Sunday, June 8, 2008

Will You Follow? Lead?

Examples of following & leading - Dancing & Geese

Whether following or leading, we are commanded to Love Our Neighbor As Ourself. You see, there is no limit -no boundary to the extent that we should go for our neighbor.
For God’s mercy has no limit - God’s mercy is abundant. God asks us to give God mercy, not sacrifice. God has such hope and love for us that God has reached out us through Jesus and shown us abundant mercy.

Jesus is traveling around Galilee doing ministry. First he sees a tax collector at a toll booth and invites Matthew to follow him. They travel on together and eat with other tax collectors…considered sinners and not accepted by the Pharisees - the ruling Jewish leaders.

Then we hear of Jarius, a loving father who is also a leader in the synagogue. He approaches Jesus and asks Jesus to follow him to his home where his daughter has just died. Then the hemorrhaging woman reached out in her faithfulness, to Jesus to be healed.

Both stories provide food for thought upon the nature of ministry—that of Jesus as well as that of the church. Jesus calls Matthew to follow him, yet Jesus follows Matthew and the sinners to the table. Meanwhile, the desperate leader and the suffering woman prevail upon Jesus to win his touch. Jesus reaches out to the toll collector, but he finds himself apprehended by those seeking his healing touch.

Jesus often receives credit for touching a woman with a bloody discharge and for touching a dead girl's body. According to tradition, Jesus reaches across Israel's purity codes in doing so. Recent scholars recognize that Jesus does not disobey the Law in either instance, but he does touch ritual impurity. The thing is, Jesus initiates neither contact. Once again, he practices the art of following.

So it may be with the church's ministry: sometimes we go forth and identify ourselves with those on the margins; in other cases the needs of others draw the church beyond its comfortable boundaries. Like Jesus, the church needs to cultivate the art of following.

Sometimes the church needs to learn the art of following, as Jesus does in Matthew's Gospel. During the Civil Rights Movement some European Americans acted as heroes, risking social standing, employment, even bodily safety for the cause of justice. In fact, my own pastor in suburban Wauconda had learned the art of following and worked hard to lead the justice movement in our little community. You see, he had grown up on the south side of Chicago and had followed people who looked and sounded different than he. God's mercy worked through him to show us how to follow... how to listen and learn from others. He taught me to respect others who believe differently than me. His story and the stories of other European Americans have inspired me for as long as I can remember.

Yet most of them did not seek out the cause of racial justice; rather, it found them. A particular incident opened their eyes to the harsh truth, or a specific crisis called them to action. Then, sometimes slowly, sometimes reluctantly, and usually hesitantly, they moved forth. Confronted with the leadership and the suffering of African Americans, some but not all Anglo European Americans joined the cause. As in many of the healing stories of Jesus, they were heroes not because they sought out the opportunity for healing but because they responded to the call set before them. They practiced the art of following, then given the fullness of God's mercy, they began to lead. They led without fear, because through Christ, they were not afraid.

Some churches suffer from a misguided hero complex today. Mainline churches wonder how to draw people in rather than how to engage with human beings where they live. Rather than wait for people to come in, perhaps the church should follow our neighbors out into the world, responding to their needs as they emerge.

What might this look like at Holy Trinity?

Rather than complain that families attend summer soccer games, we might offer clinics on parenting and sports….or perhaps utilize our gymnasium and open it to the community.
Rather than puzzle over why the multi-ethnic community in our neighborhood doesn't visit us, we might explore how to participate in the area Korean or Indian or Mexican events.
Rather than close our front door to those who seek entrance, we might consider opening it…both literally and figuratively.
Rather than give money alone, what if we went to the Food Pantry and gave our time? We might go to an area PADS site and served the guests there…or we might explore how Holy Trinity could become a PADS site.

God's mercy sees through all of our sinfulness and follows us faithfully like the woman....and yet, also leads us like the synagogue leader led Jesus to his dead daughter. There is a steadfastness in knowing God will be there...merciful...always.

Let's pray.