Monday, September 20, 2010

The Gate

There's something about gates in New Testament stories. Most cities were walled to protect against enemies. The walls had numerous gates, with roads going in different directions. But the main gate to the city was the place where court was held, where people brought grievances, and judgment was pronounced. The prophets accuse God's people of disregarding the poor at the gate; the poor were at the gate hoping for a measure of justice or compassion. When their concerns were ignored or magnified by those who might have helped them, God was angered.

Many a story and joke has been told about another gate - the "pearly gates" we usually call them. I have a cartoon on my door that shows a man standing before St. Peter at the gates to heaven. The man looks aghast as Peter says "you had it removed? Don't you know the human soul resides in the appendix?" A third man in the picture says "relax, he's just messing with you."

There are gated communities all around the city, places where non-residents have no access to the streets or the neighborhood. Some apartment complexes have gates that have to be opened with a code before one can drive in to park. And many people's homes have a fence with a gate around them to mark their territory and discourage strangers from approaching. These kinds of gates are primarily for safety; they keep unwanted people away.

In Luke 16:19-31 most of the action takes place by a gate. The gate leads to a wealthy person's house. The wealthy person comes and goes, each day, by way of that gate. On the inside of the gate is comfort, security, plenty. We are told that the wealthy person "feasts" every day. He leads the sort of life we desire.

Lazarus sits outside the gate. He is destitute: hungry, sick, homeless. Lazarus knows that inside the gate is "the good life;" he'll never live there, but maybe someone will bring him some scraps from the table, the food that usually goes in the trash. Day after day he waits, but he gets nothing.

Lazarus dies. The wealthy person also dies. This time instead of a gate there is an unbreachable gulf between the two. Father Abraham holds Lazarus close, consoling him. The wealthy man sweats and burns in the fires of hell, but he sees Lazarus sitting in God's realm. "Send Lazarus to fetch me a drink," he calls, "I've a raging thirst down here." How ironic that the person who would not cross the gate to give Lazarus his table scraps, now expects Lazarus to bring him a drink. The story tells us that, for the wealthy man, it is too late. Whereas in life, the gate was a place of passage - a person could go from one side to the other with water or food - in death the gulf between the blessed and the cursed is permanent.

We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. 80 percent of the population sits at American's gate hoping for something to eat. Poverty is rising here in American, as well, especially among African-American and Hispanic people. (See: ) We might not think of ourselves as wealthy, but to those without work, without money, without food we are rich indeed. Wealth - even moderate wealth - is a responsibility. What will we do with those outside our gate?

There are plenty of agencies that address hunger in the world. Lutheran World Hunger Relief is an excellent organization; all donations go directly to help the hungry. Giving money to such agencies is one good response. But there are also things we can do locally. Here at Shepherd King Lutheran we are having our annual Sausage Supper on Friday, October 8th. Tickets are $6.50 and we are encouraging members when they buy a ticket for themselves to buy another for someone who needs a meal. We will gather a list of people in our community who are struggling and will bring them a sausage supper plate from the donated tickets so that when we are feasting our neighbors won't go hungry.

Open the gate. See the neighbor who sits and waits for a morsel to eat. Remember the world outside your door, outside our nation's door, and honor God by finding ways to share your wealth with "Lazarus."


Pastor Kris

Monday, September 13, 2010

Burning with Honor

Last weekend the big news came from Florida, from a pastor there who planned to hold a public burning of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. He said he would cancel the book-burning when Muslims in New York City agreed to move the planned Mosque and Community center away from the World Trade Center site. (It's current site is 2 blocks from ground zero.) After dominating the headlines for several days, the Pastor called off the Koran-burning. This is the kind of publicity the Christian Church does not need. It is already difficult to convince moderate-minded, intelligent, non-churched people that we are not a bunch of wild-eyed fanatics devoted to sending the world to hell. And we're not. But proposing activities like burning the Koran makes us seem so.

Why would anyone think burning the Koran would accomplish a good end? We have all seen disturbing newsclips from around the world where people hold pieces of a burning United States flag. That is a painful image for many American citizens, those who honor the flag, those who have fought for our nation, those whose loved ones have died defending our country. Seeing other people burning our flag tends to upset us, make our blood boil. And the flag, though it is a very important symbol, is not directly related to our worship of God. No good can come from desecrating the holy symbols of other people. It only makes them angry and gives them reason to want to hurt us. Burning the Koran is both foolish and wrong.

