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Going home again

by davesandel on June 28th, 2020

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2020           (today’s lectionary)

Going home again

On the Saturday of Easter Vigil I spent time in the Cathedral of San Antonio, the Seattle church where my uncle attends, and a Methodist church in downtown Champaign. Zoom made all this possible.

Then on Easter Sunday I started my day at 8 a.m. with the Easter service from Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Illinois, just like in the old days when I was a kid and sat in the back seat on the way to church. We celebrated our Easter baskets, and now church was something to get through so we could have a great dinner at one set of grandparents’ house or another, where Easter eggs would be scattered all over the yard.

On Easter this year, listening to the organ and the singing of those Lutheran hymns, I remembered everything – the pews, the altar, the pulpit, and especially the liturgy. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

That Missouri Synod congregation at Zion in Lincoln baptized me, confirmed me, sent me to Sunday School and Walther League, and successfully suggested Christ College at Valparaiso University for my undergrad education. The pastors at Zion, Arthur Neitzel and Larry Clemetsen, worked through the rituals with me, and then listened to my arguments when I began to see things differently. And always, they prayed.

Growing up Lutheran meant potlucks of course, and Sunday School, and youth group trips. But being Lutheran also meant believing certain things, and living life a certain way. Eventually, I began to think the living did not measure up to the beliefs, which of course included the teachings of Jesus as their foundation. I thought everyone, last of all me, should be more sacrificial.

These thoughts pushed me away at times, but Zion’s fellowship as I grew up and grew out enriched the deepest roots of my life. A book my friend Don gave me, Why I Love Being Catholic, reminds me of how that fellowship changed me and made me grateful and compassionate beyond either my beliefs or actions. In his foreword Matthew Kelly says he loves being Catholic and loves his church because of the people who partner with him in their faith and “their common humanity.” He calls them his heroes:

My heroes are ordinary people, people who seek to live their one brief life with integrity and faith.

My heroes work hard to support their families.

My heroes know their limitations.

My heroes held a common set of values that make them better people.

My heroes have money problems, marriage problems, and family problems.

My heroes know that life is difficult.

Well, that sounds about right. I think my own heroes lived just that kind of life, and I am very grateful to have grown up among them. I was idealistic when I argued with my Lutheran pastor. I’m still idealistic, but I’ve spent seventy years learning how to be more than that.

In Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman captures what I am thinking:

He sees eternity in men and women, he does not see men and women as dreams or dots.

Stories of this spiritual specificity abound in the Bible. The Shunammite woman makes for Elisha a small room where he can stay when he comes through.

Let us furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair and lamp.

As they get to know each other, he promises her the miracle of fertility even in her older age. The story goes on into the intimate details of her new son’s birth, death and resurrection. When she calls on him to rescue the boy from death, Elisha doesn’t just pray. She doesn’t let him. He returns to their home from Mount Carmel. Then he lays on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.

And the boy’s flesh became warm.

Elisha rose up, paced around the room and stretched out again.

The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

Elisha and his friend in Shunem are not alone in this intimacy. Yesterday, today and forever, my life and yours can intersect in fellowship and even sometimes in miracle.

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever

With my mouth will I make known your faithfulness

I will declare, Your love stands firm

O Lord God almighty, who is like you?

You are mighty and your faithfulness surrounds you

Elijah laid out on a dead boy, and he came back to life.

Elisha laid out on a dead boy, and he came back to life.

Paul too, laid out upon a dead boy, and he came back to life.

Now Paul promises the resurrection of Jesus in our lives too.

If then we die with Christ, shall also live with him.

None of us is alone. God’s living water primes in us the kind of life which is always stronger than death, as death is simply subsumed into our eternal lives.

O chosen race,

O royal priesthood

O holy nation

Call out loudly and announce the praises of him

Who calls you out of darkness

Into his wonderful light.

The living water of Jesus the Messiah is much thicker than blood. Of course we are children of our parents, called to honor and respect them. But familial loyalty is, neither for them nor for us, God’s ultimate intention as we live our lives on earth.

Whoever finds his life will lose it

And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

As usual, Eugene Peterson puts an insightful spin on Jesus’ instructions about this to his disciples.

I’ve come to cut through cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God … We are intimately linked in this harvest work.

This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cup of cool water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving OR receiving makes you a true apprentice.

We learn this style of life from each other, or we don’t learn it at all. I may never be satisfied by my cozy church life, but I must never turn my back on it either. We are all in this together.

(2 Kings 4, Psalm 89, Romans 6, 1 Peter 2, Matthew 10)

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