest is least, lose your life to gain it, last will be first, caring about the least of these, and so on.

As far as my brain can understand it, when it comes to power struggles, God is not interested in our human determinations about who “deserves” anything. As soon as we decide to pick favorites, God subverts our arrogant ordering and picks the opposite.

The pecking order is not God’s idea though because God loves all people! But those who seize power are “feeling the love” in some way whereas the last-chosen are not. So God takes the side of those who are being dishonored–even to the point of dishonoring Godself to do it–because their needs for love, acceptance and whatever else are the least met.

One tricky thing about the human pecking order though is that it can change on a whim when someone new seizes power or when those in power decide they want to give or take status. It’s like that one time when all of a suddenly a new Pharaoh came along who didn’t know Joseph, you know? So, who is “on top” in human pecking orders isn’t necessarily static–so God readjusts, because God doesn’t take kindly to any of God’s beloved people being oppressed.

Also, our “place” in human pecking orders can vary from one group to the next. As a pastor’s wife in a small church and trained church worker, I’m a “big fish in a small pond.” But if I were in a very large church next door to a Lutheran college or seminary with lots of students and professors attending, I would be a relatively “small fish in a big pond.” I’m the same me, but my “place” would be different. Okay, lame example, because there’s not oppression involved, but you get the idea about different groups and different pecking orders. But, again, God readjusts and ministers to us at our point of need when we are feeling lowly.

I don’t think any of us are all one thing–either always oppressors or always oppressed. And yet, I think we are all both capable of oppressing in more ways than is comfortable to admit and vulnerable to oppression in some degree or another.

God loves us all the while—all of us, all the time, no matter what.

But God is setting things right—dismantling our human pecking orders, welcoming the outcast, giving hope to the poor, washing feet, and all that. God is subverting our expectations with a prodigal love that won’t quit.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s subversive love is through God’s coming to be one of us in the person of Jesus. Through Jesus, God embodied the most excellent way of love, love so selfless that Jesus didn’t even consider his divinity as something to be exploited, love so complete that Jesus endured suffering and death, love so powerful that Jesus rose victorious over death itself.

And…God wants our partnership—to wash one another’s feet, to flatten the pecking order, to smash the patriarchy (I just love that phrase, so I had to throw that in there), and to proclaim the Good News of God’s love to all people.

God calls us to align ourselves with God’s purposes, with God’s way of love. It is not easy and we can’t do it on our own because on our own those crazy pecking order ideas keep creeping up on us! Rather, the Spirit of God brings us to trust in the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus, and we are transformed by our victorious Lord to spread God’s love to all people.

And so, in Christian freedom, we are called to serve the least of these and in so doing, serve Jesus. We are called to help the poor and oppressed, bring good news to the captives, love children, welcome the outcast and show God’s love in word and deed to everyone everywhere.

We are called to live in such a way that we are Jesus to others, that they will know we belong to Jesus because of our love.

So, yes, God is on the side of the oppressed when we start making sides. But God would rather us not make sides at all. And God would rather that none of God’s created people be either oppressors or oppressed. And God continues to work to draw us all to God’s side—to God’s way of love.

Finding God Just Seems Easier Some Places

Surf's Up at Lake Michigan

I got to play & frolic, sing & pray, and sit & think for long stretches of time out at Lake Michigan when I was there on my trip at the end of last month. It made me want to stay and stay and stay…

Here are some of my thoughts about what made it so compelling:

There is something about a great body of water that draws me to it, draws me to God, draws me out of myself. I just look out at that lake and I see such power—something so much bigger and more powerful than I am.

All of my cares—my worries—are eclipsed by the lake’s enormity. I don’t forget them but I see them in a broader context.

I see I am not alone. Because also? I know that the God who created that lake is even bigger—even more powerful—than that lake. And I know that God who is more powerful than the lake is also more powerful than my problems.

To read more, check out my new post over at Life & Liberty: To the Lake and Back Again: Thoughts on Finding God http://www.davidhousholder.com/to-the-lake-and-back-again-thoughts-on-finding-god-0613-jennifer-clark-tinker/

Receiving Others as Gifts: The Sanctity of Life

SanctityOfLife

In a way, this topic–the sanctity of life–is foundational to the entire series of receiving others as gifts. In fact, it is foundational to my entire life message and my worldview as a whole.

I could’ve put this topic first and built out from there, but it is a bit tricky to write about. I mean, I can, with one post, alienate just about everyone with my thinking on this issue. I myself don’t even live up to my own high-minded ideals about how very sacred and precious life is.

