Sunday is coming! “The one thing that can make all the difference” Luke 10:38-42

“There is only need of one thing.” (Luke 10:42a)

If we are honest, it seems that most of us would probably side with Martha rather than Mary at this dinner party with Jesus. We know well from our lives that there is much work to be done, our calendars keep us busier than we might like to be and we could use all the help we could get. We might even see others with contempt when we do not believe they are pulling their weight like Martha did, complaining that Mary is sitting there lazily while all the tasks rest on her shoulders. We might also roll our eyes in disgust, wondering what Mary was thinking by sitting at Jesus’ feet like that – as though she was one of his male disciples sitting beneath her teacher. Martha probably thought Mary was embarrassing herself by either defying or not understanding her place and neglecting her duties. Martha might have even been a bit jealous wondering why she was stuck providing generous hospitality while her sister got away with just sitting and listening to Jesus. Perhaps Martha secretly wished that she was the one enjoying the company of their house guest instead of her do-nothing sister.

Yet Jesus commended Mary (not Martha) for choosing to do “the better part” (Luke 10:42). Why? I wonder if Jesus’ response has more to do with our attitude than the work that Martha was doing, or the breaking of social mores that Mary was pushing. After all, a good part of following Jesus is hospitality, serving and being attentive to the needs of others from the places we are; whatever our status might be. At the same time Jesus is the constant leveler – showing us again and again our common humanity and worth beyond our social constructs and culturally enforced hierarchical identity roles.

In this scene, Martha is disgruntled, complaining, and resentful. Mary is present and attentive. Martha asks Jesus to make her sister help. How often are our prayers about asking God to make someone else do something rather than change either our perspective or something within ourselves? How does Martha’s complaint contrast with the next passage, where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-4).

Perhaps Luke is simply showing us what a difference our attitude makes. One can do amazing things, achieve a lot to make people’s lives better, and check all the boxes of what others may expect from us; but if we are bitter about doing it, lack gratitude, humility and/or a servant’s heart – we have missed the joy of being in the presence of Jesus.

Before this dinner party (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51); and in doing so was preparing for the difficult times that were coming. He sent his disciples out two by two without any resources – to teach them how to receive kindness from others and remain dependent on God (Luke 10:1-12). They joyfully returned telling their stories, receiving Jesus’ blessing and were eager to do what came next (Luke 10:17-4). In doing so, their community was strengthened and they grew deeper into Christ’s mission. When confronted by a lawyer with the question, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus told a story of man who fell into the hands of robbers and left for dead (Luke 10:30-37)… in the parable Jesus tells, two religious people (who we would expect to help) passed by the injured man, leaving him on the roadside. Jesus did not explain why they did not stop, but is it possible that they are “distracted by many things” just like Martha? Only the Samaritan (the most unlikely scum sucking neighbor possible) was attentive, alert, able and willing to see and help that stranger on the roadside. His heart for others helped restore the injured traveller to health. In the same way, Mary was attentive to Jesus, sitting and listening in her home, while Mary, the Priest and the Levite missed that opportunity without the eyes to see “the one thing” right before them.

There is a lot to be burdened by and distracted by in life. Paying attention, getting over ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or are not doing through comparison to our efforts, remaining thankful and generous, and staying focused on what God is doing right before us can change everything.

In the love that Jesus gives us – we receive others openly with happy hearts in a hospitality that can be shared and enjoyed. The burden of work we need to do feels lighter. People are welcomed and included by our attentiveness to them. Community is strengthened and grow. Then when trouble comes (as it always does); we will all be better equipped to face it together.


Attentiveness is everything.

-What distracts you?

-What resentments are you carrying?

-How might a thankful heart help change how you see others?

-Where in your life could you be more present with people?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The surprise of the scum sucking loser” Luke 10:25-37

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Luke 10:33)

There is an edge to this parable we often overlook in our hearing of it. We have come to know “Good Samaritans” as do-gooders to strangers or as caregivers to those who could otherwise not afford the help they need.

Even in secular society, those with no church connections know what a “Good Samaritan” is. We have “Good Samaritan” laws to protect those who voluntarily help someone in distress or in an emergency. Hospitals, insurance companies and other ministries name their organizations “Good Samaritan” as a familiar way to communicate their mission of helping others. The church I grew up in has a “Good Samaritan” truck that delivers donated furniture to families in need. We equate the term “Good Samaritans” with helpers. Being a “Good Samaritan” is a virtue we strive to teach and grow into as people of faith.

This was not the understanding many of Jesus’ contemporaries had of Samaritans in his time.

Animosity between Jews and Samaritans ran deep in the time of Jesus. Differences in ethnicity, theology, worship, culture, language and geography kept them separate from and suspicious of one another for centuries. Jews traveling from Galilee to Judea (or Judea to Galilee) often would intentionally go the longer way around than take the shorter journey through Samaria just to avoid interaction. The same was true of Samaritans. Samaritans stayed away from Judea too. That a Samaritan was even on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho begs the question, “What was a scum sucking loser like that doing there anyway?”

That a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead on that road by bandits is not a surprise. It was a dangerous road in a desperate time. That the religious people – (a priest and a Levite) didn’t stop to help isn’t that surprising either. Even without the context of who they were and what they represent – think of the countless people we overlook or walk on by for all kinds of reasons.

“But a Samaritan” Jesus says (Luke 10:33).

This scum sucking loser stopped, helped, healed, hosted, empowered, paid, waited and returned.

This Samaritan is the least likely hero because he is a scum sucking loser not be trusted. Not only does he help someone in need, he acknowledges the humanity in “the other” who from his perspective was not to be trusted either. Yet he stopped and acted out of compassion and love rather than fear, blame and prejudice or hate.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says (Luke 10:37).

This story points the lawyer (and us by extension) to ask “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The common response is to encourage us to become better do-gooders who are actively seeking to make the world a better place by paying attention, seeing things anew, stopping, helping and building relationships with those we might otherwise overlook in a world filled with suffering and pain.

This story also pushes us much further than those really important ways of putting our faith into action. It also challenges us to ask what we might learn about our shared humanity from those we despise the most. It was after all, an out of place, far from home, scum sucking loser Samaritan that took the risk to stop on that dangerous road to help his neighbor in need…not anybody respectable we might like or aspire to be.

-Who are you afraid of? Why?

-Wouldn’t it be a great surprise to learn from a Samaritan, not just what to do when we are not sure where to start, but that the person we hate or fear is our neighbor too?

-What if good news kept coming unexpectedly to us through scum sucking losers like that?

-What might Jesus show us about each other as we all travel this road together?

PGS

Episode 77: Everyday Spirituality with The 2 Bald Pastors

Geoff and Joe followup their conversation with Bishop Hazelwood with a conversation about what Everyday Spirituality means to them.  This is an interesting conversation and takes some twists and turns you might not expect.

Links Mentioned in the show. 

Bishop on a Bike

Dan is the Worst

Everyday Spirituality Podcast by Bishop Jim Hazelwood

Sunday is Coming! “The all too familiar wrong mission of the church (a parable)” Luke 10:1-11

“Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3)

[DISCLAIMER – This is a parable – a story about something relatable to tell a wider truth. I’m not looking for a new call.]

After this, the pastor entered the small town to meet with leaders of an insular congregation for a call interview to become their next clergy-person. The church leaders were upfront that the congregation had needs, and the people of the community who were not members of the church had long lost interest in coming to worship with them. The congregation was aging, shrinking, and they had trouble connecting with young families and keeping them involved.

The chairperson said, “Finances are around here tight. People are leaving or dying off. We’ll never have enough to survive and it is probably some of the newer people’s fault... But we are glad you are here; so do what we tell you, don’t change anything, keep your head down, don’t stir-up any trouble, take any stands or create any controversy. We want to be comfortable and for you to make us feel safe. Work twice as hard as the last guy with less resources and unrealistic demands. Not to worry; we’ll blame you if things don’t turn around soon and become better than the glory-days we all remember when the church was full, money was not an issue and we all got along as the best of friends.

“What is this congregation passionate about?” the pastor inquired of them. The response droned on for about forty-five minutes concerning the cracked and faded beige wallpaper in the room in which they were sitting that was pulling up in the corners.

The pastor re-framed the question by asking what kinds of ministries they were doing that they found meaningful, what service opportunities they participated in, what initiatives to make connections in their town outside of the congregation they were pursuing, what ways they were putting their faith into tangible action in the neighborhood and at home, how were they mentoring/disciplining/supporting one another, and a host of other questions. They collectively responded. “We tried all that stuff once. We don’t have money for it now. We told you, we just need someone to take care of us and keep things the same.” The chairperson then went into a long rant of needing to protect the church’s assets; especially the aging building that was also being utilized by outside community groups that met there and messed with their stuff.

The pastor paused and listened.

An eager member broke the awkward silence, “We do have an ‘all are welcome’ sign,” she said, pointing to a rickety sign that was lost behind a million pieces of dated announcements on a bulletin board. She continued, “it is really important we have that sign, so people who look like us, talk like us, dress like us, and think like us will know they can come here and pay our bills.”

The pastor asked, “How many new people has that sign brought in?” Nobody knew the answer, so they stood around and hunched their shoulders looking for the pastor to tell them, “good job on the sign.” They shot each other glances when the pastor said nothing in response they started talking about the wallpaper again.

They spent the better part of three hours together. Not once did anyone offer snacks or refreshments.

“Let’s get down to business” the chairperson of the call committee said, passing the pastor an envelope. Inside was a number that was half the salary this pastor was currently making. The conversation got tense when the pastor told the group that it didn’t sound like they were all that interested in doing ministry. Their mission was to keep their club going. “But we just got new tablecloths for coffee hour!” one member protested. The pastor then explained that based on both the information they had researched prior to meeting and by walking around earlier that day that there were all kinds of interesting new people moving into town, that the game fields were full of activity, there were some cute shops and places to eat on Main Street, there were parks and green spaces to enjoy and that there were real needs of struggling people in the community that this church could address by collaborating with other local organizations to help.

They looked at the pastor with blank stares.

One member handed the pastor an old photo directory full of names and faces of people that had died or moved away or simply lost interest in this congregation. “What are you going to do to get these people to come back?” he said.

It was time for the evening to come to a close.

The pastor gracefully thanked them for their time, and after exchanging other pleasantries headed for the door. On the way home the pastor called the bishop and said that while the town looked really interesting and there was some great potential for ministry there, this congregation was not a place they would like to consider serving. The bishop later got a letter from the call committee complaining that there were no good candidates for pastors anymore and that the congregation was going to cut their mission support completely until a suitable candidate was found to save their church.

PGS

Read Luke 10:1-11.

Sunday is coming! “3 Reasons not to follow Jesus” Luke 9:51-62

“I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)

“Following Jesus” sounds like a faithful things to say.

It is a much more difficult thing to do.

Jesus gives us three reasons not to do it.

Reason 1. Security.

Jesus says, “The son of man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58b). In other words, following him will not be comfortable. It will not be stable. It will not result in ‘success’ or material gain. It will not be safe. We focus our lives around security and ‘success.’ Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and the cross. Following Jesus often takes us to places where we are uncomfortable and where much is asked of us. Jesus asks for our entire lives, and perhaps even our life itself.

If you seek safety and being comfortable; don’t follow Jesus.

Reason 2. Restrictions.

Jesus says, “let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). It sounds cold and indifferent, and shouldn’t the church be doing funerals? But what Jesus is saying here is that we often let others dictate our limitations of what we can or cannot do; or where we can or cannot do. I have a sign on my desk that reads “Everything is Figureoutable.” Too often we don’t believe solutions to our challenges are even possible.

If you want to live within restrictions; don’t follow Jesus.

Reason 3. Disctractions.

J Jesus says, “No one who puts the hand to the plow and looks back will inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:62).  While understanding the past often provides wisdom for navigating current challenges, nostalgia can also hold us captive and keep us understanding current realities and from moving forward at all. Keeping up with what everyone else is saying and doing on your feeds everywhere else while neglecting the people around you in the here and now keeps you from tending to what is more important. Worrying about the challenges of the future without seeing Jesus right in front of you now scatters your focus on your mission and purpose. It is difficult to plow in a straight line if your vision is not kept on the field and you are looking elsewhere. 

If you are held hostage by what everyone else is doing; don’t follow Jesus.

Yet…following Jesus can change our lives.

How?

Jesus “set his face to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  These invitations into discipleship are all given within the context of immersing ourselves in the very mission Jesus has come to fulfill. Jerusalem leads to the cross – a place where security, restriction and nostalgia lack meaning in the stench of suffering, abandonment and death. However, the cross of Jesus leads to resurrection; where the sweet fragrance of new life blooms. Being on the road with Jesus from death to new life leads to transformation.

Instead of seeking security no matter what the cost to ourselves or to others we are led away from the perspective of scarcity and suspicion that too often consumes us into gratitude and generosity.

