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July 7, 2019

“The Corners”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

Galatians 6.1-16

July 7, 2019

As we begin July, the heart of summer, and perhaps the beginning of the heat of summer, our lectionary passage leads us to read two scripture passages about harvest. Some harvesting of gardens has happened. We have benefited from lettuce from people’s gardens. Our blackberry bush has produced a few small berries. Some harvest we still eagerly await. I remember growing up and hearing that the corn should be “knee-high by the fourth of July.” We also are aware that many farmers have struggled with planting this season because of the flooding. Our metaphors remind us of how some of the harvest is up to us, but some is out of our control. Perhaps this is the paradox of faith and life.[1] We cannot sit back and assume everything will just work out, but we also cannot obsess over details because we are not the ones in control.

Our scripture passages are not just about harvesting, but about how to live in community – how to be Christians in the world. Paul addresses the Galatians in his letter, telling them of their duty as Christians. They must “restore a Spirit of gentleness.” While at the Summer Institute of Theology and Disability I had the privilege of hearing Alex Kimmel speak. Kimmel talks from a neurodiverse perspective and talked about cultivating a spirit of gentleness. From his perspective, he talked about letting each person define what safe looks and feels like. This seems like a fairly simple request in life, but when we really look at the world, this doesn’t happen.

In the world of someone who is neurodiverse, or someone who is considered on the Autism Spectrum or who has any kind of disability, safety is often dictated to that person. Rather than asking what is safe and comfortable for them, it is assumed that those who are neurotypical know best. This happens in many different areas of care for people – especially those who are unable to speak or verbalize their needs, or those who have dementia or have high care needs.

The scripture passage talks about bearing burdens and caring for one another. To care for one another, we have to ask what that care looks like, and to listen, not forcing our own care on someone else. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It means not just a spirit of gentleness in physical care for someone, but not forcing beliefs or ideologies on someone else. If we are talking about beliefs of being Christian, what are the questions we ask? Do we ever put restrictions on Christians that have nothing to do with God or the Bible? One commentator stated that she was told Christians can never listen to opera.[2] This might seem like a silly statement, but it is no more ridiculous when we place our own beliefs of politics or clothes or ways of behaving in the world that are actually not in line with scripture. A spirit of gentleness means being able to live in the world with the uncomfortable idea that we are different.

Another paradox that arises is that Paul tells the people to carry the burdens of one another at one point, but then tells them to keep their burdens to themselves. How can they do both? Faith is reciprocal. We give and we take. We love and we are loved. Sometimes the reciprocity does not come from the same place, though. Sometimes we find that we give and give, and we do not receive from a specific person – but that does not mean that we do not receive somewhere else, or that the person does not give somewhere else.

Paul tells the Galatians that they “reap what (they) sow.” If you offer a spirit of gentleness, you will receive it. Once more, you may reap this in one place and sow it in another. Maybe we should consider multiple fields. Not everyone is growing corn – not everyone is growing potatoes. Each needs to be nurtured differently.

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, wrote about the nourishing of fields, specifically people on the margins. She wrote that she noticed from a plane that when she flew over fields the crops were in circles. She found this interesting, and realized that this was not because farmers planted in circles. We know that farmers plant in rows. The irrigation system, however, works in a circular motion, so the plants living are the ones that are reached by the system. The ones on the edges die. Bolz-Weber wrote that she finds it her mission to water those on the margins – to nourish those who were planted on the outside but are ignored by the typical.[3] We have to pay attention to where we water – and who we are nourishing.

After reading her book, I was at the Jefferson County Historical Museum a few weeks later. Sitting on a table were various sprinkler systems – the old, metal kind that people put in their yards to water the grass. I was struck by the words on one, which is on the front of your bulletin: “It gets the corners.” Now, I don’t know if this product really delivered what it promised, but I thought this was interesting. This was a water system that aimed to reach corners – and sometimes that is where we need to be – seeking those in the corners, on the edge, in the margins.

The writer of the Gospel of Luke tells us that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We’ve gone on and on about this harvesting metaphor, but I do believe we need to question the metaphor a bit, because to talk about harvesting people is not a real positive perspective. The metaphor has limits. Perhaps we can also think of harvesting as ministries. We have so much to do in the world, but the laborers are few.

We can relate to that. All churches can relate to that. Even the bigger churches can relate to that, because the work is never done. Read the news – the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Call up any non-profit like CASA or House of Hope or the animal shelter – the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

Jesus tells the disciples – the seventy people whom he has called to go everywhere – to take nothing with them. No money. No purses. Nothing to collect money or gain a profit.[4] To be a disciple does not mean to gain. We know that it usually means to lose. Jesus tells the disciples to greet with peace and not take it personally if someone does not welcome them. Brush the dust off, move on. Easier said than done. To be a disciple means to be vulnerable. Going out without money, without food, without a guarantee, is vulnerability. To take a message that may or may not be embraced is bold, and takes vulnerability. The people take risks. We are called to take risks.

To live in our world as Christians means cultivating the spirit of gentleness. We must listen to one another. We must not expect in return, but to give and reap, and sow. We will not always receive what we imagine, but it will be what we need. We must be vulnerable and nourish. We must seek those in the corners – they are the most vulnerable in our world. We must be with them in spirit and in love and in voice. Let us worship God together. Amen.

 

[1] Mark Douglas, “Galatians 6.1-16” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 208.

[2] Carol E. Holtz-Martin, “Galatians 6.1-16” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 209-211.

[3] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless. (New York: Convergent, 2019).

[4] Elaine A. Heater, “Luke 10.1-11, 16-20” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 216.