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Gander on 9/11

Looking for a ray of light in the midst of tragedy? Watch the helpers.


Many years ago, on 9/11, a group of people illustrated heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. t’s a true story; you can look it up. The details vary from source to source, but this is an experience that changed lives.

On September 11, 2001 Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately. The stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental US are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

Norman Mineta, then U.S. transportation secretary, recalled:

“After I closed U.S. airspace, I realized that we’ve got these planes coming in from Europe and Asia and I then called David [Collenette, Canadian Transport Minister] and I said ‘Hey David, we need your help,'” Mineta said, asking Collenete if Canada could take the incoming planes.

“He put me on hold and within a minute or so he said, ‘We’ll take them all,'” Mineta told the Associated Press in a telephone interview. 200 flights were diverted to Canada.

The nearest airport for Delta 15 turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. The crew simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 18 more on the way.

The captain made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have.” He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts. At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning.

About 10:30 on the morning of September 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane. The stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing” through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.

The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing 7,000-8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in American history, the “plane people” as they came to be known were overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers.
Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 said that in the small town of Gambo, outside of Gander, where they stayed, the two small stores simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take what you need.” He said, “Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds.” For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.
218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to US and Europe were available for every one once a day.
Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. Later, in news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers told these stories.

17 dogs and cats from the flights were also housed. Two great apes were cared for.

Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When they left, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…

Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson, got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.
When we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving.
By the way, the Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. As of 2017, the fund has grown to over $2 million.

Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.


 

Christ the King/ Reign of Christ – November 24, 2019

Listen to the Podcast.

Jeremiah 23:1-6 – Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord… The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Luke 1:68-79 – The Song of Zechariah: ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David.
OR
Psalm 46 – God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, we will not fear.

Colossians 1:11-20 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is the head of the body, the church. In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43 – The Crucifixion. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

 

 

Christ the King/Reign of Christ

The texts for Christ the King change in each of the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary:

Year A Year B Year C
Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24 2 Samuel 23:1-7 Jeremiah 23:1-6
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 100 Ps. 132:1-12, (13-18) Luke 1:68-79
Psalm 95:1-7a Psalm 93 Psalm 46
Ephesians 1:15-23 Revelation 1:4b-8 Colossians 1:11-20
Matthew 25:31-46 John 18:33-37 Luke 23:33-43

 

Christ the King is the last holy Sunday in the Western liturgical calendar. It is the newest of Christian festivals. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, to counter the rise of secularism and the rise of secular dictatorships in Europe. Pius hoped:

  1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom and immunity from the state 
  2. That leaders and nations would give respect to Christ
  3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast

 

 

Thanksgiving 

Some find this festival difficult. What is the alternative to secularism? Theocracy? Does not our concept of freedom of religion necessitate a secular state? Not an irreligious state, but one that allows for pluralism? Yes Christ is Lord, King if you will, but not in an earthly sense. “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Additionally, some find an apocalyptic focus unhelpful, when we are about to have the early Advent apocalyptic texts which focus on the second coming of Christ. My home congregation glossed over this “new” festival of the church year and used the Sunday to celebrate Thanksgiving, which, while not a religious festival, certainly gives time for a sacred theme of gratitude for all God’s gifts. The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving. The German mystic Meister Eckhart once famously said, “If the only prayer you ever prayed was ‘Thank you,’ it would be enough.”

If you want to go with a theme of gratitude, thanksgiving, or generosity, here are some thoughts:

 

If, however, you are sticking to the RCL texts, read on…

 

 

Luke

This is not just the last Sunday of the church year; it is also the last Sunday we will spend in the Lukan lectionary this year. As we read this last text from Luke chapter 21, and prepare to embark on a journey through Matthew’s Gospel beginning next week, I find myself profoundly grateful for Luke’s gospel.

Luke lifts up the universality of Jesus’ message to a greater extent than the other three canonical gospels. Jesus’ teaching that we are to love God with all our heart soul mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves, was of itself nothing new. What was new was Jesus’ wider interpretation of the word “neighbor.” It was commonly understood that your neighbor was your fellow countryman. A Moabite or an Ammonite was not strictly understood as neighbor. Pagans were not neighbors. Samaritans were not neighbors. The neighbor laws had to do with how you treated your fellow countrymen and women. You do not charge interest to your brother/sister Israelite, but charging interest to Egyptians? That is perfectly appropriate. 

