Click here to read Philippians 2:1-13, and here to read Matthew 21:1-16.

The lectionary is supposed to guide us through the arch of Christian year. It keeps our hearts open to another kind of time—time not determined by the day of the week or the hour of the day, but the cycle of the Christian story. The lectionary year begins not in January, but on the first Sunday of Advent. The story of Jesus is told and retold across the span of a years’ worth of Sabbaths: the anticipation of his birth, the agony of his death, the triumph of his resurrection. After Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church, we enter a period of the church called Ordinary Time. In Ordinary time, we are in between the big Holy Days of the church calendar. We stretch out, slow down, and spend more time contemplating the teachings of Jesus, especially his parables about the Kingdom of God. Indeed, the reason why the church traditionally dresses itself in the color green during Ordinary time is because so many of the parables evoke images of growing.

Well, at least that’s what they told me in seminary. There are also additional patterns woven into the unfolding of the lectionary passages through Ordinary time. Last week we had a parable that trashed the human concept of fairness, proclaiming that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

This week’s parable continues along these same lines. Matthew seems to be saying Hey— if you weren’t offended by the parable in which the landowner pays everyone what they needed for the day—regardless of how many hours of work they had completed— don’t you worry your little head. This week will surely do you in. Because this week, Jesus teaches the religious authorities that prostitutes and tax collectors have a running start on the Kingdom of Heaven. Meanwhile, in the letter to the Philippians, Paul is singing a hymn about Jesus—a hymn that celebrates Jesus for reasons that are completely inside out and upside down. Paul reminds us that the reason we worship Jesus is because of his humility, his willingness to take on flesh and bones. We worship him because he became ordinary—emptied of glory and filled with suffering.

The theme we seem to be returning to this month is scandal. Paul describes the gospel as scandalous, although the Greek word “scandal” is usually translated into English as “stumbling block.” The phrase “stumbling block” works, to a certain extent. It certainly makes sense that we could be tripped up by mind-boggling parables and sent reeling by the story of a servant King who overcomes death only after experiencing it. But “stumbling block” only goes so far. The gospel is truly scandalous. It is full of surprising stories, radical paradoxes, and countercultural wisdom. The lectionary—the selection of texts that are being read by countless Christians throughout the world—seems to be reminding us that the gospel is fully capable of delivering a swift kick in the pants to anyone who would try to domesticate it.

Today’s parable scandalizes the religious authorities. We have a story of two sons. One publicly dishonors his father by verbally refusing to respect his father’s wishes to go work in the vineyard. He looks like the wayward son, the son who will be judged, the son who is an example of disobedience. But he goes to work in the field. He obeys his father. His brother, on the other hand, said he would labor in the vineyard but played hooky when it was time to show up for work. He only pretended to honor his father. This story was served up to religious authorities who were understandably angered. Jesus was telling them they were like the son who pretended to honor his father. Jesus had little sympathy for hypocritical and prideful behavior. The need to impress people with piety seems to be a common thread of human nature. That Jesus would dare claim that prostitutes and tax-collectors—the most reviled of all persons in ancient times—would be the first heirs to the Kingdom of God is a completely appalling, surprising, and infuriating notion. This is the gospel, and this is scandalous.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul recounts the life and work of Jesus Christ in a way that is so simple, it functions like a silhouette: by condensing the picture to black and white, we are able to more clearly see the stark and dramatic shape of the story. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” We worship a God who not only became incarnate, but took on the whole spectrum of what it means to be human. Jesus was born like any other child, from the womb of his mother. He learned to speak Aramaic and Hebrew. He grew into an astounding teacher, sharing parables that are bottomless in their depth of wisdom and spirit. He laughed, he feasted, he wept. And he died. He died a terrible death on a cross. He was the Son of God sent to redeem, and instead of showing up with an army and a battle plan to win an earthly Kingdom, he died promising a Kingdom of Heaven.

