We have to pray

When my oldest son was about three, we went to Staples to buy a few things, and when we got into the store, I grabbed a basket because we were only there for one or two items. Well, he wanted a cart because he wanted to sit in the big part, and I told him no. His response was to drop to the ground and start crying. So here I am in the front of Staples, customers and employees are watching us, likely wondering what I did to my kid to make him scream and probably hoping that I would make it stop as soon as possible. I had a choice to make, do I give in and grab a cart, or do I stick to my guns. Well, in a calm voice and in a normal tone I said, “when you are done, I will be over there” and I walked away. I noticed a smirk on one of the employees faces as I began to walk away and within two seconds my son stopped screaming, got up, and followed me down the aisle.

Sometimes, possibly most of the time, we put a great deal of energy into the things that we think are the most important, but truly it is only about our ego. Religious Scholar Huston Smith once wrote that “when the consequences of belief are worldly goods, such as health, fixing on these turns religion into a service station for self-gratification and churches into health clubs. This is the opposite of religion’s role, which is to decenter the ego, not pander to its desires.” What Smith is saying is that the purpose of religion, the purpose of having a relationship with God, is to center our attention on the kingdom, on God’s plans and not on the things that we desire.

The purpose of prayer, as hinted at by Jesus’ parable, is to assist us in the reorientation process. The woman in the parable consistently asks for justice and she eventually receives it, but let’s be careful here, the message is not that we will get what we want if we ask for it on a regular basis, it is not that if we annoy God enough he will give in. The message is that justice, God’s justice, the kingdom of God will come about when we decentralize our ego and replace it with a God driven life. When we openly, regularly, and sincerely pray we are entering a conversation with God and with ourselves that can help us decenter our ego and reorient our focus onto more important things. The purpose of the parable is to teach us the importance of praying with regularity with the expectation that justice will come, in time, not to teach us that we will get what we want through prayer.

There is a very important concept, that relates to prayer, in the passage from Jeremiah for today. Jeremiah, speaking for God, says “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”  Jeremiah is speaking of the new covenant between God and the people which is based on an internal relationship as opposed to an external set of laws, meaning it is a covenant that we live into, instead of a set of rules that we need to live up to. In order to live into the covenant, we need to place God at the center of our lives instead of placing ourselves there. We do that by reading scripture to help us understand what a God centered life looks like, praying to God for guidance when we are not sure what to do; for strength when we are overwhelmed; for forgiveness when we focus on our own ego; and for comfort when we feel alone.

So far I have talked about how we tend to pay a great deal of attention to ourselves, the importance of making prayer a central part of our lives, and the idea that God has made a covenant with us by placing the law in our hearts, but what I haven’t talked about is what this all means.

As I indicated with my opening story, we tend to focus on the things that we want beginning at a very young age. Our entire culture is centered around the idea of individual desire, which means that our children learn from a very early age that the world revolves around them. There was a time when the church taught that the earth was at the center of the universe because humans are the most important part of creation, but that idea has not only been disproven by science, it has been rejected by theologians. In addition to stressing the importance of individual control, our culture has morphed into a society that expects things to happen immediately. Immediacy and control have nothing to do with the kingdom of God, they are human creations and distractions. The new covenant, written within our hearts, is simple; but in order to understand it and live into it we need to cultivate it and we do that by studying scripture and praying. Prayer is a conversation with God, it is not a laundry list of wants and desires. When we pray for God to intervene in the world we are, as Huston Smith said, turning the church into a service station, we are passing off all responsibility for the current state of the world to others, other people or even God; we are assuming that we have played no role in either creating or sustaining the injustices that are preventing our realization of the kingdom of God. When we pray or as I like to say Talk to God, we need to put aside our ego and instead offer thanksgivings for the blessings that exist in the world, so that we can learn to recognize those blessings as they arrive and not only after they have passed; we should ask God for forgiveness for assuming that they are going to fix the messes that we have made; we should offer the things we know to be injustices, but not with the idea that God will snap their fingers and fix it, but as a part of our understanding that in naming those injustices we are beginning to walk down the path of ending them; and once we have done that we must take the time to listen for a response, knowing that we may not like the answer. It is through our conversations with God that the Holy Spirit is able to awaken the law that has been placed in our hearts which are the seeds that can grow into a desire to love God and to love of each other as much as we love ourselves.

I will end by giving one example. Eighty percent of the world’s population survives on $2 per day, which they use to pay for food, housing, schooling and other necessities of life. Clearly this is an injustice, but is it an injustice because there are not enough resources to go around or is it an injustice because too many people are not willing to share the resources they have? Let’s assume we want to be like the woman in the parable and we want this injustice to be corrected, how should we pray about it? Should we say, Dear God, your people are suffering, please be merciful and help them? Or should we maybe say Dear God, we thank you and praise you for creating the earth to sustain life, so that we would never need to feel hunger, yet so many of your people are forced to go without the food you have provided, help us to understand why this injustice exists and lend us your strength, through the Holy Spirit, to proclaim our love for you and for one another as we work to ensure that all of your people are cared for, as you intended? The answer is hopefully obvious, but the reality of the injustices that exist in the world are not. Prayer is only one aspect of a Christian life, but it is a vital one. If we truly want to restore God’s kingdom, which simply put means a world without injustice, then we have to change our behaviors; we have to let go of our self-centered desires; we have to stop believing that just because we ask, God is going to make it all better, and instead accept that the world is filled with injustice because we continually reject God’s call to love both God and others as much as we love ourselves. Praying and doing so often, is the first step towards repairing the damage we have done to creation because it is through prayer that we can gain the assistance of the Holy Spirit in setting aside our ego. So, pray, pray for forgiveness, pray for assistance, pray that the Holy Spirit will help you understand God’s call for you.


We need to say thank you

Like so many American’s I like to turn to Facebook, which is of course the ultimate source of all wisdom, to find inspiration. A few months ago, I saw a meme that quoted Christian author Max Lucado. It said, “what if you woke up in the morning and had only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” This idea shocked me and frankly scared me, what if that did happen? This ide makes the parable of the rich man and Lazarus even more difficult to listen to than normal, particularly if we enjoy a lifestyle of comforts. The initial meaning of this parable is quite clear, the wealthy will be tormented in hell and the poor will go straight to heaven, but is that really the message? If it is then I imagine that all of us may be feeling a little uncomfortable right now, but the good news is that, like all parables, there is hope. The rich man had everything he could ever want, good food, great friends, a huge house; but in the end, what was he left with? He was left with an eternity of torment, because he had no faith. He had no sense of gratitude for the life that he had, so when he entered death, he was given only what he had thanked God for the day before, which was nothing. The rich man was so self-absorbed that he only cared for one thing and that was himself. I think that he likely suffered from the old adage that money corrupts, meaning that we can become so wrapped up in our success that we can forget that not everyone is as successful as you and that your success may have in fact come at the expense of someone else. I am sure that the rich man had servants and workers, he probably even had slaves. Did he ever thank his wine steward or his cook or his field hands, let alone God? I am guessing no. The rich man fell far short of what it means to be a follower of Christ Jesus, he fell far short of loving his neighbor and he clearly did not love God.

Jesus said that there are two great commandments, love your neighbors, and love God. Loving God involves regular and open communication with God, it requires us to trust God and recognize the importance of allowing our spiritual lives to guide our earthly lives. It is in this area that I believe most of us, like the rich man, fall short and thus risk a similar fate. The reason the rich man went to hell is not because he was rich, but because he allowed his wealth and power, not his faith, to be the dominant influence in his life.

Living a faith centered life is hard. For many, going to church, buying a raffle ticket at the holiday fair, or even putting a check in the collection plate is easy, but those things do not make us Christians and they are very possibly things that the rich man did. Walking through the world with humility, sharing what we have out of gratitude, and asking for forgiveness when we don’t do those things is what marks us as followers of Jesus Christ. I think that for many people there is a chasm between the things that they do and their faith and what I mean by that is there is no connection between their actions and their relationship with God. Simply going to church or buying a raffle ticket is not faith, it may be a sign that a person supports the idea of God, it may mean that they are attempting to play the part as best they know how, but is what they are doing faith? Faith requires more than lip service; it requires more than feel good actions because a sad commercial, news story, or meme moves you to donate; it requires commitment. It requires a commitment to a life of sacrifice. It requires that we sacrifice things that may very well give us joy, so that we will have time to study scripture and time to talk to God. I have yet to meet a person, bishops included, that has not struggled with making time for God. We lead such busy lives that the idea of stopping for even five minutes to say thank you is not even on our radar, we might even think “God knows I am thankful, why do I have to say it?”. Claiming we are too busy, or that we don’t know how to pray, are nothing but excuses. I am convinced that the rich man never made time for God, even though God was literally begging for scraps on his front step, because he was too busy distracting himself with life, and because of that he is forever separated from God’s love, he is stuck staring across a great chasm for the rest of eternity knowing that it is too late for him, it is too late to give God gratitude for all that he had in life; it is too late to ask forgiveness for ignoring God. The moral of this story is not that we are all going to hell because we have a bunch of stuff; the moral is that we need to not ignore God, we need to heed the teachings of Jesus; we need to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; we need to love God with every fiber of our being; we need to say thank you; and we need to make the time to do it every day.


We must to go to them

When we belong to an organization for a long time, we inevitably come across a phenomenon that is pervasive in most, if not all, human organizations and that is insular or isolated thinking. In the church, our thinking can become so isolated that we will only look for certain things when we engage with scripture. In Luke’s gospel we heard the importance of looking for the one lost sheep and the one lost coin and our well-trained minds probably took us right to the most obvious conclusion, which is that God will not leave one person behind. Well, that is true, but I also think that it misses the mark. According to G. Penny Nixon, the issue Luke is putting before us has nothing to do with God’s willingness to redeem the one lost soul, instead we need to focus on the very beginning of the passage where the Pharisees and the Scribes, aka the insiders, are grumbling because outsiders are moving into what they believe is their territory. The parables we heard today are tools used by Jesus to point out that the grumbler’s thinking is wrong and that they need to repent. The Pharisees and the scribes, who are the temple insiders, are clearly uncomfortable with the idea that outsiders, namely the tax collectors and sinners, are being welcomed into their territory. The temple insiders know exactly what the tax collectors and sinners need to do in order to fit in and they have never shied away from letting everyone, and especially Jesus, know when they are wrong, so why then do they appear to be uncomfortable now? The answer is likely that they are more comfortable correcting the behavior of people who are already a part of their world, than the people they never interact with. The sinners and the tax collectors have never been welcomed by the temple insiders, instead they have been ignored or shunned. Jesus’s parables are calling for the insiders to change their thinking about the outsiders, he is calling them to focus their attention on the people they think are lost and beyond help, instead of the people they think they can save. The people who follow the rules of the temple are the insiders and when they stray from the rules they can easily be brought back into the fold, but the sinners and tax collectors are considered beyond help and therefore not worth their time.

How often do we recoil at the sight of someone that doesn’t fit our definition of an insider? I see it every day in my profession. Teenagers come in many shapes and sizes and with a wide variety of skills and abilities. I have noticed an increase in anxiety among students and a tendency among staff to assume that the kids are simply overreacting or using their illness as an excuse. In other cases I have seen both students and staff assume that because a student avoids doing their school work they must not be able to do it, or that they are stupid, when the reality is that they are students who have suffered trauma in their home life, and that trauma is inhibiting their ability to focus and learn. Both examples reflect the concept Luke is exploring in his gospel. People who are on the “inside track”, the people who can function within the boundaries laid out by the institution are considered normal and worth everyone’s time and the people who are different, who are seen as outsiders or possibly even threats to the way things are supposed to be are either ignored or labeled. This attitude stems from several things, but I think the primary cause is that they are perceived as a threat. When we achieve a certain level of comfort in our lives and in the institutions that we belong to, we tend to want to guard the status quo. In the school setting staff members do not know how to accommodate students with high anxiety levels or students with a great deal of trauma, so they react by dismissing the student’s needs and try to fit them into their traditional view of a student behavior and ability. Don’t miss understand me, none of my colleagues want anything but the best for their students, but sometimes it is easier to give lip service to the desire to help everyone than it is to do it. I have no doubt that every teacher wants to help every student succeed, but the reality of doing it is a very different prospect. I think the same is true for the church. We all seem to be comfortable with the idea that everyone deserves God’s love as well as our own, that is after all what Christianity is all about is it not? However, how often do we extend our love of neighbor to people outside the church doors? How often do we openly and actively engage with people who look lost? How many people, that we know don’t attend church, do we talk to about God? In the parables of the lost sheep and coin Luke is not only telling us that God will not abandon anyone, he is also telling us that we need to change our thinking, we need to repent and ensure that we are not becoming so complacent that we allow others to become lost. I know it is far easier to talk about saving the lost than it is to welcome them into our midst’s, but that is what we must do. We must change our thinking and instead of waiting for the lost to come through the church doors so that we can welcome them into the fold in a safe and comfortable environment, we need to meet them where they are and bring them home, one at a time. To do that we first need to go where they are, like the shepherd we need to be willing to travel into the wilderness in search of their lost sheep and like the woman and her silver we need to be willing to turn our comfy lives upside down to find the one missing coin. Our willingness to ignore the parts of the world that seem scary or different; our willingness to ignore the trauma and anxiety of our young people; and our complacency in our belief that people will find God on their own is parallel to the scribes and pharisees belief that the sinners and tax collectors don’t belong anywhere near the temple. If God’s kingdom is going to thrive then we must stop talking about the lost and go look for them. Amen.


“you are set free from your ailment”

How awesome would it be if we could all hear the words “you are set free from your ailment.” Ailments come in many forms, some are obvious, such as the one afflicting the woman in today’s gospel passage, but many ailments are not obvious, and it is those that I want to focus our attention on. When I first read today’s gospel, I immediately thought that the woman who is healed could very well have been suffering from a mental or emotional ailment and that her inability to stand straight is a possible metaphor for her feeling depressed and Jesus was able to help her shake off her depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability among people ages 15-44 in the United States and can be so mild that it goes undetected or so severe that a person can lose the ability to function normally. Most of the time our sermons, our writings, and our discussions of Christianity center around obvious problems in the world, such as poverty, hunger, and homelessness, and how as followers of Christ we are called to respond to those problems, but rarely do we talk about the internal poverty and hunger that can go along with the tangible problems humanity is facing. Rarely do we talk about hidden illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Rarely do we talk about how we can, and should, rely on God to heal our emotional wounds and how we can help God’s healing love reach others through our actions.

I have a good friend, whose name is Steve, who regularly walks the streets of Greenfield to check in with the people who live on what we might call the margins. Some are homeless, some are drug addicts, some are alcoholics, some are parents who have lost custody of their children, some work, and some panhandle. Steve is very upfront with the fact that he cannot solve their problems, he is not there to find them work, to give them money, or to find them a treatment program, what he is there to do is to talk to them, to listen to them, and to accompany them. Steve believes that his calling from God is to be a companion for people who are otherwise forgotten by the rest of us and by being their companion he is bringing the healing power of God to them, not in a way that is taking away the hardship in their lives, but in a way that might help them to take the first step towards ending those hardships. Often when people are in a difficult situation and are ignored, they give up because they assume that no one would even notice if they were dead. Steve’s actions bring his companion’s hope, it brings them hope that there are people in the world that care about them, it brings them hope that their lives can improve and it introduces them to the idea that God is a loving creator. It introduces them to that because Steve does not hide the fact that he is there because he believes God has called him to be. So, through him, many people get to experience what it means to be in a relationship with God, they get to experience the healing love and compassion of God through Steve’s willingness to simply talk to them. When Steve goes for his walks he goes armed with knowledge, he knows where people can get a hot meal on any day of the week, he knows where they can get a hot shower, he knows where they can go if they want to go into a recovery program. You see, even though his main purpose is to be a companion, he makes sure that knows about the things that may be useful to the people he is interacting with. Over the past few years Steve has built relationships with many people who live on the margins, he has given people the information that he knows, but most importantly he has been and continues to be a friendly presence to them, he has become a person that they know they can rely on and when they see him coming, they stop what they are doing and say hello. Because Steve answered God’s call to this particular ministry, the people Steve works with can walk a little more upright as they begin to heal from the pain of the stigmas that have been placed on them by the rest of us.

Bringing God’s love to the world is not always easy, mainly because either we get in the way or the people we are trying to reach are not receptive. There is a movement across the church to bring about racial healing and reconciliation within the United States, which is something our nation needs desperately if we are going to move forward in positive ways. When it comes to race, our nation is broken, I used to have the usual white male reaction when discussions of race occurred, I would actually think to myself “my ancestors didn’t own slaves, they weren’t even here when slavery happened and my family is from the north and the north is not racist.” Well, like many people, I was wrong! Whether anyone I know was directly involved in slavery is irrelevant, what matters is that I, as a white person, have benefited because of the color of my skin and other people have been forced to live with an ailment that has crippled them all their lives. It was my love of God that opened my eyes to how wrong I was and for the need for racial reconciliation. As a part of my training to be a deacon I had to participate in race training, and since then I have completely changed my thinking and spent a great deal of time trying to learn more. For 500 years an entire group of people have been plagued by a disease that has crippled their ability to reach their full potential as God’s children and the name of that disease is systemic racism. Systemic racism has caused deep, deep wounds for millions of people. I believe God has the power to heal these wounds, and I believe that God is working on it, one stubborn person at a time. Last weekend the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia held a two day Pilgrimage of Racial Justice that followed the Slavery Trail of Tears, at one of the stops the walkers participated in a “responsive litany that traced the long history of systemic racism in America, from slavery to the Ku Klux Klan to Jim Crow to present-day voter suppression and unequal policing of neighborhoods. After each prompt, the people responded in a loud, clear voice, ‘We remember, and we repent.’” These are powerful words and they are words that can lead to the healing of the very deep wounds, but they are only the first step in a very long process. Through the power of Christ the people of Southwestern Virginia have begun the healing process by their willingness to change the way they think about race, and the people who live on the margins in Greenfield have learned of God’s love through Steve’s willingness to share his time with them. We too can be agents of God’s love in the world and bring healing to many people, and many of us already do so. Every time a meal is delivered and every time a family picks up some food from the community center God’s healing love is being shared. A part of having an active relationship with God is seeking opportunities to share our good fortune with others, and since school starts this week, I decided to give you homework. Over the course of the week I want you to answer two questions: Have I contributed to anyone’s pain in my life?  How do I bring God’s love to the world? Once you think you have identified your answer, spend some time in prayer. Thank God for all that you have and all that you are, ask God for forgiveness for the pain you may have caused and ask for guidance as to how you can be most effective.

Set aside the distractions

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly…”

I think these are wise words and if the rich man in Luke’s parable had heard them maybe he wouldn’t have been such an idiot. If you want to know how to NOT live like a disciple of Jesus, then follow the example of the rich man. I draw our attention to what, I believe, is the most important passage in today’s Gospel. “I will say to my soul, Soul you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry. But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.’” In this exchange the rich man is congratulating himself for all the things he has accumulated and accomplished, and God basically calls him an idiot. So how does the parable of the rich man jive with what Paul says in his letter to the Colossians?

Well, in both cases the message is, don’t get distracted by earthly things. Don’t get distract by wealth; don’t get distracted by getting your way; don’t get distracted by your desire to win; don’t get distracted by making sure everyone else is happy at the expense of yourself. It is obviously easy for me to say don’t get distracted, but it is important and because it is important, I refer us back to Paul’s letter, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” While I love this passage, I think it misleads us, it perpetuates the false idea that all things of God are somewhere else. God is not up in the sky somewhere; God is not in some mythical kingdom called heaven. God is here, God’s kingdom is here, and we are a part of it. Both Paul and Luke are telling us that we need to not be distracted by human made things, and focus on what it means to live a life after resurrection, because we have already been resurrected through our baptisms and our acceptance of Jesus as the son of God. This whole thing that we do, (waves hands around the church) is not about some distant future, it is about now. It’s about praising God for life itself and for the things that sustain us, this is the point the rich man forgot. He was so focused on congratulating himself and figuring out how to keep all that he had, that he forgot about God’s role in his life. Our faith is about being in relationship with God and one another, it is about treating people with dignity and respect because they are children of God. One of the topics that has dominated the news lately is the humanitarian crisis on our southern border. Hundreds of thousands of people have walked thousands of miles with the hope of finding a better life. They could have tried to cross the border without permission, but most of them did not do that, instead they presented themselves in accordance with both US and international law and asked for asylum. The US immigration authorities have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have asked for asylum and they are doing their best to deal with the situation, hence the camps. Are the camps perfect? Definitely not! Could the US government do better? Absolutely! Are the ICE agents evil? Of course not. Has our nation’s response to this crisis been a Christian response? Probably not, instead our nation’s response has been distracted by earthly and human made distractions such as cost, politics, and nationalism. A Christian response would focus on the commandment to love our neighbors. When we do that, when we focus on the love of neighbor, we are then setting our minds on the things that are above. Political arguments, arguments about the cost of giving every person in the camps a toothbrush and the fear that the US is somehow being invaded are all earthly based things and should be irrelevant to how we treat our brothers, sisters, and siblings from other places. If I were to die tomorrow, what good would my political views, my concern about the cost to taxpayers, and my fear of strangers do anyone? Those questions are exactly what Luke and Paul are getting at in today’s readings. If we want to experience God’s kingdom, then we must resist being like the rich man, we must set aside the distractions, focus on God, and discern the way forward.


Use the Good Samaritan as a GPS

The story of the Good Samaritan is probably one of the most well-known stories in the bible and in many ways has become a cliché for being helpful, but that is not at all what the story is meant to convey. This parable has a much deeper meaning that we need to unpack, it challenges us to change our way of thinking and to change how we view the world and ourselves.

As a reminder, the story Jesus told to the lawyer went like this: A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he was mugged and left for dead. When a Priest came along, he avoided him, and when a Levite came along, he also avoided him. The next person to come along was a Samaritan, who took it upon himself to care for the man until he was healed.

To fully understand the meaning of this story I think it is important that we understand who all the characters are. First, we have the lawyer or in some translations a religious scholar, he would have been very familiar with Hebrew Scripture and law. Second, we have Jesus who needs no introduction. Third we have the priest, who is a devout follower of Judaism and a person responsible for making sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish community. The fourth, is a Levite, who would have been an assistant to the priests at the temple, they were the caretakers of the Torah and other important furnishings of the temple. The fifth character is the Samaritan, the Samaritan is a follow of Samaritanism which believes that their form of Judaism is the correct form that was maintained by the Jews who remained in Israel during the Babylonian Captivity, their primary objection to Judaism is that the location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is not the correct location for the temple. They believe the temple should be placed at Mount Gerizim, which is about 40 miles north of Jerusalem. This seemingly minor difference was enough to keep the Samaritans and the Jews completely separated from one another. Jews saw Samaritans as being unfaithful to the Law of Moses and the feeling was mutual.

Now that we know who the players are, lets take a deeper look at what is going on in Luke’s Gospel. The Lawyer is a faithful Jew, who already knows the answer to his own question, he is simply doing his job and trying to see if Jesus is corrupting the teaches of Moses and was probably only included by Luke as a means to give the story of the Good Samaritan some context, Jesus is regularly questioned by people in positions of power, it is simply a part of being a teacher. The Priest and the Levite in the story are both faithful Jews and we should not assume that they ignored the man on the road because they are bad or uncaring people. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is a long and dangerous one, perhaps the Priest and the Levite thought it was unsafe to approach a stranger in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps they thought it might be a trick to rob them. Or perhaps because they were faithful Jews, they were afraid that if they touched someone who appeared to be dead, they would become unclean, which is a violation of the law of Moses. Both the Priest and the Levite are on the path that they believe God has set them on, they have chosen to live their lives by a certain set of rules and their avoidance of the apparent dead body might be nothing more than their attempt to remain on that path. Now the Samaritan, who believes God has called him to live his life on a different path is moved to assist the man and he does so. What Luke is doing here is showing us that the path to eternal life, the path of Jesus, is filled with choices and that the correct choice, the choice God desires, is the way of love and compassion for others. The Samaritan followed many of the same laws as the priest and the Levite, one of which is Love your neighbor as yourself, but the difference between the three of them is that the Samaritan had a wider view of who his neighbor was, for the Samaritan the stranger was his neighbor.

We cannot limit our definition of neighbor as we strive to follow the path God has laid before us. The story of the good Samaritan is not meant to reinforce the idea that we need to be nice people, it is meant to show us that we need to change our thinking. I draw your attention back to who asked Jesus the question. The lawyer does not need Jesus to tell him what the rules are, he already knows he is supposed to be a good person. What Luke is doing is showing that God, through Jesus, is calling us to change course, to follow a slightly different path. The path that the Priest and the Levite are following adheres to a strict set of rules and those rules require the exclusion of many people. The Samaritan follows a similar set of rules but seeing the need of the injured man he abandoned those rules in favor of showing compassion. Through that act the Samaritan stepped off the path that was primarily based on human understanding and onto the path that requires an intimate and loving relationship with God. Through the Samaritan God’s healing love and compassion was able to reach the man who was injured. Now this would have been shocking to the lawyer who is questioning Jesus, because his question is attempting to find out how to define who deserves his love. He knows that the law says to love your neighbor, but he wants a clear answer as to who that neighbor is, even though he already fully knows that Jewish law defines it as other Jews. Jesus, however, did not answer the question he was asked, instead he reorients their conversation away from the idea that one’s love should be limited to a certain group of people and instead shows that love seeks out neighbors who need compassion even when established boundaries or prejudices conspire against it. The parable of the good Samaritan should not be thought of as a simple, let’s be helpful story. It is a scriptural GPS, rerouting us in the only direction God desires, the way of love and compassion for everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from. If we consistently follow the path set for us by God, if we use the phrase “Love your neighbor as yourself” as our compass in all things, and when I say all things, I mean all things. We should never make a decision without checking it against our scriptural GPS to see if what we want to do is off course, and if it is, then we need to change directions.


Trinity Sunday

In case you didn’t know, today is Trinity Sunday, which is a day often handed to deacons and deacon interns to preach because it is one of those tricky topics to preach on. So, what is the doctrine of the trinity? Well to figure that out I started with the prayer book and discovered that the Catechism describes the Trinity as the three Persons of God, but I don’t find that all that helpful in our quest to understand it because that is merely a definition. My next stop was various commentaries on scripture and that is where I found that in Greek the word Persona, which is the origins of our word for person, means the face through which you speak, so when we refer to the three persons of God, it might be helpful to think that we are referring to the three faces through which God speaks.

The three persons of the trinity are God the father or the creator, who is omnipotent or all powerful; there is God the son or the redeemer, who walked among us as Jesus; and there is God the Holy Spirit or the sustainer, who resides within us and guides us. Church doctrine dictates that all three persons of the God head are fully separate and fully God and that all three are in fact one God. If you are thoroughly confused as to how anything can be separate while it is also not separate, you are not alone. The reason the church has landed on the doctrine of the trinity is because it is the only explanation that we have come up with that comes close to explaining the many ways we have experienced God throughout human history. We could spend our entire lives trying to understand the doctrine of the trinity and never do so and if we did do that, we would be completely missing the point of our faith, which is to be in a loving relationship with God, through which we can be faithful stewards of creation.

Rather than thinking of God as three persons, I invite you to think of God through the lens of the original Greek meaning and think about how each of God’s faces is present in our lives. God the creator is the easiest to experience because we can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, and even taste it. From the depths of the oceans to the highest point of the Himalayas everything in nature should remind us of the awesomeness of God because only God could create things that cause such wonder, amazement, and fear all at the same time.

God the redeemer, or Jesus, is the face through which God attempted to establish a deeper connection with humanity. The entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures describes the struggle of God to connect with the people. In Exodus God speaks directly to Moses and provides explicit laws in the form of the ten commandments. With Abraham God creates a new covenant which is meant to formalize the relationship between God and the people. Later God sends prophet after prophet to warn the people that they are not leading God centered lives, but still many of us turn our backs to God. Ultimately God makes the decision to come personally in order to speak to us directly through words and actions. The life of Jesus is a road map of how to be in relationship with God. The people of the first century had the advantage of being able to directly experience Jesus as the face of God, they were able to see his actions and hear his message directly, and still they struggled. We can only experience the life of Jesus secondhand because we can only read about it and when we do read about it, we often do so in small doses and out of context, which makes it that much more difficult to understand.

God the sustainer, or the Holy Spirit, is the face through which God is always fully present to us and, to me, is the one that provides the deepest connection to God. The Hebrew scriptures speak of the Spirit of God, but in Judaism it refers more to the divine force and influence of God meaning it is the force behind the will of God, so the Spirit of God does not act as a driving force on its own. In our tradition the Holy Spirit is a constant presence among us, it is a driving force behind our interaction with both creation and God. Our sense of morality, compassion, and love is rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit and our connection with God.

Our relationship to the Trinity is quite personal and that is the way it is meant to be. For many people God seems to be a source of comfort and the thing that they look to when they need guidance; for some people God is a thing to be feared because scripture appears to be filled with God’s wrath; and for others God simply is.  Whether or not we understand the doctrine of the trinity is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is that we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives and actively seek to accomplish the mission God has given us, namely to love God and to love our neighbors. This mission was originally handed down by God the Creator through the ten commandments; God then attempted to reinforce this message through the prophets, who were charged with pointing out to God’s people that they were straying from the plan. As this did not work, God became incarnate in Jesus and both told and showed us how to follow through with our mission. In addition, Jesus took away the one thing we consistently feared and that was the wrath of God, which ultimately resulted in death. Through his death and resurrection Jesus showed us that death is no longer on the table, so we don’t need to worry about doing the wrong thing and then being punished for it. When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon him, which is the basis of our belief that the Holy Spirit resides within us and assists us in carrying out our mission of Love. As humans we are capable of love, however when left to our own devices we will choose self-interests over our neighbor most of the time. We could argue that, like God, we have multiple faces. We have the faces we use when we are with our family and friends; we have the faces we use in public; we have the faces we use at school, at work, and at church. How we interact with people reflects our relationship with God. When we are short with people; when we ask how people are and then walk away before they have a chance to respond; when we focus on how others actions affect us and not wonder why they may be acting the way they are; when we insist that our needs are more important than the needs of others, then we are not reflecting the love of God which the Holy Spirit is continually urging us to share.

A part of being in relationship with God is thanking God the creator for everything they have provided; studying scripture, with the Holy Spirit as our guide, so that we can understand the teachings of Jesus; and then, also with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, implementing what we learn from our study of scripture in our lives. Nowhere in scripture does it say greet your neighbor and then ignore their response; nowhere does it say be short with people; nowhere does it say put your own needs ahead others; nowhere does it say blame others for how we are feeling. God projects nothing but love, and by God’s grace we can do the same; but first we must be willing to say no to anger, say no to jealousy, say no to greed, say no to fear; and say no to our egos. God is always present to us, God is always speaking to us, God is always guiding us, but how often are we present to God? How often do we speak to God? How often to we allow God to guide us? God’s love and guidance is not limited to Sunday, Sunday is just the day we choose to gather for fellowship. God is always ready and willing to love and guide us, we just need to be ready and willing to accept it and stop thinking that we need to be in control. My challenge to all of us this week is let go. When we feel ourselves getting stressed or angry or jealous, when we feel the need to be in control, take a breath, pray for God to give you the grace to move passed your emotions and see what happens.