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What Else Can I Learn From the Story of the Good Samaritan?

It stopped me in my tracks. Scanning through my social media landscape, I encountered a post that drew my attention. Though it alluded to a familiar story, it challenged me to re-examine the lens through which I read it.

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded. (Luke 10)

Could I be the wounded or the robber? I paused, sitting in the discomfort gripping me. Why I have I always navigated quickly to assume the role of the passersby or Good Samaritan?

There is no doubt that Jesus was driving home a point in this specific context. The lawyer, familiar with the Jewish purity laws of the time, was looking for a way to make Jesus incriminate himself. What “Messiah” would publicly advocate for deconstructing them?

Jesus recognized the laws had become stumbling blocks on the path to reconciliation: to God and each other. He saw that the road to abundant life for all meant recognizing the Levite, Priest, Good Samaritan, Robber, and wounded person in ourselves.

The Jericho Road was known to be a dangerous place. It’s geographic location lent itself to robbers. They took advantage of the vulnerability of passersby. Victims depended on “neighbors” who came across them to sustain their life: putting aside all judgements, ideological differences, gender and racial taboos, and concern for their reputation and safety.

To be honest, striving to become a Good Samaritan is hard. It means asking God to search my heart and reveal what it is I am afraid of sacrificing for others well being. And in that reflection, I encounter a revelation: very seldom have I felt like the wounded and even more rare have I considered myself the robber. My unrecognized privileges have allowed me to focus on one part of the story.

How do I contribute to the atmosphere of the Jericho roads near me?

Do I use my resources to support economic and educational viability in more oppressed neighborhoods?

Am I knowledgeable about the implications across the world to the lives of those affected by what I consume here?

Pondering my role in the story is a lifelong process. I long to be not just a Good Samaritan but a transformer of Jericho Roads as well. Jesus’s promise for abundant life begins in the Kingdom that he ushered in. Here. Now. In a place that doesn’t necessarily understand why the roads are in need of repair. I am compelled to help his vision materialize.

Martin Luther King exhorts us to look deeper into the story and act on it. “I admire the good Samaritan, but I don’t want to be one. I don’t want to spend my life picking up people by the side of the road after they have been beaten up and robbed. I want to change the Jericho road, so that everybody has an opportunity for a job, education, security, health.”

A Prayer for Breath

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love the way you love,
and do what you would do.
-Edwin Hatch

Pneuma (Spirit), may your breath….

Revive me when my complacency keeps me from moving out of my comfort zone to make your life giving presence known

Resuscitate me when I feel trapped in the sinking sand of adversity that feels suffocating

Reconcile me to those whom I have hurt either directly or inadvertantly by not seeing them as my neighbor

Restore your creation through me as you open my eyes to the ways we sustain one another

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The Powerful Paradox of the Church

The plan appears preposterous.

Leaving your Kingdom in the hands of an eclectic group of people who are still learning about it’s implications themselves. And to choose a colorful cast of characters to begin it?

What was he thinking?

Jesus was familiar with the quirks and flaws of those twelve. He heard their disagreements about who would be the greatest and vying for a position next to him in the anticipated kingdom and Peter’s refusal to acknowledge Jesus’ prophetic words about the sacrifice that would usher it in.

What was he thinking?

He experienced the betrayal of those with whom he lived, taught, and loved. In his hardest moments.

And yet, he didn’t retract the vision. He trusted that the Kingdom would in fact flourish. Despite persecution from Earthly empires. Despite earthly crises which resulted in periods of scattering. Despite disagreements through the ages about theological understanding and flawed human logic regarding who is welcome in.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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How I Recognized That My Son is Walking Toward Adulthood

Sometimes ordinary things speak in unexpected ways.

This week I shopped for clothes with my son for his senior pictures. He is my youngest. This is the last time I will be shopping for this rite of passage. Buying my son’s clothes has been part of my routine for over 20 years. But, as he prepares for his senior year, I know all to well that he is transitioning into adulthood. My roles as a parent are blatantly changing.

