Message for the 24th Sunday After Pentecost on Matthew 25:1-13 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson Texas
When our two sons, Daniel and Jacob were just shy of turning 3 and 1, I resigned from full-time parish ministry to stay home with them. I ran a home business, to earn some money, and have some adult conversation. Two years later, Leah was born. I had a story that I told myself which was that Dan and I serving 2 different congregations in two denominations was never going to work with three kids—and that meant that I was just never going to be a pastor again while the kids were home.
When they were small, this was fine—I really needed a break from the church after some difficult experiences anyway, and I was bawling dropping them off at day care. But things started to shift when Leah entered Kindergarten. I was getting tired of my home business, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the work to take it to the next level, and I started to help out part-time at an after-school ministry program in the city, which was really fun.
I was asking God for answer about what to do with my life, but I couldn’t hear anything because I was locked into the story that me being a pastor didn’t work for my family, so nothing was getting through. This went on for about 3 months—me asking, hearing nothing. Finally, Dan said we have to make summer plans, are you going to the business convention or not because that affects everything else we do. I needed God to give me clarity. I needed an answer and a plan.
That’s what I like about the wise bridesmaids in our parable from Matthew—they had a plan, they had clarity, and they were ready for when the bridegroom—a metaphor for Jesus—arrived. This parable’s meaning is often viewed only as being about the end times, but like it says, we do not know the day or the hour that Jesus will return and bring the kingdom into its fulfillment. So what do we do in the mean-time? I think the parable’s more compelling meaning is about right now, today.
The parable reveals that Jesus has already invited us to be an attendant in his kingdom—• to stand up for him,
• to witness to his commitment to the world,
• to honor his vows of love to us and for our salvation,
• to participate in the party of justice and joy, forgiveness and freedom, that his coming has inaugurated!
That’s a pretty awesome invitation! So his return is delayed and unpredictable, but because he has already come—how are we serving as attendants in his kingdom right now? We have pretty good idea of what kind of bridesmaid or groomsman Jesus is looking for in the realm he has already begun to usher in. The message is to keep our lamps lit and burning—which is another way of saying, let your light so shine before others—which is another way of saying fulfill the purpose to which God calls you. Don’t be foolish and squander the light that God created in you. Keep your lamp lit and burning--feed it, show it, share it, shine it. Fulfill the purpose to which God calls you and places you here, in the kingdom already begun.
So how do we figure that out? How do we know God’s purpose for us? I have a formula!
A friend in a 12-step program shared a speaker tape with me about 20 years ago, and this formula was on it. I have taught this formula to several people individually and last week when I did it, I thought, “I need to preach about this” and then this week, the Holy Spirit said, “do that this week. This formula works discerning a new job, going back to school, hobbies, service opportunities— You can even apply this to a business you own and if you want to take on a particular client. We can even apply this to the congregation as a whole. You make a DATE with God—and bring a sheet of paper and write out D-A-T-E down the side of your paper in a vertical column. Go to a quiet place for prayer, reflection, conversation—out in nature, a coffee shop –wherever you can reflect.
Right now, you can think about something you need to make a decision about, (including your Time & Talent Sheet for 2024!). We call this discernment- discerning & listening how God calls you and gives you purpose.
D – “D” is for “Desire” – God does work through our desires. Sometimes we think if we hate something, then it must be what God wants us to do. It doesn’t mean that we love every aspect, or that we all don’t have to do things we don’t like as part of our work—that’s called being an adult. But if we are drawn toward, have an interest or desire to do something—that is a big clue. Moses did not initially desire to do what God asked him to do, but he did desire to have his people freed.
The prophets did not always want to say what they were told, but they had a deep desire for their nation to be more faithful. If you have a deep desire or are drawn toward a vocation, goal, mission, opportunity, service—there is a reason behind it.
A – “A” is for “Ability” – This is in part about skills. Do you have the training to do what you desire, or do you need to go to school, get training, shadow someone?
