About Susan Boyer

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Sunday School Stories Revisited

Sunday School Stories Revisited

This Lent, Pastor Janet and I are planning a sermon series called “Sunday School Stories Revisited.”  We live in a Bible-saturated culture in which most people know the story of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Joseph and the multi-colored coat, and the Prodigal Son, just to name a few….but most people have never read them.  It just proves the saying about the Bible that it is “the book millions live their lives by and hundreds have actually read.”

I do a sermon series in the summer called “Is That Really in the Bible?” about stories in the Bible most people have never heard.  This series is different.  These are the stories we have all heard numerous times and had interpreted for us.  For example, we are told that the story of Adam and Eve is about original sin and that marriage is between one man and one woman.  Is that true or could it be that is an interpretation placed on the story?

Pastor Janet and I have chosen five biblical stories to look at again and actually read together.  We want to take them out of the children’s Sunday School classroom, where many of them have been interpreted into moralistic stories, and find the complexities and truths that each story has to tell.  We want to see these stories with adult eyes and mine their theological depths.

We hope you join us for Lent this year, as we dust off some well-loved stories and allow the Bible to speak to us anew in our current age.  Use the season of Lent as a time to crack open your Bible and join us on this journey.

 

Blessed With a Church Family!

Blessed With a Church Family!

On November 1, 2015, Gary Colby did us the favor of taking a picture of our church family on the courtyard after worship.  November 1, 1890 was the day the original 27 members of the La Verne Church of the Brethren organized to become a church.  125 years later, we stood on the courtyard to commemorate this anniversary.

When the church staff looks at this picture, we are filled with gratitude.  It is a joy every day to do ministry alongside such incredible, salt-of-the-earth people.  Thank you for continuing the legacy begun on November 1, 1890.  Thank you for being such an excellent church family.

With love,
~Your Church Staff

 

The Heavenly Host

The Heavenly Host

Letha Ressler posted this photo on Facebook after going over to the church sanctuary one night to prepare the worship table for Sunday.  She found that the lights in a dark sanctuary created peace crane shadows on the wall of the choir loft.  When I first saw the photo I was taken by its beauty.  However, as I began to plan for Advent worships around the theme of darkness, Letha’s photo kept returning to my mind.  I thought of the night the shepherds looked up into the night sky and saw a heavenly host.

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, we will be looking at darkness, its gifts and challenges. On Christmas Eve, cranes will be flying above the choir and casting their shadows.  It will appear as if the heavenly host has flown right into our church sanctuary.  That is what we are hoping for as we wait for Christ to be born again.  We want to hear good news of great joy! Join us on Christmas Eve at 9:00 p.m. as we wait in the darkness for the One who is the Light of the World.

The Gift of Darkness

The Gift of Darkness

Not long ago my son sent me an article about Stephen Colbert, new host of the Late Show and an active Catholic.  In the article I learned that Colbert’s father and two of his brothers were killed in a plane crash when Colbert was 10 years old.  He was traumatized but he did not become resentful.  The interviewer asked him why.  “My mother,” he said.  “She was broken but not bitter.” He talked about how this horrible shock taught him not to live his life in fear.  Then he said the most astounding thing.  He said, “That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage.  It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

I have been living in the midst of that statement ever since I first read it. Henri Nouwen says it this way:

We have to find the courage to embrace our brokenness, to make our most feared enemy our friend, and to claim it as an intimate companion.

What a statement to be able to say you are grateful for the most traumatizing event of life….that we can make friends with the dark.

  • To be grateful for the dark that gestates the seed and the dark that brings trauma.
  • To be grateful for the dark that holds our dreams and the dark that brings the dark night of the soul.
  • To be grateful for the dark in which the light of the world is born and to be grateful for the dark where Herod’s plot is discovered.

As we approach the season of Advent, the nights lengthen and the days shorten. Many of us will leave for work in the dark and return home in darkness.   We must make friends with the darkness.  Join us this Advent season as we look at the dark that gives definition to the light and the darkness where the outrageous becomes possible.  For it was in the darkness that Joseph found direction; where the light of the world was born; where the magi saw a sign; and shepherds heard the good news.

