Photo: Trinity youth and Pastor Nathan meeting with Drea Shropshire of Congressman Jim McGovern’s office on February 21, 2019. The youth advocated against proposed rules changes to SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program).

Lectionary 7C + Sunday, February 24, 2019
Text: Luke 6:27-38

(Watch here … Minute 27:15)

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

“What are we for?”

That’s the question that came up for me this week on the LIPY (Lutheran Inter-city Parish Youth) Mission Trip to Washington, D.C. It was specifically asked by Pastor Karen Brau of Luther Place Memorial Church. We stopped at Luther Place to learn more about how they as a congregation are putting their faith into action.

In a Q & A with Pastor Karen, I asked her insights about we might live together as one community, let alone put our faith into action through public policy, in such a politically polarized time such as this one? In response, she suggested that instead of focusing on what we are against – the world is full of people talking about what and who they are against.  Instead, we should focus on what we are for.

Regardless of who is in the White House, or who controls Congress or the State House, what are we for as Christians?  What are we for from decade to decade that doesn’t change, even as power changes hands?

“What are we for?”

In our visit to Washington, we also met with ELCA Advocacy Ministries.  Abby Hull met with us and talked about the theological foundation for putting our faith into action, how baptism propels us into actions, as Andrew Fuller helped prepare us for our visits with  members of Congress.

We learned there are five parts of a Hill visit.  We learned that there is the introduction (Who are we?), The Ask (Why are we there?), Stories (Why this makes a difference?), the Pin (What is the lawmaker going to do in response), and The Time Keeper (To keep us on track).

I am proud of our youth and you should be as well. Max, Vinnie, Anna, Grace, and Ben each volunteered for the various roles in our meetings with legislative aides for Congressman McGovern and Senator Markey.  They represented themselves, this congregation, and the Church of Jesus Christ exceptionally well.

All of this, around the question, “What are we for?”

In today’s Gospel reading, we find out exactly what Jesus is for.

Let’s admit it … what Jesus is for is shocking, disturbing, and unsettling.

The teachings sound good on paper. They make for a beautiful story. I suspect few are against these things in theory.  But, this is not an abstract scholarly and theoretical discourse. Jesus is teaching behaviors to his disciples, and to us, for the sake of community. These were not points just to talk about, to agree with in principle, or encourage others to do.

These are actions for disciple then, and for disciples today, to do:

  • Love our enemies
  • Bless those who curse us
  • Give to everyone who begs from us
  • Be merciful with each other just as our Father is merciful
  • Forgive one another.

Taken as a whole, these behaviors announce what Jesus is for. What Jesus is for … is for a loving, blessing, sharing, forgiving, and bestowing mercy upon all people community.  A community loving across divisions and borders, showing mercy across suspicions and fears, practicing forgiveness across party lines and political ideologies.

What Jesus is for … is for a community shockingly, and daringly, and audaciously, and scandalously, and uncomfortably loving each other.

The community that Jesus is for doesn’t justify, or rationalize, or excuse systems that exploit, dehumanize, or oppress. The community that Jesus is for cuts the crap that we toss on each other as humans – gossip, whining, complaining, territorialism.  The community that Jesus is for stops lifting individuals above the community and at the expense of community.

Instead, the community that Jesus is for, honors and celebrates individual gifts, passions, and talents as they are put into use for the well-being of the community, making the world a better place in which to live.

One of the stops some of us took this week was to the Memorial for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

History records what the Dr. King was for. Dr. King was for a nation judging each other not on skin color, but on the content of one’s character.  Along the wall behind the statue of Dr. King as part of the Memorial was this quote from a 1967 speech in California:

“I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America.  I speak out against it not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.”

 Dr. King was for the United States living as a moral example to the world. As a minister of the Church of Jesus Christ, he preached for beloved community. He preached for a community of love, mercy, and forgiveness established on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Today’s gospel, is not about feeling or thought. Today’s gospel is about action. We are not called to be a “feel-good” church, where we prioritize our personal experience and comfort as primary. We are called to be a “do-good” church.

