John 15:1-8, Easter 5 B, May 3, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Breathe clergy event sponsored by our synod. It was meant to be a time of renewal after the stresses of Lent. Yet, that event was not relaxing for me. It all started when I received misinformation. Thus, I started in the wrong frame of mind.
Because so many of my closest colleagues were not in attendance, all of my conversations were superficial. More often than not, I kept to myself, tatting out of the way. Despite our synod’s best efforts, I did not feel that event was a safe place for me to genuinely express my joys and concerns of ministry.
Then this past week I was at a different synod event. This one was the First Call Spring Gathering. Instead of a conference center, we were at a Christian camp far away from the stresses of home. Five experienced pastors led about ten of us first call pastors in valuable dialogue.
What struck me most was that this was a safe place to be myself. The committee pastors confessed some of their mistakes and failures, opening up the safe space for us to express our challenges without judgment. We established from the beginning that the entire retreat would be confidential.
Some conversations are relatively safe no matter where you are. We all can talk about the earthquake in Nepal without worrying about others’ reactions. The earthquake has caused a terrible tragedy where thousands of people have lost their lives. Experts from around the world are helping the people of Nepal recover.
Yet so many of our interactions are much more like the first event where it is not safe to express genuine opinions. In our daily lives, we often encounter groups of people who are quick to judge. So, we keep our true thoughts to ourselves or we jump in and fight. Everyone has their own opinion - why do so many have to shout it so loud?
This past week, Facebook has not been a safe place for me. Everyone has something to say about Baltimore. Each person thinks they know what is the truth when in reality anything they know is biased and terribly manipulated. Only one of my friends has participated in the peaceful protests in Baltimore. All the rest are judging from afar.
After returning from my retreat, I have spent a lot of time watching videos and reading articles from a variety of sources. I have tried to get a rounded view of the events unfolding in Baltimore. I have tried to decipher between those who are rudely shouting their opinions and those who are sincerely confessing their true experience. The fact of the matter is that everyone thinks the other is wrong. That is no place to start an honest dialogue.
That is what I think the poorest of Baltimore are yearning for - honest conversations about the hardships that they experience every day. There are pockets of people in Baltimore who feel they are being oppressed. Without enough jobs or opportunities, the poor of Baltimore feel hopelessness and despair.
They want to be heard. They want to be valued. They want to be treated with respect. Isn’t that what we all want?
So here we are half a country away from Baltimore and half a world away from Nepal. We are in a completely different context. How can we relate to these strange people in a strange land? We turn to the good news.
Jesus tells us that God the Father is the gardener, and Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. God tends us so that we bear good, plentiful fruit. We can only bear this fruit when we are connected with Jesus. Jesus is our source of life. In a way, Jesus is saying that we can only do ministry and other good works because Jesus gives us the ability and encouragement to do so.
Jesus is our connection to the people of Baltimore and Nepal. Jesus gives us the ability to do miracles, and Jesus is empowering the peaceful protestors in Baltimore and the survivors in Nepal. Jesus is there, just as Jesus is here.
From afar, we can admire how the people of Baltimore are cleaning up the terrible mess that their own foolish have created. For every terrible story that comes out of Baltimore, there is another that gives us hope.
From afar, we can financially support the people of Nepal. Lutheran World Relief is already there, and our support can pay for medical kits, tents, and clean water. Yet most importantly, we can have tough conversations about race and poverty in our own area. We may not be able to make a big difference in Baltimore or Nepal, yet our conversations around these big issues of race and poverty can lead us and our communities away from despair and hopelessness.
In her Lutheran article titled, “We Need to Talk,” Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton writes, “Not talking about it won’t make it go away. Some might argue that the church is no place for such a ‘political’ issue, that we should be concerned with the spiritual, not the temporal. But I’m convinced that not only is the church the appropriate place for this conversation, it might be the only place where the deep, honest, even painful conversation about race can take place so people feel they have been heard, and change and healing can happen.” (Feb. 2015 Lutheran, p. 50)
So, after this worship has ended, I invite you all to talk about the greater issues in our American culture that has led to the protests and riots in Baltimore. But first, I invite you outside our back door. The Delaware-Maryland Synod has requested that we spend time outside our walls for silence and prayer. I will take a picture and send it to our fellow Lutherans in Maryland to show that we too pray for peace in Baltimore.
Then I invite you back inside for fellowship. Over your coffee and treats, I pray that you have kind, fruitful conversations about what is happening here and elsewhere. I pray that you find ways to listen to each other so that each of us may be heard. Claim your own experiences and don’t pass judgment on others. These conversations are the first step to true peace. May Christ be with you, nurturing the fruit of your discussion. Amen.