Wednesday, May 20, 2015


DWELL. Luke 10:1-17

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”


At the heart of the 1st century Jesus movement was direct, personal engagement with people in their homes and communities.  Notice that Jesus and his followers do not employ any attractional, entertainment practices to drum up interest in the gospel.  Notice they do not launch a new worship experience that will reach a targeted "unchurched" demographic.  Notice that the direction of the movement is not centripetal (out to in), but centrifugal (in to out).  Notice they do not carry any personal baggage or bibles.  Egos and personal theological agenda are left behind.  The person of interest is the person they are about to meet.  The other is primary.  They take only their authentic selves and the Spirit of Jesus,their Rabbi, who has demonstrated what it means to be a child of God. His teaching in parables, his health care and feeding ministries, and his radical inclusion of those people who have been displaced, exiled, or ostracized characterize his gospel.  He eats and drinks with "sinners" (whores and drunks).  This is what he taught his followers to do.  And then he sends them ahead to the places he himself intended to go. To be appointed and sent is a call to apostolic service or ministry.  To be an apostle is to be sent to accomplish a particular mission or task on behalf of someone else.  What does this teach us? 
1.  He was intentional about where he sent them. They could not go beyond where he sent them.  He did not send them to places where he himself would not go.  If he wouldn't go there, neither should they.  This was a directed, strategic movement. 
2.  He sent them in pairs for safety, accountability, and support.  There were no lone rangers and no CEOs.  This was a partnership practice.  
3.  He sent them open and empty-handed, so that they might exhibit a posture of humility and need.  Not as dependents living off the handouts and good graces of others, but also not as independent, self-reliant contractors.  Their journey was uncomfortable and depended on their ability to build relationships with people of peace.
4.  He taught them the principle of seeking refuge with a "person of peace."  This is a person who accepts and receives the disciple, is interested in who you are and what you're doing, and is willing to serve you in some way.  A person of peace is open to the gospel.  It all starts with that person. 
5. They go with the authority and confidence of the master, representing his gospel as those he elected and sent to do so.  This authority is not going to be accepted everywhere. They will experience rejection.
6. He expects their return.  Their training is incomplete.  He continues to teach them as they put into practice what they have seen and heard.  When they succeed and when they fail, he has something to teach them.  

What might a Christian community be like, if this is what we did? Now, the Jehovah's witnesses and the Mormons employ a two-by-two, door-to-door sending model.  And for most Americans, door-to-door sales are ineffective, if not offensive.  I've rejected "missionaries"  and lawn care salesmen at my door. I've practiced neighborhood visitation ministry and experienced rejection.  So, does this model no longer work in our culture?  I think it can. To what and to whom is Jesus appointing us?  Tune in tomorrow for some thoughts on a 21st century apostolic movement and what it might look like.     

Lord Jesus, you called, gathered, taught, and sent people into the field to harvest abundantly.  And when they went, they discovered a rich harvest of people longing for your word of grace and love and peace.  Prepare and Send us to seek out those around us who are waiting for your compassionate justice to overcome the powers of death.  Amen.    

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The "One" Prayer

DWELL. John 17.
6I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;  8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.  10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.  11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.  12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.  13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.  14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.  16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.  18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

