Posts Tagged ‘Love Your Neighbor’

Aimless Aching

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I can’t even sort out what I’m feeling or thinking right now. I don’t even know if I can sort the feeling from the thinking.

Mostly I ache. And the ache cuts through my gut. I want to vomit to get that ache out of me, but I can’t.

I want to cry again and again. Except when the tears roll, I feel the ache roll, wet, down my cheeks. I want the tears to wash the ache away, but after the tears are gone the ache lingers in my face, hot from crying.

I try to use my words to talk out the ache, but they jumble and ramble and go in circles. And I want to get my thoughts around the ache, but the ache mocks my thinking–even my best thinking.

And I can’t tell anymore if I’m choking back the ache or if the ache is choking me.

I don’t even know why I ache so hard. Mostly I’m selfish with my aching–making the pain of the world about me–about the pain that I don’t understand well enough, listen to enough, or address squarely enough.

What right have I to ache when there is pain far worse than mine? So I chastise myself for my selfishness–heaping shame upon the ache which only makes it grow.

The worst ache is when I see people create more aching with hate. I try hard not to trade hate for hate. But the hate is too much for me to process. All I know to do in the midst of the hate is to ache. I ache with the hated and I ache for the hater. I ache for the brokenness and the ache upon hate upon ache upon hate.

I want to do something–to turn the ache into action. The ache is fuel, burning up, but with no engine it is wasted. It is an endlessly renewable source of energy–because there’s always something to ache about–but the energy is wasted without a place to go.

But where am I to go? What am I to do with this hot-burning fuel?

I think words will help. Words should help. I know words. I want to help with my words. I want to use my words to do good. But all I can do today is explain the ache. But what good are even the best words about the ache when so much pain is in the world?

I want to think this aimless aching is just a phase. I hope–I pray–for a time to know better my purpose, my place, my way to use this ache–to aim this passionate-hot ache to sow love so deeply that hate will fade, fail, and fall away.

The Favor of the King – Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

The Favor of the King

Christ the King sermon based on Matthew 25:31-46

Deaconess Jennifer Clark Tinker

 

On Christ the King Sunday we recognize that Jesus is the King above all kings; he is the one to whom our highest allegiance is due. And yet his kingdom is not like the typical kingdoms of this world…

 

You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link below, or scroll down to read the manuscript.

Audio for “The Favor of the King” 

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/the-favor-of-the-king

 

 

“Would you do me a favor?” my mom asked me at the end of a phone call a number of years ago.

“Um…” I hesitated. I never know what a favor is going to entail, so I don’t say yes until I hear what exactly is being asked of me. But to deny my mother a favor she is asking is not cool either, so I certainly didn’t want to say no. I just hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult of a task to perform for her.

“It’s really simple,” she explained. “Will you please give David a hug for me and then have him hug you back for me?”

I smiled. This was one favor I could certainly take care of for my mother.

You see, for most of my married life I have lived hundreds of miles away from my mother. She visits us and we visit her, but that’s still only a few times a year that we see each other. So, we have our phone calls and since that request all those years ago, we have these hugs.

Now that we have our son, my mom regularly asks me to do this for both my husband and my son.

I admit, sometimes it seems a little awkward hugging my husband and son for someone else. I mean, the way I hug them is unique to my relationship with each of them. I figure a hug from someone else should reflect that relationship. This was even more obvious when a long-distance, good friend of the family asked me to do this at the end of a phone call. Since this friend is a man, I decided to give my husband and son sideways “guy hugs” so it would be more like it was from this guy friend.

Despite the seeming awkwardness of these hugs, it is a way that these people who care about us can be present with us even though they aren’t actually here. As my mom put it, I am doing her (and the guy friend) a favor by giving these hugs to my guys.

This idea of indirectly doing a favor for someone is a theme in our Bible reading from Matthew. The passage gives us an image of Jesus in his glory, seated on his throne with all the nations of the world gathered around. Jesus then separates the people and pronounces judgment on them.

He admits some into his kingdom saying, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

But they are puzzled, they can’t remember doing any of those things for Jesus. Surely they would remember if he was the one they fed or clothed or visited! But Jesus reveals that it wasn’t him directly that they did this favor for, but whenever they did these things for “the least of these,” they did it for Jesus.

By contrast there are others that Jesus denies admittance into the kingdom because they did not care for the “least of these” when they had the chance. This sounds pretty harsh. I imagine I miss a lot of opportunities to do favors for Jesus if feeding, clothing, or visiting “the least” means doing this for Jesus. Maybe (probably) we all miss a lot of opportunities like this if we’re honest.

But on a deeper level, I think it’s important to see that these kinds of “favors” for Jesus are entirely different than how the world ordinarily thinks of impressing kings.

It’s a bit like that first time my mom asked me to do her the “favor” of giving my husband a hug for her. I braced myself for some impossible task that I would have to do for my mother, but it turned out to be something much simpler still.

Jesus is not asking us to bend over backwards to impress him!

Give people food. Hand them a cup of cold water. Make sure folks have clothes to wear. Take care of those who are sick. Don’t give up on people when they get in trouble. These are pretty simple tasks in one way of looking at it.