If we are talking about the Time and Talent sheet—there’s training for every ministry on here. Just check what you’re interested in and put “need training.” Assisting Min, visiting homebound, ushering, streaming, audio technology, etc--all of it can be easily learned. There is another aspect to ability and that is if it works in your whole life with other duties and obligations. Being a parent, a caregiver of sick spouse—some responsibilities put constraints on our abilities. We may have the skills, but our life situation does not enable us to make a commitment to follow our desires at this time. Or maybe through prayer, God can find support to free up a few hours a week so as a care-giver, you can maintain your obligation AND do something you Desire. (This is why we call this discernment --this process needs prayer and sometimes conversation …). God does not desire you to be a miserable victim of circumstance. God gives you abilities and wants you to use them for good, so discernment and conversation with your Pastor or good friend can help you reflect on God calls you to use your abilities.
T--“T” is for Time—do I have the time available for this new job, way of serving, opportunity, client, friendship? And if it is something that through prayer becomes more of priority, what is that I am doing that I need to let go of, to create the time? You have all the time there is, the question is, am I spending it how God wants me to?
E – “Energy” is for Energy which sounds a lot like Desire, but it’s different. It’s about passion. When you close your eyes and imagine yourself in the future doing this activity, job, service opportunity, or whatever--what does your body tell you? Do you experience that picture as life-giving or life-draining? Energy is about doing activities that are life-giving and energizing—it’s partly why our motto at St. Luke’s is “where spirits come alive!” Because when we’re serving in line with our purpose and our gifts—that is where God’ calls us—we are energized and passionate. But if we feel like we are a warm body in an empty slot—that is life-draining—because that has nothing to do our God-given purpose and gifts.
So we need all 4--Desire Ability Time and Energy for it to be God’s calling and purpose for us right now. And this changes over time and chapters of life, so I have used this formula many times over.
When Dan asked me, "are you going to your business convention this summer or not, we need an answer to make plans"—I remembered this formula. The kids were off to school, Dan went to go to take a shower, and I sat in my prayer chair. I told God I had been waiting patiently and now I needed an answer and I need it right now.
I thought about my home business and I finally admitted I no longer had the Desire or Energy to do it, even though I had the Ability and the Time. And then I thought about becoming a pastor again. I realized I had all 4. Desire, Ability, Time and Energy. A big light bulb went off in my head!
Dan got out of the shower 10 minutes later and I said, “I have an answer! I am going to do my business as a hobby and go back to being a Pastor full -time, so no, I’m not going to the convention this summer, let’s figure out our plans from there. And we’re just going to have to figure out the 2-church thing.”
Using this formula unlocked me, and got me out of the story I was telling myself that we couldn’t do 2 churches in 2 denominations with 3 kids. I could not hear God calling me to this because of the story in my head. But this formula got me out of my belief system. When I felt in my gut-- Desire Ability Time Energy—I realized that if God called me to this, he would work out the details. And God did. I was called to a church 3 miles from where Dan was serving, and we could have lunch together, stay connected and keep our life in balance. He had meetings on Mon & Wed, I had meetings on Tue & Thurs so one of us was home every night with the kids.
Jesus' parable calls us to "Keep your lamps lit and burning." Desire-Ability-Time= that’s the Lamp, your container of your gifts and skills. The Energy = that’s the Holy Spirit—that’s what enables us to let our light shine, no matter what we are doing—because we are fulfilling God’s purpose for us.
I invite you to use the formula for discerning activities that God calls you to in 2024, and maybe re-evaluating commitments that may no longer fit if God invites you into something new.
We do not know when Jesus is going to return, but because he has already come, he is showing up in us, and also in everyone we meet.
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up at our free breakfast and the Dover Mobile food pantry-- in our servers and in our guests
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up in our Preschool staff and the children and their families
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning, Jesus shows up in our inclusive welcome, in delicious food and fellowship, in our outdoor food pantry and Hunger Helper lunches.