Instead of sulking in others’ expectations of who we are or what we do; we are given hearts for service, new passion for justice, and open-minds to see new possibilities that can raises the lives of others.

Instead of clinging to what we remember from the past to save us from our current challenges; Jesus opens us to new futures we could not imagine on our own. Creativity, collaboration and community can cultivate what the Spirit is doing through reinvigorated relationships.

So….do you want to follow Jesus?

It depends on what you seek.

If it is security, restriction and disctractions; stay home.

If it is ongoing encouragement that opens your heart, sees new possibilities, and longs for God’s good future; then press on. Jerusalem awaits and Jesus will be with you.

What is holding you back that you could leave behind?

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “The shocking other side of the sea” Luke 8:26-39

“What do you have to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God?Do not torment me.” (Luke 8:28)

This encounter should both shock and surprise.

The setting takes place in foreign territory on the other side of the Sea of Galilee – hardly a place any respectable Jew, rabbi, prophet, or hopeful messiah should be. Yet this is where the mission takes him (and us by implication), and the need for Jesus’ presence is just as present there as in Galilee.

Jesus has an interaction with a possessed man. How was he treated? This man was chained up and and was now living in the tombs. He was exiled from the community; exposed yet locked away and mistreated by those who refused to care or try to understand. His peers were afraid of him and the danger he represented to their well-being and everyday lives. He was literally dead to them, by living in the tombs. Jesus just talks to him like a person, releases him from the physical prison, spiritual possession and exclusion that has defined his life and he sends him back into his community that rejected him to share his story of healing.

The demons are named ‘Legion’ (an interesting word choice). A Roman Legion was 5,000 men. The demons represent not only the sin and evil at work in the world but the oppression of empire that has the world under its thumb. Jesus dismisses both easily.

Legion is sent into the pigs. Pigs represent what is “unclean.” Perhaps what it is happening when Jesus drives them into the sea is that he is also subversively undercutting the distinctions made between Jew and Gentile. Why else would he be on the ‘wrong side’ of the Sea and helping the ‘wrong kind’ of people? Why are we so afraid to go to the ‘other side’ of where we feel comfortable in our own false distinctions of people?

What might people have experienced when this man, now healed from his demons came back into town to share what Jesus had done for him? He not only had his life restored – it was a complete transformation.

What might our lives look like of we started living in a way that witnessed to the transformation Jesus offers us?

What demons are holding us captive?

Where do we complacently still live in those shackles?

In a world where often feel powerless against the power, wealth and systems that hold us captive – what does this story reveal about who is really in charge? What new story can we tell?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “All that you need to know” John 16:12-15, Holy Trinity, Year C

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12-13a)

Sometimes we are not ready to hear what we need to hear, we are not ready to see what we need to see, and we are not ready to know what we need to know – until we are ready to hear and see and know it.

Jesus is asking his disciples to trust him into the unknown. His promise is that the Spirit will reveal to them what they need to hear and know when they need to hear and know it; just as he has been teaching and revealing to them what his Father has been and is doing through him.

It may sound like talking a bit in circles, but the Holy Trinity is like that. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct but not separate; relational and intertwined; knowable but mysterious. Our best attempts to explain and map out exactly how God works and what God is up to in our lives often fall short of the vastness of who God is and what God does.

Yet look at the context of this passage. God is not unknowable; but revealed. At this point in the story Jesus is still with his disciples in the upper room. Even though on numerous occasions he has told them he is going to suffer and die they have not believed him, or at the very least, they have not truly understood what he was saying or what it might mean. We might ask...do we?

In the chapters that follow in John’s Gospel, they will experience, betrayal, denial, abandonment, fear, loss, bewilderment and a whole host of emotions as his passion unfolds. Jesus is telling them before it happens that not only he, but his father will be with them through it all. The Spirit will guide them into the truth to truly experience what his mission has been all about and what it means for the present and future.

Jesus could have kept explaining it all to them. He could have told them not to worry because on Sunday he would be raised from the dead.  But they still would not have seen or heard or understood. Instead he simply tells them to trust him. The Spirit will guide them into the unknown, beyond what they are experiencing or can comprehend in the moment. Then they will know.

This is good news for us because we often do not see either the big picture or beyond the pain, worry or fear we or our loved ones are experiencing in the moment; or beyond the injustice, suffering and cruelty of this world. In the midst of what may feel overwhelming; Jesus asks us to trust him.