 

Giving Up on Conventional Wisdom

Giving Up on Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom says that if you do not have enough time in your day you should speed up and multi-task.  I have bought into conventional wisdom.  While I drive home, I talk to my children through a Bluetooth in my car.  While I answer emails, I eat lunch at my desk.  While I write the pastor’s page, I do the laundry and bake a cake.  While I pay bills, I watch the news.  I have found myself feeling more and more frenetic and less and less centered.  Things I used to savor doing have become just one more thing on a long list.

Recently someone invited me to “breathe and observe.”  I have heard people use the phrase “non-anxious presence” for some years now, but I thought I could be a “non-anxious presence” as I feverishly moved from one task to another.  I’m sure I wasn’t fooling anyone, but what I realized is that I need to be a non-anxious presence for myself.  I need to be present inside my own skin.  I need to savor and expand the moments of my life; otherwise I can’t really be present to other people’s moments.

So I finally listened to the advice I received:  “Breathe and observe.”  When I am feeling like I need to do more, I hear, “Breathe and observe.”  When I wish someone would get to the point, I say to myself, “Breathe and observe.”  When I walk the dog in the morning I say, “Breathe and observe.”  When I am working on writing a sermon, I chant, “Breathe and observe.”

It has helped me see God’s hand at work all around me.  When I breathe and observe in a hospital room, or driving down the freeway, or riding my bike to Hillcrest, or sitting with someone in my office, I see God everywhere.  I hear the words of the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God.”  “Be a non-anxious presence and know that I am God.”  “Breathe and observe and know that I am God.”

Being a Pillar

Genesis 19:15-26 / August 9, 2015
Susan Boyer

Even those who don’t regularly read their Bibles, probably know the story of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt.  The message in that story has been told over and over again about a woman who longed for what she was leaving behind instead of understanding the blessing she was receiving.  The result was an eternity in the hot sun as a pillar of salt.

What a dismal fate for this woman we know only one thing about, she was married to Lot.  We don’t know her name.  We don’t know where she came from.  We don’t know why she looked back.  Like so many women in the Bible, she is known only by the person she married.  I would like to give this unnamed woman a longer look today.

She married Lot, nephew of Abraham, whom Abraham and Sarah raised after Lot’s father died.  Abraham and Lot were herdsmen and when it became clear that their flocks were too great to stay together, magnanimous Abraham let Lot choose his land first.  He chose the whole Jordan basin, the most fertile area, and as Frederick Buechner says, “…Abraham was left with the scrub country around Dead Man’s Gulch.”[1] Lot was a man of self-interest and he settled in Sodom.

One day two messengers appear at the tents of Abraham and after telling him that God will give him his long awaited son by Sarah, God informs Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom.  Abraham shows his amazing bargaining technique in a beautiful dialogue with God.  Knowing that his nephew lives in Sodom Abraham says, “What if you found 50 righteous people living in Sodom would you destroy it anyway, slaughtering the good with the bad?”  “No,” God says, “I would save the city for 50 righteous.”  “What if there were only 45, would you kill those 45 because they were lacking the 5 needed to make 50?”  “No, I couldn’t do that.”  “What about 40 people?  Do I hear 40?”  Yeah, for forty I wouldn’t wipe out the city.”  “Okay, don’t get mad God, but what about 30?”  “I won’t do it if there are 30 righteous people living in Sodom.”  “20?”  “20 would save the city.”  “Okay, just one more.  What about 10?”  “If there really are 10 righteous people living in Sodom, I will not destroy it.” Abraham feels confident that he has saved the city for his nephew with his excellent bargaining skills.

So the two messengers of God head to Sodom looking for 10 righteous people.  They head to the city square and there Lot, following the hospitality code of his day, invites them home to spend the night in safety at his house.  But the wicked of the city come to Lot’s house demanding that he hand over the two men they saw go into his house.   He refuses and offers them his daughters, instead.  But the angels intervene and strike the men outside the house blind.

Unable to find 10 righteous people, the angels say to Lot, “We are about to destroy this city.  You need to leave.  Bring your wife, your daughters and your son-in-laws with you.”  So Lot went to get the men who were about to marry the two daughters he still had at home, but they thought, “Oh, what a kidder that Lot is.”  They refused to come.

