I recently had the opportunity to preach a sermon based on the well known parable that Jesus taught of the prodigal son. (You can read it in Luke 15:11-31)
I have heard and now have spoken about this many times. Often the focus is on the younger (prodigal) son, who demands his part of his father’s inheritance to then only squander it.
The older son gets some attention at times as well. He sees himself as the unappreciated, hard working and loyal offspring who does all that he is supposed to do, but doesn’t seem to derive any enjoyment in doing so.
The father in the parable represents God. Again, much has been spoken about the loving forgiveness he displays as he welcomes his once ‘dead’ son back into the family. There is a wealth of wonderful teachings about God’s unconditional love for all contained within this story.
Any or all of the above would have served me well for my recent presentation. But as I thought, prayed, and did my study, I landed on an area I had not heard brought forth from this old account.
Those of you familiar with the prodigal son know that during a time of great desperation after his funds were completley depleted, he takes on the job of a swineherder, possibly the most repugnant thing a Jewish male could do during that time. And even though he has debased himself in this way, he is still starving.
It is at this point in the story that Jesus said, “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.” As I thought about the people who would have been passing this young man by, I began to see another place we can learn from Jesus as we ponder this famous account.
This young man was in obvious distress. I think the picture at the top shows this quite well. How, I want to think jugmentally, could people be so cold and uncaring? I understand from reading the text that there was a severe famine in the land. This tells me there wasn’t an abundance available to share. But no one gave him anything?
Upon further reflection, as I stepped down from my high horse, I began to see with more clarity the possible motivations of those who passed the prodigal by; and in so doing discovered some not so pleasant truths abut myself and how I think/react when confronted with the needs of others.
First, self-preservation. I have barely enough for me and mine, I couldn’t possibly share anything. This is shamefully selfish thinking in my context today. I never have to wonder where and when my next meal is coming from. I need to live into this blessing of God to be ever more willing to share from what God has first given me. God has proved faithful in every circumstance, I can certainly trust that to continue should I give some money or other items to someone in need.
But more disturbing than that first thought is the judgment that wants to rear its ugly head in my head. Thoughts like, “He probably deserves what he is experiencing” is one that pops up. Or, “if he would only apply himself, he could make improvements in his life situation.”
Maybe as you consider this, some other thoughts come to your mind. If they do, please know that neither I or anyone condemn you for them. God’s grace and forgiveness is big enough for all!
What I am asking, of myself and you too, Dear Reader, is to take that extra moment when you are confronted with an obvious need of someone and in so doing, consider just what you might do in that moment to help alleviate someone’s trouble. There are countless ways we can do so in each of our own context. And hopefully as we act to help in an individual case, we might all be working toward ways to eliminate the social ills that can leave people in such vulnerable positions in the first place.
I have had the privilige of sharing a meditation during our Wednesday Evening Lenten worship. Each one considers a characteristic of Jesus that can be gleaned from Philippians 2:5-11. This was the first in the series. It considers humility.
If we think about it, Jesus really can turn our worldview upside down. Especially in a purely American context, where rugged individualism and striving for the top have influenced many for a long time. To be the best often meant climbing over others to reach the pinnacle.
Jesus directly challenges that approach to life. In fact, of the many words that could be used to describe Jesus, “humility” ranks toward the top. Humility: by definition is to have a modest or low view of one’s own importance.
That’s what Paul is saying in this passage from Philippians. And I think it a very appropriate place for us to dwell upon in this season of Lent. Lent is a time for introspection. I believe these words of Scripture are encouraging us to do just that. Jesus, being fully divine, still did not consider that to be flaunted during Hs time among people. The word ‘exploited’ carries the meaning taking in a robbery. It wasn’t by using others that the Lord was going to leave a mark on the world. Instead, Jesus reversed the “normal” outlook of the best being at the very top. His humble servant heart placed him at the bottom, holding us all up. I think of it as an inverted pyramid, where Jesus is at the bottom point, holding all of humankind up.
It is in doing the smaller things that can speak such volume to others.
Please consider these words from the first stanza of the poem The Things That Count written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,
Great deeds of valour and might,
That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.
But it is the doing of old things,
Small acts that are just and right;
And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;
In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—
Dear, those are the things that count.
Next, Jesus further modeled humility, to a point where I dare say I would have trouble going: He emptied himself. What does that mean? He set aside any personal agenda, placing the needs of the many over any individual want/need He might have felt. And He did it every day, even in the ‘little’ things. The Lord did these things of his own accord. He chose to simply to be obedient to God’s plan.
More of Wheeler’s poem:
And, dear, it isn’t the new ways
Where the wonder-seekers crowd
That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.