That wasn’t supposed to be the way it happened, friends. The Christian church grew out of two major traditions: the Jewish tradition of Jesus, and the Greco-Roman culture that ruled the day. And the gospel managed to subvert the expectations and assumptions of both of its cultural parents. The messianic tradition of the Jewish faith called for a King that would drive out the Roman occupiers and reinstate Israel as a nation. Greco-Roman religious mythology was full of stories of gods taking on human form; that part of the Christian story wouldn’t come as a surprise to Roman citizens. But in Roman mythology, the gods and goddesses pretended to be humans for less-than-honorable reasons. Zeus, for instance, was said to become human in order to seduce women. That’s the kind of myth that would have been perfectly familiar and totally ordinary to Roman citizens. But that is a far cry from the incarnate Christ that Paul glorifies in the letter to the Philippians. By taking on a humble human form, Christ Jesus demonstrates to us a compassionate God who suffers with us, and a loving God who is merciful enough to give the astonishing gift of resurrection. This is the gospel, and this is scandalous.

Robert Kysar writes that “unless one is scandalized by the gospel message, she or he cannot embrace it with authentic faith.” I think there is indeed a terrible danger in forgetting the scandal of the gospel. If we pretend that Jesus didn’t really mean that the last will be first and the prostitutes will be welcomed into the Kingdom of God ahead of even the most religious among us, we are in danger of following a hollow gospel that helps us serve ourselves, not our Lord. In the letter to the Christians in Philippi, Paul calls upon the church to imitate Christ—to live in the same scandalous and holy way that Jesus lived when he walked the streets of Galilee. We are called to love, to serve, to put others interests before our own. We are called to follow the hard sayings and narrow path of Christ, called to empty ourselves of pride and let God fill us back up again with songs of praise. We are called to live and to love as scandalously as the living and loving Christ.

Today we sing songs of praise, hymns that were written in light of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. These hymns praise the name of Jesus; as Paul wrote, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” What we cannot forget as we sing these hymns is that the reasons the name of Jesus has such power is because he relinquished all power. We can’t skip over Good Friday and go directly to Easter Morning, and we cannot skip over the scandal to get to the praise. Amen.


Broken & Blessed

Click here to read Matthew 20:1-16.

I wonder if I should begin with an apology. The scriptural story we’re considering today is one that is extraordinarily offensive—there really should be warning labels on texts such as this one. It is much more appalling than an R-rated movie. It offends our sense of fairness and topples our concept of love. And it breaks God out of the jail cell we so often put him in, revealing a God who is so merciful and so gracious we are left infuriated, mystified, and maybe even humbled.

The parable of the laborers of the vineyard is what my mother would call a “humdinger.” Jesus once again uses brilliant images to reveal the nature of the Kingdom of God to his disciples, spinning a story worth telling and retelling. In this scripture, a landowner goes out and hires workers to contribute to the hard work of cultivating growth in his vineyard. He finds his workers in the marketplace, where they congregate to wait for work. The first batch is hired at the crack of dawn. These workers are promised a denarius, the amount of money needed to support a family for one day. The workers were probably thrilled that they had been discovered by a landowner willing to pay them a living wage—I imagine they often had to settle for less. The laborers get to work as the sun continues to get exponentially hotter on their backs.

Meanwhile, the landowner returns to the marketplace, hiring more workers at 9:00a.m., a respectable enough time to start a day’s work. Their wage is not discussed; the landowner simply assures them that they will be paid “what is right.” More workers are hired throughout the day, at noon and at three and at five o’ clock. When the sun retreats, and the landowner is ready to call it a day, he has his manager attend to the payroll. Starting with the workers hired last—the workers who did the least amount of work in the vineyard, the workers with the least pain in their muscles and sunburn on their foreheads—he proceeds to pay each and every single worker the same amount. One denarius, enough for each of them to support themselves and their families for the day—the wage that had been promised to the early bird workers. As you can imagine, the workers are livid. They grumble about the perceived slight—only to be rebuffed by the landowner, who reminds them that they received exactly what they were promised. He says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

We are invited to imagine that this landowner reflects something of the nature of God. By abolishing human definitions of fairness, by obliterating an algebra of merit, the landowner models a way of grace that is truly unnerving. You might have noticed the cartoon I included in the bulletin this morning—I just couldn’t resist sharing such a funny treatment of the gospel passage. This divine landowner seems to have no mind for business and no concern for profit-margins. God really is abundant to the point of appearing bonkers. But beyond the joke, this parable calls out a very real seed of envy and a very potent sense of entitlement within human nature. Imagine yourself in the place of those early bird workers. You have worked hard for what you have. You have earned your share of the profit—you deserve your piece of the pie. So when you find out that the folks who have been lollygagging at the marketplace all day are receiving the same payment as you… well, that’s when our righteous indignation flares up. No matter how many times we’ve been told “life isn’t fair,” we still want to know that our cookie is as big as anyone else’s. We still want to believe that a man who works twice as long should receive twice as much.

