Car Wash Fail

A couple of months ago, when it seemed like the long, cold winter had finally begun to release it’s snowy grip from this locale, I decided it was time to take my car to get washed. Off with the salt, off with the dirt, bring on the bright – for me the wash symbolized a post-winter spring cleaning of sorts. I was excited.

I went to one of those local gas station car washes; saving a couple of bucks on a car wash with a fill-up tends to get my attention. With printed car wash code in hand I drove over to the vehicle line and waited my turn for the wash. After a few minutes wait I drove up to that little machine you interact with, rolled down the window, typed in the code in, and diligently read the instructions.

Remove or lower car antenna
Roll up window
Drive wheel into track
Stop at yellow line
Put car in neutral

Check,
Check,
Check,
Check,
Check!

I rattled off the list in my head as I did each step and prepared for the car wash to begin.

Being Wronged
But then the weirdest thing happened. I watched as the track that’s supposed to move the vehicle ahead started moving. But my tires, and car, didn’t move an inch, they just stayed put. After what seemed like an eternity – tho was probably just a minute or two – someone walked up, offered to reset the system, and then asked me if the car was in neutral.

Yes, of course, I responded.

What a silly question.

I’d already gone through the list.

I told the man thankyou, and feeling relieved the problem had been solved waited for the car wash to begin.

But then the same thing happened again.

Track started
Car stayed put

At this point there were a couple of other cars in line behind me and I began to feel a slew of emotions. Feelings like frustration, impatience, and judgment – directed at that dumb car wash – began to bubble up.

I concluded, in that moment, that the car wash must be broken. The failure must be in the machine. And me, as the paying customer, had been wronged.

So I drove through the car wash, without getting one, and zipped over to the cashier to get my 5 dollars back. I was still not in the best of moods.

After describing what had happened, and telling the cashier that *clearly* their machine must be broke, they asked the same simple question:

Did you have the car in neutral?

Yes, I replied, as I could feel my face turn a darker shade of red. It was in neutral.

I was sure of it.

As the cashier completed the refund and gave the standard have a nice day and I found myself snidely replying, I will, as soon as I get to a working car wash!

Oh dear, where did nasty response come from?

I was still hot under the collar about being so wronged by a broken machine; it was not my best moment.

Being Wrong
But then, as I returned to the car and looked down at the gear shift I realized something. I’d put the car in the same gear I always do when stopping for a while, it was in Park. That must have been what I’d done in the car wash.  And a car in Park won’t budge when a track is moving underneath it.

My emotions of frustration, impatience, and (gulp) anger were suddenly replaced with feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, shame.

The failure wasn’t in a machine, it was in me.

I was the one that was wrong, not a car wash, and certainly not a cashier. And I’d acted out of those feelings in some really crappy ways.

Sober Judgement
If only I’d read Romans 12 before heading to get that car wash
If only I’d paused, and reflected on Paul’s wisdom some
If only I’d taken those wise words to heart

Verse 3 reminds us to “not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”

I was sure I’d followed those car wash instructions to a T.

Absolutely sure of it.

And yet, when given the opportunity (twice!) to recheck the gear shift, I instead replied, over-confidently, and incorrectly, that the car was in neutral.

And even worse I hadn’t treated people around me too well, instead letting my emotions in that moment get the best of me.

What began as a mundane task, of getting a car washed, ended with something I was less than proud of.

So how could have this gone differently? The second half of verse 3 offers more wisdom, saying simply “think with sober judgment.”

I love that phrase. Sober judgment is another way for saying think with a clear head. Aka don’t get tied up with negative emotions. If I’d done that perhaps I could have heard the good advice to actually check the gear shift one of those times.

Verse 18 offers one more kernel of truth I wish I’d followed: “If it is possible live peaceably with all.” When I gave that snide remark to the cashier egad did I fail on this one. Even if the car wash was broken I could have at least been kind. Living peaceably with others is such a simple concept, tho so incredibly hard at times to live out.

Close
So often in our daily lives we find ourselves in circumstances rife with the potential to create conflict, both within us, and with others.

We let pride get in the way of reason
We talk at times when it’s better to listen
We lash out when the moment calls for kindness

Instead of responding to a frustrating situation as I did here, consider applying Paul’s approach in Romans 12.

