What Christmas Is

A poem for the holidays.

What is Christmas? Christmas is many, many things.

Christmas is toys and joys, cocoa and cider, trees and trimmings.
It is memories, some past, others newly made, still others lofty aspirations yet to come.
Christmas is tradition and family, baking and tasting, churches and carols, decking the halls.
Christmas is full bellies, needs met, gifts given, loved ones snuggled, contented, by a warm glowing fire.

Christmas is stables and mangers, livestock and hay, stars and angels, shepherds and wise-men.

It is unexpected parents, long, arduous travels, and inns with no rooms. It is a recognition that sometimes life, even for the divine, is HARD.

Christmas is hope and love, joy and peace.

Christmas is a promise made good, of God made flesh, of new starts, second chances. Not for a family or tribe, town or district, region or country, but instead a new start for the entire world.

Christmas is toys and joys, not just for us, but for those without.
It is filling bellies, not just our own, but those still empty.
Christmas is providing shelter, making room at the inn, in the midst of those who cry there is no room.

And Christmas is singing, but not for us. It is singing for those whose voices go unheard. It is singing for those who have no voice. And it is singing, loudly, Joy to the World! The Lord, in the most unexpected of ways, has come.

Image credit: http://www.everettpatterson.com/

Proclamations of Peace

A message for the second week of Advent based on Mark 1:1-8 featuring renaissance fairs, turkey legs and proclamation too. 

Have you ever been to a renaissance fair? This kind of fair has become more common in the US the past two decades, I’ve got a few friends that absolutely love them.
Renaissance fairs typically aim to recreate a certain era; many are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth of England or Henry VIII. Still others go for more of a Viking or pirate motif; I definitely see how those themes could be fun.

These events typically have a slew of costumed entertainers and fair-goers, and the outfits can get really creative, perhaps this was the original cosplay. Renaissance fairs often include musical acts, arts and crafts for sale, and festival foods galore. Personally I always go for the turkey leg, love me some of that, I get one just about every time they are available. These fairs are designed, intentionally, to blend right in with the era being replicated; going to one is akin to stepping out of a time machine that’s taken you back a few centuries.

One of my favorite parts of a good renaissance fair is the town crier competition. In these events participants, each decked out in bright, flashy costumed regalia, take turns giving a proclamation to the gathered crowd. “Here ye, here ye!” the proclamations often begin, with language dripping in old English words and phrases, not too dissimilar from what can be found in parts of the King James Bible.

The winner of these competitions is the voice that speaks the loudest, and clearest, with the most emotion, the most energy, the most life. And the winner is often made the official voice of the fair. The town crier, sometimes referred to as a herald, then proclaims the goodness that is to come, giving updates on what renaissance festivities happen next. The herald draws people in, gets them excited, gets them involved, all while giving the good news of the day.

For grins, here’s a video of a town crier, giving an important announcement, just to give you a glimpse of what we’re talking about.

Isn’t that fun? The person in the video is Tony Appleton, he’s the President of the Guild of International Millennium Town Criers, who knew such a group existed? Now Tony has a strong British accent in spots, perhaps for some, so in case you missed parts of that here is what the proclamation says.

Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! On this day, the second of May, in the year of 2015, we welcome, with humble duty, the second born, of the royal highnesses, of the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge. The princess is fourth in line to the throne. May the princess be long lived, happy, and glorious, and one day long to reign over us. God save the Queen!

The birth of royalty, especially in England, is about as big of news as it gets.

John the Eccentric
The scripture reading also features a herald, proclaiming some good news of a different sort. The herald’s name is John the Baptist.

Similar to a good renaissance fair herald, John could also draw quite the crowd. John attracted people from the whole Judean countryside; all the people of Jerusalem went out to see him. But John didn’t have the advantage of modern marketing and event-based promotions like renaissance heralds do, and he certainly didn’t have the best of venues. John’s proclamations came from a rather unexpected, unheralded location, the wilderness.

And John’s clothes? Like a good renaissance herald his clothes also made quite the impression, albeit in a different kind of way. John was clothed in camel’s hair we’re told, with a leather belt around his waist. While this text was written almost two millennia ago, even then, John’s wardrobe choice was a relic of the past. Theologian Martin Copenhaven observes that John’s camel-hair outfit was several centuries out of fashion, a biblical retro look of sorts, similar to what was worn by the prophet Elijah hundreds of years earlier.

And John’s choice of meals? He dined on locusts and wild honey, euch! While you may like honey – I’m allergic to it personally – imagine watching someone walk up to a beehive, stick their whole hand into it, and then lick the honey off, finger by finger. And then head off to find some live locusts, popping those crunchy insects into their mouth one at a time until they were full. Let that image sit with you for a little bit.

As for me? I’d rather have one of those renaissance fair turkey legs instead, so tasty.
All this is to say that John the Baptist, who could be best summarized as an eccentric, wild-child with a penchant for living off the land – don’t forget those crunchy locusts – well, he must have had some really, really good news to draw people in like that.

John the Proclaimer
So what made this news so good? When this text was written, near Galilee there was war, and rumors of more wars, and people weren’t getting along. It was a diverse population, both by race and religion, and tensions were high. There was governmental instability, leaders had lost the trust of their citizens, and divisive partisan politics drove people further and further from each other.

Again we’re talking ancient history. Or are we? So much of this sounds oddly familiar.

It is in this context the people went out from the cities, in the hopes of hearing more about a character called Jesus. And they went to the most unlikeliest of places, the wilderness, in search of the most unlikeliest of characters – that’s the camel-hair wearing, locust-eating John – to hear the good news being proclaimed.

And unlike a renaissance herald, whose proclamations involve festivities like the upcoming Jousting match, or the Pub sing, or Fire breathing exhibit, John’s good news is somewhat more lofty.

John calls on those gathered in the wilderness to repent, to be baptized, and to receive forgiveness for their sins. John calls on the people to make an account of the brokenness in their society, the wars, the religious and political infighting, and to repent for it.

It is then, in that state of reflection and repentance where John paves the way for what is to come. I can almost hear John the Baptist, using his best herald voice, quoting, Isaiah, saying “I am a messenger, sent from on high, who will prepare your way. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

For it is there, after repentance and reflection, baptism and proclamation, and then finding God’s people in the wilderness, once again, it is there we begin to find our way.

And it is there we can look forward, with joyful anticipation, to the breaking in of God in our world.

While John was not the chosen one – he’s the proclaimer, not the newly minted royalty – he sure did know how to announce the coming of the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. He did it with camel hair, and locusts and baptism, oh my, and he certainly wasn’t one to be shy. When the news is that big, is that good, God come to earth to save the world, in the form of a child, you really do want to proclaim that goodness with everything you’ve got.

CLOSE
On this, the second week of Advent, we light a new candle, to signify the peace we await this season. While we wait, I’d like to ask you to do something.

Most messages you’ll hear from this pulpit ask us to model Christ, and there’s always value in that. But this week, instead, consider modeling John the Baptist.

And while you don’t need to bust out the camel-hair outfits and start munching on locusts, I do ask you to model John with some verve.

First, reflect on where you need forgiveness, where you need peace. Ask for that forgiveness from your Maker, and accept the peace that it brings. As was then is also true now, in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, amongst political and religious divisions that threaten to tear at the very fabric of our society we all need a healthy dose of holy peace.
Then be like John, and proclaim the good news of the Christ child. Meet people in *their* wilderness. Help prepare the way of the Lord, make clear the path. Then help guide them out of that wilderness.

And then be like John once again and proclaim.

With apologies to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and using minor edits from the video we saw earlier, proclaim it with some gusto, with some panache, perhaps something like this:

Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! On this day, the twenty-fifth of December, in the first year of our Lord, we welcome, with humble duty, the first born of God our Creator, the blessed Christ-child. Jesus will soon take the throne, sitting at the right hand of God. May Christ be with us forever, in glory, and reign over us eternally in truth, and in love. God save us all!

For when we do, we model arguably the best earthly herald of all, John the Baptist, who drew people in, got them excited, and pointed them away from the wilderness of our world, and toward the peace of Christ.  Amen.

Conversations

A homily on the greatest commandment.

