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Both And

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum today - well, I should more accurately say, something soul jolting happened on my way to church today. I heard someone say that they were blessed and listed off reasons - none of which have anything to do with what God would count as blessings. This past Sunday we got into this conversation in Bible Study, what does make us blessed? Does having something more than another (money, car, health) make us blessed? Perhaps, but what about the person that does not have the nice whatever, does that make them less blessed? I wonder if we sometimes confuse blessing with luck.

(Note I am not criticizing us for saying or feeling blessed, on the contrary, I believe that we are all blessed. I am not sure, however, that blessings amount to something one can have in abundance in the face of another’s scarcity).

This afternoon, after preparing for finance committee and completing the funeral liturgy for Daniel’s service in the coming weeks, I glanced to my bookshelf. There, almost jumping off my shelf (think of the opening scene of Ghostbusters when the books come flying off the shelves) was a book titled When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough. I remember purchasing this book with a snarky smile since one of my favorite quips back to that statement is “that’s great, I’m more religious than spiritual.” While there is usually snark in the tone, there is also some sincerity - I cannot begin to understand or live my faith without the church. I could never have found my theological voice without the Lutheran Confessions or the Works of Martin Luther - I could never have done it without the religious stuff. In fact, I find my spirituality in all that religious stuff - in the liturgy, in the music, in the church, and dare I say...even in the moments when I wonder if Capitol Hill is less political than a church council!

But what happens when we take religion out of the equation? The author of the book argues that we become people that replace the word ‘blessed’ with the word ‘luck.’ Example, a person may witness someone that is food insecure (aka hungry or starving) and declare to themselves “I feel lucky to have food on my table.” The author counters with “when you witness pain and declare yourself lucky, you have fallen way short of what Jesus would do. When you witness suffering and declare yourself to have achieved salvation in the religion of gratitude, you have fallen way short of what God would have you do, no matter what religion you are called to.” The author continues, saying that they believe while God wants us to feel gratitude and to feel blessed, God also wants us to get angry at injustice and to do something about it.

And what better social driving force to do something about it than the church? Where else are we allowed to get so angry that our souls burn with a passion for justice - and then actually quench that fire by doing justice?

One of the institutional and foundational structures at St. Stephen’s is the food pantry. While we may not always realize it, we are using our religious structure to quench the burning anger at food insecurity in the Trolley Square area. We are living out our spirituality and understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that we as a church can become a blessing to those that need food on their tables. We believe that in our own small way we can make a significant difference for others. The institutionalized religion, that is the church, makes this possible for us to carry out the mission of Christ to feed his sheep as our sign puts it. It also helps us declare, as we do in one of our communion songs for the month of September, “here I am Lord, is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”

So perhaps we can never be one or the other - but find ourselves in the blessed space between of “both and.”

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Jason

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