John sometimes teases me about the situations I get him into. Oddly enough, he has lived in this part of the state for most of his life, yet since I moved up here he has met new neighbors, and done some things that he normally would never have done. Some of those things include looking at old cars with my dad and his friend Charlie, visiting a friend with some neat antique collections, attending school board meetings, and loading a Model A to transport to Sioux Falls for my dad. Well, this weekend John also got to hear me preach at Norway Lutheran Church. Our pastor was away with the youth on a trip to New Orleans. So, I filled in for him at both Norway and McLaughlin.
Both services went really well, and I am thankful that Pastor Dennis trusted me to fill in for him. I met some wonderful new friends in McLaughlin who took me out to eat at The Prairie Dog Cafe for lunch. If you ever get the chance, you need to stop in there for lunch. Because both services were pretty small, I thought I would share my message on here.
Our summer is more than halfway over. