Posts Tagged ‘Serving’

A Surprising Find on Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago I made the disappointing discovery that I had lost my Deaconess pin (again). And I shared that story here on the blog.

I wrote about how I was getting down on myself about losing something so important, but then it occurred to me that I lost it because I was wearing it a lot. And I was wearing it a lot as I cared for my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the time leading up to her death. And I was wearing it a lot as I worked in Elaine’s kitchen, cooking for the family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death.

So I came to terms with having lost it because those were good, important times to be involved in serving and such.

And I really had let go of the need to berate myself for losing my pin.

But the fact still remained that I did not have my Deaconess pin. And that was still an issue for me, because it still is an important signifier of my ministry.

And then I started this new job as the interim minister of a church near where I live. And I really felt odd not having my Deaconess pin on at this new gig. This is the first ongoing job I’ve had in a very long time, and I preach there every Sunday and they call me Deaconess there and everything. So, to not have my pin on was just not right.

I had almost made up my mind that I was going to call up the Lutheran Deaconess Association (LDA) and order a new pin–if you’re counting, that would have been my fourth pin. But I still held out hope that I might find my pin somewhere. I kept checking and rechecking any place I might have left it.

Even Wednesday night as I was packing my tote bags to come for Thanksgiving at my father-in-law’s house in Houston, I rechecked the side pockets of the bags. But the pin still wasn’t in those same crazy pockets I had checked a bazillion times before.

And when I got to the guest room where we sleep at my father-in-law’s house, I looked once more on and around the desk and bed just in case I had missed the pin there before. But it still was not there.

It wasn’t anywhere obvious. I didn’t give it a whole really lot of thought. And it was late, and I was tired, so I put it out of my mind and went to bed.

By Thanksgiving morning, I had entirely forgotten about the pin. There was work to be done because I was the chief cook for Thanksgiving dinner for 24 people. And that alone is enough to think about. But this was at my in-law’s place…in Elaine’s kitchen…without Elaine.

And I tried not to think too much about this being the first Thanksgiving without Elaine. Because there was work to be done.

So I was just focusing on what needed to be done. Turkey was roasting and other prep was underway. I was in the zone.

I had chopped up all the celery and onions for the dressing, and I needed to get a pan to sauté them in. I knew exactly which one I wanted–the giant, enameled, cast-iron skillet. Of all of the utensils in Elaine’s kitchen, this one is by far my favorite.

It’s a heavy pan, and it’s a bit hard to get to as it is nested under a stack of other heavy pans, each layer carefully separated by protective layers of paper toweling. I could explain to you the intricacies of how everything is stored in Elaine’s kitchen, but the main thing you need to know is that it is really a pain to get this pan out of there. But it is my precious as pans go, so I am always willing to do the acrobatics needed to get it out.

And as I made the final contortions to pull the prized pan out of its place and prepared to remove the paper towels from inside it…there, on top of the paper towels, inside my favorite pan was my Deaconess pin.

IMG_4156

There’s my Deaconess pin–right where I left it apparently–inside my favorite pan in Elaine’s kitchen!

 

It made total sense that it was there. Because that is my favorite pan. And I was the last one to have used it. And I was the one who put it away–partly because I was the one who got it out, but mostly because it’s even harder to put away than it is to get out. It must’ve fallen off while I was putting the pan away, landing so softly on those paper towels that I didn’t even realize it had fallen there.

Finding it then–on the first Thanksgiving without Elaine, and there–inside my favorite pan in Elaine’s kitchen, finding it like that was the perfect encouragement. And I wept. And then I put my pin on and cooked.

It’s not like the pin gives me super powers, but symbols do have meaning. And that pin helps me remember who I am, whose I am, and what I’m about. I know those things even without the pin, but sometimes when life and ministry and kitchens get overwhelming, I forget to remember.

But there is so much work to be done in life and ministry and kitchens that I want to be sure to remember my identity as a servant, my belonging to a gracious God, and my purpose to share love and hope and joy in all I do and say.

Now, I don’t have to call the LDA and order a fourth pin after all! And I can wear it the very next time I preach! And each time I look at it, I will always think of Elaine. And I will have this story to tell about the surprise of finding my Deaconess pin inside that favored pan on Thanksgiving 2014.

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.

Risk, Loss, and Gain -or- What I Gained from Losing

I lost my deaconess pin. Again. And I started on a downward spiral of berating myself for losing something so special. Blessedly, before I got too far down, I interrupted myself and was able to reframe the loss in a way that gave me peace.