So the angels came back.  “You need to leave now.”  But Lot didn’t want to leave his home, his married daughters and his grandchildren and they wouldn’t come with him.  Besides, what should he take with him?  He wasn’t expecting to leave in such a hurry.  He just keeps turning around in a slow circle in his home.  He had important papers and family heirlooms and photographs scattered everywhere.  What to take?  What to leave behind?  Meanwhile the angels keep saying, “You need to leave now.  Right now.”

Finally, the angels grab him, his wife and his two unmarried daughters and force them to leave.  The angels in desperation yell, “Run. Run for your life.  Don’t look back.  Run to the hills or you will die.”  But Lot used this precious time to bargain.  I think it must have been a family trait.  “Hey, thanks for saving my life but I don’t want to run to the hills.  It’s dangerous up there.  How about that little town over there?  I’m really kind of a city person, anyway.  I don’t like camping, not even glamping.”

One of the exasperated angels yells, “Fine.  Just go.  We can’t destroy Sodom until you are gone.”  Lot and his wife and two daughters head off for the little village of Zoar, while the angels destroy Sodom and all that is around it.  Lot’s wife, walking behind him, looks back and she becomes a pillar of salt. Abraham looks down on the plain from Dead Man’s Gulch and realizes, with dismay, that God didn’t find ten righteous people in the city of Sodom.

I have always felt so sorry for Lot’s wife.  Sodom may have been her home.  With no explanation she has been told to leave her married daughters and her grandchildren, maybe even her parents and her siblings, her friends, perhaps her favorite auntie.  This is her hometown.  Of course she looked back.  Looking back isn’t such a crime.  I do it all the time.  So do you.  Looking back can teach us something.  It can help us not to repeat bad decisions.  Looking back can actually be good for our future.

But you say, “She was told not to look back and she did.  This is her punishment.”  But the command not to look back was second person, masculine, singular, addressed only to Lot and no one else.  Lot was the only one who heard that directive.  It makes sense that he should be told not to look back, he was having a very hard time leaving Sodom and had to be forcibly taken by the hand and removed.   But why is Lot’s wife punished for turning back.  I wonder if her sin is really so horrible that she has to be punished this way…or is she there to teach us something?[2]

In the Babylonian Talmud is this line:  “The Rabbis taught that the one who sees…Lot’s wife [as a pillar of salt] shall give thanks and praise before God.”[3]  That seems like an odd thing to say about someone who has been punished for all eternity.  Pillars had different roles in the Hebrew Bible.  Some were used as warning signs.  Some were blockades.  Some were direction markers.  Some were covenant reminders or memorials.  What if Lot’s wife wasn’t a pillar of punishment but a memorial pillar?

When the choir went on tour back East a couple years ago, one of the alternate activities was an afternoon trip to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Since I had never been there I opted for the excursion.  As the National Park Guide led us around, I could not believe the size and scope and loss of human life of this battle.  It overwhelmed me with sadness.  Standing on the summit of one of the hills is the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, dedicated in 1938 on the 75th anniversary of the Battle at Gettysburg.  On it is this inscription, “Peace Eternal in a Nation United.”  In 1946, right after WWII, Truman said about the inscription, “That is what we want, but let’s change that word nation to world and we’ll have something.” Peace eternal in a world united.

Going to Gettysburg, without stopping at that memorial, would have left that scene in my mind without redemption.  Instead, in looking back while speaking peace, Gettysburg served as a memorial pillar for me.  May the United States never divide into warring factions again.

Lot’s wife serves as a memorial pillar of salt, whether being turned to salt was punishment or not.  I have a problem with making Lot’s wife a punishment.  It allows us to stand on the outside of this story and say, “She was warned.  I’m glad I’m an obedient follower of God’s call and nothing like her.”  But we all know that if it was our hometown and our children and grandchildren were still in that city about to be destroyed, we would want to look back.  We are just like Lot’s wife.

She stands there in that Jordan basin for all time….a memorial….a pillar of redemption to a scene of wickedness and destruction.  She is made of salt, an important commodity in her time.  Something used in temple sacrifices. She reminds us that God wants what is best for us and calls us into a future of blessing.  She is a warning sign. She reminds us to live as righteous people.  She is a directional marker.  She reminds us to follow God wherever God leads us.   “Let all who see Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt give thanks and praise before God.”   Amen.

[1] Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures:  A Biblical Who’s Who (San Francisco:  Harper & Row Publishers, 1979), p. 4.

[2] Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Editor, The Women’s Torah Commentary (Woodstock, Vermont:  Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000), p. 64.

[3]

Being a Pillar

Genesis 19:15-26 / August 9, 2015
Susan Boyer

Even those who don’t regularly read their Bibles, probably know the story of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt.  The message in that story has been told over and over again about a woman who longed for what she was leaving behind instead of understanding the blessing she was receiving.  The result was an eternity in the hot sun as a pillar of salt.

What a dismal fate for this woman we know only one thing about, she was married to Lot.  We don’t know her name.  We don’t know where she came from.  We don’t know why she looked back.  Like so many women in the Bible, she is known only by the person she married.  I would like to give this unnamed woman a longer look today.

She married Lot, nephew of Abraham, whom Abraham and Sarah raised after Lot’s father died.  Abraham and Lot were herdsmen and when it became clear that their flocks were too great to stay together, magnanimous Abraham let Lot choose his land first.  He chose the whole Jordan basin, the most fertile area, and as Frederick Buechner says, “…Abraham was left with the scrub country around Dead Man’s Gulch.”[1] Lot was a man of self-interest and he settled in Sodom.

One day two messengers appear at the tents of Abraham and after telling him that God will give him his long awaited son by Sarah, God informs Abraham that he is about to destroy Sodom.  Abraham shows his amazing bargaining technique in a beautiful dialogue with God.  Knowing that his nephew lives in Sodom Abraham says, “What if you found 50 righteous people living in Sodom would you destroy it anyway, slaughtering the good with the bad?”  “No,” God says, “I would save the city for 50 righteous.”  “What if there were only 45, would you kill those 45 because they were lacking the 5 needed to make 50?”  “No, I couldn’t do that.”  “What about 40 people?  Do I hear 40?”  Yeah, for forty I wouldn’t wipe out the city.”  “Okay, don’t get mad God, but what about 30?”  “I won’t do it if there are 30 righteous people living in Sodom.”  “20?”  “20 would save the city.”  “Okay, just one more.  What about 10?”  “If there really are 10 righteous people living in Sodom, I will not destroy it.” Abraham feels confident that he has saved the city for his nephew with his excellent bargaining skills.

So the two messengers of God head to Sodom looking for 10 righteous people.  They head to the city square and there Lot, following the hospitality code of his day, invites them home to spend the night in safety at his house.  But the wicked of the city come to Lot’s house demanding that he hand over the two men they saw go into his house.   He refuses and offers them his daughters, instead.  But the angels intervene and strike the men outside the house blind.

Unable to find 10 righteous people, the angels say to Lot, “We are about to destroy this city.  You need to leave.  Bring your wife, your daughters and your son-in-laws with you.”  So Lot went to get the men who were about to marry the two daughters he still had at home, but they thought, “Oh, what a kidder that Lot is.”  They refused to come.

So the angels came back.  “You need to leave now.”  But Lot didn’t want to leave his home, his married daughters and his grandchildren and they wouldn’t come with him.  Besides, what should he take with him?  He wasn’t expecting to leave in such a hurry.  He just keeps turning around in a slow circle in his home.  He had important papers and family heirlooms and photographs scattered everywhere.  What to take?  What to leave behind?  Meanwhile the angels keep saying, “You need to leave now.  Right now.”

Finally, the angels grab him, his wife and his two unmarried daughters and force them to leave.  The angels in desperation yell, “Run. Run for your life.  Don’t look back.  Run to the hills or you will die.”  But Lot used this precious time to bargain.  I think it must have been a family trait.  “Hey, thanks for saving my life but I don’t want to run to the hills.  It’s dangerous up there.  How about that little town over there?  I’m really kind of a city person, anyway.  I don’t like camping, not even glamping.”

One of the exasperated angels yells, “Fine.  Just go.  We can’t destroy Sodom until you are gone.”  Lot and his wife and two daughters head off for the little village of Zoar, while the angels destroy Sodom and all that is around it.  Lot’s wife, walking behind him, looks back and she becomes a pillar of salt. Abraham looks down on the plain from Dead Man’s Gulch and realizes, with dismay, that God didn’t find ten righteous people in the city of Sodom.

