WORSHIP THIS WEEK: This Sunday: May 28, we celebrate Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit turned a bunch of tentative, scared disciples into powerful preachers and teachers. How might the Holy Spirit be transforming us today? Wear some red, and join us for worship at 10:00 on Sunday, either at 300 Shunpike Road or in our digital sanctuary here: https://www.youtube.com/live/MCArzukvPgI?feature=share
October 2, 2022
When I was growing up, I loved spending the night at my grandparents’ house. We would have so much fun. We watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, played canasta, and ate more chocolate-covered graham crackers than I would ever be allowed to eat at home.
There were so many ways that my grandparents’ faith life showed up in our time together. It wasn’t heavy-handed. It was just a part of who they were and how they lived. They talked with me about the Sunday School classes that they both taught. At their Baptist church, the men and the women of the church had separate classes. My grandmother taught the women’s class, and my grandfather taught the men’s class. They were often studying the same topic or book of the Bible, and they would compare notes about how it was going. My grandparents started each morning with a devotion that they read and discussed over breakfast. I was invited into all of these conversations about scripture and life. They encouraged me to reflect on what the Bible says about how we show up in the world.
At night I would curl up in the large bed in the bedroom near theirs, snuggling under the covers to read way past my bedtime. They would leave their door slightly open, and each night I watched my grandfather kneel beside his bed to pray. I may have told you this before because it’s an image that has stayed with me for five decades. He was a tall man, imposing in his way. It was striking to watch him humble himself, literally getting on his knees, to talk to God. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, though I had some hunches. It’s the picture I carry in my mind.
Our second reading today is from 2 Timothy. It’s presented as a letter from Paul, that early Christian leader, to his friend Timothy. It sounds as if Paul is writing from prison, which would place the letter near the end of his life. Scholars generally agree that this letter probably wasn’t actually written by Paul but by someone writing later and imitating Paul’s voice and style. Regardless of who the author is, the letter certainly reflects many of Paul’s understandings about faith, particularly about the strength and steadfastness that faith provides in the midst of suffering.
For the sake of simplicity I’m going to refer to the letter writer as Paul – just know that “Paul” is shorthand for “whoever wrote this letter.” Unlike some of Paul’s letters, which can get quite cerebral as he focuses on giving advice to one of the many churches he had founded, this passage is deeply personal. It begins with the promise that Paul is praying for Timothy night and day, remembering that Timothy has shed tears – over what, we don’t know, but it’s possible that Paul’s imprisonment was among the reasons for those tears.
What moves me the most is Paul’s recollection of Timothy’s faith – and the sources of that faith. Paul writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”
Paul doesn’t just name the sincerity of Timothy’s faith but also acknowledges some of Timothy’s ancestors – the ways that Timothy’s grandmother and mother have shaped his faith over time. I love that these women in Timothy’s family tree are acknowledged by name: Lois and Eunice. That doesn’t happen often enough in scripture.
If someone who knows you well were to write about the sources of your faith, who might they name? Who were the ancestors who showed you how to follow God, how to read the Bible, how to pray? Perhaps it was a parent or grandparent, as it was for Timothy. Perhaps it was a teacher or a friend or a neighbor. Perhaps you are still searching for those guides and mentors.
It doesn’t mean you have to live your faith exactly how they did. You have your own gifts and your own ways of connecting with God. I don’t kneel beside my bed each night like my grandfather, but I try to have an ongoing conversation with God – while I’m driving or doing the dishes or writing a sermon.
Consider what we have inherited from those ancestors. Paul sees a sincere faith in Timothy. If Paul were here this morning, I hope he would see our sincere faith too. Not our perfection. He could look high and low for that and wouldn’t be able to find it. As he writes so beautifully: “Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace.”
