Mustard Seeds

It has been awhile since I have written here. I had a baby at the end of March and it takes a minute to get back into the swing of things. In case you were wondering, baby boy was born a bit early, but healthy. He is growing and doing all the baby things. We are all delighted with him.

This Sunday is the parable of the mustard seed. The first sermon I preached at my internship congregation was on this parable. I was on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. A world away from my childhood home in Minnesota, an hour from Canada. I bought mustard seeds and gave each person one. I thought the urban folks could use the tangible reminder of how tiny the seed is.

There are sermons you don’t forget preaching. This was one of them. The first times we do things are exhilarating and frightening. Particularly, when related to vocational identity.

Fast forward about 8 years later, and the parable became important in new ways.

One Saturday morning, spring of 2016, I received a phone call. After a few pleasantries, I was asked if Shobi’s Table and the Saint Paul Area Synod would be willing to take on the full responsibilities of owning a food truck. I said, “yes!”

The generosity alone was worthy of thanksgiving. The faithfulness of the generosity humbled me. I was told that the gift of the food truck was to be a ‘mustard seed to build the kingdom.’

A rather expensive and large mustard seed. And, absolutely it is a mustard seed.

It isn’t some massive federal program to end hunger.

It isn’t a mega church preaching to thousands of people on the weekends.

It is a meal. A few people gathered for prayer and communion. It isn’t flashy or all that expensive.

Just a little bit to do God’s work on the east side of St Paul.

Isn’t it hopeful? Isn’t it hopeful that this little bit does the creator’s work? Isn’t it hopeful that our one small thing can be a part of the bigger thing. Can be a part of the work God is doing in the world.

I take heart in the small moments of grace we see in our ministry. Friends greeting one another, prayers requested, vigils kept. All of it is God’s work. All of it is small. All of it matters.

So, dear ones, keep hope alive, for the small little bits are a part of God’s work in this world.

The persistence of the saints (and grace for case managers)

She Persisted

The memes have been floating around the internet since Senator Elizabeth Warren was admonished in the United States Senate for arguing against Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as United States Attorney General.  The memes that have been made are of  well known women who have persisted. Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Coretta Scott King, and Harriet Tubman are women who made the memes. They are women we know to be a part of our story of justice. And this is good, it is good to know their names and their persistence.

There are so many more women and men who ‘never the less, persisted.’ They are the laborers in the vineyard who show up day after day, trusting in God’s promises of life.

Scriptures are full of stories of those who persist. Our God is a persistent god, who doesn’t give up on creation. We are a people of faith who show up demanding from God and community time and time again.

My favorite tale of persistence is from the 18th chapter of Luke.

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

This is my favorite story of persistence for a very selfish reason.

I was once a mental health case manager. I had more than 30 people on my case load. More than 30 people who struggled with severe mental illness. More than 30 people who needed to be seen at least once in the month. And often, at least half of the people on my case load were in crisis. Perhaps a psychiatric crisis that meant hospitalization or a commitment. Perhaps addictions that were reaching a crisis point. Perhaps there were legal issues coming up. Perhaps there was an eviction notice. And, sometimes, all of these things for one person.

It is overwhelming work.

There were days when I couldn’t respond to calls fast enough. I couldn’t manage all the crises because I needed to sit in the ER for 4 hours with a client to ensure they were given the treatment they needed. I couldn’t respond to the “smaller” crises, because the big one took my day. And there would be so many voicemails to respond to. There were many days in which the person who left the most voicemails was the person who received priority. Their persistence moved them to the top of the list.

I am not proud of this. I wish that I could say I had a way of prioritizing the non life threatening crises and that there weren’t people whose needs didn’t get met right away. I wish I could say that. Instead, it was the persistence that demanded my attention.

I have taken comfort in Luke 18. It is Godly for folks to be persistent and God has grace for the person who takes a while to get to the persistent one. Or at least, there is space for me to not respond and then remember that God calls me to respond to the persistence. There is grace in it all.

On the street, week after week, I will be asked similar questions about housing, blankets, hygiene products and food. I will be asked and some days I say “no” and some days I have the joy of saying “yes.”

Persistence is survival.

The person who keeps showing up at the public housing authority is the one whose application gets processed.

The person who keeps telling the ER that something isn’t right despite their dismissals that they are mentally ill, is the person who survives a health crisis.

The person who shows up at the schools demanding their child receive the education services they need is the person whose child is served.

Persistence is biblical.

And it is the unnamed mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, women and men who show up day after day demanding justice that show us what God is up to in this world.

Persistence is demanding that God see and hear what is going on in creation.

We persist. We persist in trusting the promises of resurrection and new life in Christ. We persist in engaging in the joyful work of liberation in God’s world. We persist.

Keep Hope Alive, dear ones.

That is how we persist together.

God is a Fool

St Paul writes:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.       1 Cor. 1:18-31

There has been a lot of boasting lately. There has been boasting and grand standing at the highest levels. And here we are told that God isn’t impressed with such boasting of strength or wisdom or numbers. We are to boast in the one thing that matters: God. We are to proudly claim that we are the broken and foolish people that have been brought to the cross, through death and into new life. We are to proclaim that we belong to God and no one else. Not powers or principalities. We belong to no one, but God. And by belonging to God, we belong to all God’s people. We belong to each other.

It doesn’t feel that way right now.

It feels that we have lost our sense of direction. We have lost the call to love God and love our neighbor. We have forgotten that we are a deeply foolish people who trust a god who died. Our God died. What kind of God is that?

The God who was crucified is a God who takes deeply the commitment to foolishness in our world. This is a God who values humans and creation so much, that God chose to live as a part of creation. Fully live. God experienced birth, childhood, moving around, relationships, betrayals, and finally death. God knows first hand exactly what it means to be human. What a foolish God we believe in. Why would the creator of the universe enter into life only to die?

Because love is foolish.

It is foolish to join in solidarity with one another. It is foolish to claim that my well being is intimately tied to your well being. It is foolish to take risks for love. It is foolish to show up with children in tow for a march. And the foolishness is where we find God.

It is foolish to invite people in that we don’t know.

It is foolish to provide health care to each human.

It is foolish to ensure that God’s creation is nurtured.

It is foolish to recognize indigenous rights.

It is foolish to love God and to love one another.

I’ll be over here, a fool in love with God and God’s people. I’d love for you to join me.

And remember, dear ones, especially now,

Keep Hope Alive!