I have always felt so sorry for Lot’s wife.  Sodom may have been her home.  With no explanation she has been told to leave her married daughters and her grandchildren, maybe even her parents and her siblings, her friends, perhaps her favorite auntie.  This is her hometown.  Of course she looked back.  Looking back isn’t such a crime.  I do it all the time.  So do you.  Looking back can teach us something.  It can help us not to repeat bad decisions.  Looking back can actually be good for our future.

But you say, “She was told not to look back and she did.  This is her punishment.”  But the command not to look back was second person, masculine, singular, addressed only to Lot and no one else.  Lot was the only one who heard that directive.  It makes sense that he should be told not to look back, he was having a very hard time leaving Sodom and had to be forcibly taken by the hand and removed.   But why is Lot’s wife punished for turning back.  I wonder if her sin is really so horrible that she has to be punished this way…or is she there to teach us something?[2]

In the Babylonian Talmud is this line:  “The Rabbis taught that the one who sees…Lot’s wife [as a pillar of salt] shall give thanks and praise before God.”[3]  That seems like an odd thing to say about someone who has been punished for all eternity.  Pillars had different roles in the Hebrew Bible.  Some were used as warning signs.  Some were blockades.  Some were direction markers.  Some were covenant reminders or memorials.  What if Lot’s wife wasn’t a pillar of punishment but a memorial pillar?

When the choir went on tour back East a couple years ago, one of the alternate activities was an afternoon trip to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Since I had never been there I opted for the excursion.  As the National Park Guide led us around, I could not believe the size and scope and loss of human life of this battle.  It overwhelmed me with sadness.  Standing on the summit of one of the hills is the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, dedicated in 1938 on the 75th anniversary of the Battle at Gettysburg.  On it is this inscription, “Peace Eternal in a Nation United.”  In 1946, right after WWII, Truman said about the inscription, “That is what we want, but let’s change that word nation to world and we’ll have something.” Peace eternal in a world united.

Going to Gettysburg, without stopping at that memorial, would have left that scene in my mind without redemption.  Instead, in looking back while speaking peace, Gettysburg served as a memorial pillar for me.  May the United States never divide into warring factions again.

Lot’s wife serves as a memorial pillar of salt, whether being turned to salt was punishment or not.  I have a problem with making Lot’s wife a punishment.  It allows us to stand on the outside of this story and say, “She was warned.  I’m glad I’m an obedient follower of God’s call and nothing like her.”  But we all know that if it was our hometown and our children and grandchildren were still in that city about to be destroyed, we would want to look back.  We are just like Lot’s wife.

She stands there in that Jordan basin for all time….a memorial….a pillar of redemption to a scene of wickedness and destruction.  She is made of salt, an important commodity in her time.  Something used in temple sacrifices. She reminds us that God wants what is best for us and calls us into a future of blessing.  She is a warning sign. She reminds us to live as righteous people.  She is a directional marker.  She reminds us to follow God wherever God leads us.   “Let all who see Lot’s wife as a pillar of salt give thanks and praise before God.”   Amen.

 

[1] Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures:  A Biblical Who’s Who (San Francisco:  Harper & Row Publishers, 1979), p. 4.

[2] Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, Editor, The Women’s Torah Commentary (Woodstock, Vermont:  Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000), p. 64.

[3]

Peace, Love and Understanding

Matthew 5:38-48 / July 26, 2015
Susan Boyer

Our scripture for today is an important one for the Church of the Brethren.  For many it has formulated their pacifism stance.  The problem is, it has been misunderstood and is often interpreted to paint pacifists as wimps. If someone hits you on the right cheek turn the other one to her.  If someone sues you for your outer garment, give him your under garment.  If you are forced to walk a mile, go a second.  It makes Jesus sound acquiescent.  It makes Jesus sound like he is telling the powerless to allow themselves to be bullied.  It sounds, well, cowardly. But cowardice is not a word most people would use to describe Jesus.  To me Jesus seems fearless, forthright and strong.  So what can he possibly mean by these words from the Sermon on the Mount?

Many Brethren have interpreted Jesus’ words to mean they should be non-resistant and uninvolved in governmental structures.  It is why people have accused the Brethren of cowardice, even though I think it takes a lot of courage to be non-resistant to violence.

I grew up in a family of pacifists.  I didn’t really know what that meant when I was growing up except that my sister often wore a black arm band while singing “Blowing in the Wind” and strumming her guitar; there were no guns in the house; I never got spanked and there were protest signs in the garage.  It all seemed pretty cool to me but I didn’t really understand it.