Those are words to carry with us this week. This week and every week. When we face suffering, whatever it might look like in our own lives, we can look it in the face and know that it will not ultimate win because we rely on the power of God. The power of a God who brings hope in the midst of suffering and life in the midst of death. What gives us the confidence, the audacity, to say these things? Because God has given us purpose and grace, not based on what we have done but because of what God has done and continues to do. It’s all grace, pure gift. So of course we want to respond to that gift by sharing it with other people.
In sharing that grace in hundreds of ordinary ways, we become ancestors too. There are folks who look to us, especially our young ones of all ages, to understand what it means to have faith, to live it. When we sing and make music, when we pray, when we teach and support our little ones, when we serve those in need, when we listen with compassion, when we encourage each other, when we forgive, when we share what we have, we are becoming the ancestors for someone else’s faith. That’s part of God’s purpose for us. It’s our holy calling.
Dr. Yolanda Pierce, the dean of Howard University’s School of Divinity, has written about the ancestors who have shaped her faith life – her grandmother and so many other church women among them. As an African-American woman, Dr. Pierce used to get frustrated as a girl when she would have a family tree project in school, and there were parts of her ancestry that she just couldn’t fill in. Those gaps are one of the many horrible legacies of slavery in our country. And yet she learned to pay attention to the wisdom and strength of the voices in her own history, remembering, in her words, how she is “connected to a web of humanity that does not end when our bodies have returned to dust.”[i] She can feel those ancestors with her as she speaks truth in places that they never would have been allowed to enter.
Listen to Dr. Pierce’s reminder to remember those ancestors who have shaped our lives. She writes:
Speak the name of that teacher who inspired you. Speak the name of the grandmother who raised you. Speak the name of the neighbor who always had a kind word for you. Speak the name of those aunties who schooled you. Speak the names of those you love and have never forgotten. And when you cannot speak their names – when you do not even know their names – whisper a prayer of thanks that your life, with all its failures and successes, may be your ancestors’ wildest dream.[ii]
And so, people of God, who are the ancestors that we remember this morning? And who will one day remember us? Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i] From In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit by Yolanda Pierce, p. 158
[ii] Ibid, pp. 159-160
September 25, 2022
I spent some time early Monday morning watching Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. I find these kinds of elaborate services kind of fascinating – probably because I’m not the one having to prepare them, preside over them, or preach for them. I’ve often watched the services at the National Cathedral in Washington when a major dignitary from our own country dies. The liturgy, the music, the ceremony of it all can be quite impressive.
There was certainly a lot of pageantry for Queen Elizabeth’s service. Bagpipes and angelic choruses of choir boys and trumpet fanfares and pages of prayers and a homily by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was beautiful. And yet I couldn’t help but think that, no matter how much pomp and circumstance was unfolding, the Queen was just as dead as all those who had died in obscurity. None of the dramatic touches made her any less dead.
I don’t say this to be disrespectful or morbid. It’s just the truth. A reminder of what we heard in our second reading: We brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.
Sometimes we harbor the illusion that wealth is a sign of great goodness or a measure of success when it’s often not either of those things. And whatever it is, money doesn’t keep people from suffering. It doesn’t keep them from dying.
This morning Jesus tells us another story that has to do with wealth. It’s not quite as baffling as last week’s (thankfully), but it’s also not completely straightforward.
It helps to remind ourselves what we actually know from the text and what we don’t.
We know that the rich man is rich. He’s the dress-in-designer-clothes kind of rich. He’s the throw-lavish-dinner-parties kind of rich.
And we know that Lazarus is poor. Lazarus spends his days beside the entrance to the rich man’s estate. He’s always hungry and would settle for some scraps but no one seems to notice him except the neighborhood dogs, who come to lick his sores.
What we don’t know is what kind of interactions, if any, these two men had while they were alive. Presumably the rich man occasionally enters and leaves through his gate, and presumably Lazarus would have been right there. But we have no evidence that the rich man is ever intentionally cruel to Lazarus; the suggestion is more that he ignored Lazarus. Nor do we have any evidence that Lazarus is a better human being than other people. We don’t know what kind of person he is at all, other than someone who is so poor that he has to beg for scraps.