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up hundreds of health and school kits and over 50 quilts being sent to Lutheran World Relief
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up beautiful music and worship—and technology with those joining us from home, and in the service of our Veterans
• Because we keep our lamps lit and burning Jesus shows up in your daily life and work, at your job, at your dinner table, in your service, in the love you share and the light you shine.
The bridegroom has already invited us to be an attendant in his kingdom—
• We get to stand up for him,
• to witness to his commitment to all of humanity,
• to tell others of his love and salvation for the whole world
• and to participate in the party of justice and joy, forgiveness, and freedom.
Let’s continue to this with purpose—with Desire Ability Time and Energy as we keep our lamps lit and burning.
What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes these questions haunt us after the death of a loved one, or a traumatic event or illness. We can easily blame ourselves, feel shame, and guilt—feelings that are very real, but often based on an illusion of control we do not have.
I thought it was my fault when I was diagnosed with 2 kinds of breast cancer –these thoughts were not necessarily rational—maybe I didn’t eat well enough or I hung on to resentments, or I didn’t exercise enough—somehow I had done something wrong and this was my fault. And then when I got through treatment and went back to work, I had even worse survivor guilt. Other women did not make it—why did I? I started working myself to death—much more than I do now, if you can believe that! I was driven by the feeling that I had to do or be something pretty spectacular to be worthy of surviving, of being given a second chance. I felt I had to do something great for God or I would not be worthy of having survived.
Just as challenging as the physical healing, can be getting help with the blame-shame-guilt that accompanies a traumatic illnesses, or grief that we carry when someone we love does die. This is something which we may call to mind on All Saints day today. I imagine this mix of blame-shame-guilt-grief, is at least in part how the crowds felt as they gathered around and followed Jesus through Galilee. A few verses before the Beatitudes begin, we read this:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
The Beatitudes begin with When Jesus saw the crowds, …Then he began to speak, and taught them. These crowds were full of the sick and people with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics
Jesus and everyone in these crowds lived in such a strong culture of honor and shame. They did believe that illness was a direct result of sin and that they were being punished by God with epilepsy or demons or paralysis and other diseases because they or their parents sinned. Imagine the guilt that rendered not only individuals, but upon parents and grandparents for such debilitating life-long diseases for which there were no cures. Imagine the loneliness of widows or widowers, who not only grieved their loved ones, but who wondered why they had survived and their son or daughter, or their spouse had not?
It was not just a quiet struggle, but something society from the Roman oppressors, and their culture all agreed on, and around which they structured their communal participation. Those with illnesses sat outside the Temple gates, they kept their distance in the marketplace, they did not participate in social events. Crowds such as this one following Jesus—who were poor and outcast, who were grieving and ashamed, who were too meek to fight the system and who worked to make peace where they were—they were the bottom rung of social ladder and everyone knew it.
Whereas I had an internal struggle with self-blame and guilt and shame—they had this plus a culture that de-valued and ostracized them; they were surrounded by a society and an oppressor that would never respect or honor them. So when Jesus saw this crowd, this group of hungry, grieving, meek, disease-infected, shame-burdened, guilt-ridden, family-loving, but impoverished, salt-of-the-earth group of people at the margins, Jesus bestows on them a blessing from God that society will never give them, a status they can never earn, a respect they could never, ever imagine for themselves.
Jesus gives them God’s honor, bestowing on them, the envy of others, for they have a place in God’s realm, in God’s heart:
Blessed is not just favored, but honored
How honorable are you, who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
How honorable are you who mourn, for you will be comforted.
How honorable are you meek, for you will inherit the earth.
‘How honorable are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be filled.
‘How honorable are you merciful… you pure in heart…you peacemakers…you who are persecuted.
How honorable are you who blame yourselves and feel unworthy, how honorable are you who feel guilty and ashamed and always live on the bottom rung.
You are honored in God’s sight. You are enviable. You are chosen. You are loved. You are seen. You are held in the highest esteem by the God who made you.
Jesus values what society devalues. Jesus loves what we cannot love and refuse to see as worthy, even when it is we, ourselves. Jesus announces God’s honor as being true for them right now with him in the present, and also in a promised future that Jesus will fulfill for them. You are honored now and you will be comforted. You are honored now, and you will be filled.