Then my parents moved to San Diego and some of my new friends began to question what it meant that I came from a family of pacifists.  I tried to sound knowledgeable and not just say, “I don’t know.  We just don’t believe in killing people.” But that is basically how I understood it….and for the most part, still do.

After my senior year of high school I headed off on a Greyhound bus for the Church of the Brethren National Youth Conference in Estes Park, Colorado.  One of the possible afternoon activities was to go to Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant and protest on the railroad tracks in which they transported the weapons out of the site.  The day before, those of us who chose to go, painted our signs in preparation.  I was excited to be part of the protest…..mentored by parents who believed in standing up against weapons proliferation.

I stood beside my friend from church with our signs in the air but I found it was not a lark….not just an alternative activity in the exciting week of National Youth Conference.  Rocky Flats had photographers documenting our presence.  There was security everywhere.

It was at Rocky Flats that I met a Church of the Brethren woman, named Jean Zimmerman, who had spent much of the previous year protesting at the Rocky Flats plant.  At one point she had been arrested for her protest.  She was convicted but she came right back to stand on the train tracks again. She read us what she wrote on Mother’s Day about why she wanted a different world for her children.  I was so deeply moved it is still hard for me to talk about it.   Here was a woman that stood up all the time for peace in the world, not just when it worked in her schedule.  I was learning that pacifism had different facets and different levels of commitment.

There were those pacifists who worked at living peaceably with their neighbors and wrote letters to their congress people when they had a spare moment.  There were those who went to DC on their Spring Break to protest the war.  There were those who gave up a year of their life to try to shut down a nuclear weapons plant that was not just building weapons but was actually releasing contaminants.  A combined raid of the Rocky Flats plant by the FBI and the EPA in 1989 due to criminal violations of environmental law, after years of protests by concerned citizens, eventually shut down the site.  It is currently a National Wildlife Refuge.  No human presence is allowed on the site due to radiation contamination.

Then there are those persons who involve themselves in organizations like Christian Peacemakers.  CPT was started by members of the three historic peace churches:  the Mennonites, the Quakers and the Church of the Brethren.  This organization goes where there is conflict in the world and they do several things.  They try to document what is happening and get the news out to others.  They stand with the oppressed.  They put their bodies in the way of whomever the gun is pointed.  A couple CPT members have been killed for their efforts but they feel that the work of peace is not without danger and requires the conviction to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Several years ago, Walter Wink, a professor of Biblical Interpretation wrote a landmark essay on our scripture for today.  For those of you who are familiar with Walter Wink’s essay, I ask you to bear with me as I share his insight.  For I think that as Wink unpacks the context in which Jesus preaches this sermon, he teaches us Brethren pacifists something very important about the three scenarios Jesus shares with his listeners.

In this scripture, Jesus specifically says that if anyone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other also.  Wink wonders why Jesus is so specific as to tell us on which cheek someone might strike us?  In Jesus’ culture, the left hand was used only for unclean tasks and not to be used to touch anyone.  So to hit someone with your right hand on his or her right cheek required you to backhand the person.  No one ever struck a peer that way or, as it turns out, there was a large fine to pay.  You could backhand someone inferior to you without reprisal and if a subordinate retaliated they could be put to death.  So it seemed that a subordinate had one option, to just stand there and be humiliated.  But Jesus said, “No turn the other cheek.  Invite them to hit you as an equal.  Refuse to be humiliated.”  In a world of honor and shame, this was an important distinction.  [1]

Jesus’ second scenario takes place in a courtroom.  In first century Palestine, only the poorest of the poor would have nothing but a garment to give for collateral.  Jesus says to the impoverished, “If someone sues you for your outer garment, give them your tunic as well and then walk out of court stark naked.”  Nakedness was forbidden in Judaism but the condemnation was on the person doing the viewing or causing the nakedness.  In this hypothetical situation, Jesus turns the tables.[2]

Third scenario:  During the Roman occupation, soldiers could force civilians to carry their packs for one mile.  However, it was forbidden to press them into service for a second mile.  Punishment for making a civilian carry your pack for more than one mile could be as lax as a rebuke or as severe as a flogging.  Jesus says to his listeners, “If a soldier forces you to accompany him for a mile, go a second mile.”  One can imagine the worried soldier begging the civilian to please stop and put the pack down.  The oppressed has taken back the power to choose.[3]

In Walter Wink’s essay, we meet a different Jesus than the one inviting his followers to become doormats. He invites us all to refuse to be humiliated and at the same time, to reject violence as an option. He invites us to refuse to see through the lens prescribed for us by the Empire.  Jesus encourages us to try a new way of relating to each other…not with relationships governed by power but with dignity and freedom grounded in love.  Point out to your oppressor what they are doing and do it without violence…do it with love.  Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors….do it while refusing to be humiliated.  Do it as a choice.

This past week was our annual Young Peacemaker’s Camp here at the church.  Ninety-one children came here Monday through Friday evenings and learned about empathy, diversity, understanding and radical compassion.  This year our leadership worked so hard to find 47 adult volunteers to make it through the week because we know that what we do here for peace is so important.  Please come join us next year because it truly is one of most fun things we do at this church.

Our children play cooperative games, pick tomatoes in the garden, make pizza, tie-dye t-shirts, fold peace cranes, make trash into treasure, all while they learn about what it means to be a peacemaker in this world.  We take them as they are and we summon out a new way of seeing the world.  We invite them, not into a world of inaction and hopelessness, but into a world of peace, love and understanding….with dignity for all.

Ten years after I met Jean Zimmerman, the mother who stood on the train tracks at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, I became her pastor.  I began to pastor the woman who mentored my peace-loving soul.  I told her how she had influenced me and she told me about that year protesting at Rocky Flats.  She said, “When I first went there I had to fight myself not to make the security guards my enemies.  During the year, some of my closest relationships were with the security at Rocky Flats.  After all, we spent our days together.  I was protesting what they were doing inside that plant.  They were hired to protect it.  I asked about their families. I asked them how they could defend what was happening there. I refused to be intimidated by them and I left there with them as my friends.  Giving my time and myself to closing that plant was one of the best things I did with my life.” She died of cancer eight years later.  At her funeral we read the poem she wrote there one Mother’s Day.

As I sat on the courtyard this week, folding peace cranes with the wonderful children who attend our Peace Camp I prayed that they would have wonderful mentors for peace in their lives.  And I prayed that all of us will be able to say that we followed the strong, righteous man of Galilee by loving our enemies and laying down our lives for our friends.  Amen.

[1] Walter Wink, Beyond Just War and Pacifism:  Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, www.cres.org/star/_wink.htm.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Showing Hospitality

 

Matthew 10:40-42 / June 21, 2015
Susan Boyer

 

In his book, Maybe (Maybe Not), Robert Fulghum tells the story of when his friend’s father died.  His friend was an only child and his mother had already passed on.   The son was left alone to go through his father’s things.  His father was a solemn man and while the father/son relationship wasn’t broken it had been formal and distant.

As the son was cleaning out his father’s home he came to the top drawer of the bureau in the bedroom.  There he found several boxes in which his father kept the treasures of his life: his wife’s wedding ring and a lock of her red hair, his Air Force insignia pins, miscellaneous jewelry, some foreign coins and three keys.  In a cigar tin, wrapped in tissue paper he found tiny teeth glued to a card with a date under each one, written with his father’s penmanship.  His father was the tooth fairy.  He didn’t expect that.  All these years he had given his mother the credit.[1]

Over the years mothers were assigned the credit and the blame for what happened in the family.  Fathers were providers and mothers took care of raising children. I know for me personally, if I wanted to spend time with my father…not always, but often….I did what my father enjoyed doing or I went to work with him.  In that process I learned about service.  I watched my father exude hospitality to others.  I helped my mother clean the house and cook meals because my father was always bringing people home.  My mother made my father’s gift of hospitality possible.

In the scripture from Matthew Jesus lifts up the importance of welcome.   He gathers his disciples together and tells them he is going to send them out to heal and cleanse and raise the dead.  This is an intimidating mission. They are going to need some provisions to be able to accomplish it.  But Jesus says, “No.  Go just with the clothes on your back and depend only on the hospitality of others.”  Imagine that for just a second.  No food.  No money.  No small suitcase with some extra underwear and some deodorant.  They have to rely on the kindness of strangers for everything.

