Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 22, 2016

The challenge of a humble gospel

Luke has long been my favorite gospel. I think that’s because it challenges me so much. You don’t have to read very far in Luke’s treatise to see what he’s promoting.

From the very beginning he wants us to know that Jesus is all about social justice.

In the very first chapter Mary, the mother of Jesus, says:

God’s mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm;
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

And in the gospel reading for this week:

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’  [from Luke 14]

Here, as always in Luke, the question is “Who is in and who is out?” Who are the ones who should be invited and given places of honor? Who are the ones who assume too much?

A few years ago I heard an interview of two rookie police officers who had worked the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, DC.  One was Martin Niverth, a white officer.  The other was Joseph Burden, a black officer.  This was just a few months after Birmingham, Alabama’s sheriff Bull Connor turned fire hoses and attack dogs on peaceful protestors.  Both officers say today that it was the most peaceful demonstration they ever saw in DC.  And they were both changed by the event.

Niverth, the white officer, realized for the first time that there was a whole segment of society that didn’t have the same rights and privileges he had as a white man.  Society had encouraged him to be privileged his whole life, but not encouraged him to be humble.  He was shockingly paired with a black officer that day—something that never happened—and after they’d been walking for an hour or so his partner said to him, “Marty, I hope you can see what an important day this is for us.”  And Marty did.  Society had encouraged this black man to be humble all his life, but not encouraged him to be privileged and strong.

Officer Burden said that as a black man it occurred to him that even though he had a job, there were a lot of freedoms he didn’t have. He ended up on the podium near Martin Luther King. Officer Burden, too, had a dream.

He shared the dream with every person whose seat at the banquet has always been near the lowest place, where gifts are not recognized and equality is a mirage because the people at the first table have already taken the best this world has to offer, and they don’t plan to share.

So here is Jesus’ word to his listeners, to the church to which Luke wrote, to marchers and observers in August of 1963, and to us:  If you are one of those people who thinks you deserve the best place at the banquet, think again.  You need to be humbled.  And if you are one of those people who thinks (or you’ve been told) you only deserve the lowest place at the banquet, think again.  You need to be strengthened—you need to accept your own privileged status as a child of God.

At God’s table, every place is the same.  There is always enough to go around.  There is always room for you.  Be strong and be humble.  They are not mutually exclusive. IMG_8078, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 15, 2016

Standing up straight

The Olympics are awesome.

At this very moment I’m working on my laptop in front of the television, with the Olympics on low volume. I can switch my attention to it whenever I want, turning it up and tuning it in. The athleticism in every sport is just incredible and inspirational. (Though not inspirational enough to get me off the couch, apparently…)

As a storyteller, I’m even more drawn to the personal experiences than to the events themselves. The stories give the backdrop to the events.

Like this gospel story. There’s an event (a healing, criticism, rebuke, teaching, rejoicing), but behind that event is the personal, tragic story of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. It’s her story that brings real meaning to the event.

And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. [from Luke 13]

This year the stories of the Olympic refugee team have moved me past words.

You may have heard of the experience of a Syrian swimmer named Yusra Mardini. A high level swimmer in Syria, her home was destroyed by a bomb. She and her sister decided to flee a year ago, going through Lebanon and Turkey, before getting into a small boat (built for 6 or 7 occupants) with eighteen others, heading for Greece. The boat’s motor failed, and it began taking on water. Ms. Mardini and her sister, along with the only other two people on board who could swim, got into the water where they spent over three hours pulling and pushing the boat to safety. Everyone survived, and the Mardini sisters and their parents eventually ended up in Berlin, where Yusra continued her training and was selected for the Refugee Olympic Team.

This story inspires me in so many ways. It’s amazing how a sport became a vehicle for freedom from tyranny and danger. And how this young woman’s personal drama challenges assumptions and fears about refugees, just as the woman Jesus healed challenged the religious norms about sabbath activity.

