Practicing Community

[Sermon based on Luke 18:1-8, given today at King of Kings Lutheran Church, Ann Arbor]

One week ago today, Travis Pastrana recreated Evel Knievel’s triple jump series, including the epic jump over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, which left Knievel with multiple fractures and a severe concussion.

The US president selected Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court judge, while in Japan, rescue workers attempted to save people from 700 houses destroyed by floods caused by heavy rains and another 23,000 houses were severely damaged.

On Monday we awoke to the news that all the boys and their coach had successfully been rescued from the cave in Thailand, a rescue operation that began with the ominous death of a seasoned Navy Seal before even one boy was saved.

On Tuesday, France celebrated that they were going to the World Cup finals, today, against…Croatia.

Wednesday, the NATO summit opened in Brussels, with tension between a record-number of protesters in the streets of London, and the world leaders who attended the summit.

All week the bulls continue to run in Pamplona, Spain, where Wednesday, participants willingly laid face down in the dirt while a bull calf jumped over them.

On Thursday, former FBI agent Peter Strzok sat through another full-day of testimony regarding personal text messages he had sent during the 2016 U.S. Election.

On Friday, twelve Russian Intelligence Officers were charged with intervening to influence the outcome of our 2016 U.S. Election.

Yesterday, protesters filled the streets in Scotland, to make their voices heard against injustices in the United States, against recent legislative actions that unfairly affect immigrants, Muslims, women, and people of color.

Today, the Wimbledon final in London overlaps with the World Cup final in Moscow, and those invested in both games are concerned that this is simply not fair.

And these are just a handful of world events in one week, the fairness of which will end up being heard by referees or judges, whose job it will be to determine, what is fair and to whom.

How you hear all of these stories, including today’s Gospel, has something to do with who you identify with.

If Travis Pastrana got hurt riding his motorcycle over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace, or if any of the people face down in the dirt in Spain were unfortunate enough to get nicked by the hoof of that 2000# bull, and sought any kind of compensation for damages, you might think, now wait just a minute here…if you’re gonna behave recklessly, you cannot take the space of someone with a genuine case in our courts, which have long lists of cases waiting to be heard.

If you were a parent to one of the boys in Thailand, you would have been ecstatic to hear they were safe and would live, whereas if you were a parent and coach or teacher responsible for the safety of children, you might wonder whether or not the coach bore responsibility for the ill-advised decision to take the boys in to the cave – past signs that warned about risk in rainy seasons.

If you agree with the protesters in London or Scotland this week, you might have been touched by the news of their joining forces with U.S. Citizens who are also concerned about new legislation that hurts certain people while benefiting others.

Or if you think the decisions being made by our current administration are appropriate, you might have found the news that thousands filled the streets to protest, as off-putting.

The truth is that while surely, we are living in a time of great division between people, divisions, and judges who decide what is fair, have always been part of the news cycle. The difference may be that now, even those who are not necessarily affected are starting to notice injustices against their neighbors, and they are not being silent about them.

Protests in the United States continue almost daily now. You may find yourself at odds with people with whom you once lived peaceably – family, friends, members of your own congregation.

And it’s scary. It makes us retreat into safer circles of people who tend to agree with us.

But the words from the prophet Micah won’t let us do that … at least not comfortably.

What does it mean to DO justice?

What does it mean to LOVE kindness?

What does it mean to WALK humbly?

Justice has to do with equality and fairness. It has to do with living up to the ideals of our constitution which, I might add, begin with words that in today’s world sound inherently unjust: that all men are created equal.

That gives you an idea of the extent to which people are NOT perceived as equals, and often do not receive fair treatment.

It is daunting to consider all the conflicts we witness every day. It is easy to see how the judge might have ruled in favor of the woman not because he was JUST, but because he was WEARY.

Which makes me wonder, are we any LESS WEARY when we do NOT do justice? By that I mean, when we witness people being treated unfairly and opt to do nothing, do we have energy because we didn’t get involved?

I don’t think so.

Maybe that’s the point of this Micah reading that stands as the core of our Mission Statement. Doing justice frees not only the ones on whose behalf we speak out; it frees us in that it connects us more closely to one another. By our actions, we can choose whether to nurture or neglect our community.

If you identified with the judge in today’s Gospel. If you hear about protests taking place and think “these are just irritating.” If you are inclined to think that Black Lives Matter is coming from a people who just can’t leave well enough alone, chances are, you are in the privileged group of the story. Because when we are the ones being oppressed, or when the ones being oppressed are people we know and care about and love, it is much easier to get involved and advocate on their behalf.

Do Justice. Love Kindness. Walk Humbly.

These words are simple enough to memorize. Like stop, drop, and roll, they make for a good life plan when circumstances that could burn down institutions and harm people start getting heated.

And they are really hard to live out.

We are not a people who automatically move to work for justice. And let’s face it, we are not a people whose walk is by default, humble.

And yet, we rejoice when we hear of justice done.

We tear up when we read about kindness delivered.

We are moved to humility when we read about thousands of people in another country who protest for human rights on behalf of human beings they never even met.

And so maybe what today’s readings tell us is this:

Doing Justice is tiring; but no more so than ignoring injustices.

Loving Kindness enough to engage with those with whom we disagree, believing that where two or three gather, Jesus is there in the midst of them, is hard work; but no more so than pretending that there are no differences between us and monitoring our conversations so that we don’t talk about the concerns of our hearts.

Walking humbly takes practice, but we have numerous examples that remind us that it is a rare individual who ever wakes up thinking: I wish I hadn’t behaved so humbly.

On Thursday, Steve & Candy celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary with a mini-cruise. In a few minutes they will be renewing their wedding vows and we will remember the blessing that their love is in this community. I visited them in their home shortly after I arrived, and one of the first things I learned is how Steve had been particularly active as an advocate for others with disabilities. It was inspiring, and humbling, to understand better how much he had done to make a way for others well beyond himself.

In preparing for this service, I listened again to a sermon on Micah 6:8 that I had heard Rev. Cynthia Hale deliver in April in Washington DC. She began her ministry in her front room with 4 people. Today, she leads a church of 5000 in Georgia. Cynthia challenged all of the clergy listening on that day with this refrain: Who Called You?

So often when we think about what it will take to do the work of justice, kindness, and humility, to which we all have been called, we forget that it is God who put these words in the prophet Micah’s mouth. And it is God who continues to speak them to us today.

When we courageously step away from our own comfortable lives, and enter into the work of relationship-building that is vital to justice work, it is a joyful surprise, time and time again, to discover God, right there in our midst, making a way through the heated desert, that together, we might find the way to the land of milk and honey … where all people, are finally free.