First Reading :: Genesis 15: 1 – 6
Psalm 33 :: 12 – 22
Second Reading :: Hebrews 11: 1 – 3, 8 – 16
Gospel Reading :: Luke 12: 32 – 40
To finally stand before you all, this my family in Christ which has supported me with so much love and encouragement in my youth, my early steps into ministry, and now my year of service in Argentina – from which I returned a month ago is… overwhelming. And to be honest, I’ve looked ahead to this day, when I’d share my first message with all of you after my time as a Young Adult in Global Mission, with a heavy mixture of both excitement and fear. What can I say? What can I do? How can I explain what has happened to me? I’m sure many of you would struggle with the same questions were I to ask you to summarize the past year of your life into a single pithy phrase. How was it?? Goodness, how was it… Well, at least I was given a break this week preaching. After all, we find ourselves as a country, and as a church, more unified than ever before, right? No, instead I found myself sitting at the keyboard, a knot in my stomach because not one, but two, mass shootings have again bloodied our soil, and I am supposed to find the God in this. In our grief. In our humanity. So, with heavy hands this Monday morning, I opened my Bible to the scripture, from which I prayed would blossom a sermon worth giving – something to balm my heart and yours.
And in Genesis, I find the Lord’s words to Abram: “‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” “You’re kidding me”, I said. Well at least it seems like Abram and I are on somewhat of the same page, because while maintaining politeness he replies to God with an honest skepticism of “‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’” In other words, “‘God, I know you made me this promise, but I’m like 65 years old, and my wife is in her mid-eighties, what are you talking about, “my reward shall be very great?”’”. But then Abram does the impossible – the sermon wrecking decision: he trusts God’s word. God says again to him, to us, “have faith”. And Abram does. Now I don’t know about y’all, but I haven’t had any visions this week, and there were plenty of times in Argentina where I would have liked one too, but didn’t get to see a multitude of stars in the night sky. And yet God asks us still to trust in the divine – that which we cannot see or feel or touch: faith. Faith, which Paul describes in Hebrews to be “the assurance of things we hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, so that through this we might be able to “understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible”. This week’s readings hit me like so many dull punches as I read them again and again, and then panicked to Mari a bit, and then read them three times more. The reality is that oftentimes, the Bible is uncomfortable, confusing, scary even, but that in its words lie a deeper meaning, one outside of our expectations, that shapes us, and can guide us to places of incredible beauty.
That’s what Young Adults in Global Mission felt like to me – the breaking of expectations and a not-so-gentle shaping that led me to some incredible places. When I applied for YAGM, I knew I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but I also knew that I loved travel. I knew there were many peoples and places I feared, but I also knew that I have a gift for ministering to others. I knew I wanted to be broken out of my understandings in favor of the reforming love of Christ, but I didn’t know how violently I’d resist it. In a hundred million moments, I thought I had laid aside my power and my privilege: my hetero-normativity, my whiteness, my “American”-elitism, my sexism, and my pride. Oh man my pride. And in a hundred million equal moments I was shown how I closely I held those systems of power and privilege to my heart, and Jesus’ words from Luke now echo in my mind, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Our gospel today, like the rest of our readings, leaves us with a sick kind of “uh oh” feeling in your stomach. Man, isn’t this a fun, light-hearted sermon so far? Nothing makes us feel love for Jesus like his comparing himself to a thief breaking into your house. However, there is a warmth in these readings too – hope and love to hold onto amidst the discomforting words. The problem is that there’s all this “earthly” stuff clouding our minds to see it without doing some digging. Listen to the first line of our Gospel reading again: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Amidst all the talk of disobedient slaves, fearing God, and thieves breaking in at an unknown hour, the Creator wants, desires, deeply to give creation to those which God created. God is seeking us out, earnestly and constantly, but the problem is we have so many other things in our hands, minds, and hearts that we fail to see what is really good. What’s more, sin and brokenness flow freely within and throughout the universe, and break into grace’s endless bounds clouding our world with violence, injustice, and pain.
However, we as creations of divine beauty, are called to push back against this brokenness, with God – that is love and power through the Spirit. Jesus explains in the Gospel that the slaves need to be prepared for their master’s return, and not in a passive way, but “dressed for action” and “alert”. Folks this is the important part, because I thought by applying for YAGM that I was dressing myself for action. I thought by working in camping ministry I was staying alert. I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I also knew I was trying. However, then came the charge onto the beach – then came the main assault, which I thought was going to be serving in the UK, but… okay turns out it was Argentina, fine. Then our plane left the United States for Buenos Aires… and promptly broke down. So! We took a second plane to Buenos Aires and made it, and yeah I didn’t remember any Spanish at all, cool… Okay, now I’m arriving at my site and realize I have no experience caring for adults who are dis-abled. It felt… it felt like one of those circular moon bounce rides where the part in the middle spins, and you have to jump over or under the arm or you get clotheslined. But the thing is, in every one of those instances, it wasn’t God or Argentina or my site El Arca who was at fault – it was my own inability to let go and just love people. To just trust that the world was moving erratically, but that the Spirit would help guide me through it. And it was so hard. To be alert, not necessarily knowing when the time would come, but not getting complacent when things calmed down. But every time, after getting flattened to the floor of my year, I’d lift my face out of the mud, and look up to see the beauty of everything that was around me. To try and explain the love I found for seventy-year old Osvy… who needs help in the shower and the bathroom and eating; it’s precisely because I had to do those gross, exhausting, frustrating things, that I came to love him like a member my own family. And in the end, the things which I had first hated more than any other, let’s use our fiestas en el baño as an example… those ended up being the moments I treasured most.
Brothers and sisters, here at Reformation we are doing so much good: serving in community breakfast, Fill the Gap, and our church’s endowment committee, which gave me the opportunity to do YAGM, just to name a few. But what our Gospel is crying out to us today is this: we can never think that “we are doing enough”. Our church, our country, our world is broken and hurting. God’s nurturing arms are cradling its sick Creation, straining against the weight of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, and empire. Brothers, sisters, my fellow humankind, our beings are pulled from the ether and crafted together through love. It was love that knit us together, and our Creator, love incarnate, that molded us. God has put torches of Spirit-fire in our hands and dressed us for action against the ways humanity denies its fullness. Lament and grieve the pain in our pasts, rest for a moment when you’re knocked to the ground, but then lift your face to Christ’s waiting hand, take it, and stand up. The whole point of that dark-skinned migrant Jesus of Nazareth was to fight injustice till even death fell beneath him – we are called to do the same.
I gave this sermon this week at my home congregation Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas while sharing experiences and parts of my site-placement’s culture during the weekend’s worship services. Thank you once again to everyone who donated to my year, and made my YAGM experience possible. I have so many thanks to give for this opportunity, and I am forever changed.
Peace, love, and action,
Unknown. RLC Memorial Park. Hanney & Associates Architects, date unknown. Photograph. https://www.haarchitects.com/memorial/refmem.htm