When is the last time you sat down and had a candid conversation with someone with radically different beliefs? Perhaps it was on the job, during a lunch break with a coworker. Or perhaps it was at school, chatting with a friend. Or perhaps it was just last week, talking with a relative over Thanksgiving dinner. Wait, radically different beliefs, among family members, gathered to celebrate the holidays? That never happens, we *always* agree with relatives on the really big topics of our day, right? Right! 🙂

Or – and again I’m fairly new to the area – perhaps it was at one of those caucus thingys Iowans have. A caucus is defined as a “gathering of neighbors” I learned recently, neighbors that meet in schools, churches, libraries, even individual houses. Given today’s scripture reading the notion of a gathering of neighbors seems, well, downright fitting.

Phone Calls
As a high schooler I remember meeting a new friend during a marching band trip 20 years ago, her name was Sharon. At face value we didn’t have much in common. We went to different schools, played different instruments – I mean really, what does a flute player have in common with a trombone player – and, I soon found out, we had racially different religious beliefs. I was a bible-believing, three-times-a-week church attending Pentecostal Christian. And Sharon? Well, she was an atheist. And for some reason, this topic of belief, or lack of, well, it fascinated us both.

And before we knew it the two of us found ourselves talking on the phone for hours on end about questions of belief. She wondered what I saw in Christianity. At the time I was preparing to be an engineering major in college. “Aren’t you too logical and practical for these silly beliefs,” she wondered? For my part I was super curious about atheism, and asked her things like “how do you find meaning in life if we’re all here by chance?” We both answered our questions as best we were able. And for years after that I kinda forgot about the whole thing.

Conversations
Today’s text from Mark isn’t too unlike those high school phone calls chatting up beliefs. Here we see Jesus having yet another conversation with the religious leaders of his day. Religious leaders that found themselves disagreeing with him more often than not. Jesus always seems to be up for conversation, no matter who it is, and what their background may be. This lack of regard for the religious and cultural rules of his day is downright scandalous. Don’t dine with certain groups he was told. Jesus did. Don’t go to certain towns, he was advised. Yet he did. Don’t talk to women, that’s not proper, he was told. Time after time Jesus did anyways.

Christ was really good at bending and breaking social conventions, and that’s something I’ve always admired when reading scripture. Perhaps we don’t talk about that enough in our churches, this wild-side of Jesus. But when you’re the Son of God, sent to earth to save the world, you have to save the world from, well, us. And that has to involve challenging the status quo.

The status quo challenge we have in Mark 12 is actually the tail-end of several other conversations Jesus has with religious leaders. So while we get a great conclusion – that’s the love God, and love your neighbor as yourself part – it’s worth backing up some looking at what led up to this moment.

First, in chapter 11, verses 27-33 the chief priests, scribes and elders question Jesus’ authority. He responds by telling them a parable. Next, in the first 12 verses of chapter 12, Pharisees – that’s an ancient religious group – try and trap him with a question of allegiance. Jesus counters instead with a question and a command. Finally, in verses 18-27, Sadducees – that’s another ancient religious group – suggest a hypothetical resurrection scenario to see how he responds. Jesus points them back to scripture, instead turning it into a conversation about the power of God.

It is only then that we get the grand payoff, a conversation between Jesus and a scribe. These are two people, from separate religious backgrounds, that find themselves identifying common ground. Agreeing, together, on the greatest commandment of all, to love your neighbor as yourself. As was then is now, that commandment has all sorts of implications on how we go about our daily living. That one statement, love your neighbor, contains the power to upend the world in some amazing, beautiful, ridiculously impactful ways.

Being
As we gather for mid-week service my thoughts at times wander to our confirmation program. The Wednesday scripture used here is the same text our confirmation kids will hear later tonite, there’s some nice synchronicity in that.