Stay humble
Keep a clear head
And, if possible, live peaceably with all

For when we do, we bring the relationships around us into alignment with each other, which brings us into alignment with our Creator. And when we do, instead of finding ourselves burdened with feelings of anger, guilt and shame we can instead experience joy, peace, fulfillment.

And, on occasion, instead of being stuck with the messy dirt of life that, when left unchecked accumulates on us and others, we may just find ourselves sporting a much, much cleaner car.

Poor In Spirit

A message on the first beatitude: blessed are the poor in spirit.

In 1979 the Monte Python classic Life of Brian was released. The film is a satirical look at the life and times of Jesus, as seen through the eyes of Brian, who the movie suggests was born in the stable next to Jesus. Which of course causes confusion with the visiting wise men, and causes cases of mistaken identity for Brian throughout his life.

The movie created quite a stir when first released, some would call it blasphemous, the film was even banned in Norway for a while. The filmmakers wisely used this notoriety in their marketing campaign, putting up posters in Sweden that read, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!”

But personally? I love it. Sometimes a good pop-culture treatment of the stories of our faith can make those stories more accessible, to new groups of people, in new ways. With the film commonly rated as one of the best comedies of all time that is definitely the case here.

One of my favorite scenes in the film involves Jesus speaking to a crowd, with those farther away struggling to hear him. Jesus has just launched into a teaching on the Beatitudes.

But what did Jesus say? Here’s how the film interprets it:

“I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers” one person repeats.
“What’s so special about the cheesemakers?” quips another.
“Well, obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally” says the first person. “It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

And really, thank goodness this is satire, because otherwise we’d all find ourselves rooting for the cheeseheads, those Green Bay Packers. And who wants to do that? Amiright Vikings, Bears and Chiefs fans?

Beatitudes
This weekend begins a summer sermon series here with a focus on the Beatitudes. This passage in Matthew 5 is one of the more well-known parts in all of scripture. Biblegateway.com tracks these sorts of things, and ranks it as the seventh most searched for scripture passage on their website.

But one of the downsides of a passage this common is we all think we know it – this is the blessed are the so-and-so people piece of the Bible. And I bet many of you could rattle off many of those blessed groups, right alongside the blessing they are to receive.

So instead of a brief treatment of the passage, Pastor Bryan and I will dissect the Beatitudes one verse at a time over the next eight weeks, connecting it with other bits of related scripture.

This passage in Matthew occurs right after Jesus calls the first disciples and then teaches and heals the sick throughout Galilee. The Beatitudes are the opening of the Sermon On The Mount, a 2,500 word message, direct from Jesus, teaching the disciples, and others gathered there that day, what discipleship looks like.

The message happens so early in his ministry, it’s like Jesus is saying listen up! The class, DISCIPLESHIP 101, is about to begin.

Societal Blessings, Heavenly Blessings
Jesus begins this sermon with some repetition, each beatitude begins with “blessed are the” then a description of who is blessed, followed by what it is they’re blessed with.
But the blessings Jesus doles out aren’t for the kinds of people that, by default, you might expect. In Jesus’ time, as in ours, this concept of God’s favor, and who has it, is often – and incorrectly – tied to where you stand in society.

If you run a successful business, society says you are blessed.

If you’re a military leader, with a track record of winning, society calls you blessed.

And if you’re the king or queen or president or prime minister and rule the land? Society definitely calls you blessed.

But these blessings Jesus gives, and who they are for, represent peoples and groups we don’t normally associate with good gifts from God.

Blessed are the poor, Jesus says, lifting up those without.
Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus extols, celebrating the ways of non-violence.
Blessed are the meek, the persecuted and those who mourn. With these words Christ empowers people with minimal agency of their own.

These blessings Jesus gives, to those often at the lower rungs of society, is downright shocking. The default view in many sectors of our world is that if you have a deficit of some sort, either physical, or mental, or economic, then you must have done something to deserve your ailments. To put it in modern lingo if you don’t meet society’s definition of success, well then you must not be #blessed.

But Jesus throws that notion out the window, pointing these blessings not to those with, but instead specifically blessing those without.

The Poor in Spirit
Today’s message focuses on the first beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit.