Whenever one person is able to rise from a situation that imprisons—illness, oppression, cruelty, misunderstanding, poverty—that story becomes part of the larger human narrative. It’s important to create a landscape where everyone has the opportunity to rise.

Because the truth is, when any person rises, we all are inspired to stand a little straighter.IMG_6054, altered, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 8, 2016

The radical nature of the gospel

Division isn’t something I’m all that crazy about. Especially right now, in this incredibly divisive presidential election season. I want us all to be harmonious and unified over the things that are really important, and not worry too much about the things that aren’t.

Maybe everyone feels that way (except for the few who live for division and controversy). The problem is, of course, that we can’t agree on the really important things.

That may be what Jesus has in mind here:

‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
  [from Luke 12]

I’m guessing the disciples must be pretty confused by this. I know I am. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?”

Well, yes, actually.

Jesus said a lot of things about peace. I love to preach about peace and unity and think they are some of the most important principles by which his followers stand.

He’s making an important rhetorical point here. Yes, peace is important. But so is justice. Real peace brings justice. The famous Pax Romana (Roman Peace) of the time wasn’t true peace at all. It may have embodied one of the signs of peace—the absence of war. But in order to preserve that truncated view of peace many, many people and cultural groups were oppressed, kept from full cultural expression, forced to use a language that wasn’t theirs, prohibited from following some of their religious practices.

That isn’t peace. And it certainly isn’t justice.

When we promote real justice and thereby seek true peace, we may anger the powers that be (whether they are capitalist, socialist, communist, Democratic, Republican, or Independent). When we seek liberty and justice for all as a religious practice—and we can’t even all seem to agree about what that kind of justice looks like—we may find ourselves creating division. Jesus certainly found that to be true.

In our culture, we try to thread the needle that allows us to make peace (and justice) and also attempt to keep the peace. Honestly, they are both laudable goals.

And they are also often difficult to accomplish. IMG_5573, adjusted, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | August 1, 2016

Preparing

If you live in the U.S. and have been at all interested in the major party conventions of recent weeks, surely you were impressed by the amount of work that goes into preparing such a gathering. Months (years, even) of planning, weeks of execution, days and nights of setup and teardown. Imagine all the signs, food, lighting, audio-visuals, and discussions about content and people who will deliver speeches. And there were, by estimates I heard, somewhere in the neighborhood of three million balloons. Three million! Who had to tie all those balloons?

All of this over-the-top preparation, in every convention, leads up to what we already knew was going to happen: a nominee is presented to the gathering and to the whole country.

After all the days, weeks, months, and years of getting ready. It’d be super weird if the candidate walked out on stage to deliver the acceptance speech, to find that the lights were out and everyone had gone home, that people got tired of all the preparations and went to bed before the anticipated arrival.

I know it’s a big metaphorical leap, but it would have been just as weird for Jesus’ listeners to think about unprepared characters in this brief parable about faith communities and individuals.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.  [from Luke 12]

The right thing for the servants to do is to be prepared. Any other option would sound ridiculous to people in a culture where hospitality—even to strangers, and certainly to the boss—is one of the most important social mores.

But there’s a turn, and it’s the thing I love about this parable. The people are ready for the coming one in the metaphor, but that one is even more ready for them.

They’re sitting by lit lamps, watching out the window, waiting. You know what waiting is like. Waiting can be boring. It can be angering. It can be frustrating. Spiritual waiting may mean we’ve spent a long time grieving, wondering, aching, longing. Waiting is difficult, maybe even impossible. But we still hold out hope, even if hope is small and sometimes feels ridiculous. A tiny lamp, but it’s still lit.

Jesus says that spiritual waiting will be rewarded. Because when God shows up, God is the one who will feed and serve.

That’s the parabolic turn. We are a hungry and thirsty people, waiting for renewal, peace, hope to return. And God feeds our waiting, hungry, angry, hurt souls. It may take a lot of patience to see it, a lot of longing and hoping (and sometimes despair) to realize it, a lot of time for its fruition.

Someday, God will feed your waiting heart. God will nurture your yearning heart.