And in this text specifically Jesus gives us a how-to lesson on what it means to live in, and to transform, a religiously complicated world. And with that I’d like to break down what that looks like, just a bit. This is geared to our confirmation kids, tho hopefully there is some takeaway for the rest of us too 🙂

  1. Learn your faith Up until recently it was your parents faith, and now you’re given the chance to make it more your own. As you age you’ll grow, and evolve, and challenge all you know, and that’s good and healthy. You may end up landing near where you are, as a Christian of Lutheran persuasion, and your parents would probably be thrilled with that. Or you may not, that can happen, and that’s ok too. But, before any of that, dive in, with both feet, and learn scripture. Study the catechism. Jesus knew scripture, and spoke of it often. Confirmation is an educational endeavor that will open doors, and open valuable conversations for the rest of your life.
  2. Have those conversations Have them with people that believe differently. Be curious. Ask questions. Don’t judge. Seek to understand. There is a depth of wisdom available to you that can only be experienced when around people very different from you. Jesus transformed the world by having open, honest conversations with people from all sorts of backgrounds. Model that. Do the same.
  3. Find common ground I don’t care who you find yourself sitting down with, there is always common ground to be found. Identify it. Then celebrate it. Then live into it.

From memory, my conversations with Sharon landed on a shared caring for humanity. She ended up being a doctor, and cares for God’s people every single day. And, after a windy career path I now find myself a pastor, doing similar, or at least aspiring to as best I’m able. Belief-wise I’ve changed, this Lutheran identity is far, in some ways, from the faith setting I was raised in. And Sharon? A few years ago she reached out via Facebook to tell me of her kids being baptized in an Episcopalian church. I think we’ve both been surprised by our own transformations and how different we are from our high school selves. Belief can be a journey, and a rewarding one.

Close
For when we take these steps, as Jesus modeled, of learning our faith, having conversations with those different from us, and finding common ground, we arrive at the same conclusion Jesus did in today’s text. Upon hearing the scribe agreed with Jesus – they both conclude the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself – in this moment Jesus exclaimed to the man, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Well how about that.

The kingdom of God can be found alongside others. The kingdom of God can be found among people very different from us. The kingdom of God can be found among people where we find unexpected common ground.

And the kingdom of God, my friends, can be found in our shared call to love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of who exactly those neighbors may be. Now go, and do likewise. Amen.

Drawing Life

A sermon drawn, quite literally, from John 15:1-17 .  The message was prepared as part of a virtual sermon exchange this past weekend with good friend Pastor Sara Bishop.  Pastor Sara delivered this message to her congregation in Estonia, while I delivered a message she prepared for my congregation, Bethesda Lutheran, in Ames Iowa.  

What do you have to do to become Christ’s chosen one? The answer fortunately is simple: NOTHING.

So often we view relationship with our Creator as something to be worked for, to be earned. We find ourselves occasionally believing that to connect with the cosmos is an achievement, an act requiring considerable effort on our part. It’s almost as if we’re trying out to make the divinity football team, hoping our talents in running, passing, and ability to shoot on goal are enough to be chosen. Do you, right now, have what it takes to make the professional divinity team? If you answer no then more perhaps more practice is in order.

Fortunately this mindset, of the need to practice, to do works, all in the hopes of making the celestial All-Star divinity team that lands directly in the heavens, well, it just doesn’t jive with John 15. You did not choose me, but I chose you, Christ reminds us.

Transactions
And how refreshing that seems when much of our day-to-day is lived within a transactional framework. If you want something, usually, you have to give up something in return.
To earn money requires your time, your mental capacity, your physical body.
Other transactions involve not you, but things. Things that, if you have enough purchasing power, can be attained. To put food on the table you must give up some of those hard-earned wages. To have housing, have electricity, to access the internet, to give your children Christmas gifts, all of this involves trading one thing for another. Things are scarce resources, involve careful decision-making, all in the hopes they meet needs, for you, for loved ones. And, if you are lucky, sometimes you even get to acquire a few wants and throw those into the mix too.

And then there is my favorite type of transaction, one where not money is exchanged, only goods. A decade ago I had an old 1994 Volkswagen Jetta, and was looking to sell it. After advertising locally very few people were interested. I lived in South Florida at the time, a tropical climate, about three hours south of Disneyworld, and this car had no air conditioning. In the summer it got HOT.

Our family had already purchased another vehicle, and this old VW, gathering dust in the garage was essentially worthless to me. One day, after months of inaction, someone called and expressed interest in trading, one vehicle for another. He had a super sweet metallic-blue 1973 VW Super Beetle, the kind that’s air-cooled, engine in back, trunk in the front. He asked if I’d be interested; sure, I’ve always wanted one of those. We then prepared to exchange paperwork to make the trade official. But as we looked up the value of our Volkswagens it turns out his, even though 20 years older than mine, was worth about 500 dollars more.