Jesus ends his instruction to these twelve men with his spin on the traditional Jewish saying, “A man’s emissary is like the man himself.” Jesus tells them that if people welcome them it is like they are welcoming him and if people welcome him (Jesus), they are welcoming God.  I don’t know about you but I have always thought Jesus was saying this to the wrong people.  Shouldn’t he be telling the people that the disciples would meet that they needed to treat these men with kindness and hospitality?

When I was a senior in high school I had an English class I only had to show up to on Fridays.  The rest of the week we were supposed to choose a novel from a list of books the teacher gave us at the beginning of the semester and then we were to sit in the library, read that novel and write a paper on it.  On Fridays we would come together, turn in our papers and share about the books we had read.  We were to read books like The Great Gatsby, Vanity Fair, Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird.  It was no small assignment and many people couldn’t keep up that kind of rigorous reading and writing.  But I was a goody two shoes.  I never missed class, even if it was to confess that I couldn’t finish The Scarlet Letter that week.  Every week I would show up on Fridays and every week the teacher would lecture me on everyone else’s absence.   “We can’t have a class like this unless people do their work and show up here on Fridays,” he would rant.  One week I finally had it.  I said, “You are telling the wrong people.  Please don’t lecture me anymore.  I’m here.”

Jesus looks at his disciples and tells them how they ought to be received. It seems like he is having this discussion with the wrong people. But by telling them how they ought to be received he is also telling them how they ought to receive others.  Hospitality is not only to be received. It is to be given.  Hospitality and welcome were at the basis of so much of Jesus’ ministry.  He welcomed the children.  He welcomed the sinner.  He welcomed women and the marginalized.  He welcomed the unclean and the ostracized.

But Jesus was also welcomed….by Simon the leper, the woman with the alabaster jar of expensive ointment, Zaccheus, Mary and Martha.  He sent his disciples out, expecting that they would give and receive hospitality.  He wanted them to know that they would meet him in the sick and the marginalized.  He wanted them also to know that others would meet Jesus in them.

I do believe that hospitality and welcome are at the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  No hospitality equals no Gospel message.  We speak the words of foundational welcome often at the La Verne Church of the Brethren.  Welcome – it means may those who come find wellness here…Well-come.

Joan Chittister in one of her books writes about the Rule of the Benedict.  She says:

“Hospitality is one form of worship,” the rabbis wrote. Benedictine spirituality takes this tendency seriously. The welcome at the door is not only loving – a telephone operator at a jail can do that. It is total, as well. Both the community and the abbot receive the guest. The message to the stranger is clear. Come right in and disturb our perfect lives. You are the Christ for us today….Benedict wants us to let down the barriers of our souls so that the God of the unexpected can come in.[2]

For generations, hospitality has been the role of women but that is in transition.  Everything is in transition.  Some men stay home.  Some children have two fathers.  Some men are better at hospitality than women.  A couple thousand years ago, Jesus told a beautiful, groundbreaking story of a father who understood welcome.  That father ran down the road to welcome his wayward son and then threw him a party…to the dismay of others.  Jesus tells a story in which welcome and hospitality aren’t just for the stranger and the marginalized.  He tells a story in which welcome is displayed within the family.   He tells a story in which a father, not a mother, stops what he is doing, disturbs his life and welcomes his son as he would welcome Jesus.  “Come right in and disturb my perfect life for you are Christ today.”

This week I asked numerous people how they experienced hospitality from their fathers.  Some of them said they learned about hospitality by watching their fathers welcome others.  And some of them told me stories of how their fathers welcomed them:

  • “My father spent time with me doing the things that interested me.”
  • “My father would sit on the bed with me singing silly songs and doing voices of my favorite characters.  Sometimes he would do that for as long as I wanted him to.”
  • “When we traveled somewhere in the car together my father would sing with me, teaching me about harmony and what can happen when two people join forces.”
  • “After I was grown and I would come home for a visit, I could tell my father was so excited to see me.  He would make my favorite meal and sit with me at the end of dinner, peppering me with questions about my life and listening to me as if he had all the time in the world.”
  • “My father was present with me.  He would do things with me I knew he didn’t have time to do.”

It was such a gift to hear children wax eloquent about how their fathers showed them hospitality.   If you noticed, all their comments talked about time….the gift of being truly present to another.  So to you men of this congregation, I want to say thank you for all the ways you have lavished others and us with your time, attention and hospitality