Rather than getting caught up in Trinitarian formulations or explanations; Jesus invites us to get intertwined in the Divine relationship – never alone; never giving up one’s identity; never getting lost in the shuffle or being left behind; but united in Oneness and relationship; distinctness and togetherness; embraced and embracing.

Look for it in your own doubts and fears.When you see someone struggling in theirs -welcome them into the Divine relationship that shows us what we need when we need to know it. In the meantime God is God; we are not; but we are never ever alone.

That is all we need to know.

Press on.

PGS

Episode 76: Everyday Spirituality with Bishop Hazelwood

James Hazelwood has been a parish pastor, photographer, disc jockey and ice cream scooper.  These life experiences inform his writing for the recently released book, Everyday Spirituality: Discover a Life of Hope, Peace and Meaning

He currently serves as Bishop of the New England Synod of the Lutheran Church (ELCA)  He and his wife, Lisa, share a home along the Rhode Island coast where they bicycle, garden and enjoy visits from their grandchildren.

Everyday Spirituality: Discover a Life of Hope, Peace and Meaning seeks to help people who have struggled with traditional practices of the spiritual life. Rather than prescribing another failed attempt at daily devotional readings, written prayers and moments of quiet meditation, Everyday Spirituality exposes the truth that much of what we already do in life is, in fact, spiritual.

Through a series of short chapters centered around an action such as breathing, walking, working, eating, the reader realizes that spirituality is not an assigned section of their day or week.  It’s everything they do.

You can learn more at bishoponabike.com

Sunday is Coming! “So, where is Jesus now?” Ascension – Luke 24:44-53 & Acts 1:1-11

“While (Jesus) was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” (Luke 24:51)

If you were to hold an informal poll with those around you, how do you think people would answer the question,

“Where is Jesus now?” 

How would you answer that question?

Answers will vary to be sure.

In the Lukan narrative (Luke 24:44-53); Jesus explained the scriptures to them (just as he did on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35] after he ate with them and had them touch him so they did not think he was a ghost [Luke 24:46-43]). He explained, “thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47). Jesus promised, “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Then he took them out as far as Bethany (about a mile and a half from Jerusalem) where he blessed and left them. The gospel ends with the disciples returning to Jerusalem, “and they were continually in the Temple praising God” (Luke 24:53).

In Acts (Acts 1:1-11), Luke expands the story to include an explanation of this “power from on High” (Luke 24:49) to be the coming Holy Spirit (Acts 1:7-9). The rest of the book of Acts will be a continuation of how the Spirit emboldens those first believers to carry the mission of “repentance and forgiveness” (Luke 24:46) to the “end of the earth” (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8).  Acts expands this scene even further by locating two men in white robes among the disciples. This echoes the two men in dazzling robes at the empty tomb in Luke’s Easter account with the women (Luke 24:1-12). Here among the disciples, like the women at the empty tomb, the men in dazzling clothes ask a good question. They asked the women, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). They asked the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11). [Personal aside – I cannot ever read that question without laughing. I often find myself looking at the sky for answers when there is work right in front of me to be done.]

So what does it all mean?

Jesus is not displaced out of the world by the Ascension. Jesus is to be found wherever there is repentance and forgiveness; that is in every place reconciliation, rehabilitation and restoration of the world and our relationships takes place. This work is powered by Christ’s ongoing presence that is enfleshed in the community that bears his name; that is the body of Christ. The church’s mission is powered by the promised Holy Spirit; that came; that comes to us now, and will keep coming to us in the word, the sacraments and the ever-expanding people of God brought into God’s promises of life and mercy.

Where we (the church) keep getting stuck is dwelling on our limits, failures, fractures, decline, death and/or shouting at the sky for answers. We have work to do. It takes the Spirit, in the story of Pentecost (Acts 2) to shake us up and blow through us like a mighty wind so we can look for Christ (and the need for Christ) in all the right places…and go there to share his abundant blessing of new life that keeps exploding out of the grave.

Where do you look for Jesus?

How might you help others see him?

PGS

Episode 75: The Beginning of Acts

In a new series Pastor Joe and Pastor Geoff will be reading through the book of Acts story by story.  In this first episode they talk about their favorite stories and themes throughout the book of Acts and why they decided to embark upon this series.  

How is the Holy Spirit acting in your life?  

Let us know by leaving a comment below.