Pastoral Ponderings . . .

In the days of Jesus, rabbis all had groups of followers. They’d sit together and learn from the teacher. They were scholars in training. But quite different from any of those disciples, Jesus’ disciples were not scholars. Nor were they particularly pious! I think of them as blue collar folk: fishers and tax collectors; men and women. A most unlikely bunch called to be a part of the ministry of this new kind of rabbi whose style wasn’t like the rabbi who only sat under the tree. He led his students out into the field, from Galilee to Jerusalem and back, through all the villages and towns in between. All the places he saw the need for healing and restoration. And the more he did, and the further he went, with his unlikely students right beside him, it became apparent that there was just too much to do : so many bullied and helpless people in need. People in mental, physical, and spiritual illness; people who were hungry and helpless. A lot like today in our city.

In 21st century terms, I think of his students as being on an extended “Service Learning program” where students are given the opportunity to learn outside the classroom and see how the knowledge and abilities they have can connect with the world’s needs. Sometimes those experiences can be very eye-opening! And students take those experiences back to their degree programs, maybe with a different view of the world they thought they knew. I wonder if Jesus’ unlikely bunch wanted to have their eyes opened like that? Maybe some, but I’d guess not all. I would imagine that his students would probably have been content to just hang out with Jesus, talk and pray with him, and maybe enjoy being the cool kids with the popular new rabbi. But Jesus had different plans for them. He told them to pray for “more laborers to go into the field.” And turns out, they themselves were the answer to their own prayers. They were the ones they were waiting for. They became the laborers, the ministers, just like Jesus.

I think this is one of the primary teachings of Luther about grace. Luther said there’s no hierarchy in the Body of Christ. That’s what his reading of St.Paul showed him. All are equal in imperfection, and all are equal in God’s perfect love for us. For Luther that meant a radical, fundamental equality among all humans. Priests, pastors, popes and bishops don’t have special powers or a special relationship with God. They don’t have more of the Spirit than anyone else. Luther came to this awareness on his own but everyone back in his day thought otherwise. Their thinking was based on the belief in the Divine Right of Kings where kings, queens, and nobles were special human beings, divinely appointed. And when they spoke, it was like God spoke. I think popes and members of the LDS First Presidency are treated like that today.

But Luther said everyone’s equal, on account of our baptism in Christ. Our baptism gives everyone equal access to God, in all our diversity. Something he called “the priesthood of all believers.” He wasn’t very inclusive in his writing and speech back in the 16th century! But it was all about our fundamental equality in Christ, and it extends to the fundamental equality we share with all of God’s creation. A fundamental equality in diversity.

And so all of Jesus’ followers are ministers, as the gospel teaches. All are able to learn. All are able to practice skills that can be taught. Jesus sends out students with the same ability to work for the common good with the same challenges he would have. A ministry of all the faithful, in the name of Christ. He gave them a holy inspiration to do all the things he did. Just like him, they were called to preach with their actions that the kingdom of peace and justice had come near. They were called to show with their hands and hearts that the kingdom comes through compassion and unconditional life-changing kindness towards others, especially those most at risk. And like Jesus was doing, they were called to give away the gifts they received. Always mindful that God’s grace would provide whatever needed.

The need is certainly great today as well. We see it everywhere! Economists are scratching their heads though. Unemployment continues at a record low in the nation but the labor shortage is greatest in the service sector. People willing to serve in low-skilled jobs are hard to come by. Jobs that used to be the first rung on the ladder. Do you find yourself waiting more these days for help of any kind? The same seems to go for volunteer labor: labor that’s mostly unskilled or low-skilled. Volunteers at shelters, food pantries, respite care, you name it. Any direct-service opportunity to the under-served.  Meals on Wheels is in trouble across the country. They can’t get the volunteers to get behind the wheel and they can’t keep up with the cost of delivering meals. This seems to be true for almost every non-profit social service agency, including faith communities and our nation’s home-health care system. The number of people needing volunteer help is growing exponentially. I believe national problems require national policy solutions. The need is too big for just non-profit altruism. Ethical people of faith can write and advocate policy for the government. But it’s not the Church’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem of how to lift everyone from helpless and hopeless poverty.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” Jesus says. I hear Jesus inviting all of us who follow him, “You be the good news, when others can’t.” “Be the good news, until everyone is doing it together.” I want you to know that even the smallest act of kindness and generosity in these times does not go un-noticed or to waste. Maybe you’ve seen the yard signs around town: “One act of Kindness every day.” Kindness has a ripple effect.  Our Muslim cousins teach us that just smiling at someone is a great blessing. Some days it takes a lot of effort to just smile at others in the marketplace. That other person could be a grocery employee, a construction worker, a coffee barista, or a bus driver. They might wonder what’s wrong with you, or maybe not. It’s up to them how they receive it. Showing an act of kindness when we’re having a bad day ourselves takes a special effort. I know. But that effort is a blessing. Christ invites us to spread the good news of God’s love in every way.

I think choosing that is setting in motion the power of goodness. 

And that’s no small thing. I keep reading and about road-rage incidents in Utah.  Lunch time on a late June Sunday: a pickup truck pulls out of a parking lot into traffic, narrowly missing a car. That car’s driver is enraged, and speeds after the truck, tail-gating the truck on the highway. The driver of the truck is enraged. He slams the side of his truck into the car to try and force it off the road. The car stays in its lane, but the truck loses control and jumps into the oncoming lanes of traffic and kills two people in a head-on collision.

The truck driver is in jail on manslaughter charges. But I wonder: what if the car had just let the truck drive away? Wouldn’t that have been an act of compassion? Wouldn’t the power of compassion have been set in motion, instead of rage? Simple things like choosing kindness and compassion in our daily lives might have wonderful consequences that we will never know but must surely give life to others in some way.

I want you to hear from me that no matter how small the act of generosity or volunteerism in our Life Together as Mount Tabor, that generosity sets in motion a chain of goodness that we may never see the end of. When you donate blood, serve at Vinny’s, hand out bulletins, participate in our food drives, welcome visitors, help with maintaining and improving our buildings and grounds, sing in worship, read lessons, start small groups, on and on, those acts of generosity, service, and volunteerism are deeply appreciated by those around you. Sending cards to each other in the mail. Inviting someone you know from Tabor out for coffee or a beer just to get to know them better. Those are just a few ideas I think, of what it means to labor in God’s harvest of blessings.  The smallest kindness can set endless blessings in motion. All of them life-giving. All of them part of living the reign of God’s love in our world. – Pastor David