And so, I’ve buried this most-important topic in the middle of the series to work up the gumption to write about it. At this point, I don’t so much have more gumption as I have a sense of commitment to myself to write the whole series as planned.

Basically, when it comes to the sanctity of life, I think it is a lot easier to want to protect some lives and disregard others. But if we take seriously that each and every person belongs to God as God’s precious creation, then we are challenged to hold as sacred the lives of all people.

Let me give you an example. Sometimes I have heard people make a very impassioned case against abortion, yet those same people advocate for strict application of the death penalty. On the other hand, some people are pro-choice, yet staunchly opposed to the death penalty. For me, if life is valuable, then both the lives of the unborn and the lives of inmates on death row are valuable.

Both abortion and capital punishment are serious issues and I do not mean to make light of either the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy or that of serious violent crime. What I mean to say is that I lament any loss of life.

I figure if the good news of Jesus Christ is true, really truly true, then no one is beyond God’s love. Every life is worth saving in God’s eyes.

But the sanctity of life in my mind goes beyond just the overt taking of a life. We demonstrate respect for life and undermine it in a million small ways every day.

Some of the everyday ways we show respect for life, in no particular order, are when we:

  • care for the sick;
  • truly listen to someone who thinks different from us;
  • honor those who are vulnerable;
  • advocate for non-violent solutions to problems;
  • treat children with kindness;
  • give dignity to the elderly.

We undermine life when we neglect the above, abuse others with actions or words, infringe on others’ basic human rights, and more. These behavior undermine life because they violate others in some way. Whatever we do that violates others–even if they live through it–are offenses against their lives.

In this broad extension of the idea of the sanctity of life, there isn’t a person I know that isn’t guilty of some violation of another. Myself included. Having this perspective doesn’t make me perfect. But I do believe it with all my heart and try to catch myself whenever I recognize that I’m in danger of causing harm to another.

The good news is that we can begin anew each day. We can connect with our God who loves all of his created people and allow God’s Spirit to guide our words and actions as we receive others as gifts and honor the sanctity of their lives.

 

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series:

Receiving Others as Gifts: People Belong to God

Belonging

In a previous post in this series on Receiving Others as Gifts I talked about not taking others for granted, that they are not objects for us to use. I want to go a step further with that to emphasize that people belong to God.

 

People belonging to God has (at least) four important implications:

 

1. We Need to Honor & Respect Others

The other people we encounter in life, as God’s beloved creations, deserve the respect that we give to God.

In college I once wrote a paper talking about the importance of both loving God and loving neighbor. I wrote about these actions as if they were two separate realities.

My professor pointed out that these are really two sides of the same coin.

It simply doesn’t work to say we honor God when we dishonor God’s created people.

 

2. We’re Not the Boss of Other People

Overtly acknowledging that others belong to God underscores that they do not belong to us.

We serve alongside one another in mutuality and we give and receive meaningful companionship but others are free to give or withhold these as honors their own commitment to God.

Others’ participation in service and companionship is not for us to coerce but for them to discern.

It is important for us to honor their boundaries about what they are or are not willing to do.

 

3. We Can Learn About God from Others

Another implication of others belonging to God is that many times we can learn from them about God.

As each of us are designed by our creator to be in communion with him, sometimes others may be tuning in to God in ways that we aren’t currently. As such, we can glean insights and inspiration from their encounters with our God.

Obviously, as a church professional married to a pastor I believe that there are formal roles in which this can happen.

But a person does not have to be super religious or a trained professional to have encounters with God from which the rest of us can learn.

It is easy to settle into our own views about and experiences with God. But God is at work in the lives of others too.

Our lives can be enriched by remaining open to God’s movement in and through others.

 

4. Different by Design

In my post about “giftedness” I talked about the idea that others are different from us. Whether we find these differences enjoyable or annoying, it is important to recognize that many of the differences among us are by God’s design.

God created each of us as unique individuals. Our giftedness comes from God.

Discrimination against or dismissal of others’ uniqueness is a failure to recognize God at work in each person. But by honoring their differences, we honor their belonging to God.

 By honoring others as God’s beloved creations, giving them the freedom to choose how they serve and with whom to associate, learning from them about our amazing God, and respecting their uniqueness we show a deep respect for them. In these ways we show with our actions that we embrace the idea that they do not belong to us, but to God.

Read all the posts in the Receiving Others as Gifts series: