Masks

See the source image
(Image courtesy of ca.news.yahoo.com)

We’ve been wearing and removing masks for a long time now. But it is not the N-95 type I want to talk about now. Instead, I ask you to consider some of the other masks we wear at times, masks that are not easily seen, but all too often just as real.

Sometimes I wear a mask to veil my emotions. It is an easy one to wear. You ask me simply, “How are you?” My reply, “Just fine, thanks.” Nothing too terribly earth shattering about this mask, unless we wear it as a defense mechanism all the time.

No, the masks on my mind today are the hidden ones, or at the least the ones that hide our true identity. A devoted follower of the Lord Jesus is to be growing in God’s likeness day by day. No mask should hide this progress. Yet, speaking for myself, I must admit that I do put on various masks from time to time that obscure the living God within me.

One of the many of these is: the mask of indifference. Wearing this one prevents me from being able to empathize with the hurting world and worse yet, can keep me from trying to help. Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, my preoccupation with something ‘more important’ can cause me to give a wide birth to a need I might see.

Another ugly mask I slip on from time to time is one of self-satisfaction. This mask keeps me satisfied in my little world, not wanting anything or anyone to change the status quo I have worked so hard to establish. It is like the old 2 filter HEPA mask I wore when doing industrial painting: I had my own ‘fresh air’ supplied and didn’t want anything to contaminate it.

This mask of self-satisfaction can easily be turned inside out to be worn as a mask of judgment. Behind this covering I can easily judge folks as being unworthy of my time or stuff. This mask would have me say, “If they would only work a job, they wouldn’t be so poor.” This makes it too easy to categorize people instead of searching for ways to help them in their immediate need and to work for change that would prevent systemic poverty.  Wearing this mask can prevent me from seeing others simply as another sojourner here on earth as I attempt to rationalize my lack of response to their need. An ugly mask indeed.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Much as the protective mask prevalent today hides some of our face, so these less obvious ones often hide our true heart and intentions. Wearing these less visible masks is in no way proper for a disciple of Christ.

Because we keep ourselves hidden behind these types of masks, we are hindered from truly seeing and loving those around us. To the extent we stay behind these veils is to the extent we do not care for creation. These masks can blind us to the needs of those we term as ‘different.’ Or ‘difficult’ or even ‘an enemy.’ They can prevent us from seeing the poor, the needy and the hungry. Perhaps even worse, wearing the mask that judges others may well keep us from seeing the shining face of Jesus on them.

Peter, John and James got an up close and personal look at the glory of God with no barrier at the Transfiguration. Peter’s reaction: “Let’s stay here!” is understandable, but not practical and certainly not why God allowed them to see the incredible sight of the Transfiguration. We do sometimes have ‘mountain top’ experiences in our walk of faith. There is a certain appeal to wanting to stay in that moment, to not risk losing what it is that is going so wonderfully.

But staying on the mountaintop is not what we are commissioned to do. We are to come down, hopefully with our faces aglow, sharing God’s love with the world around us.

Now I have never been witness to anything like the Transfiguration, or have I? For sure, I have not seen Jesus engaged in conversation with Moses and Elijah, but that fact should not dull my eyes to the activity of God around me.

For example, can I/we not see God at work when we marvel at a newborn child/grandchild? Isn’t God’s light shining brightly when we witness someone caught in addiction getting set free from it? Or when we see reconciliation where there has been long-term strife perhaps in family members speaking to each other after a time self-imposed separation. Or how about when someone is able to truly forgive another who has seriously broken trust with them.

Be it in examples like these or others you may have been privy to, I encourage us all to shine radiantly from a fresh experience with God. How? First, let’s discard all the masks I mentioned at the beginning. Being judgmental or uncaring are certain ways we can hide the love of God from others (and ourselves).

Next we need to overcome the fear that might be there. Ridding those negative masks may appear to make us vulnerable or at least more transparent. Recognizing these feelings does not mean we are held captive to them. Rather, letting the love of God shine from you radiantly is taking a step out in faith. I firmly believe that the God who has showered grace on us will not leave us high and dry as we do.