And no matter how much we grumble and whine, the God revealed to us through Jesus Christ just will not abide by our standards of fairness. What that landowner wanted was for his workers to have enough for the day. No more and no less. This concept of immediate, daily needs is pretty important to God. It comes up a handful of times in scripture. Proverbs 30:8 petitions, “give me neither poverty nor riches, feed with the food that I need.” And every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” No more and no less. So we really shouldn’t be surprised that justice, to God, means that each and every laborer in the vineyard should receive what he needs to get through the day.

In God’s economics, what we have earned and accumulated is worth nothing. What we give and what we share—how closely we have been able to imitate the kind of generosity demonstrated by the Landowner and by his son, Jesus—that’s what God cares about. One of my colleagues in ministry, Jerry Goebel, writes that when we encounter God face to face, God “will not ask us how much profit we amazed while on earth; he will ask how broke we became- broken hearted, broken in love, broken and blessed! It is in the breaking of the bread that we are blessed, it was in the breaking of Christ’s body, it is in the breaking of our pride and greed. Our blessing comes in giving, not hoarding.”

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard is ultimately about our capacity to respond to the first commandment, particularly that part in the small print about loving our neighbors. By responding to the landowner’s generosity with fitful envy, the laborers revealed that they would rather their neighbors go hungry, rather than allow their concept of fairness to be crushed by the landowner. And knowing Jesus, the definition of “neighbor” is cast widely. Our neighbors include those who look, speak, believe, and act differently than us. Our neighbors include not only our friends and family, but our most determined enemies, those folks we foolishly judge to be completely undeserving of the grace of God. This parable is convicting, because it reveals how easy it is to be unloving, how tempting it is to flaunt our supposed goodness in front of God as if God will forget that we were all once idle and purposeless in the marketplace. This parable blows the whistle on our game of self-righteousness, in which we define the boundaries of mercy as if we earned the grace that God has given us.

This parable is a sober reminder that loving our neighbors doesn’t always mean doing what is prudent, logical, or fair. It is a humbling lesson about the character of real love, the quality and density of love that genuinely seeks the goodwill of all people. If we thought we could love our neighbors without caring deeply for their needs, we have been exposed as sentimental at best and hypocritical at worst.

For all painful conviction this parable serves up, it also proclaims the good news loud and clear. This parable is a joyful reminder that all will receive the gift of God’s unconditional love and grace. Each and every laborer was given what he needed to survive and thrive—the first and the last alike. It may be hard to loosen our grip on what we think we are entitled to. It may be hard to get over the lie that the last one to finish the race is a rotten egg. But once we do, once we recognize that everything is God’s, once we inhale the grace of God and realize that it is sufficient, we are freed to be broken by generosity. Broken, and blessed.


Visit Week of Compassion

If you are interested in finding out more about how The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is responding to Hurricane Katrina, visit Week of Compassion. In addition to information about how monies collected for the relief operation are being utilized, the site also includes updates from Disciples of Christ congregation affected by the disaster.


Fanning the Flame of God

Scripture: 2 Timothy 1:1-12

Dean Cornwell and I have a unique commonality: we have both been called into vocations that cause lots of people to respond with shock and disbelief. When I told the lady at the bank that I am the new pastor of South Bay Christian Church, she looked at me like I was crazy, and I have a feeling Dean has been getting some similar reactions when he explains that yes, he is moving to the Democratic Republic of Congo for two years to serve as a missionary Communications Director at the Protestant University.

After all, Pastors don’t look like me. And missionaries to the Congo don’t look like Dean. Pastors look like… well, they might look and sound a lot like Dean. Missionaries, on the other hand—aren’t missionaries strapping young men and women just out of college?

Does anyone remember the movie Freaky Friday? Has there been a switcheroo? Or could it be that the divine lines got twisted, and Dean and I have somehow managed to receive each other’s vocational assignments?

Our scripture reading today proclaims a word of encouragement to all Christians as we seek to respond to the call God has put on our hearts. The letters to Timothy, with their attention to the details and characteristics of church leadership, make ideal resources for occasions such as today’s commissioning. But I think both Dean and I have another commonality when it comes to these letters. Tradition tells us that Timothy is a young pastor in need of continued instruction and supervision from his superior, Paul. These nuggets of wisdom are directed toward a spring chicken—and I don’t think Dean minds me mentioning that he is perhaps more of a summer chicken. When Dean suggested a reading from the letters to Timothy, I am relatively sure he did not intend for me to preach from 1 Timothy 4:11, which proclaims, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." Likewise, I’ll be honest and say that I paged past the mandate in 1 Timothy 2:12, in which the writer of the letter states, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent."

Some folks would call it irony. Some folks would call it unbiblical. I call this glorious opportunity to preach a word from the second letter to Timothy on the day of Dean Cornwell’s Commissioning a mark of the wideness of God’s vision and the depth of God’s voice.

All this breaking of stereotypes and overturning of what our society thinks are age-appropriate roles is a pretty clear indicator to me that the Spirit of God is at work in this place. Where that brilliant Spirit is, some rather exceptional and unexpected things can happen.

The Spirit of God is often imagined as a flame: consuming, fervent, transformative. Moses encountered God through a burning bush that altered his entire understanding of his life and work. In the book of Acts, the Spirit of God came in the form of tongues of fire, demonstrating the indwelling presence and movement of God through an awesome display of blazing heat. Fire, though seemingly mysterious in its magnificent campfire dance of orange and blue and red, is actually quite straightforward. Fire needs oxygen and fuel. If a fire runs out of fuel or air, it will crackle to a smoky memory of flame. Sometimes that’s a good thing. When the hills of Southern California are aflame, it is necessary to put it out quickly, the best way to do that is to add water and subtract fuel.

I doubt that the fire of the Spirit of God that is within God’s children can ever be fully extinguished. God is too persistent, too passionately in love with Creation to let that flame go out. But it can be neglected. It can be stifled. It can be reduced to a skeletal and hesitant flame, or a faintly smoldering heap of embers. And that is never a good thing.

In the second letter to Timothy, Paul writes about the necessity of fanning the flame of the gift of God. That fire burns in the hearts of all of those who have been called by God to a life of discipleship. Working with God to keep that fire going strong requires a lot of us. It requires that we live prayerfully, opening ourselves up to the gift of mutual communication with God. It requires that we continually increase our love of God and neighbor. It requires that we find ways to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in a hurting world. It requires that we turn away from greed, rage, and grudges fans.

When we do the hard work of tending the flame of the gift of God, that flame is emboldened. The temptation to be timid, lukewarm followers of Christ becomes weak, for the spirit God gives us is one of courage. When we live in a spirit of God’s power and love, when we live as disciples—disciplined and taught in the imitation of Christ—all the reasons convincing us of sure failure are erased. Age—young or old—no longer prevents us from answering God’s call. Gender—male or female—no longer determines what we can or cannot do to share the gospel. The size of a congregation—whether it is seven members or seventy—no longer frustrates the vitality of the Spirit in our midst.

The Los Angeles Times ran an article yesterday about the Dream Center, a joint ministry of the Assemblies of God and Foursquare Gospel churches that is located in Echo Park. The center has been accepting hundreds of Katrina evacuees from the Gulf Coast, and offering them a full year of room and board to help them get off their feet again after their devastating losses. The deeply moving article described a loving and spirit-filled group of people dedicated to tangibly demonstrating the compassion of Jesus. Before the hurricane hit, the center had a program in which they adopted 50 blocks of local neighborhoods, offering assistance to residents in whatever form was needed. They painted, babysat, provided food, and fixed cars—all because they believe that each person they helped was created in the image of God. They were ready and willing to help when the disaster struck. Teaaka Burton, a new resident of the Dream Center, was quoted as saying, "Since we’ve gotten here, they’ve showed us nothing but mad, mad love."

The thing that struck me about the Dream Center is not just that they are responding faithfully to the needs of the persons evacuated from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. There have been lots of stories—and we all thank God for this—of both Christian and secular organizations alike showing extraordinary generosity and kindness in the face of the recent calamity. What struck me about the Dream Center is that ten years ago, they started off with a nine-member congregation with a 21-year-old pastor. That’s even younger than I am! But that church did what it could to fan the flame of the gift of God in their midst, and as a result, they gained the power to offer love—in the form of warm beds and hot meals—to over two hundred evacuees. Their willingness to serve their brothers and sisters—to suffer for the sake of the gospel— is a sign of God’s holy fire at work.

When God’s flame is cultivated within the hearts of men and women, we are enabled to follow more closely the path of Jesus. We are invited beyond the safe walls of half-hearted Christianity into the Kingdom of God. We are persuaded to live for God, to respond to the surprising and challenging visions God has for each of us.

When we rekindle the gift of God, we discover that our whole being— our waking and sleeping, our rejoicing and lamenting, our playing and working— exists within and because of the Source of Life. We discover that we have the power and the courage to live more fully, even if that means accepting suffering and sacrifice are part and parcel of the life of discipleship.

I want to close with an important Word that was first spoken by the prophet Joel and remembered by Peter in the book of Acts as he preached in the presence of the tongues of fire.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

The Spirit has been poured out on this place. The flame of the gift of God is being fanned, and it is a fire that impassions us to respond faithfully to the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. It is a fire that opens us to the surprising and remarkable ways that God calls to his people. It is a fire to cultivate and to celebrate. An old man among us has dreamed a dream, and it is God’s dream. May we all be so courageous as to answer the Gift of God within us!


Hurricane Katrina: Where is God in all this?

Check the Lost and Found.
That’s what we’re told when we’ve lost something. I remember rooting through the lost and found at my elementary school, tossing aside other kids’ orphaned mittens and ratty gym shorts to unearth my own misplaced possessions. Nowadays, the old cardboard boxes have digital cousins, online message boards for folks to cast a wide net to find their missing diamond rings and cats and skateboards.
The other morning on NPR news I heard about a phenomenon that has emerged from the destruction and calamity of Hurricane Katrina. Desperate people have been using sites such as Craiglist to post frantic messages that describe their friends and family members who are unaccounted for. There are thousands of posts describing people like Willie Clairbush, Rosa Lee Sheffield, and Naomi Murray. It is overwhelming to consider that instead of reconnecting people with misplaced accessories, this digital Lost and Found has been transformed into an outpost of hope as people search high and low for their missing loved ones.
The pictures are devastating. Each photograph depicting almost completely submerged houses, each aerial snapshot of gale-broken coastal cities, each panoramic of the despairing refugees holed up in the Louisiana Superdome and Convention Center—they signify so many stories of so many people whose lives have been utterly swept away by wind and rain.
Of course, it is all so terribly familiar. Not even a year ago the tsunami ravaged countless villages in Southeast Asia. This has been a year of deadly water. This has been a year of lamentation.
There are certain things faithful people do when faced with newspaper headlines like the ones we’ve been reading. We pray. We get on our knees and bow our heads, or we sit at our kitchen tables with our palms cupped open to the heavens, and we pray. We lift survivors up to God, petitioning for their safety and protection. And we grieve for the victims, trusting that they are with God.
We also give. We open up our pocketbooks to donate to Week of Compassion and the American Red Cross. Folks in nearby states are opening up their homes to refugees, generously sharing their air conditioning, freshly-laundered sheets, and meals with strangers.
In between our fits of praying and our acts of giving, we also have another task at hand: the important practice of trying to understand the events through the lens of our faith. There are questions to ask—the kinds of questions that don’t easily lend themselves to answers. Why do things like this happen? Why do some people survive and others perish? Does God have a role in natural disasters like hurricanes?
Beliefnet held a straw poll posing the latter question this week, and the answers were diverse. Six percent of the people who participated in the pole believe that God is punishing us. Ten percent believe that God is testing us. Another 29% believe that while the disasters were sent by God, we do not know what the purpose was. Forty-seven percent of those polled believe in God, but think that the supernatural has nothing to do with any specific natural disaster. And 8% believe that God doesn’t exist at all, and that disasters like Hurricane Katrina are just forces of nature.
My own convictions about God do not fit into any of those categories. While many faithful Christians do find it appropriate to attribute natural disasters to the hand of God, I do not.
I wonder if it makes sense, psychologically speaking, to assume that when one is faced with intense suffering, one must be the victim of divine punishment. We seem to be wired with the need to explain anguish. We need to know that suffering has a reasonable cause and a distinguishable meaning. While giving God credit for the storm doesn’t exactly make those who are suffering feel any better, it at least gives them the comfort of a framework through which to understand the events.
However, even if blaming God for the hurricane makes psychological sense, I’m not sure it makes theological sense. In the Book of Genesis, we are told that following the devastation of the flood, God made a covenant to never again harm life with the waters of a flood, and sealed that covenant with a rainbow. In the gospels, Jesus, the very incarnation of God, does not incite the storm on the Lake of Galilee; he calms the storm and soothes the fears of his Disciples. If we believe that Jesus truly reflects the nature of his Heavenly Father, we are invited to trust that our God is a loving and merciful God who would not cause levies to break, windows to shatter, and human beings to go missing.
So I do not think that God is using Hurricane Katrina as a punishment or as a test. But neither do I believe, as 47% of people in that poll stated, that God has nothing to do with any specific natural disaster. God has a lot to do with it, not as a cause but as a comfort. As Psalm 46 declares, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” God is intimately involved with the unfolding of this hurricane, because God is radically present to each and every single living thing that is caught up in its throes. God is with the people stranded on rooftops. God is with the rescuers. God is with the looters. God is with those who hunt desperately for their lost and beloved fathers, brothers, daughters, and friends. To God, those folks are not lost, for no one is lost to God. We are only found, again and again, by God’s amazing grace. For as Paul wrote, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation”—and we shall assume that means the waters of tsunami and hurricane alike—nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39.)