Jesus is God’s beatitude, present with us now, and securing our promised future. Jesus is our blessing— he takes our trauma----whatever it is---with it’s blame and shame and guilt—and carries it to the cross, and he honors it there, and he says, “it is finished!”
So leave it here today-- in the candle, on the ribbon, in the prayers, at the cross. Because then Jesus always comes back with new life, and says Blessed are YOU.
How honorable are YOU. How worthy are YOU. You are free and made whole, filled with honor and respect, with mercy and love.
This is what Jesus has done for me. Dan has told probably 100 times it was not my fault I got cancer, and he would say it again today if I needed it, but I don’t anymore. God does not need you or me to be any more spectacular than the purpose for which God made us—because that is already pretty great! None of us needs to outdo God and God’s plan for our life.
So claim the beatitude of Jesus for you--for Jesus says, “I have chosen YOU to be the beatitude for the next person. To honor them when no one else has. To listen to them the way no one else has."
First John says it this way: See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.
To be a saint is to be a beatitude for others— especially those whom society devalues, and showing them God’s honor, helping to melt their guilt and their shame and their blame. How does God call you to be a beatitude to others? Some days it will be a spontaneous interaction with someone God puts in your path.
Sometimes it will be a conversation you share with someone in your circle of influence. Other times, it will be through your direct, intentional service.
Today is a day to discover opportunities for being a beatitude, a blessing, a way to give God’s honor to others in service at our Mission Fair. We not only have every Mission Team at St. Luke’s with a table in the Congregational Life Center, but we also have our community partners who rent space from us, so we can learn and build relationships! We have Time and Talent Sheets in your Stewardship packets and also extra copies in the gym with a booklet explaining the ministry of each team. You’ll get a sticker at each table you visit and Time and Talent sheets turned in with 10 stickers will to into a drawing for pizza gift cards! So, come and discover how God is calling you to serve in 2024.
For Jesus, our beatitude, honors you, child of God, freeing you into being a beatitude for others.
Message for Reformation Sunday on John 8:31-36 given on October 29, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
Many of you know that last spring my husband and I visited our daughter Leah in northern Spain, where she was teaching English on Fulbright grant. We posted beautiful pictures on Facebook. So here’s a story that never was and never will be posted on Facebook. It’s much more effective to embarrass myself in person!
Dan and I arrived safely in Madrid, and we had to make a connecting flight into Santiago de Compostela in Northwest Spain where Leah lived. We had extra suitcases so we could start bringing some of her winter clothes home. So even though we checked bags (and Iberia lost mine), we still each had a carry-on and a backpack.
I am always cold, so I was dressed in layers, and I put them all on, so I had less to carry. So in addition to my compression stockings, I had on my sweater, my rain jacket, my backpack—which was pretty heavy (lotions, potions, make-up, medicines, etc).
We get into the immigration line and it’s like everyone has taken up race-walking to get to their connecting flight or the arms of their loved one. We’re going as fast as we can through this line, but I am getting so hot with all these layers on, (I have created my own little climatron) and this heavy backpack, and I have got to get this jacket off. So, I am pushing my carry-on, holding onto my passport and immigration papers, and trying to take off my backpack, put it on my carry-on, all while hanging onto my passport, and race-walking through the immigration line. Somehow, I do manage to get my backpack off and put it on my carry-on and wrap the strap around it, and then I hear this big gasp all around me.
Which was all directed at me—because my backpack was actually heavier than my carry-on, so it didn’t roll when I put it on there, it just tipped over, but I was moving fast to keep up with the pace, so I fell over it, onto the floor. With everyone gasping and staring, Dan, who was ahead of me, turns around, to find his wife on the floor. He has this surprised, puzzled look on his face, like, “you knew how to walk when we got off the plane!”
And then he jumped into action and got me off the floor and I was really fine—just a bruised knee since I landed on the suitcase and backpack—It’s like a sports injury—rub some dirt on it and keep walking because you’re in the immigration line at the Madrid airport!