The gospels record two prayers that Jesus prays.  The Lord’s prayer is recorded in Matthew and Luke.  Short, simple, repeatable, packed with meaning.  Sort of like a tweet.  I’m not saying that Jesus was the founder of Twitter.  The other prayer is John 17.  The entire chapter.  Its not short or simple or repeatable.  It is more like a rambling soliloquy than a prayer.  It is speech directed to the Father from the Son.  Sort of like a long letter or email.  How did the church inherit this intimate conversation? Whether or not these were Jesus' actual words, the importance is the message that it conveys to and for the church.    
In today’s portion of the prayer, Jesus prays for his disciples---the church.  And in the prayer he prays that the Father would protect them from the evil one, because they will be in the world.  He prays that God would not take them out of the world.  As I’ve said before, church is not an escape or evacuation plan for the faithful.  There are churches that create a kind of refuge or buffer between its adherents and the world. So that all they see and hear is "christian".  The anabaptist community around us demonstrates a kind of "in the world, but not of the world" practice. 
The gospel depicts another kind of church experience though.  It is more like deep immersion in a combat zone.  So Jesus prays that God protect the church.  Now in the west, we are and have been protected.  At least we are free to practice religious faith without fear of government persecution or interference.  That is not so for Christians globally.  And in some parts of the world violent persecution does exist.  We too should pray for their protection.  Throughout the church’s long history, there have been seasons of persecution and violent oppression.   The first 300 years of the church’s story was a dangerous time, through which the church flourished and grew against the odds.  And when Constantine baptized the empire and endorsed Christianity, the western church entered into a relationship of power that gave them the means to persecute others---Jews, Muslims, pagans, Native tribal religions. Christians went from being the hunted to the hunters.  We must apologize for the ways the church adopted and benefited from colonialistic power.  The height of the church’s reign of terror may have been the middle ages, but the American church has maintained a kind of conquest mentality---building churches in every location, often the tallest structure in a town as a sign of domination and authority.  Using language of winning people for Christ or language in hymns of marching to victory and conquest like an army that overcomes its enemies.  Jesus did not presume his church would become an army.  He presumed they would be threatened by armies. 
There is, however, another way in which the church in the west suffers.  And it is also related to Jesus’ prayer.  The conquest of imperialism over the church has divided the body into thousands of tiny, isolated congregations.  Every horse and buggy town needs a church or 7, in Akron.  There are 800 churches in Lancaster county.  Jesus prays that the church be one, as he and the Father are one.  A relational unity in mission and in truth.  But the truth and the mission are divided and diminished now.  Either Jesus' prayer failed or the kind of unity he intends is not possible.  

So how do we embody, become an answer to Jesus’ prayer for oneness?  How do we express this oneness as a church?  As Lutherans we have built synods.  Synod means on the way together and it is a way that the church is expressed through relationships between congregations, leaders, and baptized disciples.  We meet annually as a synod in assembly in June to be the church together.  Over 700 Lutherans will attend.  Jeff and Sue Neikirk, Jennifer Heckman and I will be there June 5,6,7.  And we will both worship and serve during the assembly.  Last year as a synod we assembled over 300,000 meals to feed hungry Pennsylvanians. And we distributed some of those meals at Peter’s Porch.  Since synod worship is Sunday morning, we will not have worship at Zion.  You may carpool to the assembly---all are welcome.  You may worship at another congregation.  Most of the other Lutherans will have morning worship in their respective congregations---a sign that we are far more divided than Jesus intends.  Their leaders cannot give up Sunday morning worship for one day.  I can.  I trust Jesus.  And I believe in his prayer. So yu may visit somewhere else.  You may worship at St. Mattress of the Springs, if a day of rest is needed.  And you may return for dinner and worship here at 5 pm.  We will let go of our need to be bound by allegiance to a single congregation.  Our allegiance is not to Zion, Akron.  It is to Christ and the church in which we are called in baptism.  And in baptism we are one with the church of every time and every place.  Near and far away.  And its time now that we get our act together and come together to share the gospel and its calling on our lives to love our neighbors.  We know that tensions between churches and denominations has diminished our witness.  We know that, though the reformation age multiplied the church, it also divided us deeply.  And we must more fully recover stronger family ties than the things that divide us. Your church council has heard God say that we are called to pursue partnerships and cooperative relationships.  There are many opportunities to do so.  Jesus' prayer of protection includes the promise of provision.  Perhaps we will be a gift of provision to another congregation or congregations in need.  May we practice unity, build faithful relationships with our brothers and sisters, and serve together with gladness until all come to see and know the love and grace of God.  Amen.          

Lord, how can your church embody the sort of unity you prayed for?  What must we give up and what must we take up to do so?  Create opportunities for us to practice deeper unity as a church in mission where you have placed us.  And give us courage to go where we have not yet gone, trusting in your holy protection.  Amen.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


DWELL.  Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

This is the fortieth day since Easter Sunday; also known as Ascension day.  In the gospel narrative of Luke, the risen Jesus is present with the disciples (in an altered 'resurrected body' state) for 40 days. Then he ascends to the Father. The disciples witness this cosmic coronation event.  It symbolizes Jesus' authority as Lord and Savior of the nations. It's the end of the epic biblical journey; Noah in the Ark, Moses on Mt. Sinai, Elijah on the mountaintop, Jesus in the wilderness.  After 40 eyars in the wilderness, the people of Israel enter the promised land.  After 40 days, Jesus Ascends.  It's also the answer to the question, "How does this fledgling faith community continue to exist and thrive after their founder, Jesus, is absent from them?"  First, is the belief in the resurrection itself.  He is not dead, but lives on.  And so the mission lives on with him.  Second, his absence is mitigated by a new spiritual presence in the lives of those who believe in the resurrection as the ultimate sign of his power and authority as the reigning son of God. The Ascension absents Jesus from the community, but gives him a cosmic and eternal identity with God. His status and identity is literally elevated to a new location above and beyond all others.  He sends the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers, who have faith that Jesus is truly present to them in bread and cup and baptism water and gospel story.   
So how do postmoderns deal with this strangely mythic disappearance?  
I was on a mountain last weekend.  The solitude and transcendent beauty of the view, the lake below us, the sky above, the warm sun and gentle, steady breeze gave us a sense of awe and contented joy. We didn't want to leave that place.  We sat for an hour.  I could have sat there for a day. But we can't stay.  Something calls us down to earth.  Food, family, work, house, life in the world. 
Jesus cannot stay with his first followers and expect them to do the work of the kingdom of God.  If all they did was gather around the risen Jesus and worship Him, what would happen to the mission and the message of the cross?  Too many church people stand around and look up---they worship the ascended Lord and fail to follow the ever-present master.  We have baptized into the church but failed to teach the way of Jesus.  Churches that are worshiping Jesus but not multiplying disciples are missing an essential move in the cross-bearing life.  Under imperial protection and provision, churches didn't have to do what the early Christians had to do.  Multiplication was by social order and human reproduction. For centuries.   BUT not any more.   
NOW, we are being called and sent by Jesus to GO and MAKE DISCIPLES.  Baptism and teaching are the acts of the apostles (those who are sent to carry on Jesus' work). The teachings of Rabbi Jesus are all about serving others, downward mobility, healing and forgiveness.  It's very relational as he establishes a new kind of family. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself.  Love your enemies.  Love one another. Love is faith in action.  It is what it means to imitate Christ.  Love transcends prejudices and human boundaries. Jesus included the irreligious, the poor and the marginalized. He openly welcomed "sinners" and ate with them.  Sex workers and addicts were part of his family. 

Ascension day reminds us that the mission and ministry of Jesus has been handed off to his disciples with a commission to go and do what Jesus did with them. The great news for us is that,from the beginning, some doubted.  There was doubt inside the worshippers on that mountain.  We all have our doubts.  Is this true?  Is it real? Can we really believe this story?  Like them, do we doubt our own identity and calling as the people of God?  Do we doubt that what we hope could happen, will happen?  Do we doubt that he lives and is present among us?       
He established the greatest movement in human history, whose constitution is love and whose community includes any and every one.  He moves in to human history.  He moves out of the conventional religious and social systems and embraces those left out.  He moves up from human rabbi to crucified King.  He becomes poor so we become rich, some would say.  He moves on so that his followers can move on from stagnancy and fear to empowered community.  Some think Ascension is a vision of hope that the faithful on earth will follow him to up heaven. But its really a movement of heaven coming to earth in the ordinary lives of children like you and me.  We learn to move like Jesus.  In, Out, Up.   
Wouldn't you like to be part of the movement that brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven? 

Jesus, you went up to the Father so that holy love might pour down upon your church; and through your church your love might be known to the ends of the earth.  May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  May your Kingdom come among us and through us.  May others know your healing mercy.  May your church carry the cross and live courageously as bearers of your forgiveness.  Teach us and send us to share the good news with other. Amen. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015


DWELL  Luke 11.