Biblical scholars generally agree that this blessing isn’t just for the poor, but more specifically the poor in spirit. People poor in spirit may have very little in this world, and they’ve reached a conclusion about that: they find themselves utterly dependent on God. Yet this kind of poverty, and people’s utter dependence on our Creator has another benefit, it makes it possible for people to have a new relationship with God in unexpected, even joyful kinds of ways.

In a culture where wealth is often idolized, and success most often associated with our cars and houses and bank accounts, it is really difficult to grasp this blessing Jesus describes for people with seemingly so little.

Tho I’d like to try.

When thinking about the poor in spirit, and their special relationship with God, and the benefits of that relationship they have, what comes to mind is an experience I had in Haiti several years ago.

Haiti
I’ve been to this country four times on various missions trips in the last decade. The trips typically focus on education and providing accessible healthcare to people in the poorest country in our hemisphere. On one trip our team led Vacation Bible School for the week among a couple hundred elementary school children. We did that at a Christian school our church sponsored, that was a blast.

After a few trips to a third world destination you begin to start to have some sense of what life may be like in a country very much unlike our own. Access to the electric grid there is spotty at best, millions don’t have access to it at all. For those that do the access is extremely unreliable. If you’re really wealthy there you have a backup generator, and plenty of gas, for when the grid goes down.

The condition of roads is often a state of going from one pothole to the next, which as you can imagine absolutely kills the suspension system in vehicles. Getting parts for vehicles is difficult, often they must be ordered from overseas, which takes time, and isn’t cheap.

But the road condition isn’t even a large issue for most Haitians, because less than 2% of the population owns a car. That’s a luxury most simply can’t afford.

And it’s best not to assume that too many people have reliable access to food each day and a roof to sleep under because so many in this land simply don’t.

The average income per person in Haiti is less than $2,000 a year. Compare that to their Caribbean and Latin American neighbors in other developing countries where the average income is over $14,000 a year. The common person just doesn’t have much.

The Orphanage
Even with some sense of the country, and Haiti’s struggles, nothing compared our group for what we saw one day at a rural orphanage. The orphanage is run by an order of Catholic monks, a group of men that hail from around the world, mostly in their 20s and 30s. The monks work alongside local Haitian employees to meet the daily needs of caring for about 100 orphans, it’s a fairly big operation.

The orphanage we visited cares for children with significant mental and physical challenges, from babies just a few months old to kids in their late teens. Some kids are minimally verbal or can’t speak at all. Others walk with a significant limp, or are missing limbs. Because of the 2010 earthquake that killed 160,000 and injured many more there are a lot of people with missing limbs in Haiti. Some are confined to wheelchairs, others beds, for most of their lives.

The monks there had been called to a life of poverty, and here were called to serve not just the poorest of the poor, but also the most challenged of the challenged.

Many children there have at least one living parent; studies suggest that about 80% of Haitian orphans do. Parents often give children with challenges of this sort to facilities like this. They know they wouldn’t be able to provide basics like food, housing and healthcare that these kids so desperately need.

I have to admit the conditions there were jarring for my affluent, American, first world eyes. Bunkbeds lined large rooms, and the nursery housed over a dozen cribs, each holding a child with significant challenges.

As you might guess the facility had minimal access to electricity, there was only enough to keep food and medicine cool, employee cell phones charged, and provide power to the one computer there.

Our group had the chance to participate in the morning breakfast feeding, helped with cleaning a bit, and then gathering for morning worship.

And at first I found myself looking at all that was lacking:

No AC
Unwanted children
Abject poverty
Physical challenges that no one would wish on another

It was pretty depressing.

But then I found my gaze shifting to see what *was* there, and what was there was plenty.

As we helped with the morning feeding, which consisted of water and a basic porridge, the children seemed grateful. Food was shared, medications given, nurses made plans for doctor visits scheduled later in the day. This was part of their daily routine. The physical needs of these children were being met.

As we helped clean – I got to sweep rainwater that had fallen on an outdoor patio the nite before, it was pretty fun – I watched as other volunteers and staff worked in harmony, completing the daily tasks at hand. Bed linens were changed, and washed, floors scrubbed, dishes cleaned. The kid’s housing needs were being met. The facility, while sparse from our vantage, was well maintained.