We start moving again and one of the female immigration officers monitoring the line looked at me, and I must have still looked a little rattled because she said, “tranquile, tranquile” ( be tranquil, be tranquil). Then she opened the rope and led Dan and I to the very short, special immigration line for---I don’t know who—people with tight connections and those who fall on their face. And we got through immigration with no line!
Then Dan texts Leah to let her know we got through immigration extra quick because I fell. And I said, “don’t tell her! I already have less stamina than both of you, now she’s going to think it’s going to be a bad trip because mom forgot how to walk. Besides, it’s my story to tell, and I don’t want to tell it. To anyone. Ever.”
But after we reassured her that I was fine, she said, “nice immigration hack, Mom.” Maybe she'll try it on her next trip!
So other than mortal embarrassment and a few laughs, why am I telling you this story? Because it is so hard to ask for help, even when the inevitable result is to fall flat on my face.
The truth is, I get tired of asking for help—I learned how to do it when I was sick with cancer, but I still do not like it. After so many surgeries, I can’t lift the carry-on luggage into the overhead bin, I am not supposed to lift heavy weights in order to build strength; I can’t open the pickle jar, I can’t get the Christmas decorations down from the top shelf—I pretend I can carry out the garbage ;). I need help with all of these mundane tasks and more. But I would not have fallen in that airport if I had just asked Dan to help me—which he is so willing always to do—and he would much rather do, than have me fall or be injured or harmed in any way.
I just had to ask him to hold my passport, hang on to my backpack, step aside from the line and pause a minute. We had plenty of time. But no, I had to try to do gymnastics with a backpack, a carry-on, a jacket and a passport with no upper body strength, while somebody who loves and adores me was right there, beside me.
This is how Jesus feels—we are there, race walking through life, doing every kind of contortion, carrying every burden, and juggling fifteen things, sweating and running, doing everything on our own—trying to be worthy, trying to work hard, trying to earn love or forgiveness or success, making sure we check the boxes, or we fix everybody else and their problems. And Jesus is right there next to us ready and willing to embrace us, and give us what we need, forgive us and make us whole, but we can’t be open to grace sometimes, we refuse help, we rebuff the people he has put in our lives, even the ones who love us or live with us or near us, and we insist on doing it all ourselves.
As if we put the earth on its axis and the stars in the sky.
Maybe it’s not until we are flat on our face that the truth becomes clear to us. Jesus says, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
Maybe there is no truer, freer place than flat on your face. Maybe there is no truer, freer story, than being spread eagle, like x-marks the spot, on the floor in the middle of immigration in the Madrid airport. Maybe it’s the only story to tell on Facebook.
The Franciscan Order understands “poverty” in a way that includes this face-down spiritual awareness. For them, poverty is more than a life of simplicity, restraint, and lack of material possessions. Fr. Richard Rohr says, “Poverty is when we recognize that myself—by itself—is largely powerless and ineffective.” Poverty is when I recognize that by myself, I am powerless and ineffective.
In this moment, we become open to our own Reformation—literally a re-formation—of being saved by grace—by God’s love, by Jesus’ forgiveness, by the Spirit’s presence and power—not by our doing. Then we become attached to Jesus like the branches to the vine.
This is the hallmark belief of the Reformation which we celebrate today—that God’s love and forgiveness come as a free gift of grace through faith and not by our own work and merit. Like Martin Luther himself, we too, need that moment when our striving fails us, and we experience the truth that by ourselves, without God, without grace, without help, and without other branches on the vine, we are powerless and ineffective.
We cannot make it alone—whatever “It” is for us. Whether it is to get through the day or managing our mental health, whether it is to stay clean from addiction, or to survive illness, whether it is to age well, or to be a parent in this post-Covid, still-anxious time for our kids.
But when we accept grace—that we are nothing on our own, and we are freed to ask for help—our life, our heart, our experience is transformed.