The debt of love you owed to your neighbors, was owed to your fellow Israelites, and so the lawyer’s question to Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” is a fair question, and quite to the point. Luke is the only gospel in which Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question with the story of the Good Samaritan. After the story, Jesus responds with a question of his own. “Now, you tell me who is neighbor: Who do you think was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” Jesus reframes our understanding of neighbor from that of race and religion, to basic human compassion and decency. Even a stranger can be the neighbor. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus moves from a nationalistic obligation to ones fellow citizens, to a universal obligation to all humanity.         

It seems this concept is losing traction in American Christianity. Now more than ever, Luke’s proclamation of Jesus needs to be heard. 

I will miss Luke. Without Luke we would not know the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, or Zaccheus, the height-challenged tax collector of Jericho, whose life was changed spiritually and economically through an encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. 

 

 

Golgatha

Skull in rock at Golgotha

On this last Sunday of the church year, the lectionary takes us to the place called the Skull, (Κρανίον) possibly named for all the skulls that littered the site from thousands of previous crucifixions. (We don’t know where the place of the skull actually was. Some claim it was named because of this peculiar rock formation, but it was likely in a more open and public place.) I recently learned that many people were killed before they were crucified. While crucifixion was a form of torture, it’s primary purpose was deterrence. The many crosses outside cities along frequently traversed roadways sent a warning: This is what happens to all who defy their Roman masters. 

It doesn’t take much to imagine how humiliating and dehumanizing crucifixion was. To be publicly stripped of your clothes, mocked, then beaten senseless was to be completely dominated by laughing, well fed, well-dressed, well-paid soldiers. For them, this is just another day on the job. You are nothing. You will now be taken to the place of execution. You know this is what is happening, but there is nothing you can do about it. They will crucify you on a cross, making you carry that cross to the place where they will end your life. Once at the place of the skull, the soldiers may execute you in any number of ways, or crucify you alive. Apparently this is what they did to Jesus, along with two others. 

Matthew and Mark call them thieves/bandits (lestai). Luke calls them criminals (kakourgoi), literally, bad-doers. Lestai were bandits who robbed Romans and the wealthy Israelites who had caved in to Roman rule, profiting from it. Lestai is the word Luke uses for the “robbers” who beat the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho in the story of the Good Samaritan. These were not run-of-the-mill bandits. These were organized criminals that were trying to destabilize the collusion between the Roman occupation and the Jewish aristocracy. Their crime was more than theft. It was defiance of the Pax Romana, and therefore sedition. 

Jesus’ crime was most likely also sedition. After all, he had heralded the destruction of the Temple, and the destruction of Jerusalem. He had announced the coming of a new kingdom and taught his disciples to pray for it to come. He had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem with shouts of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” He had caused a riot in the Temple during Passover, chasing out the moneychangers with a whip. He was called the Christ, which means “anointed.” Only kings get anointed. He must think he is a King. Treason. His crime is nailed above his head on the cross: “King of the Jews.”

One of the lestai/kakourgoi said, “Hey you, Messiah, Christ, Anointed One, yeah you, would-be king: so if you’re all they say you are, then save yourself. And us too!” The other criminal said something different:, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus extended salvation freely to an unworthy thief, evil-doer, who had not even repented. This is a stunning act of grace.

And just like that we learn that while the reign of God may be breaking into our world, it encompasses more than this world. The line between heaven and earth is blurred. There is more to life than meets the eye. This kingdom, this reign that Jesus preached, where even strangers are our neighbors, where we turn the other cheek, where we share the shirt off our back, where we love our enemies, is a universal kingdom. For now we see only in a mirror dimly. The kingdom is eternal. Now is only a small portion of eternity. Trusting in the reign of God, of Christ, is to be in the moment, but also to see beyond this moment. It is to say at the same time, “The kingdom of God is among you,” (Luke 17:21) and “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

 

Pentecost 25B (Ordinary 32B, Proper 27B)

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 – Ruth and Boaz give birth to Obed.
OR
1 Kings 17:8-16
— Widow of Zarephath

Psalm 127
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain. Sons are a blessing.
OR
Psalm 146
– The Lord watches over strangers, and upholds orphans and widows.

Hebrews 9:24-28Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made with hands, but into heaven itself.

Mark 12:38-44
Beware of the Scribes who devour widow’s houses. The widow’s two copper coins.

