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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ordinary 15C Luke 10: 25-37 Small Town Social Justice

Monday, Sept. 24, my 2 daughters & I took a road trip to a state park. After we swam for a while, we drove to a small SW OK town where I went to high school. I only lived there 2 years, but graduated from HS there....had not been back for over 10 years and neither one of my children had ever been there. It is a town of less than 2000, so there is not much site-seeing to be done...

After a brief hike cut short by the sound of a rattler in the grass, we got in the car and drove the 10 miles to M------. If you have never driven in SW Oklahoma or West Texas you cannot imagine what it is like to drive where the land is flat, flat, flat, and you see so much sky you wonder why God made hills. We are about to M----- with the music cranked as high as it will go and my 7-year-old says, "Mommy, I just heard a pop." I said, "So." She said, "Mommy the car is shaking." I still didn't notice anything...then I heard this awful sound...and well, turned off the radio. Blowout. We are in the middle of NOWHERE. M---- is about 2 miles I drove at 25 with blinkers on until we got to town. Pulled off in a parking lot and got out to look at my shredded tire. I started digging in the back of the station wagon for the jack and spare. A loud, old 68 Ford pickup with 2 guys in the truckbed rattles by. I see them turn around. The 2 guys in back jump out before the truck stops. They almost have the tire off the car before the hit the ground.

"Need some help?"

"Sure. But my jack is sorely lacking."
"Don't worry. We can lift the car if we can't get the jack to work. We ain't afraid of work."
The two guys bent over the tire are 20-somethings...wiry, tall, heads shaved, wearing nothing but boots and jeans. Tattoos cover their heads, faces, backs, chests, arms, hands....Their dad and older brother stood back and watched If this had been the city I might have been scared, but I figure if I started talking we'd figure out we went to high school together.
"I'm Kelly."

"We're the _______." They say in unison. I vaguely remember the family name. I ask them if the remember my brother.
The guy behind the truck. "Yeah I remember him."
They have the tire changed by now, and tell me where I can get a decent used tire for a fair price. They jump back in the pickup and tell me to follow them to the tire shop. So I do. Tattoed arms waving, they point to a tiny auto shop.

I don't know how you remember high school, but there are certain families that are labeled in small towns as losers. I don't know how it started with this family, but they had a certain label. It may have been something their great-grandpa did...but teachers and kids at school have a certain idea of a kid with a certain last name. Sometimes the kid chooses to live up to it, sometimes they try hard to overcome it.

Here I am in a tiny farming town in southwest Oklahoma living inside the parable of the Good Samaritan. Believe me, no one would have guessed the dust covered 90 Ford Taurus I drive is the car of a college professor. At the moment I looked like an Okie (I do say it proud, Vince Gill, but I did look like one). My station wagon is loaded down with junk cause we have been on a day trip at the lake. My 2 kids & I have just been swimming and digging clay. I had my hatch up and junk spread around on the gravel, just trying to dig for the spare tire. Did cars drive by and see my distress? Oh yes. Who was it that stopped? The guys that got beat up in school because their family was labeled. I have never seen myself in the parable as the one on the side of the road....

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ordinary 24C Luke 15:1-10 Welcoming Sinners

"This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."

I recall a scene from the movie The Man in Black. Johnny Cash has just been through detox hell. He has had a "come to Jesus" crisis with the aid of June Carter and her parents. He goes to his record company and says he wants to do a concert in Folsom Prison.

Record Company Executive says, "Your fans are church folk, Johnny. Christians.
They don't want to hear you singing to a bunch of murderers and rapists...
trying to cheer them up."
Johnny Cash replies, "Well, they're not Christians, then."
Record Company Executive: "I'm fine with you doing a live record. Just not at a prison. That's my compromise."
Johnny: "January 13th, I'll be at Folsom Prison with June and the boys. You listen to the tapes. You don't like 'em... you can toss 'em."

I can't tell you how many times I have heard complaints of the same thing. Growing up in the parsonage I heard good "Christian" people's constant complaints about "those kind" not being wanted in church. Apparently many think church is a club for people just like me.

I don't like it either. Why do I want God to rejoice over one sinner rather than the ninety-nine righteous people? It seems we spend most of our time as pastors taking care of the righteous, right? Perhaps we are looking at it all wrong.

Brennan Manning has shaped a lot of my thoughts along this line...after reading his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel. He is a monk/alchoholic. Yes, both. He goes sober for a while and then hits the bottle again. He speaks of his journey in the book.. Evangelicals have a hard time accepting that a man can be a Christian and an alcoholic???? Can God use a ragged ol' monk who can't stay sober? So when does one of the fold become one of the sought after lost? Will Jesus leave the fold and go and seek an ol' preacher who gives into addictions over and over? Does he ever give up? Does he ever write us off and give us over to the evil one? These parables he tells us remind us that he can't let go.

Most of us don't like having sinners invade the church because they remind us of our own sin. Shutting out people who "shack up" make us feel better when we indulge in any type of sexual sin.

Ask friends who have known me since high school and they will tell you I pointed fingers and judged all the time. I preached at people constantly. It was a serious bout with temptation in my early 20s that taught me a lesson. We are all capable of sin. When we can confess that in honesty and say we are all just trying to seek God in the best way we know how we forget to judge people.

A youth pastor intern I had once started bringing in all kinds of kids to church. One of the older ladies whispered to me as I joyfully watched a huge group of kids playing basketball in the church yard, "That kid does dope." I looked at her and said, "Praise God he's here."

Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from the Man in Black.