But it is keeping to true ways,
Though the music is not so loud,
And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;
In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan –
Dear, these are the things that count.
It is in the obedience, not only exhibited by Jesus, but by you and me as well. We are to empty ourselves as well, whatever that entails in our own circumstance. For me, I refer to the words of John the Baptist when he said speaking of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NRSV). Humility does not seek applause or even recognition. In fact, humility is its own goal and end. To be truly humble is not to think less of myself, but instead it is to think of myself less often.
May our Lenten journey lead us all to a deeper, more meaningful and effective faith. I leave you with the final stanza of the poem I’ve been reading from:
My dear, it isn’t the loud part
Of creeds that are pleasing to God, not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.
But it is the beautiful proud part
Of walking with feet faith-shod;
And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;
In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long –
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.
The following is a sermon I wrote for seminary this semester to be shared with the church I am now serving at.
We are the Church
A Sermon based on Acts 2:37-47
Presented by Vicar Chuck Copps
Greetings my siblings in Christ. Please take a moment to look around at those gathered here today. Familiar faces for the most part, I can safely assume. Now please close your eyes and in your mind’s eye see the church. Thanks.
Hopefully the pictures in your mind of church consisted of many of the faces you looked at a moment ago, for that is the church. Let’s define church this way: It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel (Augsburg Confession; VII, p. 42, paragraph 1).
Now what if asked how you got here today? Motor vehicle would be one correct response. But for the purposes of our time together this morning, please consider another equally correct answer to that question:
We are brought to church, according to Luther’s Large Catechism, 3rd Article of the Creed (Book of Concord, p. 435) by the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that leads us to the community of faith and places us in the lap of the church as he was fond of saying. The Holy Spirit then, working through the proclaimed Word of God and the sacraments, teaches us about God’s undying love as evidenced through the forgiveness of our sins. Presented with God’s love in this way, the Spirit pours into us the gift of faith by which we come to understand that God has redeemed and renewed us.
To sum up, the church is made up in and by the hearts of the faithful. To be clear, the church welcomes everyone in regardless of where they may be in their journey. There is no ‘heart monitor’ prior to coming through the doors!
Next let’s consider the example of the growing church we just heard about in our reading from the Book of Acts to see how we might deepen our own ideas about church, our place and purpose in it, and how our faith plays a role in all of this.
We, as the body of Christ, operate on a level playing field. There is no hierarchy of power. We as individuals are called to different vocations, and because of this we all bring something of value to the assembly. Of great blessing to this gathering of the faithful is Pastor Hannah. Because she is called to be our pastor, she is in a position of leadership and guidance for this assembly, not because she is a super-spiritual or an otherwise special recipient of God’s blessings. We are all the recipients of God’s grace as individuals but as a church we do not mediate this grace. Grace is a pure gift of God, given only by God to us through the means of the sacraments and proclaimed Word as the Holy Spirit works through them.
If this brief description of what the church, do these facts apply to the church we read about in Acts earlier? Here’s the short answer: Yes! Let’s review the activities of the Acts church to discover how this is true.
Those first members of that faith community had heard the Word of God proclaimed to them as Peter spoke. As they listened, the Holy Spirit moved in them in such a way that they received this gift, repented of their sins and were baptized and the church, as we defined above, was born! I am sure many of them then thought, “This is wonderful but what is next?
Our text gives the answer: They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. It should be easy to see the similarities between then and now. We have gathered to pray, to hear the teaching of the gospel, the sharing of the communion meal and fellowship. Of these features, it is safe to assume that the teaching uses different examples and analogies now than it did then, but the pure gospel is still proclaimed here as it was then. Likewise, our prayers our different and certainly the time of fellowship would have many differences. Can you imagine a fellowship time without coffee?
Please note, however, that the breaking of bread would essentially be the same. Both the early church and we remember what Christ has done for all humankind as we share the bread and wine at his table. We are aware, as the first church was, that Jesus is present in this meal and by partaking of it, our spirits are nourished and our souls comforted as we remember again what the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus as gained for us all.
Our text tells us that those who received God’s forgiveness that day were then baptized. Obviously, those mentioned in Acts were adults. Why do we baptize infants then? An excellent question that deserves to be answered.
In the Lutheran Church, we believe baptism to be a divine action by God. The use of water, with the proclaimed Word of God is how we receive the gift of faith. As with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the water is a material means by which the Holy Spirit imparts faith to us. We baptize infants then not only to have this gift poured into them early in life, but also a sign to the community of faith of God at work. As a person grows in faith, he or she becomes aware of their shortcomings. At the same time, that gift of faith poured into the person at Baptism continues to bring comfort as it brings to mind that we are renewed and redeemed by God.
This all sound good, but does it mean that we, as Lutherans, have the inside track to God? Of course not. Other churches and other denominations can be seen as ‘different flavors’, if you will. As long as the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are properly administered, the format of worship or the type of songs that are sung can vary significantly. The point to remember when looking at other Christian faith communities is this: Those things that are commanded by God are necessary for worship; traditions placed by humans, so long as they do not detract from what God decrees, are acceptable, though they be different from what we practice.
For example think about fasting. The giving up of food for a period of time may well be a valuable spiritual discipline for some, but the act itself has no bearing on our salvation. Hence, one church may practice fasting while another does not. Doing so does not make one community holier or closer to God, it is merely a practice that one group chooses to follow.
The preaching in the church today should be recognizable as similar to what was preached in the early church. Salvation is from God to us made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. As we gather to worship God, we are reminded of God’s grace as we hear the gospel explained. The early church eagerly sought this teaching and God blessed them by growing them in numbers. We would do well to anticipate God moving likewise in this gathering should we digest the gospel message as first church goers did.
Concluding thoughts: It is my hope that during this time together we have developed a deeper understanding of what the church truly is. Simply put, church is a state of mind, not a destination. Although a well-kept building and fine trimmed lawn is appealing to the eye, it is when the church is seen in the hearts of the faithful that God’s message of hope is spread.
As I’ve said, the church exists in each of our hearts, as it did in the hearts of those in the Acts church. God has put the same call in our hearts that was put into theirs all the centuries ago: We are sent into the world to proclaim and live out God’s justification of us through Jesus Christ.
As the Holy Spirit guided those folks in Acts to gather for worship, teaching and fellowship, so too are we to express God’s love to others as we do the same.
We can do this in confidence because we see the evidence of God’s love here in the Word and Sacrament. Through these God has initiated trust in our hearts. We know therefore, as the first church did, that salvation comes only from God. We play no active part, it is purely God’s gift to all. As the Holy Spirit works in us, both individually and as a church, we are transformed more and more into God’s likeness in order that we can better share this Good News with others, regardless of our personal vocation.
The passage we read from Acts Chapter 2 ended on a very encouraging note after describing the life and activities of that early church: And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (V. 47b NRSV)
As much as I would like to tell you that the same will happen here if we all truly embrace the idea that the church is made up within us. However, I’m just not privy to God’s plans.
I can make several informed opinions if we do though. First, God will bless us with increased faith as we more fully grasp what the church is to be and that we all have a part, or function, in its growth. I believe that we will grow in our trust of God as we take to heart the things that make up a vibrant church.
Although I cannot say that God will add to our numbers on a daily basis, I am confident in the Almighty’s plan to deepen the faith of all of us and that as we come to trust the promises of God with greater certainty, each of us will grow in our love of God and our willingness to share that love with all the world around us. Amen.
The encounter known as Jesus and the Woman at the Well, found in Chapter 4 of John’s gospel has long been a motivator for me in ministry. If you are at all familiar with the meaningful interaction between Jesus and this woman, you know that she was ostracized from society because she was currently living with a man outside of marriage.
Jesus, caring little for social niceties, breaks a rule by engaging in conversation with this woman as he sat at the well outside of her village. Remember, in those days men and women who weren’t family would not have had this casual conversation. In fact, a male would never have asked a question of a female as Jesus had in public.
Jesus’ example or throwing social constraints aside is very encouraging to me. He met that woman right where she was, not only physically, but also spiritually. He carried no pre-set conditions or barriers to insulate himself. The Lord merely, and simply, starting talking with her.
At Lakeside Christian Ministries, we have attempted to take this same approach in all that we do. After all, if it was right and proper for Jesus, we must be on the right track!
Our ability to minister in some of the more difficult places in our community, be they racked with deep poverty, substance abuse or any of the other common maladies folks deal with in these times, has been blessed on many occasions. The simple, heartfelt approach of meeting people as and where they are has opened many doors and hearts to us.
Seeking and meeting people in this way has become our normal mode of operation and because of this, we are becoming better equipped as to how to respond to verbal and other clues. Experience is teaching us, and we are becoming more attuned to the folks we get the privilege to minister to. I feel we are following the example Jesus set by his meeting with the woman found in John Chapter 4.
We are certainly not alone in our efforts. Many people, be they of faith or not, are successfully reaching into communities as they supply many types of practical help and moral support. I thank God for every agency, ministry and individual that takes their concern for people and puts it into positive action.
