This sermon was preached on October 20, 2019 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT.
The texts were:
Genesis 32: 22-31
2 Timothy 3: 14-4:5
Luke 18: 1-8
Children’s sermon: Have a ball of yarn on hand. Gather the children up front in a standing circle. Say to them that we are going to create something together. Hold on to one end of the ball of yarn and then throw it to another child. Have them hold on to that length (holding it fairly taut) and then throw it to another child…etc. until you’ve created a yarn web. Then talk about what happens if someone yanks on it too hard-yep someone might become disconnected. Or what if someone intentionally disconnects and drops their end, then the web starts to fall apart. Talk about how we are all connected and it matters that we know that our actions impact other people. Also talk about how we are connected to God and God never lets go of us—we might try and let go of our end of the yarn, but God never lets us go. This is good news!
It’s easy to get in our own little world and get tunnel vision. We get up each day, go through whatever morning routine we have, go to work, or appointments, eat lunch, run errands, eat some dinner, watch some tv, read a bit and then go to bed. And then we get up the next day and basically do the same thing again with little variation. Routines aren’t bad, but we don’t like to veer from them as it can be uncomfortable or even confusing. Sometimes, our routines aren’t helpful and can even be harmful and we need other people to pull back the curtain to show us what we may be missing or perhaps what is damaging to us. I was reminded of that this week and some of you may already know this story as I shared it on FB. My morning routine is get up, have breakfast, go for a run, stretch or do some strength training, make some coffee, get ready and go to work. On Thursday, I did most of this routine, but I was kinda craving an iced coffee as it was a warm morning. Now, it had been a long week and by Thursday I was dragging a bit and running late. But I went ahead and stopped at the Beans and Brews, my favorite coffee place in Salt Lake so far, for a coconut milk iced latte. As I turned into the parking lot off 1300, I saw her. A young woman sitting on the grass alongside the road-too close-looking disheveled, confused and it seemed that she was trying to get her clothes together. She was dressed in a manner that made me wonder if she was a sex worker and her erratic behavior alerted me that something was off. I parked and looked at her weighing if I should approach her to see if she needed help. As I have some experience with this sort of situation, so I know the risks. As I was weighing those risks, a gentleman came up beside me as I stood by the front door of the coffee shop and simply said “she needs help.” I responded “yes, lets go talk to her together.” He and I approached this young woman, probably early to mid-twenties and introduced ourselves. It became clear that she was under the influence of drugs and maybe had a cognitive challenge. She spoke nonsensically when asked her name and when I asked her if I could buy her a cup of coffee and some breakfast, she said no but did I have a cigarette? I said no, but that I was worried about her and let’s get some coffee and some food. Allen, the gentleman with me, said to her, “I’m really worried about you as you were in traffic when I saw you.” She stood up and dropped her few possessions that she was trying to carry without a bag of any sort. We helped her tie a dirty sweater around her waist and asked if we could call anyone for her. She said her boyfriend was coming to get her, which seemed unlikely. She said that she had a room at the Extended Stay America half a block down but there was some issue. I said let’s walk there together and see what’s going on with your room. Allen called the police at this point as we realized that she needed more help than we could offer. As we walked, she would vacillate between talking to us and being grateful that we were there and telling us to leave her alone. When she told me to leave her alone, I simply said, “no I won’t do that. You need help and I’m worried about you.” She staggered along and walking that half a block took us 10 minutes. As we approached the motel, two women came running toward us screaming at the young woman that she wasn’t welcome and she better not come close. I stood between them and tried to figure out what was happening. Allen stayed on the phone with 911 relaying what was going on. Apparently, the young woman had wondered into one of these women’s rooms and they were unhappy. The assistant manager came out at this point and calmly said, that the young woman didn’t have a room there, she too had called the police and she needed to leave the property. I told the young woman that we needed to keep moving. At that point she yelled at us and started running toward a construction site. I followed her and then finally the police arrived. Allen and I hung back to let them do their job. This young woman ended up arrested. It’s heartbreaking to watch and I pray that she gets the help she needs, but I also know how broken our system is. But perhaps if it gets her sober and away from those who are not helping her live to her potential-then that could be a start.