Just wait. And see.

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

IMG_5594, altered, copyright, low

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 25, 2016

Profit sharing

Jesus appears annoyed when someone asks him about judging an inheritance dispute, and then he tells a parable about a man whose priorities were all turned around.

‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’ [from Luke 12]

What idiot decides that because he has a bumper crop, he should pull down the old barns and build new ones? A selfish idiot? One who simply wants to show off his wealth? Why tear down the old ones unless you want to demonstrate that you have so much, you can afford to act carelessly?

One of the interesting things about this story is how much the farmer thinks of himself: “I will do this,” I will pull down,” “I will store,” “I will say,” “MY barns, MY grain, MY goods.” Jesus says the man has stored up treasure for himself, but isn’t rich toward God.

What would it take for him to be rich toward God? An attitude shift.

Jesus is speaking to people who live and work on farms, or who are very familiar with farming. What would be astounding to them is that this guy thinks he’s the only one who’s done any work! In this pre-tractor society, it would’ve taken many workers to accomplish all this. And though he doesn’t legally owe them anything more than wages, he has a moral obligation to “profit share” with those who’ve made him so successful. Why not announce: “You all have done such a great job this year that my barns can’t hold everything you’ve planted, cultivated, and harvested. Isn’t that amazing! Please come take what you can use so it doesn’t go to waste, and let’s give away the surplus to the hungry in our community.” He’d save money by not tearing down and rebuilding bigger.

Wouldn’t that be a holy celebration? Wouldn’t the farmer feel honored to be able to return something extra to those who’d made him successful?

Profit sharing.

The God who lives, the God who gives, the God who shares, is the God who requires our very soul.  Not to harm our soul, or to heap shame on it, but to liberate it from being owned by the things that don’t care about us.  To be owned instead by an open heart that allows us to share what we have, and allows others to share with us.  To be able to open our ears, our hands, our hearts, our very souls, to the hearts and voices of others, and by extension, to the heart and voice of God. IMG_5330, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 18, 2016

Prayer mysteries

I miss many things about being a pastor, now that I’m a full time writer/photographer. One of those things is prayer.

Yes, I can still pray. I can still pray in worship. But leading corporate prayer was an important part of my spiritual life.

Many pastors say they cannot worship easily when they are leading worship, but for me, the opposite is true. Even now, the mystery of prayer comes closest to me when I am praying with the community of the faithful in worship.  When the pastor of the church I attend is praying aloud, I am drawn into her words, moved by the labor with which she has chosen them and how she offers them to God on our behalf.

In the congregation I last served, we had a few moments we called “Joys and Concerns,” when worshipers lifted up the names of the sick, grieving, or troubled, those who have something to celebrate, or concerns of our community and world.  As these situations are spoken by various persons, their voices sometimes crack with emotion.  Together the congregation reacts with sympathy or joy, and the mystery of communal prayer is, at least for a moment, a bit clearer.  When it was my turn to offer the Prayers of the People, I often sensed those congregants leaning forward as they bowed their heads, joining all our deep longings with the heart of God.

 ‘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!’  [from Luke 11]

There’s not a person reading this who hasn’t had a prayer go unanswered, or who hasn’t struggled with what God is up to in the world. Yet prayer is still upheld by Jesus as a way to connect with God.

Does God hear our prayers?  It’s easier to believe this could be true when all those good souls in worship trust together in the mystery of prayer, difficult as that is.  None of us can explain it, but on our good days we remember that Jesus also trusted in the mystery, and we go on praying. IMG_0629, corrected, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 11, 2016

Being and doing

Please raise your hand if you have ever left a bed unmade on your way out the door to work.  Now raise your hand if you have ever had a supreme pizza delivered and called it a balanced meal because, hey, it has protein, carbs, veggies (onions and mushrooms) and even fruit if you asked for pineapple.  Who among you has neglected mowing the yard that one last time in the fall because the frost is going to kill it anyway?   Have you ever called the dog over to the table after supper so you don’t have to sweep up the crumbs?  What about those times when you screen your phone calls and let the answering machine pick up so you don’t have to speak to anyone?