This is not at all like how we usually think of impressing powerful people. The typical ways that we go about impressing powerful people are much more directly in service to the powerful. We might give them gifts to endear ourselves to them, we make an exchange that will be mutually beneficial, we perform an act of service that directly benefits them, or if all else fails, we grovel at their feet and try to kiss up to them.

But Jesus isn’t that kind of king. He isn’t that kind of king at all. Even though Jesus himself is God—you know, All Powerful, he doesn’t ask us to kiss up to him, to earn his favor by performing elaborate gestures of deference to him.
No, Jesus is the kind of king who identifies with the lowly, the least, the vulnerable. This is a very different kind of kingdom. It’s a bit upside down when you think about it.

There’s a scene earlier in the book of Matthew, in chapter 20, starting at verse 20, that makes a similar point. The mother of James and John asks that Jesus seat them at his right and left hands, in places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.

The other disciples then get angry at James and John for them presuming to have favor with Jesus. But they are all thinking about power and glory in typical human terms. And in verse 25 Jesus shows this idea to be bankrupt saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” I mean, yikes…nobody likes a tyrant. But that’s what happens when we exalt those who are already powerful. We puff them up and they wield their power and control over us.

Jesus continues in verse 26, “It will not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be yours slave.” See how upside-down this is? Jesus is the kind of king that cares about his people—even, or especially, to jump back to our text for today—the “least of these.”

While we may not much like to think of ourselves as weak or in need, we sometimes are the ones who need cared for. So, it can be a great comfort to us to know that no matter how low each of us may sink, Jesus still cares for us.

In fact, there is no low that we can reach that Jesus has not already sunk to in his time here on this earth. He took the lowest place of all—giving his life for our sakes. As Matthew 20, verse 28, says, “he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Our typical ideas about impressing powerful people don’t hold up for Jesus, but the way of service is at once both very simple and very difficult. And so, Jesus took this lowest place for us—in our place. In Jesus’ death on the cross, he is the one stooping to do us the favor. And in his rising from the dead, he wins the victory over death itself.

You see, he has already won the day. His kingdom is already advancing. We do have a choice here and now—whether we will join forces with Jesus, and honor him by favoring “the least of these” or whether we will reject his victory and continue striving for power and fame in the typical human ways.

Taking care of others does require something of us. But Jesus prepares us for this work through our baptism, nourishes us for it through the bread and wine that we share, and empowers us for this work through his Spirit.

And so finally, when Jesus asks us for these favors of feeding, clothing, and coming alongside “the least of these,” we can smile and confidently say yes to Christ Our King.

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.

Leaders: Are You Too Sexy for Your Church? So Sexy it Hurts?

Too Sexy for Church

One of my pet peeves among ministry colleagues is when they say, “I know it’s not the most sexy aspect of ministry,” about some unsung part of church-work. It has become a popular turn of phrase–almost a cliche–to talk about something in terms of how “sexy” it is.

Colleagues I know and deeply respect have said it. I won’t name names and I’ve lost track of who and how many. Just if you happen to be one, I’d like to suggest that you stop using the term “sexy” to refer to anything related to church or ministry. What follows are my reasons.

 

Four Reasons Faith Leaders Shouldn’t Use the Term “Sexy”

 

1. Stop the Obsession

Our culture is bombarded enough already with sex in advertising, sexual innuendo, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. Too much. We as church-workers can do ministry just fine without making it look “sexy.”

It’s true that some aspects of ministry may seem a little ho-hum, but even the great moments don’t have to be “sexy” to be worthwhile.

There are so many other ways to describe ministry highlights: mountaintop experience, a holy moment, a God thing, serendipitous, great teamwork, etc. Please try saying what you want to say a different way.

 

2. Keep it Safe

Associating ministry with sex at all is just disturbing. People need church to be a safe environment not a sexualized one.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse by faith leaders happens.

Oftentimes predatory faith leaders will “groom” others beginning with small, seemingly innocent words or touch to desensitize them to the wrongness of their advances. Other times faith leaders will promise that sexualized talk or touch will have a spiritual benefit for the parishioner.

These behaviors are way out of bounds and just plain wrong. Faith leaders should never attempt to sexualize their relationship with parishioners in any way.

 

3. Words Mean Something

So you’re not a predator, you’re not “grooming” anyone. To you it’s just an analogy. But what you think of as a harmless analogy may trigger unwanted sexual thoughts for others.

I get that people use this term without intending to sexualize the church environment, but words matter and you can’t just throw around the term “sexy” without somebody thinking about sex.

And by “somebody,” I admit I am one; I’m very visual and yes, I’m going to go there in my mind…and I won’t hear another word you say.

 

4. Stop the Objectification

I don’t even like the term “sexy” when it would be more fitting because it represents a highly objectified view of sex.

I teach my son not to refer to others as “hotties” or as “sexy” because those terms treat people like objects.

Saying someone is “sexy” is saying, “I want to have sex with that person.” Such an announcement is often made with no appreciation for the personhood of the one desired or a relational context for the fantasized consummation.

Sure, most people want to be seen as attractive, even desirable, but we’re whole beings, not just play things.

 

I’m not opposed to sex. And I’m not saying that the subject should be off limits in church; in fact I think there are good and helpful ways to talk about healthy sexuality in our parishes. I just don’t think the term “sexy” accomplishes what it is intended to accomplish when used to refer to church or ministry happenings. The term itself is just a little too sexy for church–so sexy it hurts.