The God who loves you so much does not want you to be inactive in your reaction to that love. As God continues to come down to us through the Sacraments and the Word, so we are to ‘come down,’ if your will, and live our life of faith in the midst of our own context. Live into the love God has freely given you. Then let the love from God lead you in all you do, making your entire countenance glow. Don’t mask that in any way, but rather let that love shine as a beacon of hope for all. Amen.

Be Blessed and be a Blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Who is my neighbor?

See the source image
(image courtesy of turnbacktogod.com)

If I were to ask you, Dear Reader, what is a good Samaritan, I am confident that many would relate the parable Jesus told that has come to be known as The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

In case you need a quick refresher, here is my synopsis: Jesus, in response to the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ tells this famous parable. In it a man traveling the 16 miles between Jerusalem to Jericho is robbed and beaten as he traveled. A priest and a Levite, see the injured man and deliberately pass by on the opposite side of him, not giving any kind of help to someone who clearly needed some.

Then comes our Samaritan, a social outcast in this setting, who lends what would have been life-saving assistance at the scene. He then transported the injured traveler to an inn, where he pays in advance for the care the injured man will need as he recovers.

Jesus used this parable to get his questioner to think about who exactly is a neighbor. When the man answered that it was the one who showed mercy, Jesus told him he was correct. But He also told him to go and do likewise.

As I mulled this over today, Luke 10:25-37 was part of my daily bible reading, I too got to thinking about just who is my neighbor. The answer is not as straight forward as I might want it to be. Oh, there are my next-door neighbors; the elderly couple with the seemingly countless grand kids and on the other side the married couple with two young daughters. Across the street is another older couple and a single mom of 2 teenagers. These are my neighbors. We are all on friendly terms and make ourselves available to help one another as needed.

This seemingly fulfills what Jesus is saying, but only to a point. Being ‘neighborly’ is important and should be done with a glad heart, but if it is as far as I take the question of who is my neighbor, it is terribly short-sighted.

If I am to be obedient to the teaching of Jesus in this regard, I must take a much broader view of who my neighbor is. Clearly, Jesus wants each of us to consider all others as a ‘neighbor,’ especially when someone is in need.

Being a good neighbor in the context of what Jesus is teaching is to have the willingness to give of yourself to help another. Under the Lord’s direction, there is no room at all for social bias or injustice. Both the priest and the Levite in the parable were duty-bound to help, yet they passed on the other side of the road, ignoring the need simply because they did not want to get their hands dirty on someone who they felt was beneath them.

The good neighbor in this parable cut through all the layers of dislike, distrust and disdain and simply rendered assistance.

 I would like to think that if I were in there instead of the Samaritan, I would have stopped to help as well. But being honest, I know that the perceived tightness of my schedule has caused me to join that priest and Levite in passing by a need from time to time. Typing these words makes me cringe at my selfishness and I ask God to forgive me of my hard heart. And while I am asking of the Lord, please also prevent judgment to worm its way into my mind.

With this now fresh in my heart, I am confident that should I come across someone in need to today, I will offer assistance. That is right and good of course, but I believe there are still things I can be doing for others even if I do not happen upon someone who has been robbed and beaten. In other words, I can be pro-active in helping out.

For example, there is a soup kitchen here in town that is always in need of volunteers. I also know of a home-bound person who may need a prescription picked up today. Perhaps there is another person that I know is struggling with loneliness. Today is a good day to call to say “Hello, I am thinking of you today.”

My point, to both me and you, is that there is plenty of need out there. We do not have to look to long or far to see it. May I encourage you to be a Good Samaritan today. I believe that when Jesus said, “Go and do likewise,” He included us in that direction.

I would love to hear how you have been moved to help others or perhaps share a unique way others can reach out to fill needs.

Thanks so much for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck