The Garden of Gethsame (Lutheran) … July 2nd, 2012

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Right there in the middle.

Yes–stuck directly in the center of the word “tradition” is “it.”

I don’t mind people who honor tradition. Matter of fact, yesterday morning I was honored and privileged to be granted an audience in front of a traditional Lutheran congregation. Such confinements and constrictions don’t concern me at all–that is, as long as they get “it.”

Yes, if people will admit that their preferences in style, music and procedure have very little to do with truth and they are still able to unearth the true mission of the heart of Jesus, I couldn’t care less if they do it with a tambourine or a pipe organ.

But you have to get “it.” First of all, you have to understand that if you name your church Gethsemane Lutheran, you are acknowledging that your particular work is built on the concept of one of the greatest conflicts between mankind’s ignorance and God’s mercy. The Garden of Gethsemane was where tradition that DIDN’T get “it” decided to arrest, try and kill the messenger of the ultimate expression of love. It is also the location where miraculously and most wonderfully, a human being stepped away from convenience and humbly prayed, “Not my will, Lord. Yours be done.”

So the name itself–Gethsemane Lutheran–carries with it a tremendous responsibility. We need to understand that we must not crucify Christ again, like the stubborn religious leaders of the past, and instead learn from him the simplicity of seeking out an ultimate good in the midst of present chaos.

I saw great hope for that yesterday–people coming out of the service having the wisdom and intuitive power to distinguish between liturgical practice and down-to-earth, Godly commonsense.

For instance, I love the man who walked up to me and said that he wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper, citing that in America there is no absence of jobs, it’s just that people often don’t want to take the employment because the positions available have not been given value, and therefore they know that they, themselves, will be disrespected for faithfully working. It was an inspired notion. It caused me to think about the motel maids, the waiters and waitresses and the maintenance men that I meet every week. What would I do without them? What tremendous service they offer to us! Yet they are often relegated to the status of secondary citizens and taken for granted as being merely “common laborers.” How brilliant, my brother. Yes, we need to learn to value what people do–and in that action, create and continue an ongoing value for one another.

I listened as men and women came to my table and shared their stories–one having a background in theater, desiring to bring that creative essence into the worship experience; another, a transplant from the Eastern seaboard, who possessed a wealth of history, knowledge and humor in his pursuit of the Christ walk; a leader of the worship service, who came with an open heart instead of feeling the need to sprout some suspicion over the newly arrived strangers; a musician who gave us place and honor to present our own tunefulness with her support; a wonderful, caring woman who presented us with delicious fruit to refresh us between the programs; teenagers, sparked with enthusiasm, picking up our pieces of equipment and carryuing them to our van, lightening our load; and a lady whose heart had been broken many times, but still brought the pieces to Janet, with the aspiration of receiving restoration.

I had no problem with the tradition of Gethsemane, because they get “it.” And what IS “it?”

1. You can’t follow Jesus without occasionally offending some Pharisees. If every stiff-necked, religious fanatic bound by church stuffiness is pleased with you, you probably aren’t doing enough. Truth offends liars. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can be gentle; you can be caring and you can be open, but if you’re going to share Jesus, you will offend some Pharisees.

2. If you’re going to follow Jesus and get “it,” you’re going to believe that NoOne is better than anyone else. “Whosoever will may come” does not allow for secondary prejudice. Even in our cynical world, which would deem such innocent doctrine impractical, we must continue to believe that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

3. The only thing sacred in churches are the people. As Jesus so eloquently stated it,Man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man.” We’re not having church if everyone is going through the motions and no one’s being touched in the emotions.

4. To follow Jesus is to understand that the spirit blows where it wants to blow, and nothing will be identical from week to week. You may feel free to have a favorite hymn, but you also must be prepared, if you’re going to walk in the Kingdom of God, to hear a new song.

5. Jesus is not here to please the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. By the way, that’s HIS quote. If we find ourselves trying to appease those who are already in the rank and file, we will also find ourselves displeasing to the one who was interested in seeking the lost.

6. Nothing is done without good cheer and the pursuit of happiness. Jesus gave us one mission–to be of good cheer. He also told us that our goal is happiness. If your belief is that your faith is going to produce more pain than joy, then you probably should shift teams. It is our job to find good cheer in everything we do, and always be on the lookout for reasons to inspire happiness in ourselves and others. It’s just part of getting “it.”

7. And finally, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you’ll understand that the Kingdom of God is within people, not institutions, ideas, dogmas or rituals. In other words, if what we’re doing is actually making people more cheerful, happy and enriching their lives, then continue. If it isn’t, revise the plan until some “joy comes in the morning.”

After having the delectable experience of being with my Gethsemane brothers and sisters, who were traditional but still got “it,”, I ended my day back at my motel, taking a dip in the swimming pool. I was surrounded by other folks who were trying to escape the St. Louis heat wave. There was a family from Iowa and two young men from Honduras. The young men were a little suspicious of Janet and myself when we got into the pool, because, I guess, we look a little older–and very white. But I flashed them a smile, and moments later they leapt into the pool and struck up a conversation with us. After finishing my first encounter with these two fine, young gents, I then talked to the family from Iowa. Lo and behold, when I finished that conversation, I was once again engaged by my two Honduran brothers, who explained how overjoyed they were that Janet and I were so friendly, because they had been working construction in town and had been “cussed out” by some of the locals because of their Hispanic roots. They worked very hard to understand my accent, as I did due diligence for theirs–but the end result was giddy communication, tenderness and the knowledge that “NoOne is better than anyone else.”

My family from Iowa peered over at us curiously as we conversed with Carlo and Jose. I often think that the problem is not that people are prejudiced–just that they’re afraid. I noticed moments later that the Iowa daddy made an attempt to talk to one of the Honduran workers. It was beautiful. It was what Jesus would want.

Shoot, forget Jesus for a minute. It’s what I wanted. I don’t want to be someone stuck in my “white bread tradition,” unable to carry on a conversation with two hardworking Honduran boys. I also want to be able to communicate with the good friends from Iowa. I want it all. And the only person who gives me the ability to do that is my mentor.

His name is Jesus. And he was the first one to get “it.”

   

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