But (you had to know by now, Dear Reader, that a but was coming!), I had pause to wonder how well I/we are doing with this example of Jesus when the need of someone is a little less obvious than that of the woman at the well. What I mean to say is that we may be good at seeing the need in poverty and springing into action with no judgment, but what about at other times and places.
For example, what if the person at the well is transgender? I am confident that this would not have made the slightest difference in Jesus’ approach. He simply met, interacted and always loved. The Lord would have engaged in conversation with this person for the simple reason that they were loved by him. No judgment, no condemnation, simply love.
Can you and I make this same claim when we are face to face with someone of the LBGTQ community? Do we look with compassion to see if there is a need we might help with? Or are our first thoughts more confused or worse yet judgmentally accusatory.
I for one have never found a response from Jesus described as these. Sure, he was appropriately stern or pointed when dealing with the hypocritical of his day, never mincing words when he was attempting to get their attention.
Yet on the other hand, Jesus always led with love, no matter what the issues in front of him might be. Consider those afflicted with leprosy back then. They could not be where other, ‘clean,’ folks were and if they were in their vicinity, they had to announce their own presence by yelling out, “Unclean, unclean, stay away!” The gospel records several instances where Jesus, paying no attention to any of that, actually laid his hands on some lepers to heal them!
We all need to pay closer attention to the wonderful example Jesus has left us. We are to follow his command to “Love one another.” Period. No questions as to who might deserve our love and certainly no judging someone that we feel doesn’t. We are to simply love. We can do this as Jesus modeled. We can listen. We can be willing to have open and honest dialogue with someone who is experiencing life in way that we might not be familiar with.
I encourage us all, in whatever way this little article may have touched you, to simply love one another (that’s everyone, btw) a little more deeply; a little more considerately, a little bit more honestly, etc.
Let love rule your heart, not judgment. Let the example of Jesus lead you, for he will never lead you in a way that is contrary to his love.
Hello again Faithful Reader! If the old saying is true that times flies when you are having fun, then I must be having a blast!
It has been a month already since I began the next part of my journey at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. I am serving on staff there as Vicar (a fancy word for saying intern!)
I wrote the following for the October newsletter they put out. I hope it serves as an update for you all.
Also, I was given the honor of preaching for the first time there on September 24th. I’ve included the link to the ‘studio’ version of that sermon should you want to give a listen to my take on the inclusiveness that Jesus modeled.
From the newsletter:
Feels Like Home
Growing up in Oswego, my house was the place we all my friends would gather. As I look back, it is easy to see why. My parents went out of their way to make my buddies feel welcome and never letting any of them leave hungry. The homemade dinners and fresh baked desserts were prepared with the expectation of extra plates being needed, and they often were!
Betsy and I made it a point to have our home be like that as well. Our two kids knew that their friends were always welcome. The numerous sleepovers and meals shared let us know the kids were as comfortable around us as we were with them.
The wonderful welcome Betsy and I have received at St. Marks has reminded me of the times I just mentioned. Even behind the masks, the light in your eyes and the joy on your faces is easy to see. Part of me feels like my friends must have at my homestead as my parents made sure their needs were met in a caring way.
At no time have we felt like outsiders trying to make our way in. Instead, invitations have been extended to join in ministries or to simply share a little of ourselves with you in conversation.
As you may know, part of the ministry I have been involved with in recent years has afforded me opportunities to be in any number of different churches as a guest preacher, providing music with Betsy or leading bible studies. We believe each of these churches are doing their best to honor God in all that they do.
I find this true at St. Marks as well, but as a body of believers you stand apart from these others. I believe that is because of your humble devotion to serving Christ as you reach out throughout the Baldwinsville (and beyond) area. Betsy and I are honored and humbled to serve with you as together we extend the love of God to the world around us.
Starting something new brings out different emotions in different people. For some, new equals scary. The many unknowns tend to take the imagination in all sorts odd directions. Fear of failure can be nearly paralyzing. Sleepless nights as the new approaches are not uncommon, leaving one to want to stay snuggled in the familiar.
For others, new equates with adventure. The possibilities seem endless and the desire to get started has every nerve ending pulsing in anticipation. With different people to meet and challenges to overcome, a new project or direction is certainly not to be boring.
I find myself landing squarely in between these two examples. Being honest, there is some trepidation but also a pull to get started, to see just what God is leading me toward.
I share these thoughts as I begin a new chapter in ministry. Those who have been with me in the blog-o-sphere for a while know that I have been pastor of a home based, outreach oriented ministry. To be clear, this is not going away, but the realities of the pandemic have severely limited our access to so many we used to minister to.