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:
Father,* hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.*
Give us each day our daily bread.*
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’*

And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread;for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.”And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for* a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit* to those who ask him!’

Do you pray?
Does it make a difference?  What?
What do you believe about prayer?
A lot of people ask me to pray for them because I'm a pastor.  And I do.  Sometimes it comes out better than others.  A lot of people will say that they pray or are thankful for prayers.  They say no one is an atheist in a foxhole.  People pray to God when they are facing peril.  But is that that only time and place to pray?  When we are weak, lacking, lost, afraid, or in danger?  
Prayer is something we learn how to do.  It is modeled by other faithful people.  Parents or grandparents might teach us.  Sunday School teachers and pastors prayed. I admit that I am still learning how to pray, why to pray, and what to pray.  I admit that the prayer of Jesus is often the default prayer when I don't know how or what to pray.  Also, I like to read and pray other people's prayers---saints and faithful people from history. I have a few prayer books with exquisite, poetic, deeply meaningful written prayers in them.  They cannot replace personal prayers from my own head, heart, and lips.  But some prayers are worth repeating. In my own life of faith I have depended on a lot of others to have a speaking and listening relationship with the invisible God.  
Someone once said that an atheist is a person with no invisible means of support.  I also know that it is quite possible to get along fine without a personal relationship with God.  Many people who prosper, acquire great wealth and power, do so independently.  Self-reliance and self-support are American virtues. I know people who do not pray.
The prayer of Jesus and the subsequent anecdote he tells his disciples to support his teaching suggest that prayer begins with a humble insistence that God is both willing and able to give us what we seek.
Prayer begins with the insistence that God speaks and listens, like we do only so much more and better.  God is, like a kind and generous parent, able to give us what we need--in fact God gives us God's very self---the spirit breath of life. 
In the story of the friend at midnight, prayer resembles an urgent request a friend makes on behalf of someone else, for whom he has responsibility to offer a gift. I've been in this situation.  Someone has an urgent need at the most inopportune time.  What do I do?  Nothing?  Jesus suggests that we ask God.  I wonder if prayer in these circumstances might create unforeseen options and creative opportunities.  God becomes a real partner with us in figuring things out.  Maybe if we ask the question:  What gift of God might we seek on behalf of someone in need of our attention and care? In this way, prayer is not selfish, though it does involve the self as ambassador or intermediary on behalf of another.  Jesus' prayer teaches us to depend on God for the grace we need to help and serve others.  When we come up short of what is needed to bring healing, hope, and help to our neighbors, we are invited to ask God the Father to intervene.   Prayer teaches us to trust God, rather than ourselves, to attend to circumstances out of our control.  (Like a friend's midnight arrival).  If prayer can remind me to get out of the way and let God act, then it will have done its work. Of course, prayer does not absolve me from responsible action.  It does, however, remind me that I am not alone in my care for someone else.  God cares about those who hunger for daily bread, who cry out for forgiveness, who hunger for liberation from the court room of our own bad judgment. Maybe that's the most important teaching we get from prayer. 

Lord Jesus, your prayer was simple, short, and poignant.  You prayed for the heart of the matter---daily bread and the forgiveness of our debts.  Teach us to pray with simplicity and clarity. Help us to ask, seek, and knock with confidence that you are like a loving and generous parent, willing and able to give us what we need.  Amen.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Abiding Challenge Day 5. Daughter

DWELL. LUKE 8:40-56
Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’ When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’

While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.


I have three sons. I don't know what its like to have a daughter, but this story has always been inspiring to me.  Maybe its because I know that women and young girls are still mistreated, abused, and neglected in may parts of the world.  Women's rights are not protected.  Women still make less money than their male counterparts.  60% of people in poverty in the U.S. are women; 60% of children in poverty are in single-mother households.  Violence against women is a global problem that includes the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, physical abuse, and the trafficking of minors.  1,000 women die everyday from complications with pregnancy and childbirth.   The highest growing population of incarcerated people in the U.S. are women; over 1 million women are under the heel of the criminal justice system.  2/3 of them for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.   There is still deep misogyny in the world, that makes women and girls more vulnerable and disadvantaged.    

In the gospel story, a Father seeks out Jesus the healer to save his dying daughter. She is 12 years old girl, just before the age of marriage and fertility in that culture. She may never become a mother.  On the way, another woman approaches Jesus the healer.  She has suffered for 12 years with non-stop bleeding.  In that culture, she was unclean and unable to participate in the rituals of marriage or religious blessing as a result of her illness.  12 years connects this girl and this woman.  Bleeding was a sign of death.  This girl was dying too soon.  Without intervention, neither of these two women would experience the joy and love of motherhood.    
Jairus seeks out Jesus in desperation.  And Jesus goes with him. On the way, an interruption prevented Jesus from attending to the girl sooner.  The woman touched Jesus and she is healed.  He pauses to address the loss of power he feels in his body.  She confesses that she touched him.  And he says, "Daughter, your faith has made you well."  He credits her with faithfulness and identifies her as a daughter.  A woman, whose illness detached her from the family of faith and denied her status as a daughter of Abraham, is restored to full health and community life---including the possibility of marriage and family.  Jesus proceeds to Jairus' house only to confront the power of death.  Jesus challenges the family to let go of the power of fear and embrace the power of faith. He speaks to the girl, commanding her to get up.  And she does!  
God is acquainted with human vulnerability.  Jesus confronts the injustice of misogyny by healing these daughters. As Mother's day approaches this weekend, we give thanks for the gift of girls, daughters, mothers, and the women who give life to us all. And we are mindful of the pain of infertility and the threat of breast and cervical cancers.       
Pop singer John Mayer sings a song called "Daughters."  He says, "Fathers be good to your daughters; daughters will love like you do; Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers be good to your daughters too."     

Mothering God, you carry us, feed us, and protect us like a hen cares for her chicks. We pray for girls and women around the world; especially those who are vulnerable and need your saving power to give healing and life. Provide for their protection and health.  Give them dignity, hope, and opportunity.  Amen.  

Abiding Challenge Day 6. apprenticed


Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

Jesus was raised by a carpenter. Like all good tradesmen, he was likely apprenticed by Joseph to take up the family business. In this system, an apprentice would train under a master. The apprentice would work alongside the master for years, learning everything about the work. They must learn about the tools and materials of the trade; They must learn how to construct houses and furnishings from scratch. Masters would increasingly give their apprentices challenges as they learn to do what the master does. By imitation and information, the master would reproduce his skill in the apprentice. At a certain point in the learning process,the master would send the apprentice as a journeyman to apply their skills. They would work at a subsistence level, basically receiving room and board for their work. They would bring only the essentials to ply the trade, because they would not remain in one place. They would seek out labor where they could find it. After a season as a journeyman, their workmanship and skill would improve. They would continue to work with the master to grow in knowledge and skill. Eventually, they would settle in a place, marry, and become a master craftsman capable of reproducing the best work of the one who taught them. They would acquire students of their own---likely their own sons. This learning model effectively trained men for the necessary labor and industry of the 1st century culture.
Jesus applies this apprenticeship/journeyman model to his healing and teaching work. He is an itinerant rabbi, a master in practical theology. He is a storyteller and a healer, known to have cured the sick, raised the dead, and given sight to the blind. But his practice was not a solo project for one miraculous holy man. It was a teaching model that was intended to be passed on like the family trade. So Jesus trains disciples as apprentices. They watch him heal and hear his stories. They participate in the way he feeds crowds and offers the power of compassion to those who are suffering. And then he sends them out, as a master sends out journeymen, to apply what they have learned. They are sent like interns, with no self-sustaining resources. They will live on room and board in exchange for their labor. As unskilled apprentices, they will continue to learn on the job. Sometimes their work will be appreciated, other times thy won't be well received. They must move on and continue the master's work.
In my training for ministry, I was sent to Penn State Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA for three months of clinical pastoral education. I lived on the hospital grounds in nursing student housing. I was assigned to adult intensive care unit. There were six of us, supervised by a certified chaplain. We made rounds as chaplains, visiting the sick. Some people welcomed me. Others told me to go away. I walked with families through trauma and acute grief. I did not know how to pray with and for others until I spent a summer at Geisinger. The supervisor met with us daily to teach and to listen and to continue our formation as compassionate caregivers. It was challenging. I was poor. And I learned more about God and the human condition in three months than I did in the previous nine months of bible and theology classes. I continue to learn.
Following Jesus is a lifelong learning process for all of us. There are skills and tools and practices that are essential to reproduce the work of Jesus. Those of us who have been practicing for some time as apprentices and journeymen are ready to take on students. We are building a community, a kingdom, a way of life together. It takes willing practitioners and patience. Would you like to become an apprentice in the life of Jesus?

Jesus, you invite us to follow you. You teach us the way of compassionate presence and healing. You show us how to confront systems of powerful injustice and oppression, not with weapons of violence, but with words of love and grace. You send us to practice what you have taught. Help us to go and do what we have heard and seen from you, master.

Abiding Challenge. Day 4. Haunted

DWELL:  LUKE 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.


We must not dismiss the supernatural parts of the gospel story as pure fiction or fantasy.  This is a haunting story with demons and graveyards and eerie voices and fear.  When I read the gospel stories of demonic possession, I read mental illness and deep suffering.  In this story, Jesus has wandered into Gentile territory, among pig farmers and cemeteries and a man who is not in his right mind.  There are boundaries that good people ought not to cross, right?  Places we ought not to go to avoid danger and harm.  There are people and places that frighten us.  Jesus risks his own safety and his religious piety by breaking the cultural and religious boundaries---crossing the sea to do so.   We see Jesus here as an infiltrator, an invader who goes on the offensive to engage with the potential dangers of the secular world beyond Judaism. Rather than remain in a safe, pious bubble among his friends, Jesus shows us the way of the cross---as a participant in human suffering.  What if more Christians acted like this? What if churches sought out those who were suffering in isolation, in order to bring healing and hope to them?  So many churches have chosen safe and comfortable habits rather than the way of Jesus. Churches establish boundaries and avoid crossing them to avoid any danger.  
Jesus does not see danger.  He sees a man who is suffering.  The man comes to Jesus as a homeless beggar, crying out from a place of torment.  And although it may seem like Jesus is the one who has gone rogue in the story, the perspective of the gospel writer is that evil has overtaken and overwhelmed humanity.  Like weeds invading a garden, the power of evil and death has crept into the whole human family, threatening to destroy God's good creation and send us all into the abyss (devoid of life and communion with God). Jesus goes to pull out the weeds, so that life might flourish again.
The notion that the demons' name is 'legion' is also a reminder that an occupying army violently plunders this place and these people.  The army is the physical manifestation of a deeper spiritual reality---God's kingdom is threatened by the kingdom of malevolence (wickedness) an oppression. Jesus comes to set us free from the powers of darkness that threaten to destroy God's world and God's children.  Fear holds us hostage to the things that threaten us. 
This homeless man battling mental illness had been imprisoned, chained, cast out of society.  He was alone in the tombs until Jesus came. What does Jesus offer the sociopath, the serial killer,the mass murderer?  Can they ever be free from the demons that haunt their minds?  
Are there people living alone in their suffering around us?  2,000 years later are we doing much better with those suffering from mental illness?  Is not our answer self-medication and professional help? 
Is it possible that the power of love and compassion, which demands risk-taking for the one who suffers, could bring about real social and personal change? Mental health professionals and medication are important and necessary.  But they do not address the deeper spiritual implications of isolation and loneliness that often accompany illness, homelessness, and/or incarceration.  If we follow Jesus, he may take us to those places we dare not go alone.  Let us go together and meet the children of God who have been suffering apart from family and friend. Let us loosen the chains of injustice and the yoke of suffering that so many people experience.  This is the calling of the church.

Lord Jesus, you go ahead of us to the places and people that frighten us. Give us your deep compassion to boldly meet them where they are and invite them into your healing love.  We ask for healing for people struggling with mental illness today.  Amen.