And the best part? Morning chapel. The Catholic monks led us in scripture reading, prayer and song. Tambourines came out, voices were raised, we found ourselves singing, and dancing on a large outdoor patio. And with palm trees gently swayed in a cool, tropical breeze. Many kids danced together, and with us, hand in hand, as we sang praises to our Creator. We sang either in our native tongue or trying out the language of our new friends.

You haven’t really lived until you’ve sang, and danced, and tambourined through several verses of Jesus Loves me in multiple tongues, especially in a setting like this, it was *awesome*

The spiritual needs of these children were *definitely* being met, many responded with sheer bliss.

It was hard not to tear up experiencing all this; the joy, the smiles, the motion of life that swirled all around. What was there was holy, and beautiful. God’s children were being cared for by God’s people. And our group had been incredibly blessed to be part of that, if only for a few hours.

A Lived Beatitude
This is the closest I have personally come to the poor in spirit. Not only did these children have nothing, but because of their limitations, of mind and body, they were entirely dependent on others, unable to care for themselves.

There’s an old saying, that you never know God is all you need until God is all you have. That was definitely the case here.

And that’s where the monks came in, called to a life of poverty, called to serve their God in addressing the needs, of God’s children, in their daily vocation.

This connection, between God’s children and God’s servants, felt like the culmination of this beatitudinal blessing, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Despite conditions that many of us would describe with unkind language, seeing these children cared for, and seeing their joy, gratitude and sheer bliss, felt, in that moment, like heaven. No strings attached.

Close
Most of us here aren’t called to lives of poverty. And most of us don’t have the challenges of debilitating mental or physical ailments as our daily reality. And we can be thankful for that. Perhaps later in life we come somewhat closer to this reality as our bodies and minds deteriorate.

But, as disciples of Christ, and followers of the Way, we are always part of these beatitudinal blessings.

So if you find yourself poor in spirit, it’s good news, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

And if you aren’t poor in spirit, it is also good news. For as a Christ follower you are called to help bring the kingdom of God to others, through how you serve, how you live, how you give.

For when you do, you not only bring the kingdom of heaven to others, you step foot into this glorious kingdom yourself. Amen.

A Tribe of One

Earlier this year the movie Black Panther was released to rave reviews and record-breaking box office receipts. The movie is commonly ranked as one of the top superhero films in the Marvel franchise and is third all-time in total box office receipts. It took in 1.3 *billion* dollars worldwide, whoa! On one level it’s just another superhero film, complete with epic battles of good versus evil, stunning CGI and plot twists aplenty.

But there’s more happening in this particular film, a subtext of sorts that tells another tale. Perhaps this subtext helps explain why Black Panther has been so wildly popular with so many.

Competing Ideals
The movie describes a fictional country in Africa called Wakanda. Long ago a meteorite deposited a mystical element there known as vibranium. Vibranium has some pretty cool properties, it can dissolve other metals; the suit Black Panther wears is made of it.

The Wakandans, historically, used vibranium to defend their country. This fictional metallic element makes for good shields and weapons of all types that help protect Wakanda. The metal is also incredibly valuable, keeping Wakandans safe, prosperous, and isolated, by choice, from the rest of the world.

But when the king of Wakanda dies it creates a power vacuum. Three potential leaders rise, each attempting to claim the crown. Each leader has their own ideas of how to guide this land.

The first is M’Baku, leader of one of the Wakandan tribes. M’Baku feels Wakanda has become too involved in international affairs. Instead he desires the country return to isolation, and a cloistered prosperity, solely within its borders.

The second potential leader is Erik Stevens, who goes by the name “Killmonger.” Erik, as his nickname suggests has other aspirations. He’s seen how his people have suffered across the world, and it’s time to right the wrongs of the past. He aspires to do this by conquering other lands, bringing them under his rule.

And then there is T’Challa, who sees the factions in his country, and seeks a third way. Instead of isolating, or conquering, T’Challa wants his people to relate to the world with a new, broader sense of purpose. We’ll talk about what those ways are a bit later, stay tuned.

