By Pastor Tracey Leslie
I confess, despite living in Indiana, that I am not a basketball fan. But I am a fan of stories of people who overcame incredible odds and gave their all. Such is the story of Kris Dunn.
As a boy, Dunn’s mother left his father. She took Kris and his older brother, John, and his father had no idea where they were. Living in a two-bedroom apartment, the boys were often left alone. Their mother was in and out of jail for petty crime and DUI’s. But in the summer of 2003, when Kris was only 9, his big brother realized this time was different. It had been too long and mom just wasn’t coming home. So they took care of themselves. Fearful that Children’s services would split them up, they stopped going to school and ignored any knocks on the door. They were hungry all the time. They sold their own shoes and clothing. John used trick dice to win crap games in a local park. Kris bet older boys $20 he could beat them on the basketball court. He’d have been in trouble if he’d lost because he had no money to pay them. Sometimes the boys would fight or hustle drug dealers for money. It was a dangerous and desperate life. Eventually their father tracked them down. By the time he did, John had been arrested. Their father went through court to have the boys released to his custody. Going to the apartment to pick up Kris, his father was shocked by the emaciated boy who answered the door. It took a long time, but eventually Kris began to learn to trust again. His father encouraged him in sports and Kris flourished. Today Dunn plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Basketball, Dunn says, saved his life… from a scrawny kid playing to earn money to eat to an NBA superstar, it transformed his life.
But what does it really mean to give our all; to offer up all that we have and all that we are?
This morning’s gospel tells the story of a woman who gave her all. Like Dunn during his childhood, she was in a destitute and vulnerable position. Yet still, she gave all she had to give.
The woman is a widow and she is among those passing through the outer court of the temple placing her donation into the treasury – trumpet shaped chests into which people deposited their coins in the same way we deposit our money in the offering plate now in days. Jesus was apparently positioned so as to have a kind of wide-angle view of this parade of giving. Mark tells us that there were many rich people who deposited large sums. No doubt the temple priests appreciated their contributions; after all, like our church today, they had expenses to cover. But, it is a poor widow who draws the attention and earns the praise of Jesus. She becomes the focus of a teachable moment as Jesus addresses his disciples. She, Jesus informs them, has made the largest contribution of all. Now, obviously, Jesus was not speaking in a strictly monetary sense. For the woman deposits only two small coins. For those of us who grew up hearing the King James Version of the bible, we know these coins as mites. Technically, they were lepton. Lepton happened to be the smallest currency in circulation at the time. So, we might liken them to today’s pennies. Although it’s impossible to determine exact equivalent, they would have likely been worth less than $2. But, Jesus' response was focused on more than strict economics and we know that by his next words. Jesus says that this woman's contribution has been the greatest of all because, while others contributed out of their surplus, she contributed out of her need. The amount that she gave was all that she had to live on. She has truly given her all. She has given the entirety of her resources.
Now it’s important for us to notice the context of this widow story. Jesus has already entered Jerusalem for what will be the last week of his life. According to Mark, only two days prior Jesus had aggressively driven out of the temple those who were exchanging money and selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus has some serious issues with the religious establishment and the religious leaders are furious. You’d think at this point Jesus would be trying to keep a low profile. But he doesn’t. He continues to return to the Temple, the focus of religious life, and his words pronounce judgment and destruction. Yet, in the midst of gloom and doom and judgment; in the shadow of the cross, there are two brief scenes in which Jesus focuses on praise, not judgment; on affirmation, not condemnation. Just a few verses before Jesus notices this widow, he had been approached by a scribe. Scribes represent the religious establishment. We expect this encounter will not end well. But we are in for a surprise. The man inquires of Jesus what commandment is most important. Jesus responds to him indicating that the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Jesus continues, adding that love for neighbor is the second most important command. The scribe affirms Jesus’ reply, affirming the value of this love for God and neighbor that consumes all of our heart, all of our understanding and all of our strength. He concludes by saying that this love is far more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jesus responds to the scribe saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” With that statement, we might note that the giving of one’s all out of love is of far greater significance than religious rituals.
