Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ JesusIn the name of the inclusive, adamant, and loving God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!
13 years ago, over the New Year holiday in the middle of my year as a Resurrection House intern, I was on the planning team for the Lutheran Student Movement National Gathering in Phoenix Arizona. After four days of prayer and worship, joy and laughter, not a little bit of flirting, I stayed behind with a smaller group for a mission/service trip to Nogales, AZ. Nogales is a border town; so there is Nogales AZ and Nogales Mexico. We actually went over into Mexico and visited families on the Mexican Side. This was 2002 and in the decade before that a couple of factories had been built on the Mexican side and the population of the Mexican town had exploded. Thousands of people had come there looking for work, and they had come so fast the town was not able to keep up building infrastructure. A large shantytown had “built” up around the actual town. I use the term “built” because most of the “home construction” consisted of cargo palates covered in roofing paper turned on their side to form “walls”.
We visited a woman. She was a single mom and she was considered middle class in the neighborhood, because the house she shared with her daughter had a concrete slab floor and cinder block walls. She technically had running water because there was a tap outside the house. Her electricity consisted of one light fixture in the dining area, one plug in the kitchen and one plug in the second room of the two-room house. So, here I am sitting at her table having lunch—at this point I had a master’s degree in music, I was headed to seminary at one the oldest and most prestigious seminary in the Episcopal Church—and at one point she looked at me said, “How come you Americans have so much stuff and yet there’s so much depression and people committing suicide?” I didn’t have answer for that. Later, she again looked me dead in the eye and said, “How come your country has the death penalty when only God should decide who lives and dies.” I didn’t have an answer for that either. She continued to pelt me with convicting truth after convicting truth. And I am sitting there about to commence my second master’s degree, unable to answer. It was quite a sight…
I think this relates to our gospel story for this morning. Jesus is teaching in the temple and the religious leadership just isn’t getting it. They can neither comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ teachings nor accept his authority. The people who should have been able to grasp the truth, the people invested with conveying the truth could not hear the truth even when it was right in front of them. The religious leaders, the civic leaders, the so-called “right people” could not believe. On the other hand the sinners, the outcasts, those considered by the leadership to be unworthy, they got it, they understood, embraced, and began to follow Jesus.
This teaches us two things, if we are willing to learn: 1) we must keep our ears open to unlikely sources. We never know when an unlikely source will deliver a message from God for us. When I was in Nogales, I should have been the source of truth. I was way more educated than my host, but she was speaking truth. By the grace of God I was willing to listen, but I hope it teaches all of us to keep our ears open to hearing God from unlikely sources.
Second, we must ask questions, its how we learn. We must continually question everything. Now, listen to me closely: never take anything I say at face value. I am a religious leader. I do the best I can everyday, but I am just as susceptible to the blindness that the leaders in the gospel succumb to as any other leader. Ask questions! Wonder, study, learn, and as I said before listen, especially to unexpected sources. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” My brothers and sisters, I want the truth to come to us. However, to do that we must listen, especially to unexpected sources and ask questions. That’s what it means when Paul writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” It is imperative that we make an intentional practice of listening and questioning, because that is how we get on board with what God is doing in North Omaha. It was a tragic week in this part of town this week. Four people were shot on Wednesday alone. One of them, J.T. Swift was high school student who Jodie had at Morton just two years ago. Now the cross teaches us that where suffering is, God is present. So, I know God is present in North Omaha. I know that God is at work in North Omaha. I also know that for us to discern what God is up to, and how we get involved, we must listen to unexpected sources and question those in authority. I invite join in doing just that. Amen!