Not wanting to spend money I asked if he liked video games. Why yes, he did, and an hour later he drove off in the ‘94 VW Jetta with a trunkload of Atari, Nintendo and Sega video games, leaving me that super sweet ‘73 Super Beetle. Transaction complete, we were both extremely happy.

The family 1973 Super Beetle – so miss it!

Chosen Ones
But – and this is amazingly fortuitous – none of this transactional mindset, as central as it is to our daily lives, none of it applies when we speak of our relationship with Christ. For all that’s needed has already been done through the life, death and resurrection narrative that culminates in Easter.

So instead of a to-do list with ample check-boxes needing to be crossed off we are instead given a blank slate, a clean, empty piece of paper. Already chosen children of God what then shall we do? We take that blank paper, and, just as a bright-eyed, high-energy child given a fresh, unused box of new crayons would do, we pick a few favorite colors and get to the business at hand: we create.

We draw, we doodle, we make masterpieces. Over time we grow into those masterpieces. But we are not left alone in this endeavor, the handbook containing all the tips and tricks of creating our life’s artwork is only an arm’s length away.  What handbook is this?  Ancient scripture, of course.  And the handbook’s author can hardly wait for us to turn divine revelation into here-and-now practice.

So what, dear child of God, a masterpiece in your own right, what masterpieces shall you, in this life, create? Today’s drawings come right out of the handbook of John 15.

Stay connected
First, from your box of crayons remove four colors; ready them for use: the blue, the green, the purple and the brown. Prepare to draw the first 8 verses of John 15.

God the Father is the vinegrower, we’re told, the gardener with endless skills. God waters, giving life, and prunes branches devoid of life too. Christ is the vine, growing alongside us, full of life, bearing much fruit. Abide with me, Christ beckons, for apart from me we can do nothing. As you begin to draw consider green for those branches with life, brown for those without. Pick up the blue crayon, create raindrops from the heavens, those drops spur the vine’s growth. Finally add in some purple, drawing fruit, hanging from the green branches, making them grapes, or berries, or the exquisitely exotic passionfruit.

Step back, consider your masterpiece. Reflect on how the handbook asks you to live into it. Prepare to be watered by your Creator, prepare to grow. Abide with Christ, stay close, for therein you yield fruit. And where branches wither be open to pruning, even if it hurts a little. Hint: It will hurt a little. Once pruned God’s celestial raindrops redirect to Christ’s life-giving branches, spurring new growth, new fruits, new beauty in your masterpiece.

Live (and Love) as Friends
Now turn the page, let’s color the next nine verses in the handbook of John 15. Jesus does something unprecedented, unique in scripture, he calls us not slaves, but friends. Draw yourself with Christ, perhaps you’re walking, or talking, or laughing. The word love is used *eight* times here in just a few sentences. Repetition signals importance, and here a command: love one another as I have loved you. Pick more crayons up and draw more friends. Connect those friends to you. Friends connected, in turn, to Christ. What about all that love? Perhaps a red crayon and hearts aplenty in this image are in order.

Drawn by my daughter, Hannah Arnold, age 7.

For as chosen ones, already the Son of God’s hand-picked elect, the spiritual activity of your days is not transactional in nature. And it isn’t spent seeking higher heavenly rank. Instead you are called to create a masterpiece, in the here and now, drawing on a deepening of relationship, between you, our Creator and our Savior. And equally as important you are called to connect to others, as friends, modeling the love, and the friendship, of Christ.  Amen.

The Good Neighbor

A homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan of Luke 10:25-37, more recently called the parable of the Good Neighbor.

Ahh the story of the Good Samaritan, what a classic parable. The story is probably Jesus’ most familiar story in all of scripture. Kids, if this is the first time you’ve heard this one then get ready to hear it a lot more of it as you age. The story is told in Sunday school classes, is part of most children’s bibles, and widely preached on by pastors.

If you would, take a second and estimate how many times you’ve heard this story. Get that number in your head. Who thinks they’ve heard the story in one form or another: 5 times? 10? 25? 50? Even more?

Whatever your number it’s likely a lot, right?