That final statement that the widow gave "all that she had to live on" is the thread that connects these two brief stories: one about a scribe who is praised for understanding the significance of loving with one’s all and the other a story of a widow who is praised for giving her all. They are tied to one another by the use of that word “all.” So how do we please Jesus as the scribe and widow did? We do so by giving our all. If one desires to please God, it means one must be “all in.” That word "all" – which is the Greek word holos – is such a little word. But it expresses the concept of entirety, completeness, wholeness; a small word, but a big idea.
It was not the amount the woman gave that Jesus lauded and praised. It was, instead, the reality that Jesus knew to be true of her. Through her donation, she offered up all of herself, her very life. All that she had to give, she gave. And, in doing so, she demonstrated a love that encompassed all of her heart, all of her soul, all of her mind and all of her strength. What she gave demonstrated a love that was whole and complete.
Now, if you're a pragmatist, like me, you might wonder – if the woman gave everything she had to live on – what was going to happen when it came time for her next meal. Well, neither Jesus nor the gospel writer addresses that question. But, perhaps the very absence of the issue should cause us to reflect on how a love so complete and whole leads to a trust so deep, so all-consuming as to eradicate the need for such questions. It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching on the limitless character of sincere forgiveness. When we need to ask “how much,” if we need to ask about the limits, we have, it seems, missed the point. So, if we get bogged down in questions of this women’s next expense, we perhaps are missing the point. This is not a lesson in economics; it is a story about love and trust.
Let me say that again… because that's really the key to this story. A love such as this widow displayed, a love which is so encompassing, leads to a trust that is so deep that questions about our future security no longer consume us or hold us captive.
Now, let me say one more thing about that. This story is certainly not an indicator that Jesus is unconcerned with the plight of the poor. In fact, he is quite direct in pointing out that the scribes who have exploited these poor widows will receive punishment for it. He says so just one verse prior. God is most certainly concerned about the poor.
But, this widow is not praised because she is poor and needy. Neither is she condemned for it. Her poverty is simply a fact. It is a part of her identity, but it does not define who she is or how she’ll choose to live or love because, in the midst of her poverty, she has chosen to live in a way that bears witness to her trust in God; and to demonstrate her love for God and her neighbor by offering up her entire life – represented by a couple of coins. It is a paltry sum; but it represents an enormous and marvelous love. It represents her life. In fact, a more literal translation of that final phrase is “all her life”; the woman offered up all her life.
Friends, it takes trust to offer Jesus our all. We’re fearful that, if we give too much, we’ll run out. So we reluctantly love Jesus with a little, not too much, certainly not our all because it seems too risky. How will we ever get by with less?
This morning marks the conclusion of our annual Stewardship Campaign. This morning we prepare to turn in our commitment cards. Those cards provide an opportunity for us to reaffirm our commitment to the ministry of Trinity United Methodist Church. Those cards provide the opportunity for us to put down on paper what our monetary contribution will be toward the church's budget for 2017. But most of all, those cards – that commitment we make – is an opportunity to demonstrate our love for God and our trust in God. It is not so much about the amount we give as it is about what remains. This widow gave in a way that required her to place her trust in God. Friends, I will be perfectly blunt; if our giving does not reflect any level of risk on our part, it is not a demonstration of faith; it is not a demonstration of our trust in God; it is not a giving of our all. Through my entire life in the church, I never met anyone who has engaged in risky giving to God who regretted it. Not a one. On the contrary, every person I have ever encountered who grew their giving to a degree that required them to live from a place of trust saw their relationship with God grow exponentially through their risky giving. There are a variety of things we can do to grow our relationship with God; to grow toward loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. But few of them will lead to growth in that relationship as dramatically and powerfully as committing to take a risk with our generosity. That’s what love and trust are all about: true love is revealed when we risk our all for that one we love. So let us love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, all of our souls, all of our minds and all of our strength. Amen.
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:6-12
A few years back I was meeting with a young woman exploring ministry. She was a very bright young lady and very creative. Her passion was reaching new people for Jesus in non-traditional ways. It piqued my interest. I think changes in our broader culture are going to compel the church to think outside the box in coming years if we are going to be effective in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
She had devised a graphic that expressed the fundamentals of living as a follower of Jesus… what we in the Church might label as spiritual practices; things like prayer, contemplation, service, studying scripture, etc. But there was one thing deliberately missing from her graphic: worship. She said she really didn’t believe that God wanted to be worshiped. It seemed to her a rather narcissistic idea that a God so focused on grace, on giving, would be so demanding.
