“Mission Trip Reflections 2018”
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But 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? 16And 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?” 17When 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.
(Luke 13:10-17, NRSV)
What is saving your life right now? In her book “An Altar in the World”, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor poses this significant question. The answer is undeniably different for each one of us. But at the very core of this notion, we are all searching for something to bring meaning to our fractured lives.
Song writers and musicians have notoriously tapped into these sentiments over the decades through powerful lyrics and catchy melodies. In the 1980’s, American rock band, Poison sang, “And give me something to believe in (and give me something to believe in) If there's a Lord above. And give me something to believe in (and give me something to believe in) Oh, Lord arise.” In the 1990’s and 2000’s Lenny Kravitz sang, I am searching, so hard searching; I am searching for the majesty of love. I am searching, so hard searching; I am searching for the majesty of love.” The band One Republic sings profound lyrics as they ask the listener, “Do you know where your heart is? Do you think you can find it? Did you trade it for something, somewhere – better just to have it. Do you know where your love is? Do you think you lost it? You felt it so strong but nothing’s turned out the way you want it.” Modern-day band, FUN, reminds us of our late night existential moments of doubt as they sing, “Oh, Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for oh what do I stand for? What do I stand for? Most nights I don't know anymore.” And of course there’s the divine and prophetic band U2 whose lyrics echo in hearts and minds, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I believe the Kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one. But yes… I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
What is saving our lives these days? For me, it is our youth. July 15-20th, I had the privilege of leading teenagers from our church and community to Texas City, Texas ̶ the world’s hottest and most humid town located an hour southeast of Houston. With 34 youth and 6 chaperons, including church members Don Young, Raleigh Brown, Regina Rule, and Jason Craven, we embarked on a week of service, team building and love. During our week, we partnered with, Reach Beyond, a progressive, and inclusive Christian youth organization who provided us with meaningful projects by day and thought-provoking speakers by night. Our projects for the week included restoring the homes of low income residents who lost nearly everything in last year’s category four hurricane Harvey. Our project manager, lovingly referred to as Steve-O, is a retired school teacher and self-pronounced handyman, now turned full time volunteer relief worker through the Disciples of Christ. Steve O has been working with families in Texas City for almost a year and warmly welcomed the extra help from our youth volunteers. Steve O’s truck is continually loaded to the brim – with construction supplies. And as his extra-large white pickup truck makes its way all over southeast Texas, its side bumper sticker proudly proclaiming, “Getting Dirty For Jesus – Hurricane Harvey Relief.”
For a week, our students installed insulation, learned how to put down flooring, put up sheetrock, and install an entire wooden fence. Our students learned how to properly wire a ceiling fan, how to frame up a house and how to cut precise angles in 2 x 4’s. Some of our students loaded heavy furniture into delivery trucks each day and delivered it to people who have been in homes with no furniture for months. Many of our students worked every day in homes with no air conditioning and in temperatures that often exceeded 100 with humidity levels over 80 %. Our week in Texas not only gave our students an opportunity to sharpen up on their construction skills, it offered them the chance to meet the homeowners and to peek inside their oppressed realities. Our students heard their stories and witnessed firsthand the unjust structures and policies of our world.
One evening following our morning work sites, we discussed with our leaders at Reach Beyond the importance of knowing the difference between charity work and justice. We learned that charity focuses on relieving human need whereas justice focuses on removing causes of human need. We learned that charity seeks to help individuals and families, but justice seeks to transform the structures of society where injustice prevails. We learned that charity involves responding to a felt need of another whereas justice responds from a belief that something is not right. We learned that charity doesn’t seek to change systems of injustice, whereas justice seeks to make lasting change. We learned that charity work is mostly non-controversial, but that justice often involves changing structures in society that create discomfort among others.
In this morning’s scripture lesson, we find Jesus working for justice. Confined by unjust structures and societal rules, Jesus transforms the norm. He heals a woman on the Sabbath, a day reserved solely for religious education and worship. Jesus abandons the policies and accepts the person and her need. What is giving me life right now is watching our students grabble with real issues of injustice in our world. What is giving me life right now is hearing our students say to me at the end of a long hot day, “we need a few more minutes to get this project completed and in the right way. We’re okay to miss some free time if we need to.” What is giving me life right now is remembering an afternoon when our group went over and beyond to serve another. Our group had worked on a Habitat for Humanity house all morning in the blazing sun. We had wrapped up our project and headed to a nearby mall for a late lunch and much needed air conditioning. I received a phone call from one of our other work sites. Their project was taxing and taking much longer than expected. Our group of students decided on their own that we would drive more than 30 minutes to their worksite to help them finish the project. What is giving me life right now is reading responses from our teenagers like this one from a 15 year old boy stating, “The most meaningful part of my week was hearing our site coordinator, Zeke say that he believed his only purpose in life was to help others.”
“The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once proclaimed, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that really matter.” The youth from this church and community are learning about what really matters in this life. They are learning about what it truly means to be followers of our God of love. They are learning to re-think policies and structures that oppress and harm so many in our world. They are learning to challenge the notions of “but that’s just the way it is” and create new systems rooted in the belief that we are all equally and wonderfully made by God. Our youth are not being silent on issues that matter in our world. This is what is giving me life right now.
At the end of the week, we were given t-shirts with the “Reach Beyond” logo as a reminder of our experiences together. The back of the t-shirt states “Go and do Likewise” – the call of Jesus in the infamous story of the Good Samaritan. This bold statement from Jesus calls us to a life of doing what really matters. May our youth inspire us on this day and always, to Go and do likewise. For in the end God’s call to love will not only usher meaning into our lives, but it is this love that will ultimately save our lives too. AMEN.
We are thankful for this family of faith and the ways we bless one another.
We are grateful for opportunities to learn and grow in our faith. We give you thanks for the young people in our church who gave up a week of their summer to minister to and serve others in Texas. Might we hear wisdom through the words of our youth as they challenge and remind us that our faith is living and active.
We are grateful for ministry and for all the forms that it takes in our community of faith ̶ in teaching and preaching; in care for children and care for our seniors and care for our building; in leadership tasks both large and small. We give you thanks for all of those O God who give of their time, talents and energies so that others might sense a small portion of your love.
We pray for the condition of our world this morning. We pray that where there is violence, we would find a peaceful solution. We pray that where there is hunger and thirst, we would find resources to quench and to satisfy. We pray for those separated from family and loved ones on this day. Bless those O God, that they might sense your peace. Help us realize and sense our connectedness as humanity.
We pray for our church family.
Direct our hearts and minds during this time. Inspire us to new levels of faith. Draw us closer to you. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
(Adapted from Gathered by Love: Worship Resources for Year C. Lavon Baylor) (Adapted from a prayer by Wayne Arnason, UUA)