Even the phrase Good Samaritan is so common that many a hospital goes by that name. And the phrase so common that laws are named after it here in the US. Those good laws protect people from being sued when they help another person.

The parable, and the phrase, are so common that I wonder if we recognize how shocking this story truly is. At a basic level the takeaway is fairly clear, the entire New Testament can essentially be summarized into the two commands found in Luke 10:27

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

The lawyer in the text then asks Jesus who is my neighbor?  Jesus responds by telling the parable. You know the rest, someone is robbed and injured, left for dead. Three people pass the man on the road, and the least expected person of the lot is the one that helps out. And the helper, the one who showed kindness, at his own personal expense, *that* is the neighbor. That neighbor, that helper, that is who we are to emulate, even, or perhaps especially, when it costs us.

But it’s the nature of the three people walking down the road, and what they represent, it is the meaning contained *there* that may get lost on our modern ears. Sure we know what a priest is, but what’s a Levite? A Levite is a member of the tribe of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, that part I knew off hand. But beyond that I found myself looking for more information, trying to figure out why this particular person is included in the story.

And the term Samaritan? Heck, who knows, it must one of those ancient groups of people we don’t know much about anymore.  John 4:9, says, rather bluntly, that Jews and Samaritans don’t associate with each other. Theologian Karoline Lewis suggests this is perhaps the greatest understatement in the entire Bible. Jews and Samaritans, both culturally and religiously did not share much of anything in common at the time. The two groups generally got along so poorly that, if a Jew came in contact with a Samaritan, the Jew would be required to return to Jerusalem. And once arrived they’d need to undergo a ritual cleansing at the temple.

Yet here the Samaritan is, helping another, in the midst of what appears to be extreme religious tensions. That kind of seems like a big deal.

The Retelling
What I’d like to do is to retell this parable by swapping out the names of the three characters that walk down the road. The name used instead of priest likely won’t surprise you too much. But listen for what is used instead of the terms Levites and Samaritans. A Samaritan from this era was considered a religious outsider in an extreme way. If you would, consider for yourself what person or group you see often considered as a religious outsider, culturally, in the U.S., in 2017. I’ll use the term that comes to my mind in the retelling, tho keep your word in mind as you listen as well. Here we go.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to the lawyer, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer then asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers. The robbers stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.

Now by chance a pastor – not unlike myself or Pastor Bryan – was going down that road. And when the pastor saw the man, the pastor passed by on the other side.

So likewise a church musician – perhaps not too unlike those you see gathered here today – also came to the place and saw the injured man. And the church musician, too, passed by on the other side.

But then a Muslim, while traveling, came near the injured man; and when the Muslim saw him, he was moved with pity. The Muslim went to the injured man, bandaged his wounds, and poured oil and wine on them. Then the Muslim put the injured man on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day the Muslim took out two days of wages, right from out of his own pocket, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’

Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Good Neighbor
With those more modern terms does the story hit you a little differently?

To be honest, my wife Kathi is a better helper when it comes to urgent medical care situations like this. She’s a trained nurse, and naturally dives right in. But this particular pastor? He’s a little slower at times, occasionally needing to be coaxed to action.

And how about the inclusion of church musicians in the tale? One of the roles of Levites, I learned earlier today, is to be temple musicians, who knew? But really, this new narrative shouldn’t be too much of a surprise – you may be church musicians, but you’re musicians all the same, and that’s a rather rough lot, sorry 🙂

And then there is the hero of the story, the religious outsider. The one we, as a society, treat as unclean. The one we, at times, fear. I used the term Muslim for this unexpected hero, as that’s the group that comes to mind, at least for me. Another group may have come to mind for you, and that’s just fine. Regardless of what group is used here the takeaway is the same: Christ asks us to emulate this person, that we love our neighbor as ourselves is at the very core of our faith.

The parable here, surprisingly, asks us to emulate someone not of our own religious tradition, to be a good neighbor as they are. To love them as we love ourselves. To care for them as we care for ourselves. And to even receive care from them, just the same as anyone else. We are to do all this regardless of their religion, be they Muslim, Jew, or Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic or atheist. And that, my friends, coming from the words of our savior, is downright shocking. Now go, Christ implores, and do likewise.  Amen.