Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘church’

How Do We Measure Success?

Luke 10:1-11

Speak Peace
This story, in my opinion, is about how one defines success.My initial thoughts on the background of this Luke story: it’s originally a Mark story, but instead of Jesus sending out 12 [as in Mark], Jesus sends 70, or is that 72? Some Bible translations go with 70, while others say 72. Why? I don’t have time to go into all that, but let’s just say it’s all about one little Greek word that appears in some of the copies of Gospel manuscripts and whether or not that particular manuscript copy changes the number, but it’s not really a huge deal. In my perspective, either 70 or 72 leads us right to the Old Testament, and more specifically, to Genesis 10. Often called the table of nations, Genesis 10 reveals all of Noah’s family and offspring. That family, of course, eventually led to the story of Moses, who in Numbers 11 appoints 70 elders and then two more. That’s 72. And these people were filled with “spirit.” Seems like a pretty strong connection to Luke’s Gospel story. The number 70/72 makes Jesus’ calling and sending of disciples a universal action and not some regional movement.

Those people are sent on the “way” to be with other people. They are sent to treat all people with equal respect, to heal social divisions, and to create and participate in open tables. They are “lambs in the midst of wolves,” which reminds them of their vulnerability. If they are to do this work, they will need to be vulnerable with the people they meet and accept their hospitality.

Without community, this work will not happen.

And so, away they go, in pairs. They are to speak peace to every house, which is shalom, the wholeness. If someone reciprocates that peace, peace will rest on that person. If not, the peace comes back to them. Finally, they are to heal the weak. We’re not talking about sick people as we often assume. Healing the weak entails addressing the unjust societal structures that separate people and oppress. Healing can be physical, mental, spiritual, or societal, or all of the above.

So in short, this mission, this living out the Reign of God looks like this: eating, drinking, healing, and fellowship. Oh, and also not dwelling on those who reject the peace and the healing. Shaking the dust off of one’s sandals, in my view, is about moving on and not resenting people, even if they reject you.

In Luke, this is Jesus’ version of success. How does it compare to what churches actually do and say? Hmm…..

I think it’s obvious that most churches today are more concerned than ever before about measuring success. How many people sit in the pews or attend worship? How much money are we taking in? How many new members did we receive last month? Do people remark about our beautiful building? Are we well-respected in the community? I could go on, but you get the idea. The institutional church bases most of its measurement of success on business models or societal structures. For generations, the U.S. Christian church was a standard, old reliable institution in each town, city, and suburb. Then post-modernism came and went. People in those towns, cities, and communities began to see the church institution as no different than any other. Where was the meaning? What made the church uniquely wonderful and different? In fact, most people saw or experienced awful and hurtful things in the church. No wonder they left. No wonder the institution started to decline and continues to decline.

But the institution is not the church, and thank god.

The church is community.

As Jesus sent out people to heal and reconcile, he sent them out in community to be community. Buildings didn’t matter. Strategic financial planning or marketing didn’t matter. What mattered was community, and what that community stood for: justice and peace.

As such, any faith community is our group of 72. We are not in this alone. Faith and spirituality are communal and we make a huge mistake when we try to make it isolated, like when people say: my Bible says, or my God does or says…In our church structures, we struggle the most when our leaders and volunteers are completely autonomous. We become fragmented, burned out, and disconnected. Why? Because that’s not how it’s supposed to work. We are supposed to be a community of staff, volunteers, leaders, etc. Males and females, non-binary zes, children, teenagers, young adults, older adults, people behind the scenes and people in front, creative and visionary minds and detail-oriented and task-oriented minds. We are supposed to be radically together in community. This means that every little and big thing we do in our faith communities is for the good of the whole, for something bigger than ourselves.

How do you measure success? It matters how you answer that. People struggle their whole lives trying to achieve goals they never reach and end up feeling tired, disappointed, and out of balance. But what if this story offers us some insight? What if success is not measured by numbers, money, degrees, and prestige?

What if success is measured by community, and how people treat each other within that community?

What if success is welcoming all to the table?

Consider this from St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.

Note: next week I’ll post something about Luke 10:25-37 and ask the question: Who Are Our Neighbors?
I’ll say right now, however, that #BlackLivesMatter!
And all who are ignored, discriminated against, treated as lesser, and all who are the targets of racism and prejudice, we won’t stand by and watch it happen; we won’t be silent. You should have the space to express your anger, frustration, and sadness. We love you. We will stand with you. Let’s put an end to this sick, institutional, societal racism. And let’s stop saying that if we support Black Lives Matter that we are “against” the police or “against” others. That is not only false, it is also harmful. We can be “for” the just treatment of Black people everywhere and also “for” those in law enforcement. We can be “for” the honesty of admitting that the U.S. has deep, racist roots within its systems and society. And at the same time, while we support Black Lives Matter, we can also support the just treatment of undocumented immigrants, transgender and non-binary folk, the poor and homeless, the abused, and all else who deserve our love and attention. Of course we can.


Remembering to Heal

Luke 7:11-17

fisherKingIn 1991 Terry Gilliam wrote and directed a movie called The Fisher King. I actually did not see it until later on when I was older, but when I did, I was mesmerized by it. The Fisher King tells the story of Jack Lucas (played by actor Jeff Bridges), a cynical, arrogant talk radio host, who becomes depressed after his insensitive comments on-air during his show inspire a depressed caller to commit multiple murders at a popular Manhattan bar. Three years later, Jack is at the end of his rope. He decides he does not want to live any more. But just as he tries to end it all, he is mistaken for a homeless person and is attacked by thugs in the street. But, he is rescued by a homeless man named Parry (played by Robin Williams). Parry is a man on a mission to find the Holy Grail, and tries to convince Jack to help him.

Of course, Jack thinks that Parry is crazy. The Holy Grail? But the more Jack talks with Parry and gets to know him, he realizes that Parry acts the way he does for a reason. Parry saw his wife die in front of him. As a result, he lives almost as if he’s asleep–in a catatonic state. He is continually haunted by an imaginary Red Knight, who appears whenever Parry starts to regain confidence in who he really is. Parry seeks after the Holy Grail, because he believes that this legendary cup of Jesus actually exists in the Upper East Side of New York City. He convinces himself that if he finds it, he will be healed, forgiven, and freed.

Eventually, Jack, the former star of radio, decides to help Parry. So he looks for this imaginary “Holy Grail.” Jack goes to great lengths to scale and break into a “castle” of a rich man to retrieve the Grail, which is actually just a monogrammed cup. In the scene you are about to see, Jack brings the Grail to Parry who is in the hospital after going into a coma from a catatonic episode.

Parry woke up when he held the cup [the Holy Grail] in his hands. Because of Jack’s willingness to bring that cup to him, Parry was able to face his past. He missed his wife.

 I really miss her, Jack. Is that okay? Can I miss her now? Thank you.

In that moment, Parry was healed; and so was Jack.

Two individuals, so different from each other, met on the journey of life, and both were healed in the process.

We are in Luke’s Gospel once again, and we are talking about healing once again. As I have mentioned before, Luke is a great storyteller and was a storyteller for those who did not identify as being Jewish. Luke’s Gospel seeks to include a variety of people in the story and message. Right before this healing story is the tale of a centurion [a Roman soldier] asking Jesus to heal his own servant. Now, we have Jesus encountering a woman who is a widow, and her son is sick. Notice I said that Jesus encountered her. She did not come to him.

The widow was from a town. Nain was the name of the place. It was a Galilean town, not too far from Nazareth.

NainKeep in mind that widows like her, along with orphans and strangers, were a particularly vulnerable group of people in this time and place. The widow of Nain, without a son, had no economic support and lived on the outskirts of society. And yet, even though she was marginalized [which means she was often overlooked], Jesus saw her. This is an important point in the story.

Jesus saw her.

Then, after seeing her, Jesus has compassion for her. He shows empathy for her situation. Finally, he engages her in conversation. And what he speaks are the same words used for Jesus’ own resurrection—raise up. The widow’s son was healed. She was healed. And I would argue also that the community was healed.

But none of this actually happens unless Jesus goes to Nain, not unless he sees her, not unless he empathizes with her situation, not unless he speaks a healing word to her and her son. Jesus only met the widow of Nain because he left his own town; he also left the comfort of the synagogue and went out.

He went to her, discovered her need, didn’t judge that need, and brought healing into her life.

This is typical Jesus, is it not? He was a GO-TO person.

I would venture a guess that most people in the world do not want to be preached to, but certainly want to be ministered to. One huge mistake we often make in our churches is that we think we have to preach to people—telling them how they ought to believe or what they should believe. But how often do we go to people, out into the community to find out what people need?

I see a lot of come-to churches. We put up a steeple, a cross, a building, create flashy programs, and then expect the people to come to us. I want you to imagine something, if you can. What if Jesus and his early followers would have acted in this way? What if they never went to Capernaum, Rome, Samaria, or Greece and they just stayed in their fishing villages and towns? What if they just waited for people to come to them? How different would the stories of the Gospels be? How different would Jesus’ ministry have been?  They never would have encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, or the woman who reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak, or the Roman soldier [centurion] whose servant was sick, or the widow with the son in need of healing. They would have been come-to people.

Jesus called his followers out of this come-to world and into a go-to existence.

For us, in the workplace it means that you don’t try to proselytize people or convert them, but instead you listen to people with holy ears. And you see them, you empathize with them, and you speak a healing word to them. Maybe you offer a prayer, but with no strings attached. A prayer for whatever they need.

At school…you see those other students without friends who are bullied or considering hurting themselves… you see them, empathize with them, and speak a healing word to them by standing with them when they need you and helping them feel that they are not alone.

In our families, we don’t wait for the estranged person to come to us because of our pride or past hurts. Instead, we go to them and see them, and show compassion, and then we speak a healing word to them.

Maybe it’s just:  I’m sorry.

Maybe it’s just: I love you.

Maybe it’s just:  The past is the past.

Maybe:  It’s not your fault.

Friends, let us not forget what we are really supposed to be about. We need to remember. We cannot forget to go to our communities as agents of healing. Communities of faith, churches, don’t exist just so that people have another place to visit or so we can gather with people of like mind. Churches exist to minister to the community—to address the needs of people. We exist to forgive, to love, to show compassion, to see those who are ignored and left out. We exist to help and to heal. We are not come-to communities of faith.

We are go-to communities. That is who we are.

Jesus the great healer meets people on their journey and walks with them. The Spirit of this Jesus walks with us. We are met and offered healing as we need it. But it’s hard to recognize that if we are not out in the community as agents of healing ourselves. You see, friends, if you are out there seeing people, empathizing with them, and then speaking a healing word—you will be so focused on that good work that you will start to heal yourself. This is the mysterious and wonderful truth of it. This is the only reason to have churches. We are both healing agents and recipients of healing.

Healing can happen, friends. It can. But we will need to commit to walking with others in our community long-term, being with them as they are, seeing and accepting them for who they are. We’ll need to ask questions: what does our community need? How can we speak healing to them? And in that walking, seeing, and empathizing, we remember to heal ourselves.

And this healing is good news! Amen.


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