Today we celebrate that during the Red Letter Challenge so many people grew spiritually and their hearts were transformed. Some folks joined a Life Group which is concrete way to share our victories, and ask for prayer and help in our challenges. This was a great weekly spiritual practice for me after not asking for help in Madrid.
When we are embraced by grace, and surrounded with prayer and help, we go from face-down to face-up. We become powerful and effective as we encounter the hands and feet and face of Jesus in each other.
I am grateful to those who have the courage to share their Poster Board testimony today and I invite you to line up behind the baptismal font.—
As they come forward, I invite you this week to pay attention to one area of your life where you need Jesus’ love and grace. Then I invite you to identify an area where you need to ask someone or help—start asking, start practicing. To those sharing your Posterboard testimony, we do with ease and grace, with Jesus by our side—there’s no race walking and I offer you these wise words “tranquile, tranquile.”
Our theme continues to be Together in the Boat as we get ready to launch Life Groups in two weeks on Sept. 17. When Jesus and Peter briefly walked on water in the middle of big storm, the winds did not actually calm down until Jesus and Peter were back in the boat together with the other disciples. That’s how Jesus designed our life as people of faith—to do it together in the boat with him.
Today our life following Jesus gets more challenging as he starts talking with his disciples about his impending death. Peter—who just got gold stars for confessing Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, now gets called Satan for being totally wrong about what being the Messiah means. Peter was hoping for a Messiah set on overthrowing the oppression of Rome—he wanted Jesus to go for power instead compassion, authority instead of authenticity, a crown instead of the cross.
But political power and worldly authority are not Jesus’ way to usher in God’s kingdom. Maybe Peter hoped the ends would justify the means—if Jesus got the power, he could use it for good. But, for Jesus, the ends don’t justify the means—the kingdom is found in the means themselves— If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Jesus is talking about a way of life to bring about the kingdom—not just how we order our individual lives, but how we live as his community of followers—the church! When Jesus answers Peter rebuke, he turns to face all the disciples and he is talking to them as a whole—he’s talking in the plural! The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in relationship—that is, together in the boat with Jesus.
Too often we interpret this passage as though Jesus is just talking to us individually—but we cannot usher in the kingdom by acting alone. When we hear this passage directed at only individuals to take up their cross, it has incorrectly become a platform to justify victimization, abuse, and personal suffering as if these are someone’s “cross to bear.” This passage does not mean remaining in an abusive relationship or situation. It does not mean becoming a doormat, being a victim, lacking in self-care, or people-pleasing to your own detriment.
Nor does self-denial and cross-bearing mean refusing life’s joys and blessings. Suffering with illness or aging with grace and a positive attitude is very good, however this is also not your cross to bear.
So then, what way of life and what kind of kingdom is realized in the community of disciples by denying themselves and taking up their cross?
First let’s tackle Deny yourself—this means to “disown yourself” and remember that you belong to God. St. Luke’s and every person here and every person you meet is created in love and bought with a price—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Because we belong to God, God’s interests, hopes, and dreams become our interests, hopes and dreams. God’s interests are above our interests.
Jesus continually spent time alone with God to put God’s interests above his own. This was how he resisted the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. He dis-owned himself—he remembered he belonged to God, and put God’s interests and plans above his own. This is why Jesus called Peter Satan—because he tempted Jesus put his own interests above God’s.
God’s interests and dreams for St. Luke’s and our life together are bigger and better and more important than me and you and our personal likes or dislikes.
Social media and a consumer culture has taught us bad spiritual habits- Like it, don’t like it, love it, don’t love it, as if our opinion is the be all and end all of life. Come to the church of Burger King where you can have it your way—but Jesus calls us to follow him to the cross and not the crown!
It’s hard to turn off these habits when we gather together—but Jesus wants us to build relationships with each other around what God’s interests and dreams are for this church and the world.
Jesus asks our priorities to go in this order when planning our mission: Is what we are doing good
• First, for the kingdom of God,
• Second for the mission of St. Luke’s as a whole – which is another way of saying does it reach beyond our doors to the community in mission?
