Understanding Homelessness at a Citywide Level – book review

The main characters in Homelessness Is a Housing Problem are not individuals experiencing homelessness; they’re cities. The book’s central question is this: What might explain the substantial regional variation in per capita homeless rates in the United States? The answers may not surprise everyone, but the authors’ route to their conclusions will both inform and inspire.

Gregg Colburn teaches at the University of Washington, where he studies housing policy, housing affordability, and homelessness. Clayton Page Aldern is a data scientist and policy analyst based in Seattle. If those bios make you wonder if this book is full of figures, tables, and endnotes, the answer is a resounding yes. While reading the first chapter, I texted a family member who works in statistics and said I might need her help. As I kept reading, however, I found the writing style very readable. The authors include stories, illustrations, and summary sentences with every argument, and I never grew frustrated or bored.

Read my full review in The Christian Century magazine by clicking HERE.

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Minnesota Day 6

We said goodbye to our companions from Hope Lutheran, who had an earlier flight, and ate breakfast at the Hope Breakfast Bar in downtown St Paul. Then we took a tour of the Wabasha Street Caves.

We took the bus to the Cathedral of St Paul.

We walked over to the state Capitol building. Several of us jumped on the guided tour that took us to the top of the building.

We took the bus back towards St Thomas, stopped for ice cream, filled up water bottles on campus, and headed to the small park near campus (Shadow Falls park along the Mississippi River).

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Minnesota Day Five

Today began with closing worship led by a variety of Boundless participants. We finally saw the video Mwajuma recorded earlier in the week, in which she talked about her own faith. Bishop Kevin of the Northeast Iowa Synod preached and presided. Then we said goodbyes, took a group photo, and headed out for the day.

We headed to Hmongtown Marketplace for shopping and lunch.

Then we went to Como Park (with mini-golf) Como Zoo, Como Conservatory, and Como Town. Everyone seemed to find something they enjoyed.

We came back to the St Thomas neighborhood for a delicious dinner at Mario’s.

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Minnesota Day 4

This was our service day (part of us crashing the Northeast Iowa Synod’s Boundless youth event at the Univ of St Thomas). Part of the day was with The Food Group in New Hope, MN and the afternoon was at Open Door’s community garden in Eagen. More pix of the whole trip later.

Morning with The Food Group

Afternoon with Open Door

Last Night of Large Group

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Minnesota Day 3

Yesterday we went on a 2 and 1/2 hour Grayline bus tour of the Twin Cities. We met the tour bus along the Mississippi River in downtown St Paul and had them drop off us off on Lake Bda Maka Ska in Minneapolis. I know the Twin Cities better than most other cities (topic for another blog post) but I learned so much on this tour. The themes of the tour were water and the former rivalry between the two cities.

Group looking at the Mississippi with part of downtown St Paul in the background.
Minnesota State Capitol
Cathedral of St Paul-the archbishop made sure the dome stood just a bit higher than the capital dome.
One of the many beautiful homes we saw on historic Summit Avenue.
Minnehaha Falls (a place people have visited for centuries, named by the Dakota long before Longfellow wrote the poem that launched his fame)

I haven’t been taking photos at night but our keynote speaker was Aisha Cox, who opened up the Parable of the Good Samaritan and asked us all “What do you want to be known for?”

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Minnesota Days One and Two

In the planning, this trip had many iterations. In the end, we (youth and adults from Trinity, Boise and Hope, Eagle) are joining the ELCA Northeast Iowa Synod’s Boundless event for several days on the University of St Thomas campus in St. Paul. We arrived a day before the official event began. Here are some pix and captions:

Group photo at Midtown Global Market, a contrast to our next stop-the Mall of America
Worship at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis’ Longfellow Neighborhood
Former Luther Heights Bible Camp counselor La’Taya joined us all day, including this excursion along the river.
Lunch at Owamni by the Sioux Chef
Planetarium at the Bell Museum (natural history). There may have been some learning and also some napping.
After listening to our keynote speaker we headed to the Anderson Student Center for Nightlife. Here we are at the end of a large group Clue-like game
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Summer Preaching – 2022

July 2022 Trinity Epistle Pastor’s Column

Dear Friends in Christ,

I love the gems found in the Revised Common Lectionary (our three-year cycle of scripture readings) this summer! Before you read this column, I will have begun a three-week series on Galatians, on which I have also been leading a Monday Zoom Bible Study. The Apostle Paul is fired up, to put it mildly, in this letter and for good reason. I’ve often thought that no one should form a theology based solely on this letter, in large part because of Paul’s anger, and yet it contains a few of my favorite passages in all the letters and one of my favorite scripture passages of all time. I will try to faithfully open these letters and show how they are relevant to our lives of discipleship today. Then we will flip back the pages in our Bibles and have a summer of the prophets, not profits. We began hearing stories about Elijah and Elisha (recorded in 1st and 2nd Kings) in June. On July 17 we will turn to passages from the Minor Prophets (so named because their books are shorter, not because their words are not mighty) including Amos and Hosea. In August we will move to words from Isaiah and finally Jeremiah. The prophets we will hear from this summer lived and worked during the times of the monarchies or kingdoms. Who were these individuals and what was their task? Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel wrote this in his classic The Prophets, “The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heard expected. His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God. Why do the two need reconciliation? Perhaps it is due to man’s false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God’s involvement in history.”

I cannot predict exactly how these ancient words will resonate with our community of faith today, but I trust the Holy Spirit to show up in our gatherings, these ancient texts, the current context, adapted rituals, and our open hearts and minds. 

Peace,

Pastor Meggan

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Learning Peace

Originally published on tvprays.org

How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
   who announces salvation,
   who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ (Isaiah 52:7)

The last week of June around 95 youth ages 6-13 participated in the 5th year of Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids. We have had a few bumps, like so many other organizations, these past few years and I always sweat if we will get enough volunteers, if the lunches will be delivered, if the afternoon guests will appear, and so many other details. We plan and plan and finally execute. As with most things, it is not what we plan for that finally brings the most joy or that we will remember in years to come. It is the surprises, the grace moments in which the Holy Spirit has clearly taken over and we are simply along for the ride. 

This year those times included a moment of repentance and reconciliation between and youth and adult, a family welcomed last minute who brought so many gifts to the week, a spontaneous dance party that no one could resist participating in. I shepherded a group of 12 ten-year-old youth through the week and grew to absolutely love them all. I loved that when they were creating their public service announcements for Media Literacy there was a deep care for all of God’s creation—other human beings and the natural world. I loved that they explored being embodied as our Mindfulness instructor led us through various yoga poses. I loved the way the City of Nampa Forestry staff included absolutely everyone when we planted trees at Stampede Skate Park on a gorgeous and cool morning. I loved that though most of the youth had untangled a human knot many times, they were up for the challenge when our Conflict Resolution teacher kept making the knot bigger. 

A favorite moment was with a girl who made it known she preferred the Play for Peace games over crafts each afternoon. One day I insisted she go color a tile and then drop rubbing alcohol on it. The next thing I knew she was dragging me over to show me her piece of art. Could we all be so willing to try to new things, to go out of our comfort zones, to take risks, big or small? There are so many powerful reminders about the reign of God that we receive when we spend time with children—the ability to make a good friend in just four days, the wonder about so many things, the ability to fully be oneself. Because we are all different, not every kid is able to carry all those traits, but they were on display collectively throughout our time together. 

The week was pure gift for me amidst all the sad, hard, and exhausting things we are living through. As hopeful and uplifting as my time was alongside the 10-year-old group, I also gleaned hope and deep joy witnessing the many adult volunteers. We were curious how so many one-day volunteers would impact the group but they each came so eager to give their time and other adults and youth welcomed their participation eagerly. This was a group of adults who had, beyond the planning team, not spend much time together, but with some clarity about our mission and roles they bonded over shared experiences and watched out for one another. 

I always anticipate those moments in the week when someone’s actions or inactions gets on my nerves and I am asked to practice peace-making, not passivity, but active peace. Even with the anticipation I am annoyed that the Holy Spirit interferes in the week that way. Why can’t I simply help lead the kids’ learning, why do I have to grow too? It does remind me why we are all there. Peace is not something that just happens. It is something we practice. We bumble along. We pick up new tools or insights or perspectives. We get better at it. Together we work towards and for peace. The Holy Spirit woos or beckons the whole community toward a more peaceful world. We get such a small glimpse of that peaceful world during the four days, but it’s a glimpse I return to throughout the year. Where have you had a glimpse of people actively working toward a peaceful community or world? 

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July 17, 2022

Prayer of the Day

Eternal God, you draw near to us in Christ, and you make yourself our guest. Amid the cares of our lives, make us attentive to your presence, that we may treasure your word above all else, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Amos 8:1-12

1This is what the Lord God showed me—a basket of summer fruit. 2He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the Lord said to me, 
 “The end has come upon my people Israel;
  I will never again pass them by.
3The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,”
 says the Lord God;
 “the dead bodies shall be many,
  cast out in every place. Be silent!”

4Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
  and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
5saying, “When will the new moon be over
  so that we may sell grain;
 and the sabbath,
  so that we may offer wheat for sale?
 We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
  and practice deceit with false balances,
6buying the poor for silver
  and the needy for a pair of sandals,
  and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

7The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
 Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8Shall not the land tremble on this account,
  and everyone mourn who lives in it,
 and all of it rise like the Nile,
  and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?

9On that day, says the Lord God,
  I will make the sun go down at noon,
  and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10I will turn your feasts into mourning,
  and all your songs into lamentation;
 I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
  and baldness on every head;
 I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
  and the end of it like a bitter day.

11The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
  when I will send a famine on the land;
 not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
  but of hearing the words of the Lord.
12They shall wander from sea to sea,
  and from north to east;
 they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
  but they shall not find it.

Saint Ranerius Frees the Poor From Prison  —  Sassetta, Louvre Museum, Paris, France

Psalm 52

1You mighty, why do you | boast of wickedness
  against the godly | all day long?
2Continually | you plot ruin;
  your tongue is like a sharpened razor that com- | mits deceit.
3You love evil | more than good
  and lying more than speak- | ing the truth.
4You love all words | that devour,
  O you de- | ceitful tongue.
5Oh, that God would demol- | ish you utterly,
  topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling, and root you out of the land | of the living!
6The righteous shall see | and be awestruck,
  and they shall laugh | at you, saying,
7“This is the one who did not take God | for a refuge,
  but trusted in great wealth and found strength | in destruction.”
8But I am like a green olive tree in the | house of God;
  I trust in the steadfast love of God forev- | er and ever.
9I will thank you forever for what | you have done;
  in the presence of the faithful I will long for your name, for | it is good.

Colossians 1:15-28

15[Christ Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
21And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—23provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
24I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. 25I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. 27To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

Luke 10:38-42

38Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But 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.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I spent this last week at Luther Heights Bible Camp with six youth from Trinity and another 40 youth from across the Mountain West. On Monday afternoon I volunteered to lead a special interest group. I’ve grown to love nine-square in the air, kind of like four squares except, as the name implies, there are nine squares and you set or hit the ball through the air instead of on the ground. The openings are about eight feet high and when we all assembled it became clear that we would need to adjust the rules, or some people would always be out/fail. 

I began though by asking for various rules the kids knew—you can’t let the ball touch the ground, if it hits a PVC pipe-that’s okay, you cannot hit the ball twice in one turn. Then I pointed out the height differences among us and asked if anyone had ideas about how to include the shortest among us. “They could catch the ball and then toss it,” one person volunteered. I asked, “What do you all think?” Everyone was agreeable. Then, later in the game, as different levels of athleticism and experience became evident, we all agreed that anyone could catch the ball and then toss it.

It was quite the contrast to what Amos addresses in today’s Old Testament lesson from the book with his name. The Book of Amos is a collection of prophetic messages, most of which are announcements of God’s anger with impending judgment on Israel (then the northern kingdom). Amos’s messages focus on Israel’s oppression of the poor and lack of justice. Amos consistently criticizes Israel’s worship life. He sees that it has deteriorated to rote ritual observance disconnected from daily life. 

The overarching message of Amos insists that God’s relationship with people includes all of their lives. Amos insists that because of injustice and oppression, God’s anger has been provoked and judgment will come. The judgment that Amos announced was not a final judgment, but a part of God’s relationship with the people. Because God still loves people, God still is provoked to anger when people cause others to suffer. 

Words of judgment like Amos’, directed at a whole people, naturally make us reflect on our own society and culture. One pastor noted that the lament about the moral decay in our country often concerns a perceived decline in personal relationships, sexual behavior, and family values. In contrast, note that Amos voices divine concern about those areas of morality related to, did you notice, economics.

“Hear this,” Amos says, “You that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

Amos is especially concerned with the treatment of the poor. He also voices divine judgment against a specific class of persons. He singles out the merchants who cannot wait for the religious holiday to end so they can get back to fleecing the poor with their high prices for grain.

God threatens fierce, dire consequences against an economically unrighteous society, promising dark days ahead. This prophet does not take injustice against the poor lightly. He tells this greatly contented society—made up of people who think they are secure in their prosperity and wealth—that they will disintegrate into dark, disruptive chaos. 

Will Willimon wrote that “One way you can tell the difference between a true and living God and a dead and fake god is that a false god will never tell you anything that will make you angry and uncomfortable!” How uncomfortable should or does this passage make us? I’m honestly not sure.

I said to a colleague up at camp that I had a very clear idea of how to preach on Amos 8 if I was in the well of the United States Congress or with a group of CEOs on Wall Street. But much of our congregation does not hold power like the leaders of ancient Israel or the leaders of our country or world today. I don’t even think we have anyone in the top 1%. 

But we do all know people who have been hurt–physically, emotionally, spiritually–by the greed and abuse of power at work in so many systems today. Take your pick, it could be insurance companies that make it far too difficult to access benefits; mortgage companies that sold deals that were too good to be true before the 2008 housing bubble; investment firms buying up whole subdivisions and destroying the rental market; industrial agriculture harming our soil and bodies. 

Do you ever wonder to yourself, why are the rich getting richer, while my friend/child/neighbor/self just cannot catch a break? Then maybe Amos’s words are good news. Why? Because it is clear that the increasing wealth gap, the fear, the apathy of younger generations, is not what God intends. God wants an economy with enough for all—no gluttons, no one hungry, enough for everyone. Jesus, God incarnate, announced the same when he walked among us, telling us what the reign of God looked like. The reign of God is not just about what’s in our hearts or what we do in this space, vital as those are.

A professor opens a theology class by asking students, “With what is theology concerned?” The students answer, “God,” or “Religion,” or “spiritual things.” He corrects their misapprehension, “No, Christian theology is concerned with everything!”

Worship of the God of Israel and the church itself are not limited to Sunday. Worship continues in what we do Monday and continues through the week. This God does not want just our “heart” or our “soul.” This God wants all of us. If we ever forget this, we can just turn back to Amos.

Amos represents and speaks for a God who loves Israel enough to call Israel to account. Not all gods throughout human history had such relationships with human beings. Israel lives under the judgements of a God who loves Israel, who wants this people to be a “light to the nations,” to show forth to the world what a people can do when they are owned by, accountable to, and called by a true and living God.

We, who so often feel powerless are reminded today not only that God cares enough about us to keep sending prophets. And we are not completely powerless. On Saturday, our group of youth will leave for our adventure to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Our programming will be primarily on the University of St. Thomas Campus with ELCA Lutherans from Northeast Iowa. We will learn about daily life and struggles and injustices in other states. We will also hear stories of people trying to follow Jesus wherever they are. 

Beyond our evenings together, we will explore the Twin Cities—lakes, museums, historical sites, churches, parks, and restaurants. We will worship Sunday morning in the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. We will spend one day in service but, more important, we will encounter Jesus at every turn. We will interpret our experiences through the old, old story of God forming a people—the people of Israel, the whole Christian church, the congregation that is Trinity, Lutheran, Nampa. 

We will return and inevitably see our own communities with new eyes. Maybe we will see new injustices, but I trust that we will also see new possibilities. We will return renewed in our call to be disciples of Jesus Christ with you, our community of disciples. And together we will use old and new ways to share the good news of a God who wants to be in relationship with all creation, including us, and who wants an economy of equity for all.

Prayers of Intercession

United in Christ and guided by the Spirit, we pray for the church, the creation, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Ever-present God, in Christ you fill all things. As your church gathers to hear your word, share your meal, and receive your blessing, teach us to welcome strangers as we have been welcomed by you. God of grace, hear our prayer.

Through Christ you created all things, visible and invisible. Teach humankind to honor and protect all creation, including living things that remain hidden from our eyes such as air, atmosphere, molecules, and microscopic creatures. God of grace, hear our prayer.

Through Christ you reconcile all things. Motivate those in power to end enslavement, dehumanization, or brutality of any kind (in the spirit of Bartolomé de Las Casas, whom we commemorate today) and to protect and improve the lives of Indigenous peoples. God of grace, hear our prayer.

Through Christ you bring peace. Assure all who are worried and distracted by many things of your constant presence. Soothe those suffering in mind, body, or spirit. Sustain all who are afflicted and those who serve as caregivers (especially). God of grace, hear our prayer.

In Christ you make your word fully known. Inspire this worshiping community (congregation may be named) to abide fully in your word as we sit at the feet of Jesus. Bless the ministry of teachers and Bible study leaders. God of grace, hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Almighty God, grant to your church your Holy Spirit and the wisdom which comes down from heaven, that your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve you and in the confession of your name may abide to the end. Direct the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by your wisdom, as this church prepares to gather in assembly. God of grace, hear our prayer.

In Christ you brought forth the firstborn from the dead. We give thanks for the saints you have gathered at your table. Gather us with them in your eternal glory. God of grace, hear our prayer.

God of every time and place, in Jesus’ name and filled with your Holy Spirit, we entrust these spoken prayers and those in our hearts into your holy keeping.

Amen.

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July 10, 2022

Prayer of the Day

O Lord God, your mercy delights us, and the world longs for your loving care. Hear the cries of everyone in need, and turn our hearts to love our neighbors with the love of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Amen.

Amos 7:7-17

7This is what [the Lord God] showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, 
 “See, I am setting a plumb line
  in the midst of my people Israel;
  I will never again pass them by;
9the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,
  and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,
  and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said, 
 ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword,
  and Israel must go into exile
  away from his land.’ ”
12And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
16“Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.
 You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
  and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’
17Therefore thus says the Lord:
 ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city,
  and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword,
  and your land shall be parceled out by line;
 you yourself shall die in an unclean land,
  and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’ ”

Psalm 82

1God stands to charge the divine coun- | cil assembled,
  giving judgment in the midst | of the gods:
2“How long will you | judge unjustly,
  and show favor | to the wicked?
3Save the weak | and the orphan;
  defend the hum- | ble and needy;
4rescue the weak | and the poor;
  deliver them from the power | of the wicked. R
5They do not know, neither do they understand; they wander a- | bout in darkness;
  all the foundations of the | earth are shaken.
6Now I say to you, | ‘You are gods,
  and all of you children of | the Most High;
7nevertheless, you shall | die like mortals,
  and fall like | any prince.’ ”
8Arise, O God, and | rule the earth,
  for you shall take all nations | for your own. 

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I have loved this passage from Galatians 5 since the year after my freshman year in high school, the summer the ELCA Youth Gathering was in Dallas, Texas and the theme was Called to Freedom. Speakers that year included Tony Campolo and Maya Angelou. 

The theme scripture verse was Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence but through love become enslaved to one another.” Whenever you hear me say that we are freed, but not just freed from something, freed for something, this line from Galatians is in the background.

Paul’s metaphorical use of slavery is jarring, but there is a truth behind the metaphor. The cross of Jesus teaches us what love looks like. The work of God’s Spirit in us is the only way that we are ever going to be free from our own selfishness, free to exhibit a fraction of that kind of love toward anyone—especially people whom we do not like.

You could wonder, reading all of Galatians, if Paul sees any place for the law in this new life in Jesus Christ. For Paul, Christ has fulfilled the law by embodying what the love of neighbor looks like. And yet, Paul does not turn to the cross to illustrate what we are to do with our freedom. 

In Galatians 5:14, Paul writes, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Thankfully, neither the Galatians’ salvation nor our own rests on our ability to fulfill that commandment. We are called, however, to follow in Christ’s footsteps—to love one another.

What kind of relationships follow from Christian freedom? Paul’s answer is that Christian relationships ought to be shaped by neighbor love. This is not so surprising. Neighbor love was emphasized by the law in Leviticus 19:18 and reiterated by Jesus.

A lawyer, a scholar of the Torah, stands up to test Jesus. Jesus asks a question of his own and the lawyer gives a good answer, one we would expect from someone who studied scripture his entire career. The lawyer answers with a combination of Old Testament texts—love the Lord your God and love your neighbor.

Jesus tells the lawyer to follow the law’s instruction. But the scholar wants to justify himself. He wants to put parameters on the law. He seeks a definition of neighbor. He is a Jew who expects a definition in line with the purity laws. He expects to discover the limits of the phrase “my neighbor.” 

Jesus tells a story that blows the lawyer’s world view apart. He does not say much about the man in the ditch. Jesus’ Jewish audience certainly assumed he was a Jew. Two people pass on by the man in the ditch.

These are not just two ordinary men. The first is a priest and the second is a Levite. What they share in common is that they, like the lawyer, are students of the law. Presumably they knew the same two commandments that the lawyer quoted, love God and love your neighbor. These two men are leaders in the faith communities, the church establishment. 

Three is a common storytelling number. The first person did not stop to help the man and neither did the second. The audience is prepared; we are prepared for the third man to stop and help this poor fellow in the ditch. But then Jesus shatters all expectations. Then a Samaritan comes along. What?

By making the hero of the story a Samaritan, Jesus challenged the longstanding enmity between Jews and Samaritans. Samaritans were descendants of the mixed marriages that followed from the Assyrian settlement of people from various regions in the fallen northern kingdom. 

Put another way, by the time Jesus told the story, the enmity between Jews and Samaritans was ancient, entrenched, and bitter. The two groups disagreed about everything that mattered: how to honor God, how to interpret scripture, and where to worship. Though we are inclined to love the Samaritan, Jesus’ choice to make him the hero was nothing less than shocking to first century ears.

The lawyer will not even use the word Samaritan. When Jesus asks him who was the neighbor, the lawyer says only, “The one who shoed mercy.” His answer provides a very accurate description of a neighbor. Jesus turns the issue to the essential nature of neighborliness. 

A Samaritan is the exemplar. The lawyer is pushed to learn about genuine love from the deeds of one whom he regards as his enemy. To be committed to love of neighbor involves a willingness to see an enemy as a benefactor, one who can offer instruction about true compassion and righteousness. 

One scholar writes, “To hear this parable in contemporary terms, we should think of ourselves as the person in the ditch, and then ask, ‘Is there anyone, from any group, about whom we would rather die than acknowledge, ‘She offered help’ or ‘He showed compassion’? More, is there any group whose membership might rather die than help us? If so, then we know how to find the modern equivalent of the Samaritan. 

It might be Muslim, Sikh, Jew, Mormon, Black, White, Brown, Republican, Democrat. Genuine kindness and goodness and mercy cannot be restricted to any one people. They also do not depend on having learned the “right” answers.

Jesus’ parable shatters the stereotypes of social boundaries and class division. It renders void any system of religious quid pro quo. Neighbors do not recognize social class. Mercy is not the conduct of a calculating heart. 

The duty of neighborliness is an expression of love of God and love of others. The duty of neighborliness transcends any calculation or reward. The Samaritan could not have expected any reward or repayment for what he did for the beaten man. One who shows mercy in order to gain a reward would not be doing “likewise.” To do “likewise,” to cross boundaries, is to respond to boundaries that have already been crossed on our behalf. 

The Samaritan is the one who notices—who actually sees—the beaten man. By seeing him he is moved to pity. He recognizes that when it comes to the question of who is our neighbor, there are no rules. Our neighbor is anyone in need. So where are we to get such vision? From the one who created us, loved us, crosses boundaries to meet us, walks with us.

This parable shows that the ability to see our neighbors clearly does not come from your ethnic background or where you are from or what your job is. It takes practice to see the neighbor. It takes diligence in the midst of weariness. It requires a community to which we are accountable for our seeing. 

To see our neighbor takes the freedom that comes from Christ alone. To see our neighbor is from the Holy Spirit, at work transforming us into new creation. We often place the list of Galatians 5:22-23 into a spiritual gifts inventory, but that misses the point. Paul uses the word “fruit” in the singular. In other words, the result of the Spirit’s work is all of the above and more. 

“Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked. Your neighbor is the one who scandalizes you with compassion, Jesus answered. Your neighbor is the one who upends all the entrenched categories and shocks you with a fresh face of God. Your neighbor is the one who mercifully steps over the ancient, bloodied line separating “us” from “them,” and teaches you the real meaning of “Good.”

Prayers of Intercession

United in Christ and guided by the Spirit, we pray for the church, the creation, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Good and gracious God, you have placed your word of love in the heart of your church. Fill your church with compassion, that we bear the fruit of your healing mercy to a broken world. God of grace, hear our prayer.

You created the earth with seeds sprouting up to new life. We pray for the flourishing of fruit trees and orchards, vines and bushes. Prosper the work of those who plant, tend, harvest, and gather. God of grace, hear our prayer.

Show us your ways and teach us your paths of justice and love. Raise up community and national leaders to challenge and dismantle societal structures that perpetuate ethnic, racial, and religious profiling and discrimination. God of grace, hear our prayer.

Come near to all in need. Orchestrate kindness in the face of cruelty, hope where there is despair, love in the face of neglect, comfort where there is death, and healing in illness (especially). God of grace, hear our prayer.

Turn this community toward neighbors in need. Bring aid and support to those who are poor, beaten down, abused, forgotten, silenced, or avoided (local outreach ministries may be named). God of grace, hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Gracious God, we pray for your holy catholic church. Fill it with all truth and peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it; where it is right, strengthen it; where it is divided, reunite it; direct the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by that truth and peace, as this church prepares to gather in assembly. God of grace, hear our prayer.

We give thanks for the saints who revealed your love and mercy in this life. Inspired by their witness, strengthen us to live in hope. God of grace, hear our prayer.

God of every time and place, in Jesus’ name and filled with your Holy Spirit, we entrust these spoken prayers and those in our hearts into your holy keeping.

Amen.

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