Generosity

Before I get into the story, I’d like to share a few stories about generosity. Our brains are wired for stories. Telling stories about generosity may be more effective than telling people what to do. The story of the widow’s coins is one of the stories Jesus told. Here are some more:

Stories of Generosity: Benjamin Franklin’s actual Estate Plan

It’s not exactly the widow’s coins, but the story of how Benjamin Franklin’s charitable giving spanned two centuries after his death is inspiring. Telling the story of Franklin’s generosity may be just the thing to spark our people’s imaginations. READ IT HERE.

Stories of Generosity: John Wesley

John Wesley’s (1703-1791) story is a bit different than Benjamin Franklin’s story. Wesley is best known for being the founder of the Methodist Church. As his income grow significantly, he continued to live at his normal standard of living, and gave away much more than he spent. It is an inspiring story. READ IT HERE. 

Stories of Generosity: Gander on 9/11

I told this story earlier this year, around September 11, but if you did not use it then, use it now. It is a heart-warming story of generosity, from both sides of the equation. READ IT HERE.

The Sharing Experiment (Video)

What happens when one child gets a sandwich and another doesn’t? How do children respond? I also shared this heartwarming video earlier this year. WATCH IT HERE.

Get Service (Video)

This video is more about generosity of time and how we see the world through new lenses. WATCH IT HERE.

coins

The Widow’s Coins

The Old Testament reading from the Hebrew Bible is either Ruth and Boaz, or the Widow of Zarephath. I would suggest that if you are going to preach on the Widow’s Coins, the latter option fits more nicely. It is astonishing how much concern the Bible has for widows. A quick word search at BibleGateway.com in the NRSV renders 126 references to “widows.” (And 134 for “aliens.”) That’s a lot.

Evangelical preacher Rick Warren had a stewardship conversion of sorts, that led him to reverse tithe (see Wesley article above). True to his Baptist upbringing, he went to Scripture and saw something he had not seen before. An October 2005 article in Christianity Today, “Purpose Driven in Rwanda,” by Timothy C. Morgan, reported:

“Around this time,” Warren says, he was driven to re-examine scripture with “new eyes.” What he found humbled him. “I found those 2,000 verses on the poor. How did I miss that? I went to Bible college, two seminaries, and I got a doctorate. How did I miss God’s compassion for the poor? I was not seeing all the purposes of God. The church is the body of Christ. The hands and feet have been amputated and we’re just a big mouth, known more for what we’re against.” Warren found himself praying, “God, would you use me to re-attach the hands and the feet to the body of Christ, so that the whole church cares about the whole gospel in a whole new way—through the local church?”

In an interview with Oprah, recounted in an NPR article, Warren said,

I had to repent… I had to say, “God, I’m sorry, I can’t think of the last time I thought of widows and orphans.”

Such is the plight of pop Christianity today, which can tend toward a self-help gospel. It’s about fire insurance from hell, or “pie in the sky when you die,” as Anthony Campolo often says.

How does your church minister to widows?

One of my favorite commentaries on Mark is Ben Witherington III’s The Gospel of Mark, A Socio-rhetorical Commentary. Pricey, but worth the price. Witherington points out a pattern in Mark’s stories:

  1. Jesus is approached by the religious authorities
  2. They challenge him with a question regarding authority
  3. Jesus poses a counter question which reveals their own priorities and loyalties
  4. The opponents respond
  5. Jesus answers the original question

He calls this Jesus’ “sandwich technique,” what my New Testament professors called an inclusio. In general, the religious leaders want to know by what authority Jesus is doing the things he is doing, including healing, preaching, forgiving and his actions in the Temple.

In my introduction to the Gospel of Mark, Mark moves from Galilee, to Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem, to Jesus in Jerusalem, to the Passion and Crucifixion. These are the four major bodies of material in Mark’s gospel. Mark 12 is in the Jerusalem section (11:1-13:37), prior to the little apocalypse (Mark 13). Most of this material takes place in the Temple Court.

By the time we reach today’s story of the Widow’s Coins, the questions are over. They have been asked, and Jesus’ opponents appear to have been “silenced” or outmaneuvered (11:33, 12:12). Jesus has just dealt with the question of the Greatest Commandment. There was much dispute in early Judaism about ranking the 613 commandments. The scribe did not raise a hypothetical question. Jesus answers with the Shema, the morning prayer for every observant Jew from at least the second century B.C. The scribe seems impressed and moved by Jesus answer of love. This is the only place in Mark where a scribe agrees with Jesus.