Of all the spiritual practices Christians engage in, worship just might be the most challenging to explain to someone who isn’t familiar with religious practice. Personally, I believe God does desire our worship but I also think we might need to expand our understanding of worship and that’s where this morning’s message is headed.
But first, some historical background – the “situation in life” – for this morning’s scripture from 2 Corinthians...
Not long after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a zealous Jewish Pharisee named Saul had a somewhat mystical encounter with this Jesus whose followers he had been rounding up and charging with heresy. That encounter with Jesus radically changed the course of Saul’s life and the future of the Jesus movement. Saul became Paul and he experienced a compelling call to take the message of this Jesus beyond the Jewish community. It’s impossible for us today to comprehend how crazy Paul must have sounded to those early Jewish Christians. And yet, these seeds of Gentile inclusion had begun with Jesus. Even Peter, the most prominent of Jesus’ followers had received a vision from God that communicated this truth that Jesus was not the exclusive property of the Jewish people. Who Jesus was; what he’d proclaimed and what he had done was a message for everyone.
Still, it was a radical idea and not all the early church board members were on board. We know that, ultimately, Paul’s thinking prevailed because… well, here we all are and some of us may have even eaten bacon for breakfast this morning. But it is no easy thing for Paul to communicate this message of a Church that is open to everyone where legal standards like kosher food and circumcision no longer apply. Paul proclaims an inclusive Church, but it is a hard sell.
Now, for a variety of reasons (and a topic for another day), those early Jewish Christians who lived together in Jerusalem after Pentecost were pretty poor folks. So, Paul’s vision of an inclusive Church was accepted by the board members in Jerusalem with a couple of caveats, one of which was this: that these new Gentile converts, as a demonstration of unity and solidarity, would help provide for the financial needs of the Christians in Jerusalem. Now, this was a proposal Paul embraced with zeal. And so, the letters Paul wrote to the congregations he founded in these Gentile cities are regularly peppered with references to this collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. It was a mission project that took years for Paul to complete. For Paul, this monetary collection was more than an assignment from his superiors. For Paul, it was the greatest symbol of what makes the Church the Church: the idea that, no matter who we are or where we are, we are bound to one another; bound together as one body in Christ. Church is all followers of Jesus without regard to where we live or the culture in which we are embedded. And Church, as one body means we have an obligation to care for one another; not just the folks we worship with each week; but even Christians we will never have the opportunity to personally meet.
As Americans that is sometimes hard for us to accept. And let me just clarify: this goes deeper than charitable contributions; it goes beyond that once a year donation we make to feeding hungry children in Africa or Central America. Paul’s teaching, the teaching of our scripture, is about a willingness to make personal sacrifice to meet the needs of people we may never meet AND a recognition that we, through our faith in Jesus, have obligations to one another.
So again, I say, this kind of mutuality, this kind of interdependence, is not something that comes naturally to us as Americans. Our nation expanded westward spurred by the value of rugged individualism. We have clichés about people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. We raise our children to be independent and we value self-sufficiency. But the reality is that our very identity as Christians depends on our willingness to admit that we’re not self-sufficient; that there is, at the end of the day, nothing any of us can do for ourselves to get into God’s good graces. Retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon points out that, while our faith teaches us to see our lives as gifts, we don’t like to see ourselves as dependent, needy or empty-handed. We strive to stand on our own and take charge.[i] Methodist founder John Wesley said, “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace.”[ii]
But like it or not, we need God and we need each other. And so as Americans, we live in this tension between the popular American expression “Charity begins at home” (a cliché that implies that our obligations end at our line of sight) and our denominational heritage of John Wesley who said, “The world is my parish.” Wesley and Paul were definitely on the same page.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians is this: that if we are so blessed as to have more resources than are essential, it is God’s doing not our striving; and it means that God has blessed us with a surplus in order that we might share it with those in need. And when we take that risk in sharing – when we make that sacrifice – we do it from a place of trust in God and one another. We give sacrificially with the full recognition that, when we give so freely and generously, there is always the chance the day might come when another Christian will need to come to our aid and that – should that occur – it would not be a reason for shame but a reason to rejoice and give thanks to God.
Friends, Paul’s sense of “enough” is not for the purpose of self-sufficiency and independence; but in order to be able to help others. He tells the Corinthians: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” Paul affirms this “enoughness” as a gift from God, not something gained by earnest self-discipline. Thought of in this way, the very act of giving becomes a witness to and a celebration of God’s grace.
That same message, by the way, was communicated by John Wesley. Certainly one needs to provide their family with food and shelter and clothing. But when we have more than is needed, it ought to be shared with those in need. Sometimes in our consumer driven culture, it is hard to accept that enough is enough. Culture encourages us to want more than we need; that’s how we propel the economy. But, Scripture admonishes us to be as generous with those in need as we possibly can be.
Paul makes clear to the Corinthians that God blesses us so that we can bless others. Although I only shared a few verses this morning, Paul spends two chapters of this letter to the Corinthians discussing this collection for the poor Jerusalem Christians.
In chapter eight he reminds those Corinthians of the story of the ancient Israelites wandering through the wilderness. God sent them manna; bread from heaven and they were given clear instructions to collect as much as was needed each day for those living in their tent. They should only collect as much as they needed that day because God would send a fresh batch the next day. And really, who likes stale bread? God was clear: they weren’t to try and hoard the manna; squirreling it away, tucked in some corner of their tent. This would be a test to determine if they would trust God. But some of them did try to keep it overnight and when they brought out the leftovers the next morning, it had gone bad; so bad there were worms in it. But perhaps the most astonishing part of the manna story is that, when the people collected the manna, no matter how much they grabbed, they all wound up with the same amount. They measured it and everyone’s batch measured the same. And so, the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of that ancient story of God’s faithfulness and generosity, by quoting from the Book of Exodus as he writes to them, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”[iii]
Somehow, in the economy of God, everyone got exactly what they needed AND everyone learned – some the hard way – that hoarding out of fear or selfishness never pays off in the end.
Yet equally as important for those ancient Israelites and Paul’s Corinthian congregants, was the message that through generous giving inspired by trust in God, they honored God, they even worshipped God. See; I told you I’d come back to this theme of worship.
After all, what is worship anyway if not the offering of thanks and praise to God for being who God is: creator, sustainer, and provider; and, our words mean little if they’re not backed by action. Worship is more than what we say or sing; worship is what we do.
Friends, the church is more than us in this room. The Church spans the globe and we have just as much responsibility for those who are half a world away as we do for the person at the end of the pew. Paul proclaimed God’s economy: that, when we have more than enough, it is for the purpose of bringing blessing to others. For Paul, that collection that gathered together the resources of Christians spread across the Roman Empire was the greatest symbol of what makes the Church the Church: the idea that, no matter who we are or where we are, we are bound to one another.
And that is our heritage as Methodists. Because Methodism is connectional, our giving changes the lives of children just an hour south of us at the United Methodist Children’s Home. Children who – without the giving of us and others – might never know or experience the affirming, compassionate love of Christ expressed through adults who take care of you, and teach you, and encourage you, and guide you.
Because Methodism is connectional, our giving has changed the entire continent of Africa. Africa University, a United Methodist school brings together young adults literally from warring tribes to live together, and learn together, and worship together, and learn to love one another.
Because Methodism is connectional, donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief are, right now, responding to the needs of Haitians whose lives were destroyed and upturned by Hurricane Matthew.
Friends, this is Stewardship month at Trinity but it is about more than funding our annual budget and it should not be confined to one month out of the year. It is, instead, about our recognition that, as John Wesley taught, when we earn all we can and save our money, not wasting it on things our culture tells us we should desire. Rather, when we spend carefully and purposefully, we can discover the joy that God is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, we may share abundantly in every good work because – when we do – we change lives and we give honor and praise to God.
[i] From Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas; Plough Publishing House; December 14 devotion.
[iii] See Exodus 16:18
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Over the past few weeks, we have found ourselves waist-deep, so to speak, in the gospel of Luke. Beginning next Sunday at 9:15 in the parlor, I’ll be leading a four-week study on the gospels in our bible; a study designed to help us understand and appreciate the diversity of perspectives in our gospels.
In recent years, we have been discouraged from using the long-time metaphor of our country as a melting pot. The image of a melting pot is one of everything being blended together into one new composite material. But, today social scientists encourage metaphors like a stew or a tossed salad as a way of celebrating the diversity that is America. Becoming an American doesn’t mean we forfeit our cultural distinctiveness. Rather, it means we bring that cultural distinctiveness as an essential ingredient in this stew or salad that is our nation.
