Living in God’s transforming love

(Romans 12:9-21) By Rev. Jacob Kanake — Last week we encountered Jesus when he was on vacation with his disciples. He was teaching them how to transform their faith. The transformed faith renews the mind and wills good for everyone. Unless one has faith that transforms and renews the mind, unconditional love (topic of today’s sermon) cannot be achieved; it is extremely hard to love without faith that transforms and renews the mind. A renewed mind can put unconditional love into action for the individual and for the family of God. Paul is willing to educate Christians on how to develop the mind of Christ in their lives and be Christ-like, to “be good, perfect and acceptable.” Unconditional love hates evil and loves doing good, and it wills good for everyone and cultivates a conducive environment where good can thrive. Unconditional love does not sugarcoat evil nor pretend terrible things do not happen, but unconditional love has its own way of overcoming the evil. Unconditional love is one aspect of love (Matthew 22:40).

What is love? Love is the powerful emotions that human beings experience toward God, themselves, other people and other things. It is hard to define love because different people experience and express love differently. Each tribe defines and express love differently. The Greeks defined love in diverse ways: There is love of God (Agape); the love among siblings (Storge); the love between long-married couples (Pragma); the love for self (Philautia); romantic love (Eros); the love (Philia) for other people; and unconditional love (Agape). Today’s world is influenced by the Greeks’ way of defining love. The ancient Greeks also cautioned that love was a mental illness, and anyone who overexpressed love was feared to be “lovesick.” The modern society also tends to believe love is a disease and expresses that “love is blind, love is stupidity,” meaning one should be careful in expressing love. Expressed well, love makes people brave and do bold things. When love is overexpressed, it can make people do stupid things. So, should we condition love to adhere to certain regulations so love can remain valid?

I preached on unconditional love before, and other preachers have preached on the same topic. So, why should I repeat it again? I think reminding ourselves of the topic of unconditional love during this time of racial hatred, Hurricane Harvey and divisive politics is appropriate. We continue to remind ourselves of unconditional love—Christian love, because love never lasts forever unless those who believe in it continue to understand how it works. Whereas un-Christian love seeks rewards, appreciation, payback—kickbacks, or bigger favors like a bank account owner expects interest from his bank or the stock market—Paul says Christian love does not.

Between 56 and 58 A.D., Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, made up of five households (16:5,10,11,14,15), on the dangers of not loving unconditionally. Paul had become aware of the factions in the church at Corinth in Greece. Paul wanted Roman Christians to be careful of divisions and love each other. Paul directed his message at individual Christians (Roman 1:17, God’s beloved in Rome). Like many American churches, the Roman Christians were from diverse origins (Jewish Christians, Gentiles and Africans). Paul was instructing them in faith, seeking their prayers and introducing Aquila and Priscilla, Christian missionaries who were visiting Rome. Paul is also aware most of the Jewish Christians at Rome were more concerned with Jewish nationalistic religion rather than being a global church. Paul’s interest is to promote unity in the body of Christ and not promote certain cultural practices (3:26, 29-30). Paul never denied his Jewish identity yet he knew Christ was for all people (1:16; 2:9-10, 3:1-2, 9-11; 11:25).

The message of Paul is appealing to us today as we live in a religious and political environment that can easily divide people by cultivating fear and impressing on people to fight for their identity. Some of the Roman Christians were jealous; others would openly be showing self-pride; the Jewish Christians thought they were better than the Gentile Christians. And the Africans, the Jews and the Gentiles despised each other for their political adherence. The Roman Christians misused their Christian freedom and they were unable to love or express love to one another. Much of their problem was lack of skills in dealing with the varied needs of a cosmopolitan life and congregation (Gentiles, Jews, and Africans). The congregation needed to learn a unique way of expressing their faith in love rather than bragging, thriving on hate and dividing into factions. In this reading Paul offers and explains ways to practice unconditional love:

Respectful love (9-12) is being able to stay in fellowship with others without bragging or being under the pretext of being superior to others. Many of us have tried to practice this Christian skill by cultivating inner awareness of who we are and how we should respond to others. The more we know about ourselves, we become aware of our weakness and avoid affecting others to hide our weakness. Being aware of ourselves helps us to like who we are and who we are in the process of becoming. This is the only way one can open to the needs of others easily and jump in to help others, remembering the help one received from others.

Caring love (13): Paul emphasizes that a true Christian is the one who cares for others. I have witnessed the many caring events we do here, including making sandwiches for the homeless and visiting those in hospitals, rehab or homes for the elderly. We have our cart full of donations every other week and we pray for the sick. I feel the Lord had enabled us to do that and we can do much more.

Sympathetic love (16): Sometimes sympathy is best understood when an individual explains his actions toward others. I have on a number of occasions prayed and walked with those in need of either moral, financial, spiritual or emotional support. Often, I try “to be with” people in their issues when they open and seek for my support. I have felt compassion toward those with problems and offered my support even without being asked. I join those who invite me to rejoice with them upon healing, reviving a marriage, successful graduation or successful business. Yesterday I received an email from a friend in Norway who has been in my prayers; he was struggling financially. He said, “I want to thank you for praying and encouraging me when I was financially unable to meet my needs. I want to report things have been going well and I am stable financially.” In cases like that it is easy to say, “Praise the Lord!” Being with those with problems and rejoicing with those who rejoice is part of Christian duty. I am aware most of us are sympathetic to others and we can continue to do more …

Uniting love (16): Paul encourages Christians to stay in peace with others where possible. This is the tricky part because a Christian can easily get killed if one practices this Christian skill without reasoning. Trying to be in peace “where possible” does not mean denying the disagreements and insisting that peace must prevail. I think it means being aware of the disagreement and trying to agree in affection, sometime enduring hardship. And when peace is not a solution to the problem, one ought to withdraw and acknowledge the failure and move on.

Engaging love (17-21) is expressing the love that does not hurt others and always wishing others good in their endeavors. Paul would love his enemy and wish them the good rather than the worst; he would feed the enemy and welcome him. If another human affects Paul, he would not seek revenge but leave it to the Lord. Most Christians have practiced this virtue with good outcomes. For me, this is not an easy virtue because I cannot control other people’s reactions. However, it is an easy virtue as far as I can control my own reactions to any situation. Being one to agitate for peace where possible makes one blameless by the witnesses; they can say that lack of peace was not your fault if the situation spirals out control. Paul insists that Christians are called to cultivate peace in their lives and in the lives of those around them. Furthermore, Paul is asking Christians (in public rallies? moral issues?) to watch out for onlookers; they can interpret their behavior and actions.

Apostle Paul expands Jesus’ teaching on unconditional love and affirms that a Christian believer must practice Christian love while in the fellowship of other believers and at an individual level. Any Christian fellowship or individual faith devoid of practical love is difficulty to “grow.” Although it is difficult, I submit that unconditional love ought to be practiced by all believers across every generation, and every race and human class and status.

Paul emphasized that unconditional love can heal and cure the individual, the family and the church divisions (4:15; 15:1-2, 7). Unconditional love can extend beyond personal lines and help believers feel like a part of each other and become each other’s keeper. The teaching of Paul is to love others unconditionally and without reservations (Galatians 5:6). The loving Christian can express human virtues based on affection, kindness and compassion. This is the pure love arising from individual’s state of being and blesses those encountered. Christian love is unconditional love toward God, self and other people or things. A Christian can balance personal happiness with others happiness and make both the receiver and the giver better. Amen.

A story of unconditional love

At 12 years old, I was helping my grandmother in her garden, weeding. My grandmother’s garden was next to Janet (not real name), her friend. At lunch, we ate together and both ladies shared their life stories. Janet almost always talked about her grandchild, whom I will call David (not his real name). Janet’s son had married twice. David was the son of the first wife; she divorced and left David in the care of the second wife. The second wife was not caring. Janet took in David and she said it was hard to care for David because of her age; Janet was older than my grandmother. Whenever David’s name was brought up at lunch time, I curiously listened without contributing or appearing like I was hearing, fearing to be told “Keep quiet! I am talking,” the often-African way of telling the children this is adult conversation.

I felt compelled by David’s story. I wanted to meet him and welcome him at our home. When Janet died, David’s story ended abruptly. I kept thinking about him and I met him after five years at his high festival. David had managed to graduate from middle school and went to a local high school. I asked if I could help him to get to a better school, he said his Dad was not good at paying school fees. I said I will talk to him. He agreed. I talked to his Dad and he agreed to transfer David to a school near my school. His Dad entrusted me with David’s school fees every semester.

When David agreed to stay at our home, I talked to my parents of David’s situation and they agreed for him to stay at our home. My Dad helped to get an extra bed for him. David was considered as one of us, receiving all the privileges of a biological child. David stayed with us for four years. Due to his background David was not an excellent farm hand and sometimes he would sneak out and leave me doing family chores. But there was no time he was punished or denied privileges.

He later became a Christian and a good youth leader. I recommended him to be appointed to lead young people to the world conference in the U.S. in the 1980s. David also studied in the U.S. and later joined politics. I hoped to keep the relationship but he chose a different path and agreed to end our relationship. He is still in politics.

During our time together, my faith did not let me discriminate against him or listen to what other people were saying to my parents. My parents were respectful of him and my Christian values. I did not welcome David into my life with the intention to impress anyone. I never told him the stories I heard from his grandmother, Janet. I knew he would feel embarrassed and perhaps refuse the help I was offering. This was an expression of unconditional love. I am glad my parents did not object to it. I never ever felt David owed me anything. Unconditional love does not count on being repaid; it is authentic love.

I have many other stories of love. I have given love and I never been tired of helping. When I offer unconditional love and I am let down or ignored I move on. I am never slothful; my desire to help boils over and is ever ready to help until the one receiving help again expresses distaste for it or ignores it. When I sense I am offering my help to a bad person, I do it out of submission to the Lord. I feel obligated to serve the Lord, not the mean-spirited person! I have high endurance when tested; I do not give up easily, lest it be God searching my heart during a storm. I become steadfast in prayer and continue to seek the hand of the Lord.

Many of us have expressed unconditional love to others in many ways. May we continue to practice our Christian faith by helping others irrespective of their race, political affiliations, class and status.

Fall Sunday worship hours begin Sept. 3

Our Sunday worship time moves to 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 3.

Sunday faith formation kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 10, with regular classes beginning Sept. 17.

For more information, contact the church office at 651-646-2681.

Fall food collections: canned meat and cereal

We’re collecting canned meats for the Department of Indian Work food shelf in September. Please place your donations in the buckets in the church lobby.

We’re also beginning to collect healthy low-sugar cereal and granola bars for the weekend food backpacks that are sent home with students at Falcon Heights Elementary School. We’ll start distributing the cereal in a couple of weeks.

Sharing ideas for education and outreach on race

Do Good Roseville, a community networking group that Falcon Heights Church is involved with, will bring area faith communities together Thursday, Sept. 14, to share ideas for education and outreach related to race. The gathering is from 9 to 11 a.m. at Roseville Lutheran Church, 1215 Roselawn Ave. W.

Our congregation has been involved in this issue for some time, including hosting community meetings following the death of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights.

“We know that many of the faith communities in the Roseville area have held educational programs, book clubs, and other outreach events to further understanding of race and other topics related to our changing community,” the group’s event flyer says. “We would like to bring together as many faith communities as possible to share your experiences, ideas and resources.”

Our Outreach Ministry Team has been working with Do Good Roseville particularly in the area of immigrants’ needs in our community. Nancy Duffrin (nduffrin@gmail.com) plans to attend the Sept. 14 meeting and can answer questions. RSVP to Kathy Ramundt at kramundt@hotmail.com or 651-488-5061.

Swedish wood carving at Women’s Fellowship Sept. 8

Women and men of all ages, mark your calendar for the September Women’s Fellowship gathering at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 8, when Falcon Heights Church members Pat Bohman and Doug Nelson will share their hobby of Swedish wood carving. They’ll show you how they carve blocks of wood into charming little characters. They will have plenty of samples, some finished and others not so much, but they will enthusiastically share how this pastime brings them pleasure and even improves their social life!

Here are some more of our upcoming programs:

  • Oct. 6: Pastor Jacob Kanake will share his life story, “From Kenya to Minnesota.”
  • Nov. 3: Bob Wicklem will return with an interactive and very timely Civil War conversation, including some personal stories.
  • Dec. 1: We will enjoy a holiday luncheon and share some of our childhood Christmas stories.

Transformed faith

By Rev. Jacob Kanake — We have been exploring our call to Christ’s ministry. Specifically, last week we found Jesus went outside Israel’s territory and healed the daughter of a Canaanite woman, a Gentile. The exchange between Jesus, the disciples and the woman was perhaps unfair, although she did not stop asking for healing of her daughter.

Let us revisit the conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman for a little while. Using modern language, I can say the Canaanite woman was harassed and mocked! Today the woman would have accused Jesus and his disciples for being sexist, racists and intolerable males with the intention of dominating a woman. But, this woman’s patience and her power of persuasion should not be underrated.

The Canaanite woman being called a dog did not irritate or annoy her; if it did, she did not show it. Jesus used the phrase “throw food to the dog”; taken negatively it would mean the Canaanite woman is a person of inferior race, a person of low standing in society, hence unworthy of being helped! The Jews boasted of being the chosen ones and the Canaanites knew themselves as the owners of the land where the Jews lived. Most theologians and myself agree that Jesus used the phrase not to demean the woman, but as a metaphor to explain the priority of his ministry and to teach the disciples of his messiahship. The Greek term Jesus used kunarion means a small dog or a pet dog. Jesus did not use the Greek term kuon used to refer to unspiritual people or to an ‘unclean’ animal. For Jesus, failing to stick with his call to save Israelites first is the same as taking children’s food and giving it to a pet.

The woman understood Jesus’ use of the Greek term—a metaphor because she was a Greek and welcomed the metaphor and entertained the thought of converting to Christianity. She was convinced Jesus was the long-awaited messiah of the Israelites; she affirmed Jesus’ Messiahship, saying, “You are the son of God, the highest.”

Today’s reading in Matthew describes Jesus and his disciples being at a city near where he healed the daughter of the Canaanite woman. The Caesarea-Philippi city is 25-30 miles on the northeast of the sea of Galilee. Mount Hermon, where the local tribes worshipped traditional gods, and the babbling brook, the source of the River Jordan, are both in this city. My friend who visited the area in 1997 found the location has been turned into a public park, a “getaway” place for many people today.

Jesus may have chosen to rest in this city because of its location. Being a northern city with most non-Jews, it had would not have many Jews who would be attracted to His presence.

This city was built by Herod the Great in honor of Emperor Caesar and the Roman temple was there for worshipping the emperor. The Greeks had a great temple for the Greek god Pan and many traditional temples were built there. The mixture of religious worshippers in this city would inform the ministry of Jesus.

Therefore, Jesus was exposing his disciples to multi-religious beliefs and a multiethnic city because he wanted them to realize the type of world where they were called to preach; they were called to deal with varied belief systems, cultural practices and mixed political ideologies. The disciples encountered a context like ours. Today we live in a multi-cultural-religious society with many political ideologies. How are we doing our ministry?

To deal with this context disciples must identify themselves and their mission; they must not act or work for Jesus until they have known him and confessed. It was time to learn and to make their inner confession, or they’d get consumed by many gods, mixed tribes and global problems.

While Jesus was waiting for the disciples to account for their faith, he posed a general question: “Who do people say I am?” Let us reflect on this question for a moment: the question is inquiring about public thought about Jesus. He is interested in knowing why the big crowds follow him and what was their reflection of him and his ministry. This public question ought to be asked in every generation.

The disciples were quick to say what they heard from people. They said, “Some say you are a prophet, you are John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or Elijah.” Why did people equate Jesus with John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah or one of the prophets?

For our understanding and clarity let us review Jeremiah: He was a prophet and priest whose ministry lasted for 40 years. Jeremiah’s personal life (character and personality) and prophetic ministry struggles are clearly written in the Bible more than any other prophet. Jeremiah confronted the people (Jews and their leaders) for their apostasy (greed, corruption, pride, jealousy). They nicknamed him “the prophet of doom” and he attracted few friends (Jer. 26:24). Jeremiah was fearless and courageous (Jer. 15:20) and God affirmed his work (Jer. 17:19-20); he kept the Jewish people on their toes. He did not waver in expressing his feelings and the message of God (Jer. 12:1; 1:17) until his death. When the Christian faith is under threat, the book of Jeremiah is a must-read! The faithful Christians and most of the courageous leaders I know read the book of Jeremiah.

Why did Jesus pose both the general and individual questions?

I think Jesus knew his death was less than a year away and he wanted to prepare his disciples for the work ahead after his death. Also, Jesus wanted the Jewish people to know that he was the Messiah they waited for, although he was a different kind of a Messiah—a spiritual yet indirectly political messiah.

After the disciples answered the general question, Jesus looked at them directly and posed the second question that was demanding yet reassuring, blunt yet warm; in a confrontational yet inviting tone He asked, “Who do you say I am?” The question is “Not who do you think I am” or “Who am I?” The question is: “Whom do you say I am?” The question needs to be explained, “If you say I am [x] then explain why I am [x].” A question like this is difficult and hard to answer quickly. However, Peter did not miss a breath, saying, “You are the son of God.” The answer Peter gave appears to be the second answer given to describe Jesus’ identity. The first revelation came from the Canaanite woman, a non-Jew who confessed Jesus is messiah!

Why was this question so hard to answer?

In my humble opinion, there was no one else capable of answering this question than his disciples! The disciples were with Jesus from the time he called them. They left their professions and followed him to be “fishers of men [humanity].” The disciples heard him laying down the scheme for his ministry using the proverbs, doing miracles and healing diseases. They saw him feeding the crowd, walking on the water and calming the waves; they were with him when he rebuked the Pharisees (traditional Jews), and when Jesus healed the daughter of a Gentile. I mean, they heard him teach and were shocked, doing miracles and they were thrilled, and healing the sick they were amazed with awe and wonder; they were the reputable witnesses of Jesus’ work up to this point! Why can’t they answer the question?

Because it was their time to express their opinion, their time to fish or cut bait; a time to mend or tear, really the time for them to take a stand.

Let us leave the mental wondering on the historical context and the fear and the confusion of the disciples about this question. Let us return to today at Falcon Heights Church situated in Falcon Heights, MN 55113. Let us consider that Christ is visiting with each of us at the Gathering Room to my left side over a cup of coffee and he asks you this question: Whom do you say I am?

If we had time we would like to hear from each of us what answer we would give to Christ. I hope each of us would answer quickly like St. Peter said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

If Christ went further to engage us about the debates taking place around the nation and ask us, “What are you saying in my name” about the hatred, the face of racism rearing its ugly head, the unending call to forever condemn the minority, the unemployed, the disabled, and the old people from having proper health coverage? What if Jesus can ask further questions, “What are you saying in my name” during this divisive environment of “them vs us” and “the haves and have-nots” and the “They must go back to where they came from” narrative!

I would expect us to answer genuinely that our faith does not allow us to discriminate, hate, and define others because of their place of origin, color, political, economic, sexual orientation, or appearance. Our faith in Christ provides us with courage and fearless spirit to confess Christ and to stand for Christ as we learned since we began to believe.

To transform our faith into action we need to be a voice against injustice from within or without, attend local meetings organized to fight injustice. We support our conference and United Church of Christ justice ministries and say no to anyone holding us back from practicing our faith in genuine ways. For instance, when praying, I ask what God wants me to do to show love to others and what action of love I can take to make my prayers practical. I donate (do small actions of love) according to my financial ability and give my energy toward causes that promote justice.

From the foregoing, I learned Christ does not care about public opinion as much as “my opinion” of who I say He is in my life and what I SAY he does.

In 1 Peter 3:15, believers are reminded to be prepared always to give an account of their faith in Christ. Being in the constant presence of the Lord makes faith mature and strong, and makes one a new creature and offers one courage to stand against all evil thoughts and actions from within or without—external forces.

St Paul in his Epistle in the Romans, reading from this morning, asks for Christians without strong faith to rethink their faith; to ask Christ to reenergize and renew their faith/strength to overcome evils within their context. Let us be reminded that St. Peter’s open confession was acknowledged and Christ insists that individuals confess. The individual’s answer to the question Christ asks today will determine the individual’s relationship with God, conduct, character and ability to truly love and to experience peace in time of adversity.

Amen!

First Hour faith formation kickoff Sept. 10

First Hour faith formation starts up again Sept. 10 with — what else? — food! A bagel breakfast will be served at 9:30 a.m. Come and get reacquainted after a busy summer, learn about our plans for the upcoming year, and register your children so that we can make First Hour safe and fun for everyone.