But we want the consequences to make sense, right? In stories and in life? We want it to work so that people get what they deserve, so that their status reflects their character. We want the moral people to get rewarded and the “bad” people to get punished. We want to believe that people who have wealth “deserve” it. We struggle when a person on the street asks for money because we wonder if giving money is the best way to help or if the money is going to end up being spent on drugs. We try to turn all kinds of things about the rich and the poor into a morality play.
But then Jesus comes along and tells this story about how everything gets flipped in the afterlife. When he dies, Lazarus ends up hanging out with the great patriarch Abraham, but when the rich man dies, he ends up in eternal torment. The rich guy does come off as pretty entitled when he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to bring him some water. But it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him. After all, he’s a man who’s used to having everything he needs. He’s not used to hearing no. And, again – Jesus doesn’t point to some particular wickedness on the part of the rich man. Just cluelessness. The rich man hasn’t seen people like Lazarus.
We talked last week about the Torah’s insistence that God’s people should care for the poor and welcome the stranger. When Abraham tells the rich man that his family “has Moses and the prophets,” that’s what he means. They have all the direction they need to do what is right. Jesus is equally consistent in his message to feed and welcome. Again and again he spends time with the poor, feeds the hungry, and reminds everyone not to worship money. Just minutes before today’s story, Jesus told those stories of lost things – lost sheep, lost coins, the lost son who is welcomed home after squandering his inheritance. Jesus tells us to seek the lost, to welcome them – which means we have to be willing to see them in the first place.
We forget to pay attention. We forget to see people as people and not just as something to distract or annoy us. We sometimes get embarrassed by seeing people’s needs because they remind us of our own – or they make us worry that the needs are too great for us to be of any help.
About a month ago I was with a friend in the city, and we couldn’t resist the lure of the big shiny Krispy Kreme doughnut place there in Midtown. We each got a couple of doughnuts from the walk-up window and then moved over to a small area set up near that window for people to eat their doughnuts while they’re fresh. As we approached, we witnessed a tense moment between a Krispy Kreme employee and a man who appeared to be having a pretty hard time. It looked like the man was approaching customers one after another, and the Krispy Kreme employee was trying to get him to move along somewhere else. Both got increasingly agitated; they started yelling at each other. And look, the Krispy Kreme guy is not a villain. He was just trying to protect the customers from being bothered. But neither is the other guy, who was just having a hard time.
The man finally started to leave, pausing beside where we stood, having just opened our doughnut boxes. The man looked at us and said, “I just wanted a doughnut.” My friend, without any hesitation, handed the guy one of his doughnuts. The guy took it and shuffled away, instantly calm. He said again, softly: “I just wanted a doughnut.”
There’s a great chasm, Abraham says in the story.
There is a chasm. There’s a chasm in a world where a man wants a doughnut and can’t afford to buy one as he stands beside an entire building filled with hundreds of doughnuts in the middle of a city filled with vast amounts of wealth.
And there’s a chasm in our attention. We can easily see the bright light of the “Hot Now” sign in the window, but we don’t want to see the man right in front of us asking for a doughnut. We want him to go away.
But Jesus steps into that chasm. In his living, in his dying, and in his rising, Jesus flips the script one more time, so that no one is beyond saving. He connects all of us, one to another, binding us into a community where it’s possible to see each other’s needs and to respond.
And so, when we breathe our last, when we return to earth and our thoughts perish, our hope is in the Lord, who gives justice to those who are oppressed and food to those who hunger [Psalm 146:4-7]. May we trust in that hope to help us see what is right in front of us this week. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
Join the fun this summer as we experience the ride of a lifetime with God!
Rafters will explore how to serve God and God’s mission for their lives. Rolling River Rampage VBS is for children who will be 4 years old by October 1, 2018 with the oldest completing Grade 5 in June.
Monday through Thursday, July 16-19, 9:30 am – 12:15 pm
Click here for registration form: