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Lori Claudio Lori Claudio

Lori Claudio was Associate Director for Multicultural/Multilingual Congregational Services for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, based in Chicago, IL.

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

If We Do Not Give Up

Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16

July 08, 2001

There are times in our life when we agonize with questions we have no answers for--times when we feel weighed down by disappointment, discouragement, and distress. I call those times my "Elijah in the cave" days; you know, times when we want to throw in the towel and give up the fight.

I was feeling like that one afternoon upon returning home from work. I found myself in a foul mood. Things didn't seem to be going well. I was wondering if the new call to ministry I had accepted had been a wise and God-led choice. I had left my home in New York, my family and friends, and moved to Chicago, and two years later I was struggling with feelings of loneliness and doubts about the effectiveness of my ministry to the Latino community I had been called to serve. I wanted some answers. I wanted to see some results and I wanted it all yesterday!

That afternoon I came across an article in the Sunday Chicago Sun-Times. The story described the life and 30-year ministry of Kenny Ruiz in the streets of Humboldt Park in Chicago. Kenny has been actively working with troubled teenagers--teens involved in gangs. Armed with nothing but his deep faith, his Bible, and lots of street smarts, he travels lightly. He travels into the crevices of the city--dark streets and deserted alleyways. He seeks those troubled young men and ministers to their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. I felt immediately uplifted. What exciting ministry was taking place right in my back yard!

I had the privilege to speak with Kenny one afternoon over the phone. "You are real!" I laughed, alluding to the fact that he was more than a newspaper story.

He laughed too. "Oh, yeah," he said, "I am a regular guy."

"What's it like, Kenny? What is it like to reach out to those troubled men you relate to day after day?" I inquired.

"Well," he said, "some I can reach and many I cannot."

Briefly he spoke about the joys and sorrows, the sowing and reaping of his ministry. Humboldt Park in the city of Chicago is an economically depressed area. Over 60 percent of its predominantly Latino community is under 18 years of age. About 30 percent of those young people are involved in gangs. Countless others are courted for recruitment. For so many of them, self-destruction and early death is all they will reap out of the violence they sow.

That was the case of one particular young man, a member of a gang known as "Disciples."

"Don't you want to be a real disciple for Jesus Christ?" Kenny had asked him one day as they talked.

"Yeah, sure. We'll talk about it tomorrow," he answered.

Days later he was shot to death.

These real situations resulting from violence have become more and more common in our world. We live in a world held hostage by fear, confusion, hatred, discrimination, poverty and neglect. These demonic forces affect and impact our communities, our work places, our schools and our homes. No longer is violence confined to the inner city and to poor communities. Violence cuts across all communities, ethnic and racial groups, and social and income levels.

This country has certainly seen a disturbing harvest of what has been sowed, especially in our youth. We are witnessing an increased appetite for violence in entertainment and in daily life. The media has had a powerful influence in our lives and the lives of our children. It is believed that 80 percent of television programs contain violence. By the time children leave elementary school, they have watched an average of 100,000 acts of violence on TV. Glorified acts of violence convey the message that conflicts are resolved through acts of aggression. Our world has become distorted and broken.

One gets the impression that the towns and places where the seventy were sent, as described in today's Gospel lesson, were no better. Imagine being sent like lambs in the midst of wolves. Who were the people in these towns? Were they old or young? Religious or not? Rich or poor?

What I find interesting in this lesson is that they are sent to preach the message of a kingdom that was near...but not fully in. There was no cross; there was no Easter story. There had been no pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost to empower them. They carried no Bible or sermon. All they had was a message, a greeting of peace and blind trust in the one who sent them. No promised results, no guarantees, no acknowledgments for these preachers.

Now I don't know about you, but the thought of being given a task without the necessary tools to carry it out are frightening to me. Accepting an invitation to come out to work in Chicago, an unfamiliar city, had been a huge undertaking for me. I knew very few people there. Behind me was all that had been familiar to me all my life.

Moving was stressful in other ways. It isn't until we start packing that we notice how much stuff we have accumulated over the years. Isn't that so? What do you take? What do you leave behind? Now, granted, there are things you have never even opened boxes for. However, you just know that as soon as you get rid of them, you're going to find that you really needed them after all. And then there are those things you hold on to because they hold sentimental value: the first drawing your child made in school, old letters, a dried corsage that someone whose name you have forgotten gave you on your first date. And what about those pictures? You go through boxes and boxes of pictures you always meant to put in albums but never got around to it.

