Distracted but Surrounded - Reflection 8-14-19

Texts for Sunday, August 18, 2019
10th Sunday after Pentecost
SQUIRREL! A distraction for dogs

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

I am typically a focused person. 
But lately I’ve been distracted. 

It started the weekend of the mass killings in Gilroy CA, El Paso TX, and Dayton OH. I had been participating in my denomination’s 60 Day Journey toward Justice in a Culture of Gun Violence which began June 16. The daily readings ranged from prayers to scriptures to church teaching to data and statistics. The entry for July 28 (day of Gilroy CA Garlic Festival) was the text of a hymn lamenting gun violence. August 4 (day of Dayton OH) was a prayer for emergency workers.  

25 years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) released a message on Community Violence that included encouragement to join in anti-violent initiatives that stem the proliferation of guns in our streets, schools, and homes; to counter the culture of violence that pervades our national culture and communities; to offer spiritual and moral resources for replacing fear and violence. This was the agenda 25 years ago? Oh my, how far we have not come.

Then this past week, the ELCA held its triennial churchwide assembly- to worship, to vote on matters of governance and policy, and to “be church together for the sake of the world”. 

I was surprised (distracted) all week by the topics they tackled and the actions they took. They protested the treatment of immigrants and refugees, especially children, with a march in downtown Milwaukee to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security office where they had a brief prayer vigil.  I literally drove off the road the next day when I heard it announced on NPR that they had then declared themselves a sanctuary church body. They also apologized to our siblings of African descent, accepted a new social statement on Faith, Sexism, and Justice, condemned white supremacy, encouraged participation in World Council of Churches Thursdays in Black, a movement that resists attitudes and practices that permit rape and violence and much more. It was an ambitious agenda to say the least…. and definitely distracting. My, oh my, how far we've come!

You can argue, and I probably do to some extent argue, that these distractions are within the boundaries of what I do. 

But once I get distracted by one thing, I get distracted by another thing. My lawn is long because our lawnmower caught on fire earlier this summer; when is the new one we order going to get in?  I stubbed my toe getting into the shower and thought “I am starting to swear like a sailor” then started singing sea shanties. I begin to write a devotion and remember I need to wash my socks. Squirrel!*

So, I come to this week distracted by many things and am face-to-face with this Hebrews text, written to a congregation that was becoming distracted, losing their focus on faith. The author invited them to look backward to see forward, listing at breakneck speed all kinds of faith ancestors, named and unnamed, champions and martyrs, calling the congregation to courage and perseverance, faith and strength to run the race set before them. These diverse ancestors surround them like a cheering section in the stands. Look to Jesus, they chant.

We too are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. There are a whole lot of other folks to add from the 2000 years since the book of Hebrews was written. Lutherans would certainly add Martin Luther. The daily devotional book that my husband and I use, lists some of the people who are commemorated by the church each day. Recently we’ve had Deacon Lawrence, martyr, died 258 (cooked alive over a fire, his final words, according to the legend, were “turn me over, I’m quite done on this side”). And Clare, Abbess of San Damiano, died 1253; Florence Nightengale, died 1910 and Clara Maass, died 1901, listed as renewers of society; Maximilian Kolbe, died 1941, and Kaj Munk, died 1944, martyrs. 

I would personally add Goldie and Bertha and Bill, Sunday School teachers. And Walt, Karl, and Rob, pastors. All of them, and so many more, surround me and call out "lay aside every weight and distraction that clings so closely, and run with courage and persistence the race that is set before you, focusing on the grace of God in Christ Jesus, Amen."

What distracts you from your living your faith?

*refers to the dog in the movie UP who was distracted by squirrels.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245