I think it is vitally important, given the infection of anti-Semitism in the world, one of oldest bigotry, given Luther’s anti-Semitism, and given the recent shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, that we continue to be very careful not to misrepresent, or allow our people to misunderstand, Jesus’ relationship to his own religious community. He did not oppose “the Jews.” He was one. His beef seems to be with the leaders of the Temple in Jerusalem of his time. He is calling them to a pure form of Judaism. Consider reading the ELCA’s repudiation of Luther’s writings on the Jews, and Eric Gritsch’s book Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism, Against His Better Judgment. Learn more here.

While the questions are over, Jesus is still responding to them in 12:35ff. He goes on the offensive. Witherington calls 12:38-40 “a rebuke to scribes who love perks.” They like their status, which they tap into by way of their long white robes and position. Accordingly, they get great seats in the synagogue, in front of the Torah. An observant Jew would give them choice seating at wedding banquets and other big events.

Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:5

Those who are charged with being guardians of widows’ estates have become profiteers. Devouring widows’ houses means cheating them out of their due. He is accusing them of extortion. This would undoubtedly land him in hot water. Calling out corruption doesn’t usually go smoothly.

So Jesus contrasts the sketchy religious leaders with a poor widow at the Temple treasury. Here is the text:

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark not only contrasts the religious leaders with this widow, he also the contrasts the rich in verse 41 with the poor widow in verse 42.

Many rich folks are putting significant sums into the offering plate. This impresses people. Someone of means writes a big check to a cause. We’re impressed. But what if the amount is .05% of their income? The minimum wage person who wrote a smaller check for 10% of income got overlooked. Not so impressive, but significantly more generosity. One person made a generous, but relatively painless gesture. The second person made a personal sacrifice that affected the bottom line.

Enter the poor widow. She gives two “lepta.” Mark has to explain to his hearers what this is. They do not use this coin. A lepta is half the value of a quadrans, which is 1/64th of a denarius, which is a day’s wage. So 1/128th of a day’s wage, an infinitesimally insignificant amount.

As Jesus made a child a model for servanthood, Jesus makes this poor widow a model for generosity. Proportionally, she has given more. This is why we so often talk of percentages.

The widow, in fact, could have given one coin and kept the other. 50%. In Jesus’ view, she has given more than all the others, combined. She gave 100%, everything she had. They gave out of their abundance. She gave out of her poverty.

Jesus calls out false piety, boasting and self-indulgence. Witherington:

Jesus’ special concern and admiration for women is perhaps nowhere more striking juxtaposed with his disgust over certain groups of privileged and supposed pious men than here…

This is not a story about law. A story about law would be a story about the tithe. This is a story of love and grace, which always lead us to give more than the law demands. The law does not inspire. When you appeal to people legally, they will only do the least that is required to make the grade. When we love however, we pour ourselves out. Jesus is pointing to such love.

The preacher can tap into this gracefulness by telling stories of lavish generosity, stories like those above, but also personal stories that can be told in the first person. And of course, we have our master story, of Jesus who gives it all, even his life.

Stories of Generosity

Image result for generosity

Stories of Generosity: Benjamin Franklin’s actual Estate Plan

It’s not exactly the widow’s coins, but the story of how Benjamin Franklin’s charitable giving spanned two centuries after his death is inspiring. Our brains are wired for stories. Telling the story of Franklin’s generosity may be just the thing to spark our imaginations. READ IT HERE.

Stories of Generosity: John Wesley

John Wesley’s (1703-1791) story is a bit different than Benjamin Franklin’s story. Wesley is best known for being the founder of the Methodist Church. As his income grow significantly, he continued to live at his normal standard of living, and gave away much more than he spent. It is an inspiring story. READ IT HERE.

Stories of Generosity: Gander on 9/11

I told this story earlier this year, around September 11, but if you did not use it then, use it now. It is a heart-warming story of generosity, from both sides of the equation. READ IT HERE.

Get Service (Video)

This video is more about generosity of time and how we see the world through new lenses. WATCH IT HERE.

The Sharing Experiment (Video)

What happens when one child gets a sandwich and another doesn’t? How do children respond. This is a heartwarming video. WATCH IT HERE.

Image result for children sharing sandwich video

Pentecost 21B – October 14, 2018 (Proper 23B, Ordinary 28B)

Job 23:1-9, 16-17Job’s lament: If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face.
OR

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord will be with you, as you have said he is.