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ [from Luke 10]

Whenever I read this scripture passage in public, I can just see some of the women stiffen. And I know I’ll probably hear about it later.  The story may touch more feminist nerves than any other gospel story!  It may be that some women feel they have been labeled as a Mary or a Martha, when in fact they see themselves as a bit of both.  It may be that they’ve heard this story used against women.  It may be that they hear the words of Jesus as degrading to the work they consider very valuable. After all, people have to eat, and if somebody doesn’t do the work, Jesus, you know it won’t get done by itself.  I don’t see any of your twelve male friends getting up to help out in the kitchen.  Often, women are the ones who do the work of taking care of those around them.  And they don’t appreciate being told that it isn’t enough.

It is interesting that Luke puts this story right after the one we call The Good Samaritan.  It seems to be a narrative which celebrates the active caring of the Samaritan traveler as opposed to the inattentiveness of the other two passersby.  Then comes this story of Martha and Mary, where the doing is said to be too much, and the sitting and being is rewarded.  What are we to make of it all?

I think we must make of it exactly what it is.  Life with Christ is rarely an either/or kind of life.  It is more often both/and.  Or rather, it is a flowing between the various manifestations of our faith.  To say both/and sounds as though we must do everything all the time—the doing and the being—when today’s story specifically challenges that idea.  We are human and, generally, can only do one thing at a time if we want to do it well.

That’s not the way we live much of the time, though, is it?  We watch television while eating a family meal; we talk on the phone while working on the computer; we sit in a meeting and make lists of things we need to do when the meeting is over.  I once passed a car on the interstate, and the driver was reading a paperback book open on the steering wheel.  Now that’s double tasking!  Most of us won’t do anything so physically dangerous, but sometimes our doubling or tripling up on things can be dangerous to a balanced life.

You know what it’s like.  When you’re double tasking on the phone and computer, your full attention is in neither place.  When the kids are getting home from school and want to be with you and you know you have to start cooking the evening meal and the laundry is so backed up you have to do a couple of loads or nobody will have clean underwear the next day, you will probably not have enough attention to go around.

The way Luke’s gospel arranges these stories, they appear to strike some kind of balance for us.  A man walking down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho must make a decision whether to continue on his way toward whatever business he had there, or to stop and help, a proposition which cost him both money and time.  Yet it does not appear as though he struggled with his decision about whether or not to help.  He simply did what had to be done.

Martha, though, struggles with what to do.  There are competing interests in her story as well.  Should she care for the needs of others, or attend to the needs of her own soul?  It appears that she is used to taking care of others and leaving herself and her needs for last.  The problem with making caregiving our only way of life is that we stop listening for the voice of God.  It is easier to do than it is to be still, even for a few moments.  And so we just keep moving.

Maybe we, like Martha, have forgotten that we have choices to make.  She seems to assume that all the work must be done before there is any sitting and listening.  You and I know that all the work is never done.  And of course, we have to mention the gender elements of the story.  It was a woman’s place to serve the men, not to sit with them and listen to the teacher talk about God.

Jesus turned both of these ideas upside down.  Of course a woman has the right to sit and listen.  How could it be otherwise in God’s kingdom?  She is given an equal place at the feet of Jesus.  And, please, just let some of the work wait.  You haven’t given yourself permission to sit and listen in a very long time.  Do you even know what that feels like anymore?

So, I’m giving you permission to order that pizza.  Okay, maybe not every night or the food police will arrest both of us, but when it’s been a long day and you want to reconnect with the people you love, go for it.  Allow yourself to make decisions about what is right for you, about what will remind you of the important things.  Allow yourself to do the things that take care of others, and allow yourself to stop doing for others and take care of yourself by being in God’s presence.IMG_5384, copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

 

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | July 5, 2016

The one who stopped

The man has been in and out of consciousness for nearly two days.

He is astounded as he begins to piece together the story of how a bunch of strangers have looked after him so well, as if he were a family member. And the cost!  Food, clothing, a room for as long as he needs it. He has no money, because the thieves took everything. When he thinks of them, the images and sounds of the robbery come back to him and he winces.

He manages these words to the innkeeper, “I am so sorry for all your time and expense. When I am well I will see that both you and the one who brought me here are repaid for your trouble. I was robbed of all my money and have nothing to give you now, but I will see that you are repaid.” Though he was not well off, he would find a way to get the money.

“We will not hear of it,” says the innkeeper. “It is payment enough to see you moving about and to get you on your feet again. You will stay here until you are well. My wife insists upon it.”  His wife, busy with household tasks, smiles and nods in agreement.

“I wish I could get my hands on those men who beat you!” says the innkeeper. “Who do they think they are, taking people’s money and sometimes their lives?” This is confirmation to the man that he had been left for dead. “You are very lucky my good Samaritan friend came along!”

“A Samaritan!” says the man. “But you are Jews, are you not?”

“Of course we are Jews.” says the innkeeper. “But I have to make a living of this place for my family. I can’t afford to turn anyone away, even though that doesn’t make the rabbi happy.”

The man thinks about the Samaritan who rescued him from certain death by the side of the road. Why?  Perhaps the Samaritan didn’t know the man was a Jew. His clothing had been stripped so that wasn’t an identifier. The man is proud to be God’s person, and has therefore never had anything to do with Samaritans, but now he finds himself not caring a bit about differences between Samaritans and Jews. A Samaritan had saved his life, for God’s sake. In a few days, the man’s whole attitude about “them” has changed.

What would the man’s wife say when he told her?  He knew what she would say—thank God for Samaritans!

Soon he feels like continuing on his journey, though he has no plans at all to travel that dangerous stretch of road again, at least not alone. But a group of travelers comes to the inn that night, and they are headed to Jerusalem. He asks if he can accompany them, which surprises them, because they are Samaritans. But they say yes.

And then the man sits and eats supper with the Samaritan travelers. The first few minutes are awkward, because Jews and Samaritans are always served from separate platters and they sit in different parts of the room. But in a few minutes they are all laughing and telling stories and he realizes how they are no different from him, really. After a couple of glasses of wine, he tells them about the stranger who saved his life, and who was one of them. And all sit quietly for a few moments.

The next morning, in one last gesture of hospitality, the innkeeper gives him enough money to make it home, and the woman hands him some parcels of food for his travels. The man looks down at the food and the new clothing he is wearing. He sees still tender knots and bruises on his arms and legs. The children practically knock him down as they crowd around the departing guest and beg him not to go. The innkeeper gives him a bear hug and wishes him Godspeed. “How can I ever repay you?” the man asks.

“By keeping an eye out for the hurting by the side of the road and caring for them,” says the innkeeper.

The man nods, and turns his face toward home.IMG_4440, copyright, low

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 26, 2016

Two-way blessing

I am usually a light packer, but that means starting to pack days before the trip, lots of planning, and taking things out as I realize I can get along without them. If I’m flying, I limit myself to one bag and a tote for my laptop and camera. Even so, some of the things that usually make the final cut for a 10-day trip are one jacket (you never know when it might rain or turn chilly), one sweater, two pairs of pants, one dress, three or four shirts, toiletries in tiny bottles, soap for washing out clothes each night.

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.’  [From Luke 10]

Jesus wants the seventy to take far less, as in nothing—no money, no anything—just what they happen to be wearing.  They are to be dependent on the kindness of strangers.

Hmmm. My control issues are a little strong for that. I’d probably at least stuff some underwear and shampoo into my pockets and hope he wouldn’t notice.

These followers are sent out as lambs among wolves; they will find out just who their friends are. Their friends are the ones who will welcome them, whether they are known to each other or not.

The disciples are to enter a home and declare peace to those who inhabit it. And even though in ancient Palestine hospitality is highly valued, not everyone will welcome those who bring peace.  There are some homes and some communities in which peace is spurned because it may mean giving up power over others or may be perceived as weakness.  If the residents are not willing to hear the words of peace, then the disciples will move on to some other place where peace is welcomed.

Jesus tells the seventy to receive whatever hospitality is offered. That’s odd. We expect to be told to share hospitality, not to receive it. How happy we are when someone thanks us for a nice meal or is grateful to have a place to stay. When the worshiping community extends hospitality to the stranger, the person on the margins, the immigrant, that community finds itself warmed and renewed by the act of giving.

And yet, receiving is also a gift to oneself and to the giver.       Some of the most memorable travel moments I’ve ever experienced happened in some of the poorest places, when my friends and I were offered a simple meal of homemade tortillas, bananas and papayas picked from village trees, and ice cold Coke bought from the local tienda.

Thousands of miles from home, we were served a meal that transcended language and culture with its hospitality and welcome.  It was more than we could have asked or expected, and it made us feel at home.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he sent out the seventy in twos. We don’t have to go to a foreign country to be on the journey together. We share memories and adventures. Sometimes we remember the wolves, and can laugh together at the ones who were mean but not really dangerous.  We encourage each other to watch out for the truly alarming.  But mostly, we talk about those lovely situations where we were given incredible hospitality, where we were welcomed.  Sometimes it is hard for us to accept those gifts of hospitality, for we have been trained to give rather than to receive.  But Jesus wanted the seventy to know the joy of receiving.

© 2016, Melissa Bane SevierIMG_5336 copyright, altered, low,jpg

Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | June 21, 2016

In the day of trouble

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that God may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. [From Psalm 77]

As we have listened to stories of violence, tragedy, and suffering from Orlando, I’ve been drawn to these verses. Their words describe a raw truth. Like the psalmist, we find that comfort is hard to come by. Perhaps comfort is even impossible as our souls naturally turn away from it. We instinctively know that comfort takes time. Rushing to create internal peace can short circuit soulful healing.

We can’t be comforted because a very evil act was committed against innocent people. And if we, as a country, are troubled, we can only imagine the depth of pain for those who were involved, and for those whose lives have been forever altered.

We should not be too quick to expect people (including ourselves) to feel “better” after a tragedy. The inability to be comforted at such a time illuminates the humanity imbedded in our souls. Reaching out to each other may offer some bit of peace, even early on, because two souls together have the ability to hold more tenderness than one can hold alone.

Sometimes we move toward comfort when we work for peace and justice. That work may involve different things for different people at different times. After this particular tragedy, we’ve all been moved to see people making peace by sharing stories and hugs. We’ve heard of Christian and Muslim congregations gathering together in order to mourn the shooting while demonstrating that we can never ascribe to an entire religion a propensity to be violent and evil because of a few who commit evil acts. We’ve honored and reached out to the LGBT community and the Latino community after being targeted for no other reason than who they are. We’ve watched the news as more people—including many in congress—express the hope and determination that we can slow or stop the sale of assault-style weapons, and at least diminish gun violence.

I read a story that shows the hope of comfort, even if it hasn’t yet come. The grandmother of Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, one of those killed at Pulse in Orlando, was flown on a Jetblue flight to that city for his funeral. A flight attendant thought it would be nice to get signatures of willing passengers on a piece of paper expressing condolences, and started circulating a page at the back of the plane. Attendants whispered to passengers what was going on. Soon another piece of paper was needed. Then another. And another. When the flight was over, many pages were handed to the grandmother. Fellow passengers had written paragraphs of comfort, love, and hope. Will she gather comfort from them today? Maybe a bit. But she has these kind words to touch, digest, put away, take out again, read in bits and pieces, read in one sitting. To keep as tangible expressions of love.

Comfort? We must allow ourselves and others to feel whatever we need to feel when we need to feel it. Eventually, comfort may come when we lean on each other and gently care for one another. IMG_5013 copyright, low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier

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