In like manner, sometimes people blend our biblical gospels together. But, when we do that, we forfeit the unique perspective of each gospel message. Each gospel developed around a particular community’s traditions and experiences because the Word of God is never something dead or sterile. It comes to life in the experiences of Christian community; and so, each of our gospels utilizes different key terms and themes. They sometimes tell of events or encounters in different sequence or under different circumstances or for different reasons.
Today marks the 4th time in the past five Sundays that I am preaching from the gospel of Luke. Luke is often referenced as the gospel of the poor and disenfranchised; a gospel for the least, the last and the lost... and certainly it is. But the message of Luke goes much deeper than pure economics and we would be gravely mistaken if we thought that Luke wasn’t preaching to all of us, whatever our economic position might be. The gospel of Luke reveals both the cause and the effects of lives that are converted to generosity and gratitude through a relationship with Jesus.
Over these last few weeks, we’ve looked at Luke’s story of Jesus healing ten lepers. Ten cried out to Jesus for mercy and Jesus cleansed all ten of their disease. Yet only one returned to say “thank you” to Jesus and that one, Jesus says, was also saved. His salvation came in his recognition of and gratitude for the mercy of God that radically transformed his life.
After that, we looked at Jesus’ parable about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus had laid in his miserable condition right there at the rich man’s gate desperate for help. But none came. At death, the rich man is tormented in Hades while poor Lazarus is whisked away to rest in the bosom of Abraham. From his place of torment, the rich man cries out for mercy. But alas, it is too late. The rendering of judgment in that parable is a clear example of this morning’s scripture that “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
Last week, we looked at the popular bible story of a tax collector named Zacchaeus. Through his encounter with Jesus, he is led to repent and to convert his life from one of greediness to one of generosity; from one of selfishness to a lifestyle of mercy. In pledging to surrender his wealth, Jesus announces that Zacchaeus, like that one thankful leper, has experienced salvation.
Salvation, Luke’s gospel makes very clear, is not relegated to heaven when we die. Salvation is a healing; a restoration that impacts our physical, spiritual, and social condition right here and right now. [repeat]
And so we turn to this morning’s scripture from Luke and this time it is not a story or a parable. We have no characters or drama. This morning’s scripture is teaching direct from our Lord. Scholars often refer to this portion of Luke as Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. It is neither as popular nor well known as Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount; nor is it as long. But occurring early in Jesus’ public ministry, it lays the foundation for the remainder of the gospel story. The portion of Luke I shared with you this morning is focused on the social component of salvation. Let me say that again, friends; there is no “me and Jesus’ brand of salvation; at least none than can be substantiated by our gospels for salvation, my friends, completely changes our relationships; it completely changes how we interact and engage with other people because the way we engage with others should be a direct result and a clear reflection of how God, through Jesus, has engaged with us. God is one who is consistently merciful; not because we deserve mercy; but because mercy is the nature of God. God, Jesus assures us, is kind even to the ungrateful and the wicked. God is extravagant with his mercy and God, our heavenly Father, expects us to be a chip off the old block. “Be merciful,” Jesus says, “just as your Father is merciful.”
Bible scholar David Rhoads writes that, “The mercy of God drives the plot of Luke’s story from beginning to end.”[i] Mercy is the way that God brings change into our world. The mercy of God, made known through Jesus, changes us. We become, through the mercy of God, children of the Most High God, whose words and actions reflect the character of our heavenly Father. No reward is greater, Jesus reminds us, than becoming part of God’s family; children of God. But we can only do so if we are open to receiving and bestowing the mercy of God. Each one of us needs God’s mercy and grace and when we’re open to receiving it, it changes us. The mercy that comes into our lives cannot help then, but go forth from our lives; passed on to others in their time of need.
