Saturday, September 21, 2013

An open letter to my congressman regarding SNAP--a creative response

Dear Representative Lance
            Greetings, my name is Christopher Lee Halverson, I’m the pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran in South Plainfield, NJ. I sent you an email via my denomination’s advocacy office letting you know that voting for deep cuts to SNAP harms the neighbor in need, which according to our tradition is an unfaithful act.
            In fact, Luther talks about making public officials of his time wear shirts (okay, it might have been a coat of arms) with images of bread on them, to remind them that their primary duty is to ensure that the daily bread God provides to all—the just and the unjust—is distributed in such a way that everyone has enough.
            Your office will be receiving a copy of this T-shirt as a reminder.
Pastor Chris

Sunday, September 15, 2013


         Finding a lost coin is like welcoming sinners.
         Finding a lost sheep is like eating with tax collectors.
         Two parables about lost things, a critter and a coin.
         As I’ve said before, Parables are simple stories told to tell a complex point.
         Parables express something that is abstract, and out there, in a concrete way, right here.
         Parables speak truths into being.
         Parables plant seeds in us, with their clear images and raw meaning.
And they grow inside us, clinging to our ears, and mind, and heart
and change
and blossom,
and change us.
As we take the time to chew on a parable, the parable begins to chew on us.
         Instead of us reading a parable, the parable begins to read us.

         But, time has a way of increasing the ambiguity of a parable. I don’t imagine we have a lot of 1st century shepherds in the assembly today—or know the exact practices of Jewish women of the time period.
         This leaves us with a question—what is Jesus saying here?
         Is the focus of the parables we read today that God is a little crazy and overly joyful?
…         Or is the focus of these parables that humans, even sinners, are really beloved and important?

         If the first is true the shepherd is so excitable that he leaves his 99 sheep alone and afraid, and finds a sheep that is worth-less than the party he has, to celebrate finding that sheep when he returns home
         Likewise, the woman digs around for this coin, which is worth a day’s wage, and then spends more than a day’s wage celebrating the recovery of that coin.
         In other words, God’s love of sinners is so extreme and so single minded,
and his joy at recovering them is so great,
that God goes over the top and acts irrationally!
God Acts incredibly strange when relating to sinners.
         Alternatively, sheep are the shepherd’s livelihood, one sheep more or less could mean the difference between his family making it or not—losing even one is devastating to him.
         Likewise, some have posited that these 10 coins were 10 coins wrapped in a handkerchief as a dowry, kept to remind a woman about her wedding—the 1st century equivalent of a wedding ring.
         To make it plain—the recovery of sinners is so important and essential to God that God MUST act to get them back. It would be an affront to God not to do so.

         As you can see, there is a difference of emphasis, not essence, between these two readings.
God can be crazy in love with sinners, because sinners are tied inextricably to God.

         Additionally it’s worth mentioning that Jesus is eating with real sinners—this isn’t a Simul Justus Et Peccetor moment.
         Jesus is with scary folk—sinner,
Jesus is with people who’ve betrayed their country—tax collectors,
Jesus is with people outside the norms of society, people you’d not want to meet in a dark ally.

         It is also worth mentioning, finally, that these parables have a very weird view of repentance.
Listen to the description of repentance today.
Repentance is a sheep being slung over the shoulder of the shepherd.
Repentance is a coin being swept up off the floor.
Repentance, being turned around, is ultimately a very passive thing in these parables
After all, Coins and Sheep can’t repent.
With all those points made, I just want to tell you about some lost things.
         Which of you, at the site of the World Trade Center 12 years ago, having lost a friend somewhere deep in the rubble, does not dig and dig and dig, day-in and day-out, until you find that friend.
         Then, when you do find her, you call all those who you love to tell them the good news that you found your her, and you tell them “rejoice with me.”
         “Just so is the joy among the hosts of heaven over the repentance of a single sinner.”

         Or which of you, your wedding ring falling down the drain, would not dig down into that drain with a coat hanger, and take apart the pipes, piece by piece, and dig through the guk in the trap.
         Then when you find the ring, you rejoice. You call up your husband and say, “rejoice with me, my ring was lost, but now it’s found.”
         “Just so is the joy among the hosts of heaven over the repentance of a single sinner.”

         Or, because I did say God appears to be acting irrationally in this parables,
what CIA agent—tailing Edward Snowden—the leaker of top-secret CIA and NSA documents,
         Following him in that Russian airport for months on end, because we lost track of him,
         What CIA agent wouldn’t scoop him up by the scruff of his neck and drag him back to the US…
and throw him a party at a disco.
         “Just so is the joy among the hosts of heaven over the repentance of a single sinner.”

         Or, lastly, who, having a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s does not lean in to listen, and hope at every visit that dad will remember your name.
         And when he does , don’t you call everyone up to rejoice at that. Saying, “My name was on dad’s lips at least one last time. Come over and rejoice with me.”
         “Just so is the joy among the hosts of heaven over the repentance of a single sinner.”