A “do-good” church, not in the sense that we are “do-gooders” who pat ourselves on the back for a job that we thinks makes a difference but doesn’t really help anyone. But rather, a church that understands that faith must be active in love. A church that proclaims the love of God in word AND deed. A church actively working for the community that Jesus is for and announcesdin today’s gospel.

Luther Place Memorial Church understood that clearly in 1968. Pastor Karen told us that in 1968, that the church’s neighborhood of D.C was experiencing racial riots and many buildings burned.  Neighbors lost their homes and businesses.

The congregation was told at that time by its insurance company, that if Luther Place opened its doors as a place of safety and refuge for those affected, basically, if it got involved, it would lose its insurance coverage if it was damaged, or burned, or destroyed in the riots.

Now, I’m no insurance agent and I don’t know the details of policies and premiums.  But, that instruction reaks of racism. It has the stench of a power structure trying to preserve its own power.

So what did they do?

What did the congregation of Luther Place do when confronted with the decision – are we a church preserving a building? Or, are we a church committed to serving the children of God?

Luther Place opened the doors of their church and put themselves and their building on the line. They opened their doors to be the body of Christ in the world serving their neighborhood. They opened their doors – because they were for the Gospel of Christ above all else.

What are we for today?

As a community of followers of Jesus Christ, how are we for the community that Jesus was for in the Gospel today?

  • How are we called to love our enemies today?
  • Who are we called to forgive today?
  • Who are we called to be generous with today? Who are we called to share with today? Who are we called to show mercy to today?
  • How are we called to lend today with no hope of return?
  • How are we called to give ourselves away today?

The Good News today, is that Jesus Christ is for a community of love, and grace, and mercy, and healing, and life. The Good News is that in our baptisms, Jesus Christ both announces that we are claimed as members of that beloved community. Our baptisms announce that each one of us, has a place in that beloved community.

And, at the same time, in faith and filled with the Holy Spirit, we are called to action today.  We are called to participate in that beloved community.

Here today that beloved community is already breaking in among us! Announced in the water and word, experienced in the bread and cup, here is Jesus Christ, the Word of God, speaking community, speaking life, speaking healing and wholeness, leading us into beloved community.

Signs of that beloved community is breaking in all around us:

  • I drove one of the vans to D.C.  I was told when I first got in the driver’s seat that I was in the “Showtunes” van and it was truth in advertising.  The closer we got both to D.C. on our way there and back home to Worcester – the louder the singing got. It put a smile on my face.  There in a small way, was the kingdom of God breaking in through the joy and singing of the kids, kids not just from Trinity but from the other churches that went on the trip as well.
  • In our Saturday morning basketball and breakfast program, there is the beloved community breaking in.  Not so much in the actual basketball games played and breakfast served, though those things are important.  More importantly, the beloved community is enacted in the friendships formed and the connections made that otherwise wouldn’t have ahppened.  .
  • You’ll notice in today’s bulletin the announcement that we will be serving the meal to the LGBT Asylum Task Force community dinner in March, and there are ways you can participate in hosting that meal.  More important than the food we will provide, is the fellowship we will share with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender asylum seekers who would rather be in their home countries loving the people they love. Beloved community will break in through the environment of welcome, hospitality, and friendship will we will extend those far from their homes.

These are ways we are for beloved community. These are ways we honor and respond to the community Jesus announced in the gospel today. These are actions of disciples committed to love, hospitality, and mercy that is more than just talk, but is action that makes a difference.

We are privileged today. We are privileged to experience first-hand the kingdom of God breaking in among us.

We are challenged today. We are challenged to turn from sin that prevents beloved community from bestowing blessing … and beauty … and life upon all of God’s children on the planet.

We are sent today. We are sent to be the body of Christ in the world, loving our enemies praying for those who curse us, lending to all, and giving ourselves away for the life of the world.

Indeed may it be so.
Thanks be to God.