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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott


The readings for Sunday, November 7, 2010:

First Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18

Psalm: Psalm 149

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23

Gospel: Luke 6:20-31

Today we celebrate All Saints Day. It's a strange time of year for us Lutherans. We celebrate Reformation Day, we celebrate Halloween, we celebrate All Saints Day. Those of us who are English majors might even remember the November 2 All Souls Day, the day on which Gawain departed to find the Green Knight. All Souls Day used to be as widely celebrated as All Saints Day. All Saints celebrates all the saints which have gone before us; All Souls celebrates the lives of those who have died in the past year (and since Gawain leaves on All Souls Day, a medieval audience would realize the significance and know that he was heading towards certain doom). On top of this, we have the Gospel reading about the actions of Jesus which most frightened and disgusted some of his contemporaries.

Think about his actions and your current life: what would make you feel most threatened. Jesus healed the sick, and most of us would be OK with that, especially if we're the sick people. We tend not to worry too much about technique or qualifications, if we feel better. Someone showed me a cold remedy and said, "I always feel better within a day of taking it. Of course, it's probably just a placebo effect and not real medicine." I said, "Who cares? As long as you're not coughing." What is the difference after all, between a placebo effect and real healing? Most of us just want to feel better.

Do we feel threatened by Jesus forgiving sins? Probably not. We've had two thousand years to get used to the idea, after all. But if one of our contemporaries started traveling around, telling people their sins are forgiven--well, that's a different matter. Even if they make these pronouncements in the name of Jesus, we might feel queasy.

The action of Jesus that really seems to send people of all sorts into orbits of anger is his habit of eating with the outcasts of society. Most of us are prone to that discomfort. If you don't believe me, bring a homeless person to church and coffee afterwards. See what happens. Take a shabbily dressed person to a nice restaurant. See what happens. Suggest that your church operate a soup kitchen or turn into a homeless shelter at night. See what happens.

Here's the Good News. Jesus saw the value in all of us. Jesus especially saw the value in the least of us. When you're feeling like a total loser, keep that in mind. If Jesus was part of your church, you'd be the first one invited to the table.

That's the good news about All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Reformation Day. We tend to forget that all the saints that came before us were flesh and blood humans (including Jesus). We think of people like Martin Luther as perfect people who had no faults who launched a revolution. In fact, you could make the argument that many revolutions are launched precisely because of people's faults: they're bullheaded, so they're not likely to make nice and be quiet and ignore injustice. They're hopelessly naive and idealistic, so they stick to their views of how people of faith should live--and they expect the rest of us to conform to their visions. They refuse to bow to authority because they answer to a higher power--and so, they translate the Bible into native languages, fund colleges, rescue people in danger, insist on soup kitchens, write poems, and build affordable housing.

The world changes (for the better and the worse) because of the visions of perfectly ordinary people--and because their faith moves them into actions that support that vision. If we're lucky, those people are working towards the same vision of the inclusive Kingdom that Jesus came to show us.

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