As I was driving home on loop 410 the other evening, darkness just setting in, I saw something fluttering off to my left. It was a huge American flag. I was dismayed because daylight was gone and that flag was waving in total darkness. When an American flag is displayed it should either be taken down at night or be lighted as soon as darkness falls. It is a curious thing how quick we are to take offense when someone else burns the flag, yet we ourselves do not show it proper respect. We wear the flag as clothing - on shirts and even shorts. When I was in elementary school we learned that there were specific rules regarding the American flag. It should not be handled more than is necessary; it should never touch the ground. Why do we dismiss those guidelines and yet feel outrage at how someone else treats our flag?

In like manner, we are quick to denounce any perceived dishonor to the Bible. We disparage any decision that seems to dismiss the Christian faith. This is understandable; no one likes to see their symbols of worship, of God, treated poorly. And yet, do we honor God in our words and actions? Do we set aside a day each week (Sabbath) for rest and for communing with God and with others of our faith? Do we show our loyalty to Jesus by keeping his commandment to love others as God has loved us? Or is it only when other people seem to threaten our ideal of "Church," of "Christianity," that we protest?

If we are burning with desire to honor God we can find plenty of ways to do that. Micah says simply (6:8)"(God) has told you...what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God?" We can honor God by striving for justice, by being kind and humble. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" and Jesus adds "and your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37)If we want to honor God we can do so by loving one another. No one honors God perfectly, but by concentrating our efforts on these things we can demonstrate love and devotion to God.

So let's keep ourselves busy honoring God. Let's dedicate ourselves to justice for all people. Let's work to be gracious and kind to everyone. Let's wear our love for God on our sleeve by loving the people in our lives, even those it is hardest to love. Showing honor for God with how we live is much more effective than burning books, any day.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stories for Life

Vacation has come and gone, now it's back to work. This is true for me and likely it is true for you reading this, as well. The office is the same as when I left. There's mail and email piled up, people to see, meetings to attend, things to do. I'm sure the wild kittens under the building have grown, but they and their mother are hiding today because it is raining. As the day proceeds, life settles into its usual rhythm and routine.

I've been reading a book by Marshall Gregory entitled Shaped by Stories: The Ethical Power of Narratives. It's an insightful study about the way stories mold us into the people we become. Gregory says that human beings crave stories, and one of the reasons we do is because they help us make sense of our lives. Reading (or hearing, or watching a movie), places us in someone else's life. The story frames that life, giving it order and bringing it to a conclusion that reveals its purpose. We don't know the conclusion of our own lives; knowing what our lives "mean" or what they are "for" is difficult to discern. When we enter someone else's stories we encounter possibilities that we can reflect on and apply to ourselves.

We need stories to help us sort through the disorder of daily life, as one thing simply follows another without cohesion. I brush my teeth and drive to work; I sit at my desk; I buy groceries; I talk to my parents on the phone; I exercise or maybe nap; I play with my cats; I go to bed. Those events do not tie into one another except by the fact that I do them all. But when we watch a TV show or listen to our favorite music, there is a clear line of progress, there is harmony between the parts, there is a satisfying ending. The story gives us a way to think about day to day living; it helps us make sense of the world.

God comes to us in stories. The stories of scripture beckon us to enter them and experience along with others God's nearness, God's judgment, God's call to trust God and thereby live a rich and full life. Which are the two Sundays when most people attend worship? Christmas and Easter: the occasions on which our most vital stories are told - stories we love to hear - the birth of God's Son in Bethlehem, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Our salvation itself is a story - the living, the dying and the rising of Christ. Because God's Word is given to us in story we can step into it ourselves, live the experience through what we hear and read, and then ponder what it means for our lives.

At Shepherd King there is a different story every Sunday. This Sunday we will hear about the lost sheep. What a pertinent topic! All of us know what it is like to feel lost and alone, shut-out. The theme of this week's proclamation, however, is not only about being lost, but about the arduous search God undertakes for us. God is not a number cruncher, content to let some remain lost because "that's just how it is." God pursues us until each of us has been found by love, by welcome, by the purposeful life God gives.

Stories change us. They shape our lives. This Sunday's story tells us we are of great value to God even when we feel forgotten. The more we hear this tale the more we know we are beloved, and our neighbor is beloved. The stories alter our perspective and our actions. Knowing we are so honored by God that God never gives up on us, we learn to honor one another with unfailing love and hope.

Open yourself to the story of God in the world, of God's love for you and for all. It will revive your spirit and lift up your heart.


Pastor Kris