Psalm 22:1-15
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
OR

Psalm 90:12-17 So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)


Hebrews 4:12-16 
– The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. All are naked and laid bare before him.


Mark 10:17-31
– Rich young ruler. Eye of the needle. For God all things are possible. First last. Last first.

Jerusalem Conference, Thursday, October 11.

Before I jump in I want to make a plug for the Jerusalem Conference being held on Thursday, October 11, 2018 at the University of Houston. Christians pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This conference will explore pathways to peace. Speakers include Jim Wallis, Mitri Raheb and others. Please make time for this. The cost is only $30.

 

Preach at the Beach, Tuesday, October 23

Also, David Lose is speaking at Preach at the Beach on Tuesday, October 23, 2018, at Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island. Come for the day, or stay the night. $45.

 

October and November in the Revised Common Lectionary

In October and November the three-year Revised Common Lectionary lays out about like this.

  • October 7, 2018 we have this text on divorce.
  • October 14, 2018 we have the Rich Young Ruler.
  • October 21, 2018 the disciples ask to sit at Jesus right and left in the kingdom, spurring Jesus to teach about servant leadership. All these texts in October are from Mark 10.
  • October 28, 2018 in the Lutheran Church, we have Reformation Sunday the last Sunday in October.

 

  • November 4, 2018, the first Sunday of November is All Saints Sunday.
  • November 11, 2018 we have the widow’s coins from Mark 12, another thoughtful stewardship text.
  • November 18, 2018 we have Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” from Mark 13. See these large stones in the temple? Not one stone will be left upon another.
  • November 25, 2018 is Christ the King Sunday. The text comes from John 18. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “I have come to testify to the truth.” Pilate asks, “What is truth?”

Sundays in October and November people are tax planning and thinking about their giving for the coming year. Congregations are the same. This is, in part, because it is budget time, but there is more to it than just that. The end of the year is the harvest. The crops are gathered in and sold, literally and figuratively. Those in retail receive the vast majority of their income during the holiday season, a kind of harvest, the last three months of the year. Bonuses come in for folks in some professions, and it is a time when financial gifts are made. The Bible is rife with images of the harvest. It is a time of reckoning, a time to take stock of things. The end of the year is also a great time to plan for the coming year. It is a time to think about what we are going to spend, what we are going to save and what we are going to give. Where have we been? Where are we going?

The lectionary does not disappoint on this matter. This week we have the story of the Rich Young Ruler. Here is Mark 10:17-31 in its entirety:

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The rich, young ruler asks the good teacher how to inherit eternal life. After scolding the rich young ruler for calling him “good” (for only God alone is good), Jesus says, “You know the commandments,” and then starts listing off some of the Ten Commandments. The ruler believes he has kept the whole law, but he wants to be perfect, complete, so he presses Jesus. Jesus tells him he lacks one thing. He lovingly tells him to go sell everything he has, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus. The rich young ruler then goes away shocked, and grieving.

It strikes me that Jesus does not run after him and chase him down. He doesn’t say, “OK then, not everything, but maybe 75%. No? 50%? 20%?”

Instead, he tells his disciples that it is very hard for people with wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It is the disciples now who are shocked, or perplexed. Jesus presses on, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are “greatly astounded.”

Tell the story. It speaks for itself. Don’t explain it away or rob it of its tension. Take your time, so that the congregation can imagine themselves in the disciples’ place, for they too will be scratching their heads at this. We are the wealthy. Most in our congregations have never gone a day without food.

The perplexed, astounded disciples then voice our own question upon hearing this from Jesus: “Good heavens! If that camel statement is true, then who can be saved?” Jesus replies, in essence, “No one. It’s impossible, but for God, all things are possible.”  There are both law and gospel in this story. Keep the commandments. Practice radical generosity. Give your life away for the sake of the world and the gospel. That’s the law. Then there is a recognition that it’s probably unattainable, like the camel and the needle. Impossible, but not for God. We will need divine intervention.

There is no getting around it. Jesus is all about giving. If the church is always talking about money, well so is Jesus. If people complain that the church is always asking for money, perhaps it is because we all too often talk about giving to budgets and buildings, rather than a broader appeal for a life of generous living. The fact remains, Jesus talks about giving and generosity more than just about anything else. We need to talk to people about opening their hearts to God and neighbor.

Gander

I love to tell this story. It embodies so much of what we are about: generosity, hospitality and more. 17 years ago, a group of people illustrated this heart-opening generosity in a way that caught my attention. This is a true story. The details vary from source to source, but this experience changed lives. Don’t read the story. Tell it.

17 years ago last month, Delta Flight 15 was over the North Atlantic, en route from London’s Gatwick Airport to Cincinnati, Ohio, when flight attendant Joyce Hanson was ordered to the cockpit immediately, where the stern-faced captain handed her a message from Atlanta that simply said, “All airways over the Continental U.S. are closed. Land ASAP at the nearest airport, advise your destination.”

The nearest airport turned out to be in a town called Gander, on the island of Newfoundland. A quick request was made to the Canadian traffic controller and a detour to Gander was approved immediately. They simply told the passengers they were having instrument troubles. When they landed 40 minutes later, there were already 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world, and 60 more were on the way. The captain made an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have.” He explained that there was terrorist activity. No one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near the aircrafts.

At 6 p.m. on September 11, Gander airport told them that they would be allowed to deplane at 11:00 the next morning.

About 10:30 on the morning of September 12th, a convoy of school buses showed up at the side of the airplane, the stairway was hooked up, and the passengers were taken to the terminal for “processing” through Immigration and Customs. They then had to register with the Red Cross.

The town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people. The Red Cross ended up processing around 8,000 passengers. Passengers from various flights were taken to hotels, churches, schools and private homes, where they finally watched the news and learned what was going on. At such a deeply troubling time in U.S. history, the “Plane People” as they came to be known were utterly overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people of Gander and outlying communities. With nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for two days they did nothing but enjoy the company of strangers. It was a unique bubble in time.

Steve Kirby of Delta Flight 37 stayed in the small town of Gambo. The two small stores there simply opened their doors all night long and told the community to “take whatever you need.” He said, “Every meal was a feast. I gained 28 pounds.” For two days they lived in the new community – a community of kindness, hospitality, generosity, sharing.

218 passengers from Delta Flight 15 ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 Kilometers from Gander. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were lodged in private homes. Nurses and doctors were on duty. Phone calls and emails to the U.S. and Europe were available for everyone, once a day.

Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went to see local forests. Local bakeries offered fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and church members and brought to schools and churches. Every need was met. In later news interviews, tears would stream down their faces as passengers would pour out these stories.

Pat Bernard says that she slept in a padded pew at St. George Anglican Church. When the Plane People were finally about to leave, the church had a big good-bye service for them, tons of food, church bells ringing, people hugging.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or… what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… Consider the lilies of the field… they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these…

Gander

Two days later the passengers were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single one missing or late. When the passengers from Delta Flight 15 were all on board, one of the business class passengers, a Dr. Robert Ferguson got on the PA and reminded everyone of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund to provide a scholarship for high school students of Lewisporte to help them go to college. He requested donations of any amount from the other travelers. When the paper with donations got back with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, it totaled to $14,500. The doctor got on the PA again and promised to match the donations.

The first recipients of the Flight 15 Scholarship fund were the members of the 2002 graduating class at Lewisporte Collegiate.

choir

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we catch a glimpse of real hospitality, divine generosity, it changes us forever. We cannot help but give back. True gratitude expresses itself in sacrificial giving. Jesus gives himself 100% to God, even to giving his life on the cross. When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we recall the lavish, prodigal generosity of God, we remember Jesus’ giving of his own life, his death and resurrection, we eat and drink to this utterly new community in Christ, we catch a glimpse of the lavish grace of God, and what it means for our lives. I challenge you to be that new community, out of the grace that God has lavished upon you in Jesus Christ. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger.

What grace and unearned hospitality have you received? What’s your response of lavish generosity, for all that you have received?

By the way, the Lewisport Area Flight 15 Scholarship Fund, administered by the Columbus Foundation at 1234 East Broad Street, Columbus Ohio, is administered by Shirley Brooks-Jones, a retired administrative assistant from Ohio State University. She was on that flight. The fund started with $14,500. Today it is worth over $1.5 million.

Generosity is a sign of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. It is a sign that our hearts have been touched by God.

Never neglect to offer hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

– Hebrews 13

Pentecost 3C – June 9, 2013

Guest Post by Pastor Don Carlson
Pentecost 3C – June 9, 2013

1 Kings 17:17-24 – Elijah revives the widow of Zarephath’s son.
Psalm 30 – O Lord you pulled me up from Sheol, you rescued me from those going down to the grave.
Galatians 1:11-24Paul’s gospel is not of human origin. Paul was set apart before he was born, then called by God’s grace, to proclaim Christ among the Gentiles.
Luke 7:11-17Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain.

Galatians

As I said last week, if doing a sermon series, I would be reading the entire second chapter at this point. In 2:1-10, Paul continued his argument (begun at 1:11) that “his” gospel was neither shaped by others nor shaped in order to satisfy others. Even when he finally did meet with the “grand poobahs” in Jerusalem (2:2), they added nothing to “his” gospel; even despite the efforts of “false believers.” (2:4) All they asked Paul to do was to “remember the poor.” Paul was glad to do this (2:10) and so he was always taking up an offering for the relief of the church in Jerusalem. (See: 1 Corinthians 16:1; 2 Corinthians 9:1ff; Romans 15:25ff.)

Paul then informed them of his run in with Cephas (Peter) at Antioch. When people from James (the church in Jerusalem) showed up, Cephas had waffled and stopped eating with – being one with – the Gentiles. Paul had given Peter a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” comeuppance: “Peter, you’re a Jew and have given up on all of that ritual law! How on earth can you then expect Gentiles to live like Jews that still keep the law? What’s that about?”

Verse 2:15 is interesting. “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners…” What I find interesting is how “sinners” is used and how it then informs 1:4. In 1:4 when Paul wrote “…who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age…”, I don’t think he was talking about “sins” in the sense of personal moral peccadilloes. Rather, ala 2:15, he’s talking about the old Jewish “law system” – and the Imperial honor/shame system – of determining who’s in and who’s out, who’s acceptable and who’s not, who are the “just” and who are the “unjust.” Those systems of “law” belong to the evil age of power, prestige, and social hubris. “If justification – before God and before one another – comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” (2:21)

Once again, yes, this is about one’s relationship to God through Christ, but in the context of Paul’s letter it is even more about one’s relationships with others through Christ! It is important that we hear Paul’s words as addressing a 1st century relational conflict in Galatia and not just a theological conflict of the 16th century!

BTW, here’s an interesting article by David Fredrickson on “Amoratory Motifs in Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.” I look forward to reading his latest book, Eros and the Christ.

Luke

This week I want to say something about the gospel reading. I do so by sharing a sermon that hit a home run once upon a time. During the weeks following I was really surprised at the number of people that told me they finally had long overdue family conversations. FWIW!

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How many of you have seen the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral”?  The four weddings and their respective receptions are delightful, but the most poignant moment of the film comes when the lover of the deceased stands over the coffin and reads this poem by W. H. Auden:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the necks of public doves,
Let traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For now nothing can ever come to any good.

The poignancy arises from the emotional honesty of the words and scene.  There is no effort to hide or sugarcoat the grief and anguish of death.  Too often around coffins I hear words like: “I guess God needed her more.”, “There’s another star in the heavens tonight.”, or, “It must have been his time.”  The words are spoken with the intent of bringing some comfort; spoken to justify the way things are in order to quell the feeling that things are not as they should be.  But such words are “cheap grace”; grace which is nothing but talk.

This past week I saw on TV the mother of the young man who was robbed and killed while changing a tire on his pickup truck.  She said, “I keep telling myself he’s in a better place.”, but you could tell that the sentiment was little comfort.  Her son had been brutally murdered; things were not as they should be.  “Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.  For nothing now can ever come to any good.”  Which brings us to the stories of Elijah and Jesus.

In Biblical times, women in their teens were often married to men who were much older.  A man had to establish himself before a woman could be transferred to his care from that of her father.  This age disparity with husbands meant that women were often widowed fairly early in life.  It also meant that the most vital relationship in a woman’s life was, not with her husband, but with her oldest son.  When the husband died it was the oldest son’s responsibility to provide sustenance for his mother.  Women had no status except in relationship to a male head of a household.  That’s what Jesus’ words from the cross to his mother, Mary, and his disciple John are all about.

That’s what’s going on in these stories of Elijah and Jesus.  These widows have not only lost a child, they have also lost all hope for the future!  The “wheels” have literally come off their existence!  If there is no other male family member willing to take them in there is perhaps nothing left for them but gleaning, begging, or prostitution.

In the Elijah story, there are no sanctimonious words like, “Well, at least the boy won’t be hungry any more.”  The anguished mother’s anger rises to the surface immediately, “What have you against me?  You have cone to me to bring my sin to remembrance and cause the death of my son!”  Elijah’s words are also an angry accusatory question, “God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I’m staying by killing her son?”  The words are honestly reflect the reality of the situation.

