April 17

The Light Went On

While attending Luther Seminary, I was involved with inner city congregations. Not only did those experiences provide valuable pastoral training, they were also profound opportunities for personal growth. It seems rare that influential life lessons are learned in a textbook or a classroom. Some of the most important lessons in my life came from real life moments that forced me to look at life from different perspectives.

Inner city ministries awakened me to my own biases and judgments. A light went on in my head and heart as ignorance (lack of knowledge or familiarity to the inner city environment) was replaced with compassion; something that happens when a person connects with other human beings. Until such a connection is made, other people are simply numbers, categories, or statistics. When we are able to see the humanity in another, walls of judgment begin to fall.

Growing up in a small rural community, I didn’t recognize the judgments that were inherent to my area. Diversity wasn’t even rare, it was basically non-existent. Everyone I knew was white and of Northern European descent. To see someone of a different culture or color caused distrust.

I remember when a group of Amish were planning to move into the area. Questions and concerns were whispered by locals under their breath. Will they be a danger on the roads? How will the already struggling school district continue without that tax base? Can you imagine these well maintained farm buildings being gutted from electricity and plumbing? Fear prevailed as an unfamiliar culture began to mix into the common culture. And I’m sure the Amish had their anxieties of moving into unfamiliar territory.

As the Amish families moved in, locals eventually became familiar with their new neighbors and built relationships, breaking down the barriers of fear and discrimination. The light went on. These people are living the human experience like you and I. They have their joys and anxieties, stresses as parents, joys of newborns, grief of death, and gatherings of family and friends around faith. The fear of the unknown was transformed into compassion of familiarity.

In today’s Gospel reading we heard Luke’s version of Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance. The disciples were in a similar situation as the locals. They spent 3 years in Jesus’ teachings but were often guilty of ‘not getting it’. The Twelve thought Christ’s coming had something to do with military defeat of the Roman occupiers. But God’s plan was so much bigger than their limited world view.

These fishermen, tax collectors, and blue collar workers couldn’t see beyond their own world view. So when Jesus went to the cross and died (as he predicted), they were confused and lost. It didn’t make sense with the way it was supposed to happen in their minds.

Then in his appearance, Jesus told them that everything happened to fulfill the Scriptures and he opened their minds so that they understood. For the first time in over 3 years, AFTER his death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers finally got it. The light went on. Everything they were taught in the past 3 years completely turned their world views upside down and now it made sense.

The mission for the disciples was announced. “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Here we have the mission of the church; to preach a resurrected Savior and repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

And now the Church (the Body of Christ) is sent to spread and continue this message. It doesn’t fit the messages that we hear on tv, social media, and the news. It doesn’t make sense to people who have been discriminated against and it certainly doesn’t always connect to those who do the discriminating. We are all human and struggle to accept people, things, and processes that are different from our own.

But that doesn’t excuse us from trying to improve on the life that Jesus calls us to live. When we spend time in prayer, when we get into the habit of regular Bible reading, and when we open ourselves to learn beyond our current biases and judgments, the Holy Spirit opens our minds and hearts to new understanding. When we attempt to pray for those who have hurt us, when we put forgiveness into practice, the Spirit (in God’s timing) will turn on the light to replace burdens with peace. Amen.