Dress clothes have never been his favorite attire. As a young child, he complained about the stifling feeling and sometimes scratchy fabric. His sensitivity to material and routine are part of who he is. And he has worked on adjusting to both.

So it hit me, as I talked with him that night about ironing his pants, that this pair is different than any other pair. He is unlikely to outgrow these and the replacements will probably be purchased on his own. They are accompanying him into a new season: adulthood. As college looms a year from now, I wonder: where these pants will go? Possibly a date, new church or social events with friends he has yet to meet. Most likely an internship, or job interview. They will literally walk with him the path to independence and a community apart from his family.

I ironed them knowing that my days of doing it are numbered. I touched them wondering what stories will unfold in their midst. As he sat nearby, I reminded him that a day is coming in his future professional career when he can no longer get away with wearing sweats. “I know,” he replied. “I will just have to find comfortable pants.”

My son is ready for the transition into a new place, both figuratively and literally. I trust in God, who loves him more than I, and claim this blessing for him: “You go before me and follow me.You place your hand of blessing on my head.” Psalm 139:5.

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Why People Must Recognize the Pride Problem in the Church

“Watch your step when you enter God’s house.
    Enter to learn. That’s far better than mindlessly offering a sacrifice,
        Doing more harm than good.

Don’t shoot off your mouth, or speak before you think.
Don’t be too quick to tell God what you think he wants to hear.
God’s in charge, not you—the less you speak, the better.”
Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Pride. People have struggled with it since the beginning but it comes disguised in righteous forms. Just a bite of fruit. Cain’s offering. Liturgical practices of high priests. A human transaction. The “I Am” becomes a self designated title.

From the outside, all appears good. But God’s eyes penetrate beneath the surface, revealing the state of the heart. It’s not pretty.

“The problem is, many of the people in need of saving are in churches, and at least part of what they need saving from is the idea that God sees the world the same way they do.”
― Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Whatever sanctuary God leads you to, take off your sandals. You are on Holy Ground.

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Why Understanding God’s Word Requires Letting Go and Leaning in

When Jesus left the field, he entered their meeting place. There was a man there with a crippled hand. They said to Jesus, “Is it legal to heal on the Sabbath?” They were baiting him. Matthew 12:9-10

Leaning in is dangerous. Especially when it pertains to worldviews and theology. It can lead to becoming enlightened and transformed. Consider the pharisees, who were steeped in the law. Since children, they spent their days memorizing God’s word and becoming familiar with Jewish Law. They knew the Messiah was coming to fulfill scripture.

However, who they encountered wasn’t what they expected.

Therefore, a series of ideological conflicts proceeded with the man who claimed to be him. Certainly, others had claimed that identity before. Yet, Jesus demonstrated authority over things of this world that the others couldn’t. The pieces began to come together. But to embrace God’s vision for a new Kingdom meant letting go of the securities found in the earthly one. Status. Earthly identity. Perceived power. Relationships. Worldview.

Jesus’ message was intimidating. threatening. Everything would change for them if they leaned in. So, instead, they tried to push him away. With their “weapon.” Authority. But that didn’t hold power to his. Heavenly rooted authority defines earthly ones.

He replied, “Is there a person here who, finding one of your lambs fallen into a ravine, wouldn’t, even though it was a Sabbath, pull it out? Surely kindness to people is as legal as kindness to animals!” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” He held it out and it was healed. The Pharisees walked out furious, sputtering about how they were going to ruin Jesus.” Matthew 12:11-14

Jesus challenged them to think outside the ideologies that had become their truth. The Pharisees knew the worth of a lamb. It provided a means of food, income, and sacrifice. The shepherds watched their flocks meticulously. The loss of even one had significant implications. Their livelihood would be impacted. Jesus knew the real issue with the healing. And it wasn’t about the Sabbath. They knew that.

Jesus pointed them back to God’s word. In context. The bigger story. Not the evolved narrative developed in attempts to cling to earthly securities. At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.  Matthew 12:1-5

The Temple arrived. But they missed the point because they refused to let go and lean in. To God’s voice, not theirs.

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12:6-7

What do you need to let go to lean in?

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The Practice of Lament Offers the Gift of Asking “How”

God is used to hearing our “Hows” and “Whys.”

Living this side of Heaven leaves us in moments reeling with confusion, anger, and disappointment. We simply do not have the whole view. Resurrecting the practice of Lament gives us language to express our sorrow and sit in the uncomfortable place that cannot be resolved quickly with human answers. Our ancient spiritual ancestors understood this place which is who scripture is filled with examples of prayers of lament. Job, Psalms, Lamentations bear witness to people wrestling with living in this place of in-between.

How long, O Lord, will you look on?
    Rescue me from their ravages,
    my life from the lions!
18 Then I will thank you in the great congregation;
    in the mighty throng I will praise you.
Psalm 35:17-18

Western civilization moved away from sitting with the unknown and quickly embraced rationalism as the opportunity to find answers. While our Imago Dei certainly affirms a God who infuses his human creation with creativity and diverse gifts and skills, we cannot solve everything. And that is a good thing. Because recognizing our limited human power can catapult us into His presence. And we become like a children unhibited and vulnerable clamoring for comfort from their parent in a state of despair and posture of surrender.

It’s time to resurrect the practice of lamenting. To acknowledge that we can’t always fix suffering, whether intentionally inflicted or not, with pat answers, platitudes or “microwave” solutions. Sometimes we have to sit in the pain and recognize that God is in it with us.

Aubrey Sampson, in her book, The Louder Song, writes, “Lament says, “God you have described yourself as one thing, but my life, my community, and my city currently reveal something totally different. Please! Help me see your hand in this. You broke the power of evil on the cross and at your resurrection-so please be victorious again! Show me your goodness again!” Let us offer up our questions unhindered to God who “sees” us in our pain. He’s waiting.

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Why Adjusting Right Now Feels Like Straining Forward

The world feels shaky for some of us right now.

We have encountered something in the sphere of our earthly residence that is unprecedented. And knowing how to approach it feels confusing and frightening. In March, questions emerged: How long will this last? How do I protect myself and others? What does the future look like if I am unemployed? Who do I listen to?

Uncertainty remains. Despite the dip in COVID19 cases in some parts of the world, proceeding from a collective quarantine raises more questions: What does “normal” look like now? How do I adapt to this new territory? This place feels new for many of us. But the truth is that historically and globally, collective hardships (even pandemics) are nothing new. Some parts of the world experience them on a daily basis. In the midst of the uncertainty, how do we respond?

Paul’s prophetic words speak through hard times: Not that I have already obtained this (Philippians 3:10-11) or have already reached the goal;[g] but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved,[h] I do not consider that I have made it my own;[i] but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly[j] call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14.

It’s not easy to let go of securities. They shape our earthly narratives without realizing it. There is a reason why Paul uses the word “straining.” Recognizing that obedience to God’s redemptive plans supercede anything else we thought brought identity and safety: career, financial status, church infrastructure, educational setting..doesn’t come naturally. .Without a doubt, life as we knew it will change for a while….or longer.

None of this is easy to embrace from a human perspective. But recognizing that facing hardships is nothing new and embracing the blessing (whatever that looks like) as we “strain ahead” reminds us that God is still at work in his world. We just must expand our view.

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Embracing the Breadth of the Church: What We Can Learn From Each Other

“Are we doing ourselves a disservice when we raise our kids in a “church bubble?,” asks Traci Rhoades in her new book All Who Wander (spiritually) are Not Lost. She throws out an interesting question. Certainly, we don’t want our children to become “church consumers” where multiple congregations repeatedly become one stop shops to meet spiritual cravings. On the other hand, what do our children miss when they do not experience the diverse traditions that make up the the Church (with a big C)?

Learning About the Church

As I read her book, I realized the ways my own encounters with multiple churches have shaped me. As a child, my family found roots in a Methodist church about 20 minutes from my home. Mostly our rhythms consisted of Sunday trips for Sunday School and worship but occasionally we attended other events. Initially, this building and it’s members were the only images I had of the Church. To me, church involved developing relationships with people who had a common goal in a confined setting.

Expanding my Narrative

The location of our church extended beyond our neighborhood. I saw no one from school there or anyone in my periphery. Several of my friends got out of school early once a week for catechism class at the local Catholic church. I felt a bit jealous that a) they got to leave school early and b) they got to be together at school and church. For me, church was a once a week destination.

But then my eyes opened up to a bigger picture. Friends invited me to a vacation bible school program at a local congregation. The language was familiar and I learned that walls do not define a church. They too spoke of God’s love and shared the same Bible stories I knew.

The Importance of Organic Connections

This new church building became a familiar place not only to attend VBS but also the location of my girl scout meetings. Though these encounters never resulted in my family changing congregations, they shaped my faith journey in ways I didn’t realize at the time.

Despite the brief “back door” interactions with this church, I experienced repetitive interactions with Pastor Andy. He was friendly, funny, and seemed well liked. I even remember him preaching one time (probably at a VBS centered Sunday service) and he talked about Bozo the clown. My understanding of God, the body of Christ, and its mission expanded through these seemingly small interactions. In addition, I felt comfortable engaging in more church settings outside my own. Church represented a safe space where I felt welcomed and where I could explore the vast and diverse Kingdom of God.

Identifying the End Goal

Often, congregations lurch toward the big gains of inviting people into their midst. How many people will be added to our number? What will be the financial benefits? When programs and building usage do not result in seeing the participants return for regular involvement, the church is discouraged. Shouldn’t fruit appear from the investment?

It depends on what kind of fruit is being sought. My experience as a child, disciple, parent and pastor informs me that any interaction with the church acts as an introduction/touch point through which Jesus is made known. Even opportunities to use space for community events. Those who cross the path may or may not result in settling at “our” church but that’s not the end goal. We as the Church are in this together.

Traci Rhoades’ question points to the need to be mindful of a bigger narrative of Christ’s church than one with which we are familiar. Her own journey through multiple traditions witnesses to the beautiful ways we can connect with God and others when we step outside of comfort zones. When I do pulpit supply, I find blessing in experiencing the breadth of the church. My children come along as well because my husband and I want to expose them to this beauty.

As we learn to embrace these differences rather than responding with fear, labels and avoidance, others will see God’s love tangibly. “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25.

When God’s Mercies Appear In a Mother’s Day Gift

Beauty radiates from this basket. And I’m not just referring to the goodies.

My nineteen year old daughter bought these gifts for me. With her own money. I told her that dad could have paid for them when they went shopping. But she resisted, stating that she specifically wanted them to be from her.

Her choice of items here represents her intimate knowledge of my likes. She knows from a lifetime of shopping trips together that I have occasionally dropped a bag of iced animal crackers into the cart. I have negotiated with her about sharing the peanut butter snickers from her Halloween bag. And, together, we have taken advantage of Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee Happy Hour more times than I can count. Plus we have enough syrups at home that we could open our own coffee shop.

Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. We try the best we can but inevitably words said in anger and postures of withdrawal rather than embracing wound. And guilt ensues. Questions fester. Why did I say that? How did I get to this place? The temptation is to let those moments define us and our relationship with our children. But God’s mercies abound.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

So we forge forward, securing our feet in God’s promises. Today, I am thankful for the grace offered to me through my daughter’s gift. Sometimes a healing balm looks like peanut butter snickers,a coffee cup, and iced animal crackers.