Thursday, March 27, 2014

Preaching in the Town that Never Was

 SPRING BREAK! Woohooo!!
I'm so happy to be able to spend some of my break in Los Alamos, New Mexico; this wonderful community of Bethelem Lutheran has supported me by giving me a scholarship to go to seminary.  Not only do they do that, but they were the place I first preached and washed people's feet last year on Maundy Thursday.  The Lloyd family from this church sends me a care package or a card every month because I am the student that they support.  If anyone from this church happens to be in the Bay Area, they come and take me out to dinner.  These people barely know me yet they smile at me like I am a long lost friend who has finally come home; this is a special place to visit and I am so grateful!
 I'm not only immersed in this church community while I'm here but I get a feel for the cultural context that is here in a town that literally only exists because of the Manhattan Project that was placed in the middle of the desert of New Mexico for scientists to test the atomic bomb.  Los Alamos is a town that is centrally focused on The Lab; a whole bunch of frugal, humble, and friendly scientists (ie geniuses) that are passionate about their work and also want to make a difference in this world.  This small town is so chock full talent and resources yet it struggles with many issues.  What does Los Alamos say for being a town and laboratory that was placed right on Indian land?  How does this place reconcile for making a space for a LOT of job opportunities for this area of New Mexico yet pushing Indians off of their land and also polluting the environment with harmful chemicals?  How do these brilliant scientists relate with the indigenous peoples as well as large Spanish-speaking populations in this area that were here long before The Lab and this Town That Never Was (it was a secret town during the Manhattan Project)?
Not only in terms of cultural context, but how does this town with the huge pressures that lay on the children's shoulders to be brilliant and go far in their careers?  This community has experienced quite a few suicides in recent years and are working on cultivating ways to show students and children how valuable they are outside of intellect, after-school activities, and getting into prestigious colleges.

I thought a lot about these issues the first time I was able to visit Los Alamos last year and I continue to hold all of these people in my heart as I am here once again.  Today I had the spectacular opportunity to get a tour of an Indian pueblo by a native, Ramos Sanchez, who is a very talented artists, World War II vet, and full of amazing stories that stand the test of time.
New Mexico: what a precious place to be today.  I hope that hearing the story of this place is helpful to you, dear reader, in some way.  I was privileged to be able to preach at a Lenten service for 4 of the congregations in Los Alamos that I'll share with you.  As always, thank you for reading, thank you for caring about me, thank you for being someone who reminds me that every day we are filled with God's love.

Romans 5:1-8

5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Savior Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

I'm not familiar with many of you but am so grateful to be here in this community tonight. I'm Kaitlin Winter-Eulberg and I am a seminarian in Berkeley, CA; I'm a very grateful recipient of the Hayes Memorial Scholarship from Bethelem Lutheran Church here in Los Alamos, NM. One of the first thing I'd like to share to help you all understand a bit of me is that I am not only a pastor's kid, but both of my parents are ordained ministers in the Lutheran church. This means that I have been dragged to many a church event. In high school, my mom took me to a campus ministry supper and bible study event at a house where Christian college students would live and volunteer. I distinctly remember meeting another pastor there who greeted me in saying: “Good to meet you today. Isn't this day wonderful? Everyday we are filled with God's love.” This man laughed as he spoke these words and people around us said that this was his standard greeting for everyone, every day. I don't remember that man's name or even his face but I certainly remember his words.
As we hear this passage of Romans, what does it mean to boast in the hope of sharing God's goodness? When I first hear the word boast, my thoughts do not go to “Yes, boast; that's it! I should be boasting!” Within our cultural context, boasting can be seen as focusing on our own deeds and puffing ourselves up to something bigger than we are. My own understanding of boasting is when we tell a story not to share it with someone else but rather to hear the words out in the air and so other people know how awesome we are. Yet, this text calls us to boast not of our accomplishments but boast of the abundant grace of God. Boasting no longer is about puffing ourselves up to be deflated by the trials of life, but we boast of the foundation that cannot be shaken. We share the story: for God so loved this world that God took on a human body as Jesus. Jesus walked on this earth just as we do and suffered like we do as he died on a cross, showing us that there is no limit to God's love for us. We are vessels in which God pours and pours and pours love; this steady stream of grace is constant and never ending. It does not matter whether we are kind or hurtful or even boasting about ourselves instead of God. God pours love through us so that we can spread the joy of the freedom that we have as we stand on God's grace. Even as we are humans who cannot hold unto or understand the ultimate truth of God, this Romans passage states that God has proven the love that God has for us in the story of Jesus Christ dying for us even as we are a people of sin that focus on worldly treasures. Even in our sinful nature, we are called to pause and say: “Isn't this day wonderful? Everyday we are filled with God's love.”
This Romans passage not only calls for us to boast of God's love but also that we are to boast in our suffering. What does it look like to boast in suffering? I imagine that speaking about our suffering upfront can be vulnerable place to be and that it helps take the burden of holding our suffering alone. One of the most touching pieces of Jesus' death for me is that I know that God has suffered through pains of which I cannot comprehend. Jesus has taken on all of the suffering and walks through death into new life; whatever pain and hurt I am experiencing, I know that Jesus is present. This does not make our grief and hurt and pain go away but rather shows us that we are never alone; we are all together in this world that has been embraced in love by God.
This passage speaks out towards suffering in that is produces endurance, character, and hope. This part stops me in my tracks because it carries a progression that begins with suffering, as if suffering is necessary to understand hope. This holds a whisper of the concept that the suffering we all experience is supposed to happen so that we may grow into hope. The painful experiences that we grip tightly do not make sense and there are deep wounds that were not meant to be there. Suffering is not supposed to happen but rather, it is here and we all are holding pieces of hurt whether old or new, huge or small. What do we do with this pain and grief?
The suffering takes shape in our lives and the question this passage focuses on is what can we do with our suffering. We share our story and our pains so we see that we are all together working towards the reminder of hope and love that God constantly pours into us. We boast of our suffering in order that we see that our place is here with each other and that our hope lies not in ourselves but in the gracious love of God. We boast of the love that God gives in our words and deeds. We are called to look at each other and say: “Isn't this day wonderful? Everyday we are filled with God's love.” We are called to take the hands of the person next to us and share the love and energy that God continues to pour into us every day.

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