When we blame God for natural disasters, when we call chaos an “act of God,” we portray our Creator as a destructive and terrifying foe. When we let God off the hook as the source of tragedy, we open ourselves to experience the gift of God’s comfort.
Maybe it is too easy for me to talk like this. Those of us who are not experiencing suffering have to be very careful when we talk about what it means to suffer. I am acutely aware of the fact that I am waxing poetic about the theological meaning of a hurricane when I am thousands of miles away, dry and unscathed. I have no right to tell someone who has lost everything in a natural disaster that it is inappropriate to be angry at God. Yet I believe that even as the shouts of frustration and cries of lamentation are hurled at God, God continues to console the inconsolable. God continues to be an ever-present source of strength and courage and comfort and peace.
As we consider the role of God in this disaster, we must also consider the role of humanity. In addition to the primary disaster of the hurricane, we have also observed many deplorable responses to the havoc. The nation is truly in an uproar. Stories of unbridled looting and unspeakable violence bear witness to the human capacity to sin. Yet God continues to love our broken humanity. Furthermore, the slow response to deliver aid to the mostly impoverished minorities who were unable to leave New Orleans has given rise to significant questions of justice.
Our merciful and loving God is also a God of justice. Time and time again we are reminded of this. The prophets of the Old Testament cry out for God’s people to do acts of justice. Jesus proclaimed a special blessing on the poor, teaching that the Kingdom of God is theirs. As Christians, we must recognize that God loves and cares about the poor and downtrodden. We must remember that even when it seems as though human beings have been disregarded, God does not abandon them. God shares the burden of their anger and hopes with them that hardened and fearful hearts will be broken with compassion.
I am haunted by Jesus’ words, “for I was hungry and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…. Truly I tell you, just as you did not to it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” The least of these were marooned without food and drinking water for three, four, five days, and our Servant King was there, waiting and suffering with them.
In this time of loss, of despair, of brackish and fatal waters, we must continue our praying, our giving, and our sober reflection. But let us also take refuge in God, who promises of another kind of water, a river whose streams make glad that city of God (Psalm 46), a river of mercy. That living water will surely overcome the churning waters of death. The living waters will wash away misery, rinse away the stain of sinfulness, cleanse the land of injustice. A thirsty world needs to hear this. We need to hear this. God is faithful, God is gracious, God is present. Hope is never lost when we are found in God. Amen.