Allen and I both agree that this young woman is an equal character in this story and the three of us somehow needed this encounter. It turns out his wife is the parish admin at St. James Episcopal and she and I have emailed a few times. Allen and I both agree that it was the Holy Spirit who directed the three of us there together to connect this morning. He was also running late for work when he decided to go ahead and stop. After he left, I went to buy my coffee, and I discovered he had covered it. There was change from the cash he had left, so I added what I would have paid to his cash to buy coffees for those who came after us. Who knows who felt connected and loved by Allen starting that pay it forward chain? A simple cup of coffee, a morning routine, sometimes isn’t simple and it’s everything.
Routines were shattered Thursday morning and connections were made. It was risky and messy what we did, together the three of us connecting. What may have been the normal routine for this young woman: drugs, risky behavior and hurtful relationships, Allen and I could see was damaging. I’m sure that others have tried to help her before but disrupting the routine of drugs is difficult and takes persistance. Allen and I both have children her age and maybe Allen and I were surrogate parents for her that morning-with the energy to do what hers just can’t right now. I don’t want to judge her family in anyway. I want to be clear, it’s not always appropriate to get involved. Listen to your gut. If your gut is saying no-It’s the Holy Spirit saying, “I’ve got this.” If your gut says maybe you should help, it’s the Holy Spirit saying, “I’ve got this and I’m sending you.” Allen and I went together, as a team knowing that we might be uncomfortable with her, but not in danger, and there is a difference. We were out of our routines and discomforted by the reality that this young woman needed community, care and someone to disrupt her dangerous routine. We wrestled with her that morning and wrestled with our own discomfort. We wrestled with the complexity of life together and we knew that we couldn’t let go until we had done all that we could do to try and get her to a new life and justice.
This is the complexity of life together and life with God. Our stories from Genesis and Luke today reveal how when we are in community, deep relationship, and connected to one another and God, it’s never what we think. It’s uncomfortable, it’s challenging, and disrupts our routines. God is like the persistent widow challenging the myopic routine of the unjust judge, continually calling us to look beyond ourselves and our routines to see God and our neighbor in need. The truth of following Jesus is that we are to demand justice not for only ourselves, but for even those who might make us uncomfortable. It’s messy and hard indeed to hear the persistent voices of those on the margins who call to those of us with power, privilege and agency to disrupt unjust routines. We can call for the disruption of war in Syria that is taking innocent lives. We can call for the disruption of unjust laws that deny equal rights to LBGTQIA folx. We can disrupt our own unjust fear of connecting with different faith traditions for the vision of vibrancy and health of our community-here in Salt Lake and beyond. We can wrestle with those who think differently than us on issues and stay in the relationship and connection, even when it’s really uncomfortable, to reveal the blessing of diversity and learning from one another. We can go towards those whom we fear or don’t like or don’t like or fear us, understanding that fear and dislike are not the kingdom of God, but grace, openness, and radical self-less love is why God sent Jesus to us, to reveal this on all the earth. This is the faith that Jesus is looking for-the vision of God’s grace and love as deep and renewing connections despite discomfort to reveal the damage that we are doing to ourselves and each other when we disconnect and stay in our own little worlds. And I’m convicted that Jesus will find this faith-for God is present and like Jacob, we can refuse to let go of God or one another, refuse to let go of the truth of this love doctrine, because God won’t let go of us. As Jacob was renewed and renamed Israel, we, too, are made new and renamed child of God. Allen, that young woman, me, you and all people are blessed by God’s tenacious and persistent love. This blessing is not for ease and comfort, but for God’s justice to disrupt the unjust routines of our lives and of the world. This disruption reveals the truth of our renewing connection to God’s word of love, mercy and grace, proclaimed for all people, in all times and in all places. Thanks be to God.