What might it have been like for the seventy to be told, "Take nothing with you"? No bags, no shoes, no little keepsake to keep you grounded when you travel. "Go into towns and places where Jesus would be going"--that's what we are told they were sent to do. No red carpet, no publicity fliers to announce their coming, no agenda to map out their program, no informal get-together in some little hotel lobby. "Greet no one. Eat what is in front of you and speak your piece. Heal the sick, deliver your speech, and move on." No time to waste for these travelers.

Do you think these seventy, of whom we are told very little, might have been a little weary after all this travel? Do you think that perhaps the thought of giving up and going home crossed their minds? Could it be that they might have felt at some point, "Well, if people don't want what we bring, why bother? ... What's in it for us? ... What kinds of numbers are we looking at when all is said and done?"

And where are we sent to proclaim the kingdom of God? What do we know about the kingdom? "Go!" Jesus commands us. Make the kingdom happen--right there where you are. The road will not be easy. There will be pain and disappointment. There will be rejection. It is a dangerous journey, but I am sending you.

When we pray, "Your kingdom come," where might we see the kingdom? In the distant future? In our churches? In our committees? Do we see it only in the faces of those who look like us, speak like us, worship like us? Might we recognize it in the naked, the hungry, the alien, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned? When we pray, "Your kingdom come," we are inviting God to come.

And how does God come to us? How do we know that the kingdom of peace is in our midst in a world where peace is a fleeting thought? God comes to us in acts of love. He comes in a tender, healing word. He comes in powerful, transforming acts of mercy. He comes when we are alone with our thoughts. He comes to us when we doubt. He comes when we grieve and he comes when we laugh. He comes in the stranger, the needy, and to us when we have lost our way. He comes to us when we are ready to give up.

Pentecost is the longest season of the church calendar. Its green color reminds us that the earth has sprouted much of what was planted in the months of spring. Not much to do but rest from all the work we have put into our gardens. And so we wait. Ever notice how much time we spend waiting? We wait for the summer months to give way to fall. We wait for our kids to return to school. We wait for the church year and all of its activities to begin anew. We wait for fall's harvest. There are times when all we can do is wait.

Waiting is probably the hardest thing we sometimes have to do. It makes us weary. We grow impatient. We want to give up. But if we give up, we miss out on the promise of the harvest. Paul reminds the Galatians, "If you plant in the field of the Spirit you will gather the harvest of eternal life." In verse 9 he adds, "So let us not grow tired of doing good, for if we do not give up, the time will come when we reap the harvest."

Those who plant in the field of the Spirit look to the future and await the promise--God's promise for a harvest of hope and anticipation: the anticipation of the kingdom, near and in our midst. However difficult the task, however daunting, however dangerous, even when it is redemptive, we are encouraged by the promise of a rich harvest--if we don't give up.

Where is God's kingdom firmly planted? Our tendency is to look far and wide, but look around you; it's in your backyard and mine. It's amidst the outcasts, the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner, the gang bangers and those who stand at the margins of society. It's among the ones with whom Jesus stands.

God and his Spirit define our call. We--you and I--are called to unknown places. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, calls them "uncomfortable places." But we do not go alone. Taking Christ at his word, we are called in community to plant a word of hope and expectation as we look to the future in anticipation of Jesus' return to establish his kingdom fully in our midst. Like the seventy, we are called to make ready the place where Jesus is expected. We are not guaranteed results, but in every harvest, we face the newness of the kingdom of God--if we do not give up.

"So let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest." There are times when all we can do is wait. For Kenny and for us, that means waiting and trusting that over time redemption has happened. The Psalmist reminds us: "Those who wept as they went out carrying the seed will come back singing for joy as they bring in the harvest."

Let us pray.

Faithful God, the harvest is indeed plentiful. So much to do and so much to be done. Our communities, cities and towns, our own harvest fields today are ripe for the picking. Make us faithful to the task. When our bodies grow weary, when our arms grow tired, when the harvest to be gathered seems more than we can handle, speak a word of grace and envelop us in your peace. May we be reminded everyday that you have called us to sow and to reap in the Spirit for your kingdom. Grant that we may not feel tempted to give up. Amen.

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