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Cultivating: An Understanding Heart

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Cultivating: An Understanding Heart, HERE.  

In the first of the 3 stories the author of Luke offers today, we listened as Jesus foretold of an unsettling series of events which lay ahead in Jerusalem. Somehow, it is all too easy for us to gloss over the “we don’t want to go there…” we don’t want to talk about… let alone actually face… arrest, violence, or death… whether we live in the 1st century or the 21st.

But we are in Lent and each and every year of our faith journey as followers of Jesus we purposefully walk this journey to Jerusalem once again. We make time to ask hard questions about what we believe. Our understanding of God. The world around us.

And we ponder: Why didn’t the disciples understand the future Jesus was referring to? How could they, those who WALKED with Jesus, actually HUNG OUT WITH Jesus, and ATE with Jesus, not understand the route he implied lay before them? That revealing heaven on earth for EVERYONE… every person… every living thing… the very Earth itself… would not be easy? And could… or would… lead to death? And something else…

Is it just because when we are on this side of the resurrection… living into our own “nows”… whenever that may be in human history… we cannot fully see what the renewal God envisions?

Take an example from our own lifetime: Global warming and climate change. In the late 1980s “concerns about deforestation, acid rain, and damage to the ozone layer”[1] began to make headlines. Overtime, polls have shown that Americans are increasingly concerned about the environment and climate change.[2] Living during a time of global climate concerns, with increasing air temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns is one thing—actually listening to scientists and understanding the impact this will have on the future, is another.

So let’s go back to Luke and look at the next 2 encounters with Jesus: 1). the story of a man struggling to stay alive, begging on the streets as people approached the city of Jericho, and 2). Zacchaeus. At the time of Jesus, people would have likely already made presumptions about both men. In the first situation, physical ailments, mental health issues, other disabilities or differences were often understood to be a result of the person’s sin. In the book of John, we hear the disciples ask Jesus: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

In Zacchaeus’ case, as a regional tax collector he would not have been popular in the community. Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad notes, “It wasn’t just that collecting taxes was unpleasant, but it meant being part of the Roman system. Zacchaeus was an agent of the state, a Jew turned oppressor of his own people.”[3]

And here comes Jesus, overturning deeply ingrained stereotypes. The people living on the margins respond by shouting out, and scrambling up, to get to Jesus. Rev. Katy Stenta writes, “I think it’s all about “seeing” Jesus… we cast disabilities in all kinds of ways (and make it) look like those with disabilities can’t see Jesus… or we don’t make faith… accessible (because) we make too many assumptions about those with disabilities and often don’t even take the time to ask what would help.”[4]

Jesus sees. Jesus asks. And then… Jesus defines salvation.

Now hold on. Before your roll your eyes and totally tune me out because I said the word “salvation”, I want to suggest that in saying “salvation has come to this house,” Jesus has just said something BIG. Jesus has more instore for Zacchaeus, more in story for us than “just” being saved from our sins (which yes, can be a big deal). But the salvation God has planned is much more mind-blowing.

The Greek word soteria (so-tay-ree-ah), is more expansive than our understanding of being “saved from sin.” In the Greek there is a deeper sense of the person’s well-being restored. Wholeness. A realignment of human relations not only for Zacchaeus, but for the whole community. Zacchaeus talks of restoring financial well-being to others. When the man who was blind begins to follow Jesus “all the people… all the people saw it (and) praised God.”

The effective healing for one has a great impact on the many. These are stories of faith told so we, as Rabbi Amy Robertson says, “believe in the world the Gospel envisions.”[5]

Believe in the world the Gospel envisions.

This week I was in a book discussion with the pastor whose congregation became the first Creation Justice church within the United Church of Christ. One of the things they did was to acknowledge the Earth as a member of the church. Can you envision it? Inviting the Earth to become a member of the congregation! A restoration of our relationship with the earth, water, and air around us.

It was also just this past week which once again highlighted the urgent need for healing in our country. For seeing and hearing people living in fear and desperation. On Wednesday, eight people in the greater Atlanta-metro area were murdered, six of whom were Asian-American.[6]  The Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazi[7] poignantly writes, “What we have watched unfold in the past few days… is just one of countless examples of the ways that white, dominate culture erases the stories, pain, and laments of communities of color. If and when such stories are lifted up, they quickly become a whisper drowned out to the next sound byte…

She goes on to say, “Centering dominate, white culture (even within the church) must be disrupted in order for us to find new paths that we can walk together. We are in the midst of the season of Lent, a time in the Church when we acknowledge our brokenness. The same deep brokenness that caused religious and political leaders to conspire together to kill Jesus Christ, the bearer of love, rather than embrace his faithful witness is evident in the killings of innocent victims in Atlanta and the other-ing and violence across the country. Each one of us is called to disrupt our desire for comfort and familiarity to enter a beloved community where all can flourish.”[8]

Salvation. God restores community. Through healing. Hospitality. And justice.

Jesus continually invites us to see Divine possibilities in each other and the world.

We are called to believe in the world the Gospel envisions and work towards a Holy Restoration of relationships.

People of God, let us believe in—and have faith in—that possibility.

~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Luke 18:31-19:10 offered March 21, 2021

[1] Andrew Revkin, “Thirty Years Ago Today, Global Warming First Made Headline News,” PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, June 23, 2018), https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/thirty-years-ago-today-global-warming-first-made-headline-news/.

[2] “Environmental Protection Rises on the Public’s Policy Agenda As Economic Concerns Recede,” Pew Research Center – U.S. Politics & Policy (Pew Research Center, August 21, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/02/13/as-economic-concerns-recede-environmental-protection-rises-on-the-publics-policy-agenda/.

[3] Barbara Lundblad, “Commentary on Luke 18:31-19:10,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/zacchaeus-2/commentary-on-luke-1831-43-191-10.

[4] “Facebook Groups,” Facebook (Facebook Groups), accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/groups/NarrativeLectionary.

[5] PodBean Development, “BibleWorm,” BibleWorm #230, accessed March 18, 2021, https://www.biblewormpodcast.com/.

[6] Kate Brumback, “Man Charged with Killing 8 People at Georgia Massage Parlors,” AP NEWS (Associated Press, March 18, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/georgia-massage-parlor-shootings-leave-8-dead-f3841a8e0215d3ab3d1f23d489b7af81.

[7] “Larissa Kwong Abazia,” Vandersall Collective, accessed March 20, 2021, https://www.vandersallcollective.com/larissa.

[8] “Larissa Kwong Abazia,” Facebook, accessed March 21, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/larissa.kwongabazia.