Likewise with the story about Jesus.  The widow is heading out to bury her only son.  The town is with her; “Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”  Jesus sees and fully understands the gravity of this woman’s situation.  There are no cheap words from Jesus about the son “being in a better place”, for, as with Elijah, the dead son isn’t Jesus’ concern.  It’s the woman, not the son, for whom Jesus has compassion.  Wherever else the son may be doesn’t matter.  Wherever else he may be, he’s not there to care for his mother; it’s the mother’s situation that matters.

Don’t take a situation and sugarcoat it into something it’s not.  If the plane has crashed, don’t say it has “landed short of the runway”.  If the ship is on the rocks, don’t say that it’s found a “unexpected port”.  But we like to do that sort of thing.  We like words that are spoken with the intent of bringing some comfort; spoken to justify the way things are in order to silence the truth that things are not as they should be.  But such words are “cheap grace”; nothing but talk which offers no real hope.

image0041My sermon title comes by way of a friend of mine, Dr. Robert McLaughlin, who specializes in adolescent and family psychology.  Bob says that most families have “elephants in the living room”.  Now, everyone knows there is an elephant in the living room.  They watch T.V. around it, talk to each other under it, and pass the newspaper over it; but no one is willing – or allowed – to  talk about the elephant.

The elephant may be drug or alcohol related.  The elephant may be an abusive relationship in which someone is involved.  It may be an infidelity.  It may be illness, grief, or some other unspoken loss.  It may be an activity that is unacceptable.  It may be a misunderstanding which has never been resolved; disappointment; unrealistic expectations; failed hopes or dreams.  Whatever it is, it looms there; dominating, obstructing, and damaging healthy relationships.

There may be a lot of quite intense and animated of talk around the elephant and generated by the elephant, but none of it offers any hope of deliverance from the elephant because the elephant – the problem itself – is never talked about.  And the paradox is that while the problem seems too big and threatening to talk about, the reality is that it’s too big and threatening not to talk about.  Elephants like living rooms.  They will never leave by themselves.  Ignored, they will only grow larger; doing even more damage to furniture and people.

Almost every Sunday we confess that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves”.  What does that mean in everyday terms?  One thing it means is that we are “bound to keep score”.  Sin means that we are bound to come up with some sort of a system which will make us appear, at least to ourselves, more righteous than others.  We are bound to come up with a score keeping system that stacks the game in our favor.  (One such system says that people with no elephants are better than others.)

But the twist is the fact that “we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” also means that we are all “bound” to have “elephants”.  They will show up in all our lives.  Some denominations may believe that to be Christian is to be “elephant free”; Lutherans don’t believe that.  Christians are not privy to some sort of immunity to the effects of sin.  Elephants are “bound” to come; that’s our very nature.

What Christ frees us up to do is to openly acknowledge – confess – how things are.  Since our “uprightness” is found in Christ alone we don’t have to pretend we are “upright” because we are problem free.  It’s an abnormality that some people’s understanding of the Christian faith calls for the need to deny that they’ve got “elephants in the living room” (or skeletons in the closet).  In truth, no one should be more free than the Christian to say, “Elephants in my living room?  Sure!  Of course!  Bound to happen!”, and then get on with the business of running them out.

image0061Getting rid of them can take time, but it can be done.

First, be honest with yourself and others about what’s going on inside you and between you.  Get in touch with reality.

Second, sometimes it’s tough to “see the forest for the trees”; sometimes we need help sorting out what exactly is going on inside of us and around us.  If need be, seek some help.  I know of many professional counselors and therapists who can help with that.  As a people, we are neither reluctant nor ashamed to spend billions of dollars to care for our physical selves; yet we are often reluctant and ashamed to spend anything – time or money – to care for our relational selves.  That’s a rather peculiar phenomenon.

Thirdly, remember that you can help each other with your respective problems.  Everyone sitting around you has “elephants in their living room”.  The only question is whether you will be “elephant herders” or “elephant keepers”.  If you share, you can help each other herd.

Whatever, don’t pretend that your situation is other than it really is.  If Elijah and Jesus had trivialized the gravity of the situation with pious words about death – if they had used religion to sugarcoat or avoid the real life issues – those women would have had no hope.  For, in the end, “If we say we have no sin we only deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  Faith should open up the future!

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Don Carlson

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