Sep 4th: What is the Work of Love That is Yours to Do?, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Sep 4th: What is the Work of Love That is Yours to Do?, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
We here in Bend, Oregon are devastated by the tragedy of yet another senseless act of gun violence. This time, our sadness is mixed with the shock and trauma of this tragedy being right here in our own backyard. The young man opened fire using an assault style weapon in the Safeway grocery store where I have shopped every week for the last 16 years. And it reminds us that we’re never immune from this sort of violence. It also reminds us there are others in this world for whom this threat of this kind of violence is their daily reality.
For those of you who are part of our community here in Bend, please be extra kind and gentle with yourself. Taking care of yourself allows the space to take care of others. And this is a time when we really need to take extra good care of one another. This kind of trauma can find its way into our minds and our spirits and our bodies and impact us in ways we may not even be conscious of. You might find yourself edgy, unable to concentrate, irritable and angry with a short fuse or maybe even wanting to withdraw.
This kind of trauma needs to be held in containers of grace and tenderness. It’s okay if you’re not okay. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you were feeling without shame or judgment. Find someone to talk to. Reach out to your neighbors.
Make sure they’re okay. And don’t hesitate to reach out to me or one of the other. Pastors Galatians 62 encourages us to bear one another’s burdens. We are called to help one another carry the weight of our pain, trauma, fear. There should never be a time where you’re embarrassed or ashamed of the way you are affected by the world’s brokenness.
May we risk feeling the pain of this moment because when we cease to feel, we cease to love.
And when we’re ready when we’re ready, may we seek the help of God’s spirit to turn our anguish into action, our grief into hope, our heartbreak into a fierce determination to end this epidemic of gun violence that is eating away at our nation’s soul. Because this is not how we’re supposed to live. This is not how our children are supposed to live. And we must never we must never, ever accept that this is normal.
Do you remember Mr. Rogers? Mr. Rogers said, when I was a boy, I would see scary things in the news and my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.
So to this day, he said, especially in times of disaster and despair. I remember my mother’s words, and I’m always comforted by realizing that there are so many helpers, so many people caring in this world.
Friends, we are those helpers. This summer, we built our worship and sermons around the questions that you submitted. There’s quite a few more questions. We didn’t have a chance to get to. So I promise we’ll do this again.
But today I want to ask you a question.
What is the work of love that is uniquely yours to do?
It’s so easy to feel helpless at a time like this, wondering, what difference can I possibly make?
Maybe you think what you have to offer is really insignificant compared to the enormity of the challenges and the problems we face.
I will never forget. I will never, ever forget something a nurse told me when my wife was on a ventilator in the ICU, fighting for her life. I was scared, traumatized, feeling helpless.
This incredible ICU nurse said, steven, you’re going to make yourself sick trying to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow. Here in the ICU, we live in six hour installments, sometimes six minutes, but we never think past 6 hours. So here’s my best wisdom for you.
Live in six hour installments. Shift your focus from worrying about what might happen tomorrow and bring as much love and heart and soul to these 6 hours as you can.
She said to me, you won’t find the power of your love wishing things were different or hoping things might be better tomorrow. The presence, energy and power of your love is right here with you in this room, right now.
And you know then she spoke a few words that changed that scary hospital room from a constant threat to a place of purpose.
She said, Stephen, you may feel helpless, but you are not powerless. You are a healer, a vital member of your wife’s care team.
When fear takes over, put lotion in your hands and rub your wife’s feet and imagine that you are bringing the healing energy of your love to every cell of her being.
Believe me, that nurse saved my life that day.
Friends, we may feel helpless, but we are not powerless. We can choose love. We can’t fix the world.
We do mend the torn fabric of our humanity every single time. We choose to bring as much love and kindness as we can into each six hour installment we are given.
So again, what is the work of love that is yours to do?
The Apostle Paul carried on a lively correspondence with the Christians in Corinth. There was an argument going on suggesting suggesting there were some in their community whose role was more important than others. Here’s how Paul responded. In one Corinthians twelve verses five to seven, god’s Spirit shows up in each and every one of us in a unique way. And each person is called to use their unique gifts, their unique personhood, for the common good of all.
No one person is more important than the other, but each person is important.
God’s love wants to show up and be expressed through you for the benefit of others. What is the work of love that is uniquely yours to do? Jesus said something similar in his sermon on the mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter five, where he said, you are light for all the world. You’re here to be light. Shine, be generous with your lives.
You are here to be light.
This moment, this moment right now that we’re in this moment matters, and the light you bring through your life matters to this moment. You may feel helpless, but you are not powerless.
I learned yesterday that when nightfalls otters, you know, those lovely sea creatures, otters hold hands as they fall asleep so they won’t drift away from one another. Isn’t that amazing?
So for now, even though it may not feel like the drastic, radical change that we need, we can turn our hearts in the direction of love and trust that reaching out our hands in these darkest of nights so that we won’t drift away from one another, that just may be the most important thing we can do right now. Maybe the most important thing we can do right now.
Reach out to our children, our grandchildren. Reach out to every young person that you know and even those you don’t know, so they don’t drift away.
Supporting our children’s and youth ministry right now, in my view, is absolutely essential.
As we think about the work of love that is ours to do.
As we think about a new school year that is about to start, with all of the anxiety that is surrounding this particular beginning of the school year, I want to finish with a story Roger and Ashioka shared that reminds us that this moment matters and every single one of us matters. To this moment. I’m going to tell the story in the first person as if I actually am Roger.
It was the first day of the school year, first day of school, and I taught English and history at Wilson Middle School in Seattle. That first day can set a student on a trajectory for the whole year, good or bad. I was concerned to see a student in my third period English class who was clearly sick. He was seated in the row of desk against the wall, leaning his head against the wall, turning different shades of green. I said, Ryan, ryan, are you okay?
I feel terrible, he said. So I helped him get his backpack together, and I wrote out a hall pass, and I told him to go to the nurse’s office. I called the nurse to let her know he was coming. I finished teaching third and fourth period, then hurried to the teachers lounge to try to get some lunch. On the way, I passed the nurse’s office.
I was surprised to see Ryan was still there, sitting in a chair, leaning against a file cabinet. I stepped into the office and asked the nurse, Mrs. Northrop, why was Ryan still there? I could tell she wasn’t happy. She explained that we cannot send a student home without a responsible adult.
Ryan’s mom and dad were no longer living together. His mom was out of town on a business trip. His dad was across town in some important meeting, and his assistant wouldn’t even get a note to him telling him that his son was sick.
Ryan and his little sister were staying with their next door neighbor. Her name is Becky. But Ryan didn’t know her last name, and there was no way to contact her. So the nurse said, if worse comes to worse, ryan has to just sit here and wait three and a half more hours until the day is over. Then he can catch the bus and go back to Becky’s house.
So I went into the office, and I sat down next to Ryan. He had his eyes closed, leaning against the file cabinet. I said, ryan, you understand what Mrs. Northrop said, right? That we can’t send you home unless we have an adult with your parents’permission?
I know. He said, that’s okay, because I don’t know anyone who would want me anyway.
As the big tear rolled down his cheek, I taught my last classes. The day ended, I headed back to Mrs. Northrup’s office to see if Ryan made it to the bus sometime. Mrs. Northrop was beaming.
She said, soon after I left, she asked Ryan again if he could think of any adult who could come and get him.
He was silent for a few minutes. Then under his breath, he said quietly, well, maybe there is someone. Her name is Joyce, but I don’t know her last name.
It turns out Joyce was his Sunday school teacher. Mrs. Northrop called the church, talked with the pastor. He gave her Joyce’s contact information. The nurse, Mrs.
Northrop called her, explained the situation. Joyce said, of course she knew Ryan. She knew Ryan’s mom, and she knew that she was out of town, but she actually had her cell phone number and was able to get a hold of her. And then Ryan’s mom called Mrs. Northrup and told her it would be fine for Joyce to come get Ryan and take him home.
And Mrs. Northrop said it wasn’t 20 minutes later when this loud woman barged into her office with a comforter over her left arm and two movies in her right hand. And she took a look at Ryan and said, dang, Ryan, you look terrible. I talked to your mom. I’m going to take you home and take care of you.
You need some soup.
Mrs. Northrop looked at me and said, mr. Nishioca, mark my words, that woman saved Ryan’s whole middle school career.
I said to Mrs. Northwest because I knew she, too, was a follower of Jesus.
I said, do you know what that woman or who that woman was? Mr. Northrop, do you know who that woman was? She smiled and said, yes, Mr. Nishioca.
That woman was Jesus.
Friends, we may feel helpless. I feel helpless, but we are not powerless.
This moment right now, this moment matters. And the light that you alone can bring into this world matters to this moment.
In these darkest of nights, let’s reach out to one another. Let’s not let anyone drift away.
Amanda Gorman wrote, there is always light if we’re brave enough to see it. If only were brave enough to be it.
May it be so.