Scriptural Backstory
I’d suggest that these three ideals, of isolation, of conquering, and this third way are all deeply connected to our human history. And also deeply connected to our scriptures.
Human history is rooted in our tribal identities. Tribes help define social norms, provide a common culture, and give us shared sets of values, shared religions too.

But tribes, by definition, create divisions. And divisions separate us from each other. By human nature we tend to side with our own tribe, whatever that is, at the expense of others.

If we are satisfied with how our tribe is running we may choose to isolate, desiring to keep things as they are.

And if we aren’t satisfied with the status quo we may desire more, to conquer other peoples, other lands.

History is replete with examples of both.

The story of the Israelites in our Old Testament is filled with this tribal narrative. At varying times they lived in isolation, or were the conquerors, or were the conquered. All tribes do this, either satisfied with their holdings or desiring more; the vicious cycle continues.

And at some point God looked down at this pattern, saw that the kids weren’t playing too well in the sandbox known as earth, and formulated this third way, also known as The Way, also known as Jesus Christ.

Christian Identity, Christian Freedom
This message closes out a four-week sermon series, The Freedom of a Christian, which makes for an excellent summary of what the way of Christ represents to our world. In this series we’re reminded that:

Salvation comes to us from God, no matter our earthly tribe. And that happens in the waters of our baptism. It is there we are claimed as a beloved child of our heavenly Father. We then have free will to choose what we do with this incredible gift.

And, no matter what we’ve done, the sins of our past, present, and yes, even our future, they are forgiven. Jesus paid for those sins, once and for all, with his life, death and resurrection. He made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may live. Because of this we are freed from sin, and the damage it causes, no longer shackled with feelings of shame and guilt.

This forgiveness isn’t just for one person or tribe, but for everyone. Galatians 3:28 tells us this, for “there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” For all of you are one.

This news of our identity as God’s own, and our forgiveness through Christ is really, really good news. So good that we are called to tell the story of our shared identity, and the forgiveness we have, with others, no matter their tribe. As a people both saved and forgiven this is our bondage of freedom, to speak these truths so that others may too become unshackled.

During the height of the civil rights movement the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King famously said this: no one is free until we are all free.

Our freedoms, both as citizens and Christians, are connected to each other.

And beyond being freed in our salvation, and freed from sin, and bound to share the news of this freedom with others, by spoken word, we are also freed to serve.

Freed, and Called to Serve
We know we’ve been freed for this because Christ modeled it. Freedom is a funny word, in our era we often understand it as a state of being, and not an imperative for doing.  And we really are talking about doing, service is an action, so let’s change up the language, just a bit, and talk about the imperative of being called to serve.

Matthew 20:28 tells us the “Son of God came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Christ spent much of his ministry crossing social, political and religious boundaries with the express purpose of serving others.

Unlike some of our Christian brethren from other faith settings Jesus didn’t solely approach people with talk of heaven and hell. Instead he built relationship, saying come, walk with me for a while. Christ entered people’s hell in the here and now. He then showed them what heaven, in the here and now, looks like. And he did this with a life of service to others.

Jesus healed, he fed, he took the lowly task of washing feet – eww yuck, from this particular pastor’s perspective – and it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from.

We commemorate this serving, every week, with a celebration of holy communion. Eating of the bread, and drinking of the cup isn’t just a look back in history to what Christ has done for you. And it isn’t just an individual act where we take Christ into us, becoming one with the divine, as awesome as that imagery is. It is also a look ahead, a call to action, a call to model what Christ has done for us. It’s a call for each of us, to model Christ, in our service to others.

Romans 12:13 implores us to contribute to the needs of the saints and to extend hospitality to strangers. Who are the saints? Let’s look back to Galatians 3, it’s the Jew the Greek, the slave the free, the male the female. And by extension the American and the Mexican. The El Salvadoran, the Guatemalan and the Columbian. The white and the brown. The mother, the father, the infant and the child.

And if we are to extend hospitality to strangers who exactly are these people?

Poet William Butler Yeats says it best:

There are no strangers here;
Only friends you haven’t yet met.

And we are called to extend hospitality to those yet unmet friends.

The Heavenly Ideal
As you might guess in the Black Panther film it is T’Challa, the leader seeking not to isolate or to conquer, that wins out. King T’Challa describes this third way with a closing speech to other world leaders. Here’s a bit of that speech.

