Monday, September 29, 2008

mercy, justice & preaching

Every once in a while (with long whiles in between) I get this crazy idea in my head that I could preach the message for a certain topic (we plan worship around themes, not the lectionary - more about that later). To make matters worse, I've got this crazy pastor who actually lets me. So that's how I found myself preaching this past weekend.

Practicing the Faith: Taking the First Step
Micah 6:1-8
Matthew 12:15-21
Philippians 4:8-9

Litany of problems.

[these are places we have relationships with globally and where we live locally]
The current orphan population in India is equal to the inhabitants of the state of Texas. (the miracle foundation)

Nearly half the population in Togo, West Africa is less than 15 years old and child trafficking is a big problem there. (PlanTogo)

50% of Hondurans live in poverty and 25% of people in Honduras live in extreme poverty. (povertynet)

The death toll in Haiti from Hurricane Ike is over 600 with over 1 million people made homeless.

20% of Albemarle County citizens live below the "self-sufficiency" standard.

320 children became homeless in Albemarle county in 2006/2007.

70 students at Hollymead could not afford basic school supplies this year.

Our response - the fear factor.
Some of you have tuned me out - really you are no longer listening, maybe you are working on your to do list or possibly napping. HELLO - you can listen now; I've stopped with the scary list. Others of you are feeling kind of anxious. You may feel tense, worried and overwhelmed. This is MY group. My mind overloads and I attempt to shut it down, unable to get beyond a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I get so wrapped up in feeling that the problems of this world are just too overwhelming to deal with on my own, that it paralyzes me. Finally the rest of you want to get out and do something, NOW! You may be angry and frustrated. You want to find a solution and you don't understand why everybody isn't on board with reckless abandon to put an end to the problems.

Bob Sitze, ELCA Director for Hunger Education, says that often when we try and educate about serious problems facing our world, we face the FEAR FACTOR - our brain's natural defense mechanism. What our brain tries to do is to tag this unpleasant information as fearsome or dangerous and then our natural instinct of flight, fight or freeze automatically kicks in. Not exactly the kind of response presenters of this type of information are going for.

Feet of a servant.
So, how do we get beyond the statistics and the fear factor? As followers of Christ, we understand that pursuing mercy & justice is our God-given call. We know that there are serious problems locally and globally. We NOW know that just talking about the problems - hoping to motivate some action is not the best way to go about solving problems. How then do we best respond?

I like how Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians. "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you." I think we need an attitude adjustment. First, we need to look and find where there is good, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, and excellent work being done in the world and think about that. Next, we need to do the things that we have learned, received, heard and seen from people doing this work. I think our feet of a servant discipleship mark points to a great way to start.

Here's what worked for me - start with one step and do it with others. At Peace, we are blessed to have many opportunities to serve with and for others. My first step started with PACEM where we've welcomed local homeless men and women into this "house" as honored guests. With PACEM there are so many different ways to serve and so many other people to serve with. Serving definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but knowing I didn't have to do it alone helped me through the fear. At PACEM, I learned from one of the guests about the serious lack of affordable housing in the area. I started to feel passionate about this issue. A few months later Pastor John hooked me up with the coordinator of IMPACT (interfaith movement promoting action by congregations together) and before I knew it, I had taken another step. I attended the very first IMPACT meeting with 25 other people from Peace where we voted on what issues to address that year and affordable housing became one of the first issues. Since then I've taken a few more steps, some with confidence and others on legs of jelly, but always in the company of others, who help push away my fears and provide the example I need to take the next step.

There are many of other examples of people at Peace using their servant feet and they all started by taking a first step. Here are a few more stories.

[I put a video together where 3 other people from Peace talk about their first step, a handy way to shorten my talk time and it worked out really well.]


Ashley said...

You've inspired me....preaching really is in the Wilkens' genetics!

Ashley said...

You've inspired me.....I think preaching must be in the Wilkens genetics!

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

Welcome to RevGals. I scrolled through some of your previous posts. Heart of Christianity is an excellent book. Sounds like you are soaking it all up.

karlajean said...

welcome to RevGals. I love the layout design to your blog--it is very, very cool.
Look forward to reading more!