Tag Archives: Compassion

History Lessons

Yesterday I was taught the value of living history.  Inez Oehlke spoke to our youth regarding the early history of the Woodbury community. Inez and her husband Glenn farmed the land where Resurrection Lutheran Church now stands and she donated her farmstead buildings and land to the church when she moved into senior housing.

Outdoor WorshipWe now enjoy summer outdoor worship under the tall oak trees that surrounded her farmhouse and barn.

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Inez Oehlke

Inez recently celebrated her 94 birthday, but she is still active in the community. She has spoken at Luther Seminary regarding stewardship and generosity as well as the  Woodbury Foundation Gala on the early history of our city. She has seen plenty of change in the city landscape, but she also sees enduring values.

Yesterday, she told the youth about the early white settlers in Woodbury: the Middleton family. The immigrated from Ireland in stages, finally settling in south Washington county prior to the Civil War. The Middleton built their home near a rough trail that the Ojibwa Indians used to travel between the Mississippi and St. Croix River. The Middleton family welcomed the Ojibwa to camp on their land and fed them whenever there where food shortages. Inez praised the Middleton family for their values of hospitality and compassion towards others.

Inez then reminded us that the city of Woodbury continues to live out these values in two significant ways. Woodbury has the most Habitat for Humanity homes of any Twin Cities suburban community; the city thus practices hospitality in a meaningful way. Woodbury’s churches continue to show compassion through food shelves (like the Christian Cupboard) that works to feed the hungry in our midst. The values the Middleton family practiced more than a 150 years ago continue to impact us today.

In our fast-paced society, we rarely take time to remember our history. Inez reminded our youth of our shared values of hospitality and compassion.

Inez with youth 2After her talk Inez was presented with a photo book that captured how Resurrection is now using her old farm house for youth ministry. She was so grateful for this token of appreciation.

I am so thankful for elders like Inez who inspire us to be faithful and generous.

What history lessons have you learned?

Lord Jesus, teach me to listen to the wisdom of my elders.

Who Is In the Ditch?

A common interpretation of Jesus’ parable on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is to think it is moral story. The moral objective is for us to do good for our neighbors. If you see someone stranded by the side of the road, you should stop and help them in some way. There is nothing wrong with this moralistic interpretation of the parable. At the end Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”

Good Samaritan by He Qi

Good Samaritan by He Qi

Yet such a moral interpretation is not the only way to read this story. Jesus’ parables nearly always contain a surprise that trips us up. The Good Samaritan has such a surprise. This was the focus of yesterday’s sermon which you can hear here.

Jesus told the story in order to answer a religious lawyer’s question about loving our neighbor. The lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered the question with the parable:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him and left him half dead. (This not a big surprise since that road was an isolated one.) Now, by chance, a priest was coming down the road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side of the road. (Minor surprise here, a priest might be one who would see the religious obligation to help, but does not.) Likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (The Levite, another religious person who should help him, does not.)

Now in classic storytelling fashion, Jesus has set up the third person to break the pattern of passing by and thereby demonstrate what loving the neighbor means. Since he is speaking to a religious lawyer and wants him to learn what love is, one might expect the third person to be a religious lawyer who stops to aid the beaten man. This would make the moral point very explicit.

Instead, Jesus surprised the lawyer (and us) by introducing a Samaritan into the parable. Samaritans and Jews had a great deal of religious hatred with one another since they disagreed on where God’s temple should be (see John 4:20). The Samaritan is the one who goes out of his way to care for the beaten man; the Samaritan is a totally unexpected hero.

But where is the lawyer in the parable? For that matter where are we in this story? He (or we) might identify with the priest or Levite or possible the Samaritan. But there is another possibility. Perhaps Jesus is inviting lawyer (and the reader as well) to see oneself as the man beaten and thrown in the ditch.

Many of us have a hard time accepting the love and compassion of others. We prefer being the one in control, dispensing the compassion. We keep our wounds (emotional, spiritual, relational, and vocational) hidden. Perhaps Jesus is calling us to receive compassion and care from others and not be so stoic. There are risks to such vulnerability. Yet Jesus took such risks when he was beaten, stripped and died for us. (More later on this later in the week).

Lord Jesus, help me to receive compassion for others.

Hunger Games and Compassion

Several youth and adults recommended Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for me to read. Since the movie version is coming out later this month, I downloaded it to my Droid and read it yesterday. Though it has a disturbing theme, the story kept me “flicking” pages. In a postapocalyptic future, a ruling class keeps tight control over its outlying resource districts by holding a televised survival competition. Twenty-four youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from the twelve districts to enter the Hunger Games, which are a fight to the death.

The story is a classic “haves” versus the “have-nots”; the empire versus the colonies; the ruling elite versus the struggling masses. In this fictional future, the districts struggle to have enough food and other resources, while the Capital has superfluous abundance. Food plays a role through-out the book with many descriptions of meals. For example, “The stew’s made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums today. Perfect on the bed of wild rice.” The lamb stew becomes a symbol of the Capital and it capricious ways, giving gifts when it chooses to the districts’ young competitors.

There is no religious or spiritual component in this fictional world. God is not even mentioned in the book. Yet two Christian themes stand out. One is compassion for the neighbor. Katniss, the narrator, remembers being given two loaves of bread by a baker’s son, Peeta, when her family is near starvation. This incident becomes a major subtheme. I can’t help but be reminded of Jesus’ declaration, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (Matthew 25:35). Katniss and Peeta both practice compassion at times and seek to do good, yet I wonder where is the source of their compassion in a world that knows so little of it.

The other Christian theme is that of sacrifice. Katniss “volunteers” for the Games when her younger sister’s name is drawn as the “tribute.” Katniss sacrifices her security to save her sister from almost certain death. Jesus speaks of this the night before his crucifixion, “Not one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

In such an evil and corrupt world as Hunger Games, it makes me wonder where Katniss finds the courage and power to be compassionate.  If it is a natural human quality, why is there so little of it elsewhere in the book? I continue to believe the ultimate source of all compassion and love is God, for we are created in God’s image. Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life . . . I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”( John 6:27,35.)

Heavenly Father, give us today our daily bread, which is you.