We will be sharing our knowledge and resources with the outside world. Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows.

We cannot. We must not.

We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth.

More connects us than separates us.

But in times of crisis the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers.

We must find a way, to look after one another, as if we were one, single tribe.

This speech, from a secular, blockbuster superhero movie, is dripping in a Christian ethic.

We Christians are called to be an example, called to model how the brothers and sisters on this earth should treat each other.

We Christians know the truth: that more connects us than separates us. For we are all made in the image of our Creator. We are all children of God. We are all in the one, single tribe of God.

And we Christians must find a way to look after God’s children, and follow Christ’s call to serve. We do it best by healing, feeding, housing, and breaking the chains of bondage that keep some of God’s children down.

Close
Our national headlines of late have been downright dark, haven’t they. Those headlines, and the images they contain, place a mirror in front of us. And the reflection we see looking back right now isn’t too pretty.

But I’m not here to talk politics. That’s not what clergy are called to do. Instead it’s my job to explore with you the very nature of our God. And it’s my role to share the light of Christ with you, and then encourage you to go out and shine that light brightly the world round.

And I’m telling you, from one person of faith to another,
We people of faith are called to more. We are called –

Not to isolate
Not to conquer
Not to separate

But called to serve.  Amen.

Heavenly Water

Last weekend my daughter and I ran a 5k race together, the Hope Run. That annual event is sponsored by a local hospital, and is connected to area elementary school running clubs too, so there’s lots of kid and parent pairs involved.  And the race helps support local hospice, all in all it’s a really neat concept.

Running is a hobby of mine – I love it – so when our favorite first grader joined the running club, at her elementary school, in Florida last year I was thrilled. The two of us started jogging together soon after, and, with a few weeks of practice with pops she had gone from running a mile all the way up to a 5k distance – that’s a splash over three miles.

Even cooler to me is this: as an 8-year-old, she’s officially a faster runner at this distance than her 43 year-old dad. Which makes for a proud papa, albeit a humbled one 😊

Now the two of us hadn’t jogged much in Iowa since we arrived here last August. Between spending time to get settled last Fall, and the ridiculously long, and cold winter we former Floridians somehow survived (#ThanksIowa) suffice to say our energies for a while were directed elsewhere.

But when she came home from school six weeks ago, with a certificate for a free entry in this race, a reward earned from running club, I knew it was time for us to enter another race together. And time for us to hit the road to practice up for that race.

Practice
Our first jog together this Spring started a little later in the morning than usual. I’d slept in that Saturday, and by the time I got downstairs and asked her to get ready for the jog it was approaching 9:30 in the morning. And temps were already approaching the mid-80s. Now I don’t normally bring a water bottle when jogging this distance, tho my daughter likes to have one. In our haste to hit the road I totally forgot to bring it.

You can likely imagine what happened next. With the late start, and high temps still rising, and no water to cool down, she let me know, fairly quickly, how she felt. Hot, tired, thirsty. And not exactly having fun.

We got through that run, the two of us, but it wasn’t pretty. And as a parent I realized I’d really screwed this one up. I should have planned our jog together much, much better.

Our second run a few days later was entirely different. We started at 6:30 in the morning, three hours earlier, and temps were a good 15 degrees cooler. And this time I remembered to bring the ice water. Even more we took the time to plan where we’d break to enjoy that water.

And her affect during this second jog? It was entirely different. She smiled, she joked, she seemed relaxed, clearly enjoying the experience. She didn’t get winded or too hot either. When we stopped mid-way for our water break she took a good long swig of the ice water, let out a deep Ahhhhhhh, and exclaimed, “heavenly water!” “Heavenly water!”

She couldn’t have been happier. I knew, in that moment, that all of her earthly needs had been met. So much so it felt, well, downright divine. This time perhaps I’d done a better job at parenting.

Earthly Needs
The text from Matthew 6 is a story about a different Father, a much better Father, a God the Father. And unlike this earthly father here, God has a much better track record when it comes to caring for his children.

In the text we’re reminded simply not to worry.

Do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you’ll eat, or drink, or your body, or what you’ll wear. Instead we’re asked to strive for the kingdom of God, and focus on that. And when we do? All these other things will be given to us as well.