If you were in church the week that I preached on the healing of those ten lepers, you likely recall my story of the puppy Britt and I picked up in the street. It was nearly dead and would have died if we hadn’t shown mercy toward that little guy. We felt compassion, an inward emotion expressed through mercy. You might remember me saying that mercy saved that puppy’s life; mercy, tangibly expressed in the form of food and medicine; a warm, dry, safe place to sleep; clean water, affection, exercise and training. Mercy – the mercy of God – is what saves all of us. And, when we know that mercy has saved us, we can’t help but feel compassion for others and show mercy to them. It’s not always easy. When we first found that puppy he was dirty and smelly and listless. Initially, he was too weak to pay any attention to us at all. We didn’t get any puppy licks and with all the parasites he had, I wouldn’t have wanted any. And friends, there are people in our lives whose behaviors and habits may be far from attractive, even revolting to us. But those are the ones who need mercy the most. Mercy brings concrete change to people’s lives; not just in the bye and bye when we die, but right here and right now.
In the gospel of Luke, more than anything else, sin is revealed through self-centered behaviors: looking out for number one; pursuing our personal interests; working to secure our individual security. But salvation comes when we recognize, welcome and give thanks for the mercy and compassion of God through Jesus and when we pass it on to others. Jesus makes clear: we are not the people we pretend to be if we only love and serve and give to those who are our friends and family; to those who are attractive to us; to those who are like us. If we are children of the heavenly Father, our mercy – like God’s – knows no boundaries.
This is stewardship month at Trinity and it’s important for us to recognize that financial giving is a reflection of our spiritual condition. Jesus commands us to love even our enemies, to do good even to our enemies, and to give expecting nothing in return. And it’s a 3-in-1 package deal. Jesus isn’t offering three options and we can select the one we prefer. No. If we have been touched by the mercy of God, we will love generously; we will serve generously; and we will give generously.
Friends, if we are stingy with our time, our talents, and our money, then we are not the people we claim to be because children of God love and serve and give and forgive in ways that are abundant and generous. And when we do those things, lives and circumstances change; right here, right now. Luke’s message was that the suffering and oppression in our world is healed when we live out the mercy of God in real and tangible ways.
I want to challenge you this morning to think about your life and your commitment to live out the mercy of God in ways that bring change to our community. We have members of our congregation who are CASA volunteers. In their work advocating on behalf of children, they are showing God’s mercy and bringing change to lives. We have people in our church who visit shut-ins; some whose only other visitors are healthcare workers and social workers. When they visit with no other agenda than to share fellowship, they are showing God’s mercy and bringing change to those lives. I know two people in our congregation who had a loved one who had wounded them deeply and yet when that loved one was nearing the end of their life, those two people were there for them, day in and day out; vivid reflections of the mercy of God that brought comfort to them in their final days on earth.
Friends, we ought to all be world changers in our own unique way; showing mercy to those in need through the generous giving of our money, time and talents for that is the fundamental way we live out our identity as children of our heavenly Father.
If we begrudgingly offer our money, time or talents – if we measure it out strictly – that reflects a spiritual condition of failing to comprehend/receive the mercy of God. If we have comprehended the mercy of God, we will love, serve and give with reckless abandon.
And when we love, serve and give with abundance and abandon, we bring change to our society. Actual circumstances are changed for those who are sick, hungry, marginalized, feared, judged, forgotten and oppressed.
I want to close this morning with the story of one of my seminary students who has given me permission to share his story. I’ll call him Bill. Bill’s first memory of childhood was coming home from a friend’s sleepover to find his father locked out of the house, sitting bloody on the front steps of the porch. Inside the house was broken glass, blood, and obvious signs of physical violence. His parents divorced, but both continued to drink heavily. In middle school, his mother remarried and the man she married was far more abusive than Bill’s dad. The abuse only increased his mother’s drinking and his life was horrible. During freshman year, he began to attend a local church, drawn there by a very attractive young lady who sat with her family near the front. She seemed as good a reason as any to go to church and Bill did. They began to date and her family became the family he’d never had. In that family and in that church, Bill came to know and welcome the mercy of God. Now, fast forward more than a decade. Over the past two years, Bill and his wife have fostered and then adopted three children who, like Bill, came from difficult family situations. One of those children has severe medical issues as a result of her birth mother’s drug addiction. Bill and his wife had previously adopted one child; so now they have four. I don’t know how they do it. I would be overwhelmed by the challenges they have had to address. But it is Bill’s ministry of mercy and he knows, as we have celebrated throughout this month that he was blessed to be a blessing.
[i] The Challenge of Diversity: the Witness of Paul and the Gospels by David Rhoads. Fortress Press; p. 109.
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