Faced with this happening, I sought out God through prayer for direction. Faithful as He always is, a new path soon emerged. I have started this week serving as an intern on the staff of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Baldwinsville, NY, just a few miles down the road from our home.
Betsy and I have belonged to and worshiped at the Lutheran Church here in Fulton for a number of years. With the encouragement of the wonderful pastor there, I began to explore ways that I might become more active, in an official capacity, within the Lutheran Church.
This led to my being accepted into their Candidacy for Rostered Ministry program. Taking my education and experience background into account, those overseeing me suggested a take some courses at a Lutheran seminary (on line!) and to work on staff at one of their churches to learn the ins and outs of daily parish ministry.
Hence, the Here We Go at the top. The lead pastor at St. Mark’s is a blessing to that congregation and to me too! I have been welcomed with abundant grace. The details of my duties are still being worked out, but I am certain that God is in the middle of them all.
So there you have my update, Dear Reader. If you are a praying person, I humbly ask that you include Betsy and me in your prayers. We simply want to serve God and bring glory to His name.
As I am sure you are aware of by now, Precious Reader, I have been an advocate for vaccination against Covid-19 from the start. I did, as I suggest all should do, my homework as to the safety of these vaccines and my research led me to trust the science behind them. I can honestly report that I had zero side-effects from either of the Modern shots I received.
Now, as more of the country begins to open up, it is time to step up and get vaccinated. Do it for yourself, for your loved ones and your community.
Now for the Two for One part of this post. This is Memorial Day Weekend here in the States. It is a time when we reflect and give thanks for the brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country.
Betsy and I have attempted to show our gratitude for these people, as well as those serving today, by performing the Star Spangled Banner at many locations over the past 20 years. Please click on the link below to hear our rendition. (The harmony line was written and performed by Betsy)
Much has been written and said about the de-sensitizing of our society towards violence. It seems that rarely a day goes by where we hear of and see the videos of a mass shooting and other acts of violence and destruction. It is as if we are becoming increasingly numb to killing. How do we process this, we ask ourselves. Perhaps as part of our survival instinct we do not allow these actions to effect us on a personal level. Sure, we feel the emotions that these reports bring: sadness for the families who have lost someone, anger at the perpetrator and frustration about what can be done. But we often times do our best to keep them from going any farther.
I must confess that in my comfy little spot in Central New York, much of the terror of this violence seems far off. From my easy chair I watch the news and empathize with the hurting, but what can I do about these events that seem to be overwhelming and unmanageable, and so far away?
My little bubble burst a few nights ago as an eleven month old baby was shot and killed a few short miles from me in Syracuse. You read that right, an eleven month old child. One car passed another and opened fire, striking the kids in the backseat, mortally wounding the one.
Eleven months old. I still cannot get my heart and mind fully wrapped around that. The innocence and trust of a little one blown away in a hail of bullets.
I must admit, I am not de-sensitized to this terrible act. Having raised two kids and been part of many other families as they raise theirs, the thought of having that little life snuffed out breaks the heart.
As I watched the report on this tragedy, one official was interviewed who said something that has resonated with me since. He was asked, “What can we do to stop this senseless killing?” His reply, “Until we stop de-valuing human life, nothing can be done.”
There it is. I believe this person has it exactly right. Until we can simply look at another person and understand that they are of great value, no community action program or gun amnesty proposal will lessen the violence in our streets and across the country.
I know it will not be easy or quick, but this must not stop us! We as a society have been on this downward trend for some time now. It is time for each of us, all of us, to stand up to this darkness with the only true weapon we have: Love.
May we all see our neighbors, both near and far, as the precious human beings that they are. This value is intrinsic to all God’s creation. Let us be intentional in seeing it in others.
I realize this sounds a bit like I have my head in the clouds and that the prevalent problems of today are just going to go away by simply being nice to one another.
But on the other hand, why not start there. Why not become part of a grass-roots movement that places equal love, care and concern for all people, simply because they are people.
We must, as a society, re-educate and re-orient ourselves. You and I can make a difference in our little parts of the world. Let us lead by example, recognizing and celebrating the value of all others as we together traverse this life.
The following is from the Twenty-Four Hours a Day book published by Hazelden. Appropriately, it is the Meditation for the Day, April 16th. I believe it clearly makes the point I have tried to above.
I must try to love all humanity. Love comes from thinking of every man or woman as your brother or sister, because they are children of God. This way of thinking makes me care enough about them to really want to help them. I must put this kind of love into action by serving others. Love means no severe judging, no resentments, no malicious gossip, and no destructive criticism. It means patience, understanding, compassion and helpfulness.
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.