“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost,” said the woman in Jesus’ parable.
Luke offers three parables in a row of losing, searching, and finding. On the surface, they’re about God’s extravagant love. What a comfort to know how far God goes for us!
But what about when God seeks people we’re convinced aren’t worth it? Will we rejoice to be left alone with the 99 and even lost? Gladly go without meals or clean clothes for a week? Because that’s the flip side of this found coin.
On another level, these parables are maps. Failure, humiliation, and loss are part of life. In fact, much more suffering comes by trying to avoid suffering! Father Richard Rohr says, “So we must stumble and fall, I’m sorry to say.”
And stumbling and falling is the way home. We find we survive stumbling and falling. And more, we grow. What grace! We may not regain what we lost, but we do discover a new self. Stronger, more flexible, more generous.
What losses taught you the most or gave you the most to offer others? Ask Jesus to find you in your suffering and bring your home.
After worship Sunday, August 25, 15 St. Paul people gathered to be blessed conversation partners. Grounded in Philippians 2:1-11, we gave and received what was in our hearts and guts about the ELCA’s declaration that it’s a “sanctuary church body.”
Most, if not all, shared the same question: “What does this mean? What do we mean by ‘sanctuary’?”
This core question led us to others. If sanctuary is about shelter and sharing, how effective are St. Paul’s and other local ministries with hungry and homeless people? How do other organizations and movements define ‘sanctuary’? What is the ELCA (including congregations, synods, and related service organizations) already doing to serve migrants and immigrants? What can we learn from the Lutheran World Federation? Who are our local recent-immigrant neighbors? What are their gifts and needs? What are local schools, the Sisters of St. Francis, or other neighbors doing?
Tolerating the ambiguity of all these questions—and all the emotions surrounding them—wasn’t easy for everyone, myself foremost. But it’s what we committed to do. We trusted each other. We trusted God. In the end, we were grateful, even if we still are feeling our way in the dark.
Read: Consider these “talking points” about the declaration. https://download.elca.org/…/ELCA_SanctuaryDenomination_Talk…
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” Jesus said.
This is a call story. Jesus calls settled people. People happily and religiously established. People secure in their families, occupations, identities, communities, and faith.
Jesus calls them beyond. As if there is more to life. Another journey. Jesus is eager to show everyone the way, whenever we’re truly ready.
Consider communion. First, we bake the bread. Then, we break it and share it. First, we fill the cup. Then, we pour it out for others.
As we complete the first journey, Jesus calls us on the second. Then, we discover that what we built for ourselves, God intends for the world. In losing--Jesus promises--we gain.
Can you allow this? Are you ready to ask Jesus to loosen your grip on what is well and truly yours? Jesus does not ask you to give up what you have not yet completed. Nor does Jesus mock you for not yet finishing. There is a just order to things. Thank God for that.
“Am I right to feel afraid?” I ask myself this question sometimes. Often the automatic physiological fear-responses of my body—adrenaline, heightened senses, sweat, increased heart rate—are out of sync with the real danger. Overreacting is the greater danger. So I calm myself, as gently as I’m able.
Other times, I ask myself, “Am I right to feel angry?”
These questions refocus me on reality and morality. What are the facts? Do I have a moral claim to my fear or anger?
The cross warns: humans do great evil when we bless our fear and anger and do violence in the name of peace or the law or God almighty. We may “save” our lives or even “gain” the whole world but we lose our very souls. Thank God, Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Attending to fear and anger can, in all truth, help us sort our soul from our idolatries. But that takes care, prayer, and a healthy suspicion of what our feelings seem to tell us.
Practically speaking, we need conversation partners who give us grace without stroking our egos. What a blessing these people are! Blessed are we when we heed them!
“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind,” Jesus said.
Is Jesus asking us to expand our social circles? Seems so. More, Jesus exposed the games this host and his guests were playing. Who is more important than who? Busiest? Most successful? Closest to wealth and power? Status games.
In church, status takes a different twist. Who is more generous? More compassionate? Longest-tenured? Longest-suffering? On the most committees? Closest to the pastor?
“There’s more to life,” Jesus says. Who are we without our status symbols, our social position, our place in the family? Without the real advantages, material and relational, that come with them? That’s our soul. Our essence, which flows and rests within God’s essence.
What a tragedy never to know that essence, and so, to treat other people and our very selves as “its,” things, means to an end, worthless apart from winning the game.
Who could or would you develop authentic relationship with if you were free not to need the approval and esteem of your group? Ask Jesus to show you the way to your soul.
In making a commitment to listen and become a better listener, and in exercising that commitment during a listening campaign, I’ve seen people’s lives changed. I’ve seen congregations change. Together, during the last three years, we’ve seen this very thing, haven’t we?
For listeners, the shift happens as they experience themselves as powerful, maybe for the very first time. Building community builds power, and power is simply to be able—the ability to act. Listeners find they are able to listen, able to build relationship and community, able to work together with others create solutions to problems.
We all know what powerlessness feels like. The listening team, the “Hope in Action” team, and so many other St. Paul people also know what it’s like to feel powerful—thanks to the ministry of this congregation.
The gospel speaks of Jesus being “full of the power of the Holy Spirit.” This resurrection power is what Christ offers each of us, even as Christ also asks us to take a leap of faith.