Don’t get me wrong, the deaconess pin—made of real silver—is very special. I received it as part of the consecration rite in which I officially became a deaconess. Each of us, as deaconess students, look forward to the day when we will get to wear the pin.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples' feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The basin on the crossbar is a reminder of the basin Jesus used to wash his disciples’ feet. It is in that spirit that deaconesses serve the church and the world.

The deaconess pin is an important reminder of our servant-hearted ministry. And wearing the pin is a great conversation starter with folks who don’t know about our ministry, or about the love of Jesus—the source and model of our serving.

But sometimes even important things get lost.

What really turned around my thinking about losing my deaconess pin this time (it is the third pin I’ve lost), was when I paused and remembered the stories of other deaconesses I admire who have lost pins more than once. “I’m in good company,” I told myself.

What’s more, part of why I lost my pin was because I was wearing it a lot. I wore it everyday (and every night) that I went to spend time with my mother-in-law, Elaine, in the hospital before she died. I wore it everyday that I planned meals for the Tinker family in the days surrounding Elaine’s death and funeral.

I wore it to remind myself that what I was doing was, in fact, ministry. It wasn’t some ground-breaking innovation in church-work, nonetheless it was ministry. It was ordinary, everyday ministry.

So, the clincher for me was the realization that I lost my pin because I was…using it.

It reminded me of my attitude about the “good dishes.” I know some people have the idea that you don’t want to use the good dishes because something might happen to them!

But my thinking is, if I’m never gonna use my good dishes, then why do I have them? What good are they?

Not much, not really.

I mean, sure they can sit there and look pretty. But tucked away in a china cabinet, they’ll be quickly forgotten—out of sight, out of mind. And even their beauty will fade into the background.

They will be safe though.

Of course, my deaconess pin, like the good dishes, was vulnerable by being used so much.

But what good is it if I don’t wear it? It would be safe in one sense, but not wearing it is its own kind of loss.

And you know all those nights I spent with Elaine? I made myself vulnerable by being of service in that way—my sleep was often interrupted, I was away from my husband and son, and I lived out of a couple of bags for 3 1/2 weeks.

Most of all though, by being there with Elaine—by spending so very much time with her—I came to care more and more deeply for her. And while that bond being strengthened was its own reward, it also made me more vulnerable to the pain of losing her.

But I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the finest china. No amount of silver could replace the ways my life was enriched by being there with Elaine in that time.

I took risks with that pin. And I lost it. But what I gained made it all worthwhile.

Such a Time as This

GoStay

My mother-in-law has been having serious health issues that have landed her in the hospital. I’ve come to Houston (where my in-laws live) to be part of my mother-in-law’s care team.

There’s nothing like caring for a sick mother-in-law to bring out the responsible adult in me.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting with my in-laws and I love them dearly.

But, at times, I have behaved, well, like a child, around them. I’m not proud of it, but I know I can be stubborn and rebellious when my elders try to offer guidance or correction.

Now though, with my mother-in-law’s condition being so serious, I am all in.

I can’t explain how exactly I am able to be so fully present as I am now, but I have this incredible peace about being here to help.

It is as if everything in my life up to this point has worked together to prepare me to be right here, right now. I’m sure that sounds strange. But looking back on so much I have lived through and learned I can see how those threads are woven together to clothe me for this time.

The timing alone is perfect. I’m between preaching gigs and between writing deadlines. I’ve relaxed a lot about my rigid online publishing schedule. I’ve done some important delegating. All of these factors allow me the freedom to be right where I am.

But on a deeper level, my spirit is prepared to be here.

I have felt a certain restlessness lately. I came to Texas somewhat reluctantly, then I grew to appreciate it–in large part because of the support my in-laws offered me. But as the time here wore on, I began to feel bound by being here. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And that longing in my spirit, that longing for purpose, is fulfilled in this time.

Somehow, even my resistance to being bound is oddly sated by the fact that I am but itinerant here in Houston. I go back and forth from my in-laws’ house to the hospital with a couple of bags with just enough of my worldly possessions to get by with.

My sister-in-law joked the other day about me being a gypsy. I kind-of liked that.

I can leave any time I choose.

And yet, I choose to be here.

I wish I didn’t need the freedom to “opt out” as badly as I do. But it is that freedom to go that gives weight and meaning to my decision to stay.

And as much as I love my dear husband, I have always felt like I am lucky to have him and never quite was all that certain what exactly I had to offer him. I know my worth isn’t defined by a single act and there are probably more reasons than I can understand about why he loves me back.

Still, this experience of being here now, helping as I am…I think perhaps, at least in part, that I became a Tinker for such a time as this.

 

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.