• Then groups and individuals in the church
This is what it means for us to live out the Lord’s Prayer together—Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. But this is tough stuff—we cannot do this kind of hard spiritual work alone—which is why we are forming—you guessed it—Life Groups! So we can grow together in listening together for God’s interests and dreams. The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in these relationships—that is, together in the boat with Jesus.
Take up your cross and follow me. Let’s talk a little bit more about what it means to take up your cross.
Again, we take a communal view because Jesus is talking to the disciples together. Taking up our cross—as the church—means identifying where we take a stand, where we are willing to suffer for the sake of those who are the least, or the lost or the last.
Taking up our cross is suffering we willingly choose for the sake of the kingdom, for the sake of someone who is in need, for the sake of sharing the Gospel. The question for St. Luke’s is, what are we willing to do as a congregation, to take a stand, who are willing to be in solidarity with, to love with compassion, and to serve who are in need that might cause us suffering?
We already have some answers. For example, we have willingly chosen to stand with, support and welcome people who are LGBTQIA. This is one ministry in Texas, where we are in the minority as a church, standing in solidarity with people who have been openly shunned and rejected.
The day after our first Pride Sunday in June, there was an anonymous letter and card addressed to me tapped to the side entrance of the church. Inside were pictures of Sodom and Gomorrah burning and information which I am sure you can imagine.
But given that LGBTQIA people live with this kind of fear and harassment in their daily life, work, school, and medical care, this is a crucial way for us as people of faith, together in the boat, to take up our cross and follow Jesus beside LGBTQIA people with love, compassion, support and solidarity.
We have an opportunity to do this again at the North Texas Pride event on September 30th—you can sign up in the Gathering Area or talk with Kristin Atchison. Remember that you do not have to understand everything to love and welcome everyone.
The same is true with hungry neighbors at our free breakfast. Two weeks ago, we had a woman who had been laid off from her job. She has six children, everyone was hungry and she wasn’t sure how she was going to feed them, when she saw our signs for a free breakfast. They came, and got their fill of burritos, snack bags for later, and a box of food to help get them through the week. They also got the ice cream from the Honda Helpers free ice cream truck! She came back yesterday to thank us for the help; she was working again and so grateful, so she made a donation! You never know who God is going to send when are taking up our cross together and giving our time and resources to be available with free hot food, conversation, and prayer. The kingdom of God is both realized and lived out in these relationships—together in the boat with Jesus.
What does it mean for you to participate in denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus as part of this wonderful St. Luke’s community? Life Groups, which start in 2 weeks on Sept. 17 -- help us build this kind of kingdom community where hear God’s interests and dreams through each other, where we gain the courage to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized and suffering, where we experience the kingdom of God in the relationships that we build, and where our own needs for prayer and companionship are met in addition to Sunday morning.
When I was a young child, I remember Saturday nights we would get ready for church the next day. We all had baths before dinner, dad would polish our shoes, we got to eat pancakes for supper and watch the Lawrence Welk Show—it was the only night we could watch TV during dinner. Then we went to bed early so we could be on time for Sunday School before church. This ritual taught me the importance of church, of prayer, of being part of that community.
My sister Pam and I always shared a bedroom, and during this early stage of life, we developed our own ritual to remind each other to say the Lord’s Prayer before we went to sleep. After we said our prayer, we would say, “beep, beep” to remind each to pray. Maybe we got that from the Road Runner cartoon.
I like to think of the Life Groups and our “beep beep” community—the one that’s there for you and reminds you what’s important, that you’re a person of prayer and connected to this larger community that’s following Jesus together.
So sign up for a Life Group that will start the week of Sept. 17th, as we seek God’s dreams for the kingdom, as we stand in solidarity with those in need, and our spirits come alive.
Today we celebrate being this community as share Communion together this morning at the railing. This Communion railing and many Lutheran chancel areas are shaped like a boat—wider in the middle and narrower at the ends. Come and be fed—where Jesus nourishes us for this life that we together—never alone, but always together in the boat with Jesus.