Regular First Hour classes begin Sept. 17 at 9:30 a.m. with classes for Voyageurs (grades 7-12), Seekers (grades 4-6), and Explorers (grades K-3).

Our Christian faith or our tradition?

By Rev. Jacob Kanake – Today, this sermon is about our traditions vs. our Christian faith. The online dictionary defines tradition as a long-established action or pattern of behavior in a community or group of people. Often, tradition is handed down from generation to generation. And faith is strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. Whereas every tribe has their tradition, Christian faith arises from taught Christian doctrines and its rituals such as baptism and sacrament. Faith is also a gift from Christ. And Jesus spreads the Good News to the non-Jews and heals a Gentile in a foreign country. The Gospel is for all believers.

Matthew today explains how the Jewish tradition evolved and found itself in sharp contrast with Christian faith. The Jewish tradition was written down by Moses (Mosaic law) and later was written down by the Scribes. The Pharisees (Jewish elders) made sure everyone observed the Mosaic traditions. In this reading, Jesus is having an intense conversation with the Scribes and the Pharisees, the supporters and promoters of the Jewish traditional hierarchy; they came to accuse Jesus’ disciples of violating the food law. The tradition was to wash hands before eating meals.

These Scribes and Pharisees were from Jerusalem, the holy city, the capital city, the judicial headquarters and by all standards, a modern city where people from small cities and remote villages went to shop, seek medical treatment or religious education and to worship in the temple. One would expect people from a modern city to be better informed than others. But, Jesus found them worse than others. They applied Mosaic law where it fit their plans; they were tyrannical; they used Mosaic law to oppress and force common Jews into obedience.

Jesus knew the Scribes and Pharisees were hypocrites who asked people to do things they themselves were unable to do. Jesus did not allow these hypocrites to accuse his disciples and make them unfit for the public for his mission; if Jesus did not strongly challenge the accusers, his disciples would have been condemned for disobeying the fifth commandment (disobeying elders) and isolated from the public until they paid a fine and purified/cleansed themselves in the temple. That is why Jesus exposed the leaders’ inability to keep the Mosaic law. Since the Pharisees were not ready to be challenged, the disciples got scared, but Jesus reassured them by drawing illustrations about the plant’s growth, food digestion and thoughts from the heart.

The disciples continued to speak with Jesus indirectly so that Jesus would either retract his rebuke of the Pharisees and his teaching, or offer them a detailed explanation or modify the teaching. Jesus knew his new teaching was in direct confrontation with the old teaching but his disciples perhaps felt less equipped. Therefore, turning to the disciples, Jesus asked them, “Don’t you understand?” and they still did not understand; they were fearful, so he encouraged them not to fear and not to evade any truth or duty. Jesus made it clear that concealing of the truth, and the indulgence of populist evil deeds and any corruptive ways, makes a disciple of Christ less of a follower and ineffective as a servant of Christ. Christians must own the truth and do their Christian duty and if anyone is offended, it is her/his own fault.

Some American traditions may be harmful like the Jewish tradition of washing hands. One of the American traditions is slavery, which began in 1619 and was abolished in 1863 by president Abraham Lincoln. The slavery tradition, though abolished, exists today in different forms. This nearly 400-year-old oppressive tradition needs to go. It is time to let it go! Modern Americans must say NO to the old ways and indirect system of oppression.

When speaking of this vice, I am aware not every American owned or benefited from having a slave at home or place of work. And I am also aware that most Americans who owned slaves have since self-cleansed themselves by speaking out against the practice. and they have moved with newfound freedom of their mind. However, we have a clear majority of Americans who have not come to terms with freeing themselves from indirectly oppressing others; they want to keep benefitting from the systematically oppressive system, a system that denies minorities housing and economic, social and political freedom.

Those who continue to protect and to continue to improve this longstanding tradition of oppressing others are not doing it with God’s blessings (Acts 5:38). The practices that are not divinely instituted will die of themselves, or they will be openly challenged by those who honestly feel it is their God-given duty to reform humanity; they might be among the Christian believers. Like the parable of tares, such ungodly systems will be bundled for the fire. What has become of the Pharisees and their hand-washing traditions today? The tradition is mostly long abandoned; but the gospel of truth is alive and it is still going strong 2,000 years later.

The human-made systems and their followers always take time to die. An example is patriarchy that oppresses women; it has been a long-standing tradition, but in many parts of the world today woman have become free individuals. In these societies, women decide when to marry, when to have children, and when to keep the marriage to let it “die.” Today, women choose the type of profession or friends to have. Few years ago, we did not have many women in senior positions or places of power. Today, the government of Rwanda’s majority is women.

We are witnessing the last vestiges of the racial oppression in America today. I have heard from many people who do not like the racist speeches and they are joining the freedom movements. The image to illustrate my feeling on racist speeches is the skunk’s poop; its smell shocks the victim. I and many people resent it! I wish I could switch off my brain or put in long-lasting earplugs.

But the last kicks of a dying animal can inflict damage to those who are nearby, and that can be a lasting damage. This week I heard several warnings on the political environment such as the Holocaust survivor (Sonia K) when she was being interviewed by CNN. Sonia said, “When the Holocaust broke, everyone was silent. The Holocaust took place because individuals, groups and nations made decisions to act or not to act. People were quiet then, but we must not be quiet again. Now we know better. We must all commit to making the world a better, kinder and more understanding place. Perhaps it is as simple as speaking out when you see something wrong, saying ‘I know better,’ but, please never be a bystander or a perpetrator.…Take active part in standing against [evils]…being promoted today or we could find ourselves repeating a regrettable history. We all need to be on guard and resist and fight.”

Some of these rallies promote fear and hatred and many people are now speaking. Mitt Romney advises people to tune their language because “it can cause racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast hearts of American to mourn.” There are genuine politicians who are concerned, although others might use the situation for their political benefit.

People of faith need to take note of what is happening and voice their feelings. Christ was forceful with his disciples when he asks them, “Don’t you understand?” Perhaps they did not! By asking this question, Christ expects from believers some degree of knowledge, grace, and wisdom. But that understanding comes with truly being a Christian. Racial bias persists this long because practicing Christians either did not realize it was evil to own another human being, or to mistreat another person, or did they ignore Christ’s doctrine of love? Did they love selectively? Why did it take this long for Christians to understand the doctrine of love, the teachings of Christ alongside the American Golden Rule or Constitution—created equal?

The reprieve for those who do not love with Christ’s love is that they may be forgiven. Christ’s forgiving aspect can be witnessed by how he treated the disciples despite their flaws: Jesus did not abandon them. Perhaps Christ did not abandon racist people. Christ may have walked with them though disapproving their practice of hatred and their dullness. In his mercy, Christ will not cast evildoers off, but he pities them and continues to teach them lessons of love until they will finally love! (Luke 24:25-27).

In conclusion, Jesus reminds us that our secular traditions affect our faith. Jesus uses the example of the zealous Pharisees on the tradition of washing hands to show that human tradition, however treasured, will end but the Good News will remain. We are also reminded today that God is concerned with the human heart, not physical food that goes into the body. Jesus is concerned with the human heart, the good thoughts that can fully influence or affect the entire life. And the Prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 8:7) says the heart is the source of all sin/evil, though not everything comes out of the mouth like a plan to kill or to steal arises from human thoughts/heart. When we allow our mind and conscience to be defiled by sin/evil thoughts, it makes everything else so. The daily reflection on thoughts may help to avoid evil actions.

There are also church traditions that were formulated by the ancient church leaders/fathers and councils and some of them are not supportive of the faith today; Christ calls for those church traditions to be reformed lest they keep believers away from participating in the life of the church.

In many parts of the world, the church is being challenged for speaking against political, economic and social injustice in society. Today many American churches are more than aware of the systemic policies that are designed to affect the minority today, but sadly the same system also affects the majority. For instance, the debates on health care, food stamps, unemployment, the drug epidemic and mental health issues affect American people whether white or black, although in varying degrees.

May the inclusive Gospel of Christ heal all people despite their color, race, political affiliation, or economic status. The healing of the Gentile (Canaanite woman’s daughter) is an indication that Christ’s mission is for all who believe. In Christ, they’re neither a Jew nor a Gentile. No comparison of one person to another. God is calling us today to dismantle all racial systems and outdated church human-made beliefs that promote racial bias because they are contrary to Christ’s teachings on the love of a neighbor.

Amen.

Food and table fellowship: Feed the needy

By Rev. Jacob Kanake —

The beloved nurse’s story

Father Jerry tells a story of a Frenchwoman; she was a trained nurse who devoted her life to caring for the sick and needy. This nurse was single and had no children. She offered selfless service to her villagers for many years before she died. The villagers organized to give her a beautiful funeral, a fitting tribute to the woman to whom so many villagers owed their lives.

The villagers wanted her to be buried in a Catholic cemetery but the parish priest pointed out that, because she was a Protestant, she could not be buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery. The villagers protested, but the priest was firm. During his serious illness, this nurse had also cared for him so it was not easy for the priest either. But the church canons were very clear; she would have to be buried outside the fence of the cemetery.

On the day of burial, the whole village accompanied the woman’s casket to the cemetery and buried her outside the fence. That night, a group of villagers, carrying shovels, sneaked into the cemetery and quietly moved the fence.

The church canon was obeyed during the day despite dividing the community united in grief. And later the villagers refused to be divided and set themselves to allow the nurse’s death to unite them into one community. During the night villagers were willing to extend the cemetery fence to unite the dead as they were also united.

From parables to miracles

For the last few weeks we have been learning about parables, their hidden meaning and why Jesus used them. In last Sunday’s parable, Jesus asked his disciples if they understood parables and how to apply them to grow the kingdom of God. The disciples answered an affirmative “Yes,” then Jesus encouraged them to use their old and new insights and self-awareness of their faith to grow the kingdom of God. In Chapter 10 Jesus had sent the disciples out to preach on their own to the “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6); when they were reporting back and before Jesus responded, he was told that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed.

In today’s reading Jesus and his disciples sail to a lonely place but the crowd followed them; when Jesus saw the crowd, he abandoned his plan to attend to the need of the crowd.

John the Baptist’s death

Jesus and his disciples “went by boat to a deserted place” located on the bank of the sea of Galilee. The other Gospels suggest the location may be Bethsaida, Capernaum or Gennesaret.

John was imprisoned (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14) and killed around 29 AD (Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-27, Luke 9:9). John was murdered because he objected to Herod’s divorce of his wife so he could marry Herodias, the wife of his brother, Herod Philip. The Jewish laws did not allow this behavior (Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21). John the Baptist was courageous, he took the bull by the horns and that led to his death. I think we are aware most secular leaders do not like to be told to get their ducks in a row. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, was killed—hanged—because of supporting the underground movement against the Nazis. Facing physical death, he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” A Christian call is a courageous spiritual conviction that demands that the believer should tell the truth as it is.

I had my share with a local chief that influenced my peers to discipline me for preaching on girls’ circumcision and creating awareness on HIV-AIDS in my community in 1986. My peers cried for my life; they came one evening to my parents’ home and forced me to go to an illegal peers’ night meeting. After a well-crafted deliberation, I was found guilty of teaching against cultural practice back then. I firmly defended Christian and scientific principles against the harmful cultural practice but they were not ready to listen. They frog-marched me half-naked at midnight as discipline; they proposed to frog-march me the entire night but they disagreed within 30 minutes and I left them and went home. Their action made my faith stronger. I continued to preach vigorously until that cultural practice lost its influence. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that Americans are racially divided at 9-11 a.m.; he was referring to religious worship. Can inclusive Christians be on the side of the minority as some politicians continue to promote racial divisions? The courageous Christians who stand with the minority might be prepared to pay a price of being different and wiling to bring God’s people together.

The Christians and the Jewish people often retreat to pray, to meditate or to be with God alone, a moment of spiritual intensity. Or perhaps Jesus wanted to contemplate on merging John’s ministry of repentance and his ministry of salvation by fire and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, Jesus was interrupted by the crowd; they wanted to see him, to be healed or to be comforted! Or maybe some wanted to comfort Jesus upon hearing of John’s death. Jesus rose to the occasion; he preached, healed the sick and provided physical food. The fear created by Herod did not capture and control the compassion and generosity of Jesus toward the crowd.

The feeding miracle shows God can create something new, a life-giving food, and the kingdom of God is breaking in. We ought to never underrate what we have in terms of money, skill or strength; God can multiply it for us to use and for others to benefit. Did you notice characters in this miracle?

Miracle characters

Natural law or science are not able to explain miracles or “objects of wonder.” Miracles are extraordinary religious happenings that are only understood by faith. In the feeding miracle Jesus chose characters to play various roles:

The crowd

The Jewish culture was communally oriented. It was not hard to bring people together; it did not require formal invitation, there were no gate crashers. In this crowd some people may have been the disciples of John seeking moral and spiritual support. And those who knew John was the cousin of Jesus were there to support Jesus in his grief. And of course, some people were traitors seeking a subversive message from Jesus so they could accuse him to either the Jewish religious leaders or the Roman leaders. But, most people in the crowd may have been curious about Jesus’ preaching and healing. We could be wrong to imagine the entire crowd came to be preached or healed. In spite of their categories, Jesus did not discriminate against them; he did not ask questions; he preached to all of them and fed all of them equitably. Jesus’ ministry is fair and squarely inclusive to all who seek and practice it.

The disciples

Though the disciples had expressed understanding in previous readings, at first they tend be less involved in this miracle. Some of the disciples were concerned that the crowd was getting hungry, or getting home late to cook. During that time there were no ready-made drinks, punch, junk food, snacks, TV dinners. To put it simply, food required a long time to cook.

Furthermore, the disciples were worn out by the day’s work; they wanted to rest. One can sense their level of anxiety rising as they began to be quite tactical: they requested Jesus to let the people go “into the village to look for food.” Perhaps Judas, the financial officer, must also have said there wasn’t enough money to buy food for the crowd. Maybe the disciples were more concerned about themselves than for the crowd; maybe they had their own packed food and they wanted to eat, rest and plan for their dinner. When they asked Jesus to send the crowd away, Jesus told them point blank to “feed them.” The disciples answered by saying it was impossible to feed this many people, there was no money to buy food or time to organize a feeding program, which would also require particularly trained chefs to plan the menu and organize sitting and several servers.

The disciples did not understand what Jesus was getting at. However, St. Luke says Peter found a boy with his packed lunch and convinced the boy to offer his lunch to feed others. The boy had compassion! Maybe Jesus fed the crowd to teach his disciples compassion. Uncompassionate people approach any type of giving with a mindset of “if you give, then God will…” This is the wrong attitude for Christians. Jesus is teaching us to give generously without expecting anything in return. Jesus prayed for Christians to be moved by compassion for the needs that are present and attend to them without expecting any return. A compassionate giver is moved by a generous spirit, not a hoarding spirit. A compassionate giver’s faith is not about performance. It is about the giver’s heart attitude, an outworking of love that Christ puts in one’s heart. Christ is seeking for the believer to develop the culture of compassionate giving—giving wisdom, time, money and food and much more.

The food

During the time of this miracle the Jews’ food preparation followed Mosaic laws. The disciples may have had in mind that if people were sent into the village searching for food to buy, they would assess on their own if Mosaic rules on preparation were followed. It is not written that Jesus observed Mosaic law on food in this case. Instead Jesus inspired trust in the crowd and everyone was willing to forget the Mosaic food laws and ate fish and bread without asking where the food came from, or if it was safe—kosher.

Whatever food we give must adhere to whatever food we eat. The hosts does not cook disgusting food for the people because he/she is expected to eat with the guests. In my culture, the host tastes her/his food in front of the guest to declare food is fit for others. If the host bewitched the food, the host will die first.

Jesus uses food because the table fellowship makes people relax and share freely. Anthropologists say that a meal has a social language that breaks the barriers and welcomes the strangers. Meals provide people with unique ways to connect. Food can transform and unite strangers into a community, the community that unites in needs for each other. The sharing of our food and the Good News with others transforms and make us fully ourselves in the company of the Holy Spirit. Through the use of food, we have witnessed the transformation of communities in our time like the teaching of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Dorothy Day, among others. If we move on sharing what we have, God promises to meet our needs and the needs of others (Phil 4:9).

Today we share the Holy Communion and unite to be one community of faith and practice. We aspire to move the barriers or fences to include the outsiders in our lives. In this miracle Jesus is challenging the disciples to welcome non-Jews into their ministry. I know the Holy Communion inspires in a Christian the vision of liberation and reconciliation. To receive the bread and wine is also to participate in the nourishment and vision of the kingdom of God that makes breaking racial barriers possible.

If Jesus was to use food to explain a teaching today, he would tell us the type of food he is referring to, whether junk or organic, because in our time food has turned to be poison. Today food preparation does not follow the natural rules. My guess is that Jesus would talk of organic food and teach on the methods to prepare a healthy diet. In this teaching Jesus is seeking a culture of generosity in our community, in our family and individually. This teaching is relevant today because most people have lost a sense of community and there are others who do not love even themselves.

The child

It is not easy to take a child’s food away; the parents of the boy in the story must have taught him to be generous in sharing. Or perhaps the disciple had convinced the boy that Jesus wanted to bless the food or perhaps Jesus wanted to pray for it or something like that. Let us hope the food was not snatched away from the boy, as Jewish culture of the time expected young children to obey their elders and to do what they were told without questioning! This child offered his food freely; otherwise Jesus would have cautioned the disciples.

Jesus said elsewhere that children are innocent and we ought to be like children in our deeds. He used children on occasion to teach equality and inclusivity, a lesson extended in this story. We all get excited when a child is willing to share their belongings with others freely. This miracle teaches me that the Kingdom of God is for all, regardless of age or status.

Our mission

What fences can we break down in our lives to unite with others? As the Falcon Heights community, we recently vowed to break down racial fences, employment discrimination and housing discrimination, and agreed to share with those who have less or nothing. Each of us may self-assess to realize the secretly held fences that divide and bring division between the individual and others. The goal is to let those dividing views break down so one can unite and be united.

Jesus encourages compassion, mercy, selfless giving and communal sharing. Jesus first encourages the disciples to obey God in believing food for the crowd can be available, and to also accept that God would use Jesus to do a miracle. The disciples obeyed Christ; they asked the people to sit down; they requested the little bit of food from the owner. Therefore, breaking the dividing fences frees people to feed others with spiritual and physical needs, so we can be Christ to others despite their situations.

Jesus’ motive in this miracle is to see a change in the hearts of the people so they can learn the scripture. He is not so much concerned about physical food as spiritual food, for he who eats the physical food will hunger and thirst again but he who eats spiritual food will continue being satisfied and nourished (John 6:35). The spiritual food can cater to physical need also.

During that time, the wealthy Jews and Romans lived in luxury but the common people labored or begged for food. The Roman government or Jewish elites did not provide a food pantry or social welfare, a political tool in our society. Jesus enters the human situation and decides to provide a free meal to the worshippers. The motive of the teaching is not free food but a lesson on sharing, commitment, and obedience.

We have a choice to make because Christian faith is not about performance, it is about our hearts’ attitudes. And, generosity is an outworking of the love of Christ that has been placed in our hearts. If we allow God to change our hearts into hearts that are generous, then no longer is the issue about how much, or what our responsibility is. It is about where we can show love by being generous. How we can be moved by inner compassion for the people who seem to be without a shepherd—leader—Christ. The teaching reminds us of working toward our comfort and the comfort of others. This week we will prepare sandwiches and distribute them to the homeless and the needy. We are acting on Jesus’ words, “Give them something to eat,” and that is sharing a prophetic action to challenge modern-day stinginess. Whereas some politicians are negative about the poor people, Christians ought to show a calm demeanor and approach human hunger with the handle of faith. The mature Christian faith is better expressed in action and is better lived in practical terms.

Jesus asks that we extends mercy and compassion to hungry people without discrimination like he did in this miracle. Sometime one wonders if Jesus would approve what some religious organizations and their followers do to each another like refusing to share Holy Communion or to allow people of the same sex into leadership or rituals. God is teaching us compassion, inclusivity in our mission.

Amen.

School Tools drive starts July 23

Help all children be successful in school! We’ll be collecting new school supplies from July 23 through Aug. 13 during our annual School Tools campaign. This collection, in conjunction with Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, helps low-income families provide the learning tools their children need when classes start this fall. Please bring supplies to church no later than Sunday, Aug. 14.

These items are needed:

High priority

  • Backpacks
  • Three-ring binders
  • Calculators
  • Facial tissue

Other supplies

  • Spiral notebooks
  • Composition notebooks
  • Pencils
  • Pencil sharpeners
  • Glue sticks and bottles
  • Loose-leaf paper
  • Folders
  • Highlighters
  • Scissors
  • Pens
  • School boxes
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Erasers
  • Rulers
  • USB flash drives