Second Weekend After Pentecost (B/RCL)
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
June 6-7, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Usually people think of a church building as the place where ministry happens. That’s sometimes but not always so. At Synod Assembly we heard how the ladies room in a Philadelphia train station became a grace place.
Violet Little is a bi-vocational pastor, which means she has 2 vocations, one in the world and one in the church. Violet serves both as a psychiatrist and as a pastor. (Some of you may remember that St. Paul was a tentmaker as well as a preacher.) One day she missed her train out of the City of Brotherly Love. She headed for the restroom while she waited. There was a long line and some very grumpy, even nasty, professional women complaining about the homeless women who were gumming up the works by using the sinks to wash up as best they could. Pastor Violet yelled at her well-dressed, perfectly groomed, safely housed peers: “They’re children of God, too, you know!”
The highly educated, not highly sensitive grumblers fell silent. When they had left the restroom, one of the homeless women said to Violet, “You’re a pastor, aren’t you?” When Violet nodded yes, the woman asked, “Do you want to be our pastor?” And a community of homeless folks, led by a shrink, called The Welcoming Church, was born.
There were traditional forums at Synod Assembly about Bible studies and stewardship strategies, but most of the large group presentations and discussion were about ministry out in the world. A comment that stuck with me was this: “God is knocking: not to get in, but to get out! Think of the opposite of this picture in which Jesus knocks to get into our heart. If the house is the church, reverse things and imagine Jesus knocking to break out of the sanctuary and into the world.
Remember what we’ve said about Superstorm Sandy? She washed us out of the sanctuary and into the world: through MOVE, the Furniture Bank, the Kitchen and Linen Brigade. We were deployed to the food pantry at First Pres long before Sandy. We’ve been deployed more recently to Family Promise hosting up in Tinton Falls and now at First Baptist. There are other places God would like to send us also: to alleviate suffering, to tell and be Good News.
JJ Keelan, Gary Strathearn and I represented Holy Trinity at the Synod Assembly and heard much about the world’s suffering in these past couple days. I attended a forum Sat. morning about the ministry of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. I had heard previously about the many undocumented folks who are caught in a spiral of despair at the Elizabeth Detention Center. ELCA congregations still hold prayer vigils the third Sunday of every month at that location. (The building is difficult to find because it’s unmarked. From the outside it looks like a municipal garage.) News to me is that there are actually family detention centers as well. The conditions at 2 such facilities in Texas are so awful that Mexican mothers have made the news by staging hunger strikes to protest conditions and attract media attention. Recently the mother of a 4 year old child at a detention center in Pennsylvania tried to end her own life, so great was her despair of ever leaving.
The verse that caught my attention from today’s Gospel is this:
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)
Could it possibly be God’s will that in this country it is legal for families to be subjected to dehumanizing conditions for indeterminate periods of time? For what are referred to as “administrative violations,” such as traffic tickets? Would any of us tell the 4-year-old child of the woman who tried to kill herself in the PA detention center, “Well, you’re not here legally, so you must deserve this?” We know what Pastor Violet Little would say to that: “They’re children of God, too, you know!”
At Assembly we learned more about the newly created Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy Ministry of NJ, led by NJ Synod Pastor Sara Lilja, director of what used to be called the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry, and a board made up of 6 Lutherans and 6 Episcopalians. (One of the Lutherans is a Holy Trinity member!) Pastor Lilja described the motivation of LEAM-NJ as “passion and concern for those on the margins.” She emphasized that the goal of this “work of advocacy to affirm human dignity… is not to accelerate rhetoric but to speak respectfully” and communicate the concerns of people of faith to people in power. There are many peace and justice issues to be addressed in the local and larger church, including hunger, homelessness and immigration. If you have a heart for the justice God demands through the prophets in Hebrew Scripture and through Jesus in Christian Scripture, please take special note of the invitation in the bulletin to be part of an evolving peace and justice task force here at Holy Trinity, an outgrowth of our visioning process. Educating ourselves on the issues is the first order of business.
This weekend’s lesson from 2 Corinthians includes this half-verse: “So we do not lose heart.” (2 Cor. 4:16a) Here is good news re. the results of the ELCA Malaria Campaign: in the past 5 years the number of deaths from malaria in Africa has been slashed by 50%. (Another interesting Synod news note from Pr. Bruce Davidson: in the US, once a developing country itself, there were more deaths caused by malaria than actual warfare during the Civil War.)
Back to Philadelphia. The congregation Pastor Violet Little leads has no sanctuary other than train stations and parks. Many members of her flock have no shoes, a fact not lost on a physician faculty member of the Temple Medical School. He must be a podiatrist, because he offers medical services free to the members of the Welcoming Church. He challenged a friend specializing in orthopedics to provide shoes for the shoeless: 200 pairs. He asked Pastor Violet, “Isn’t there a church service involving feet??” “Yes,” she said, “Maundy Thursday.” On Maundy Thursday the homeless washed each other’s feet and received a pair of shoes to retreat wherever it is they rest. (We can’t say “to wear home” since they are, after all, homeless.)
Near the end of Assembly our bishop Tracie Bartholomew told a story about her high school skiing days…. She looked forward to the annual ski trip to VT and was exceedingly proud she had never wiped out on the slopes – until a friend broke her bubble:
“Tracie, of course you don’t fall! You don’t take any chances!”
Our bishop challenged us to take chances, to risk falling, to risk failing, by striking out boldly to tell and show our brothers and sisters that “They, too, are deeply loved by God.” Jesus is pounding on the door of this sanctuary to be released into the world and to launch us into the world. God says of those suffering outside this sanctuary, “They’re children of God, too, you know!”
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham