What’s On Ken’s Mind Right Now?

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  1.  HOPE.  What is the solid ground of our hope?  We can, but will we so choose, grow spiritually towards a time when we no longer ground our hope in things turning out the way we want them to.  What follows is a story that will be included in the my sermon to be broadcast on March 20 by the national program, Day 1.

The Story: 

There was, in that affluent suburban church, this woman.  A full character sketch would take many pages.  She grew up poor, became solidly middle-class, but never forgot her roots.  She stood out, in that church, kind of like a sore thumb, an aberration, an exemplary exception.  Most of her time was spent serving among the poor in an inner city Roman Catholic parish. 

Her name was—well, I am going to begin to change the details of this account.  This story is about to become a blend of fiction and fact; truth, absolutely, but mixed with modifications to considerately make a point.

The woman’s name was Ligia Fastkar.  She became my spiritual guide.  I really needed one of those; actually, it turned out, I needed more than one.  The well-being of my soul came to depend on regular breakouts from the world of the generally comfortable into the world of the uncomfortably poor.  Ligia guided me straight into the hands of the most compassionate, most just, the most right reverend Father Schweitzer.

Week after week after week, most every Friday for seven years, Father Schweitzer invited me to stand next to him in the service line at his soup kitchen.  Together we served the “least-of-these brethren” of Jesus, as the King James english describes them in Matthew 25.  Friday after Friday, Father Schweitzer mentored me towards a full understanding of the promises of God, the Kingdom of God, the Source of our only true hope, hope that is present and future at the same time; hope that is partial and complete, at the same time, hope that is free and costly at the same time.  It turns out, I must surrender all to find this hope, yet it is free.

That very first Friday—we had served well over 125 men, women and children–I looked over at Father Schweitzer, whose smile and warmth and respect seemed to be eternal, and carelessly commented, “This could get depressing.” 

Father Schweizer was silent for awhile, until the last person in line had been fed.  Then he put his arm around me, as if he knew that I was the one who needed an expression of free and amazing grace.  He spoke:

There is much in this world that is depressing. But you already know that the greater need    is up there, among your people in the suburbs. All of my people–he sweeps an arm of        blessing across the dining room—have opportunities every day to experience how long           and wide and deep is the mercy of God.  Some of them, as disguised saints in our midst,          have learned through suffering that the most important things in the world are free.           While we casually use the word grace, they know it’s survival value—and that indeed, it is   free!

Sustenance, Security, Serenity:  All are promises of God.  All for Free!

Father Schweitzer loved music, especially gospel music and country. One day, as we were serving together, I noticed him humming the tune, “Lookin’ for Love in all the Wrong Places.”  I began to sing:

Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,
Lookin’ for love in too many faces
Searching their eyes…

He tapped me on the shoulder and said, try these words.  And he sang:

I was Lookin’ for hope in all the wrong places
Now, I’m Lookin’ for hope in all of these faces
Searchin’ their eyes…

Again, he swept that arm of blessing across his people and asked me:

With some of them, mostly the old-timers, you can see hope in their eyes.  How did it get there?

I, still the novice, could not say.  He continued:

In the midst of their suffering, they have known a thousand episodes of unexpected kindness. Provision for their needs, when they were certain that they deserved nothing. Benevolence, not at all commensurate with the value they placed on their own lives. Pastor Ken, the saints among these—again the sweeping hand of blessing– somehow     began to identify a person’s kindness with the overflowing, unconditional and free love of God, for them!

Father Schweizer reflected on the subject of hope a lot.  The essence of his message was often received an assist from one another Bible story:

Pastor Ken, what do you remember about stored manna?  It rots.  The rich live amidst     that rot. 

Father did not pull his punches.

The essence of his message on hope was that anyone who grounds their hope on the circumstances of their lives, success, romance and pleasures, money, good health, winning at politics or war—every such person is living an ultimately hope-less life.  “Woe to them when the tide turns.  And the tide is relentless.  Pray for them, Pastor Ken, pray for our own redemption!.”

Father Schweizer also taught me lessons from the more recognized saints:

St. John of the Cross—hope that endures, the only hope that will sustain us, is a hope     that can embrace and work for a future without us…

  1.  CARING.  How much caring is enough; is my responsibility?

I recently met a new favorite columnist, whose writing is widely and wildly  praised by a number of my friends.  You can click on the link below to access her reflections on caring and the limits we must accept to our capacity to care.  The title is, “If You Can’t Take It Anymore, There’s a Reason.”  It is far and away the best insight on the subject I have read. I really need her advice.

If you can’t take in anymore, there’s a reason (substack.com)

For more from this writer/presenter, search on “Nadia Bolz-Weber podcast”.

  1. HEALING.  How does healing happen?

That’s the title of a sermon series I am currently preaching at the Carbon Hill Christian Church.  The series seeks to correct a series of lies that inhibit the healing of body, mind and spirit.  Those lies include:

  •  LIE 1:  I only need to share my need for healing with God.  This lie contradicts a plethora of testimony from the Bible.  (1 Corinthians 12: 12-26, 1 Thessalonians 5:11-18, Ephesians 4:1-3, 1 John 4: 7-12, and many more all commend us to share our needs for healing with the community.”
  • LIE 2:  Christians feel good all the time.  This very common belief in churches, where Christians stive to always put their best foot forward, is severely contradicted by the experience of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Suffering is always present in human lives, and often more so for followers of Jesus who seek justice for all of God’s children.
  • LIE 3:  It does no good to look inside for the source of our dis-ease.  Seeking to know the origin of our wounds, search deep within for a cause of our suffering, often brings the accusation of naval-gazing or the advice, “It does no good to look back.  Just move forward.”
  • LIE 4:  Don’t ask for help.  People will think you are crazy.  And, absolutely, never take the risk of suggesting to someone else that they need help.  They will hate you forever.

I would be glad to email readers copies of these sermons. 

The members of my church agreed to hold a series of meetings (definitely not something they are used to) after worship to share and listen to our various needs for healing. All I can say about these conversations is that members have chosen to be vulnerable, to pray for one another, to grow in unity with Jesus, our great physician.  This sharing works, unless you are too old to change! 

OK, that’s a fifth lie!

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