It is this look into the nature of God that I find really, really comforting.

As an earthly father I find myself torn at times. Torn between going with what *I’d* like versus making sure my kid’s needs get met. I enjoyed sleeping in that Saturday morning, for sure. But while I slept in it got hot, and that made for a tougher jog. Even worse I defaulted to *my* preference, of not bringing a water bottle, and completely forgot that  our daughter really appreciates having one.

Parenting, at best, often seems like a series of trial and error. I seriously screwed up with that late, hot, waterless run. Your father is sorry kiddo. And your father will remember to plan better whenever we run again. That’s a promise.

Heavenly Care
I think God the Father is more like that second run that we did.

God never sleeps in at the expense of the kids. Instead God checks the temperature before we head out. And God jogs alongside us, throughout life, with us every step of the way.

God doesn’t forget our earthly needs. Things like food, and clothing, and yes, certainly water. God here too, always has our back.

And God doesn’t fail to plan. Instead God has marked out a path for us well in advance. God knows when we need a break. God encourages us to rest, to replenish, to celebrate the Sabbath.

Close
As was then 2,000 years ago is still true now: as a people we love to worry. The next time you feel the urge to worry I invite you to consider this Matthew text.  Instead of spending all that effort worrying, strive first for the kingdom of God. For when you do you’ll find yourself jogging alongside your Creator, stride by stride, with a much lighter burden than you currently carry. And all those earthly needs you normally worry on? They’ll be met. And the result will be downright heavenly. Amen.

Father’s Day at the Border

As I wake this morning and look forward to celebrating Father’s Day, a day often marked by gifts like breakfast in bed, power tools, handmade cards from little hands, golf outings and phone calls home, it’s difficult not to be reminded of the growing humanitarian crisis happening at our border.

As a father we want what is best for our children. From working hard to making sure our kids have enough to eat to ensuring they have a roof over their head, caring for our children, in ways great and small, is what we’re called to do. My family recently moved from Florida to Iowa, and I’m reminded of the many criteria my wife and I used to make that decision. Will our kids get a quality education? What is the crime rate in the area? Will they have access to caring community through societal staples like church, summer camps and Girl Scouts?

And yet these are luxuries compared to the horrors many families now face when they choose to head north seeking asylum in our land.

As a pastor I find our government’s recent use of sacred Christian scripture to justify human rights abuses appalling. As a people of faith we are called to welcome the stranger. And called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And whatever you do to the least of these? You know, like separating kids from loving parents? You have done to me, Christ says.

As a citizen I find this deepening crisis deeply disturbing. At one point in our nation’s history we celebrated an ideal that invited the tired, the poor, the huddled masses to our land. That ideal is now gone, replaced with policies that not only deny those same people but then separates them, tearing father and mother from son and daughter.

Our nation likes to lift up a shared love of God and country. As a Christian clergy let me implore you to prioritize the former. Our faith tradition is steeped in examples of people that found themselves on the other side of the law of their land for just cause.

Jesus spoke out against societal and religious injustice all the way to the cross. The apostle Paul, author of much of the New Testament, wrote many of those texts from behind bars for living out his call. Many German pastors were vocal about the atrocities of World War II; some were imprisoned, others killed. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, who challenged our notion of the American dream with his own, often found himself behind bars for speaking truth to power, and ultimately paid a far greater price.

Perhaps the time has come again to do similar.

As you enjoy Father’s Day 2018, with all the privileges, freedoms and joy it contains, I ask you consider the fathers, and mothers that have none of that and desire more for their family. And then find themselves separated from the people they love the most, their children, separated by the government you and I claim as our own.

As a parent, and a person of faith, I ask you to act on behalf of these families, made in the image of God, and called good by design, just as much as you and I.

Speak out to the leaders of our land. Let them know this is not ok.

Write to your elected officials.  Tell of the pain this causes to you and so many.

Organize, walk, and march.  Make sure your voice echoes what good, Christian family values really look like.

While I pray your actions aren’t met with violence or incarceration know your voice won’t be welcomed by all. And that’s ok. But creating light from darkness, hope from despair and bringing life out of places of death is what we Christians do.

May the Holy Spirit nudge you to now go out, and do the same.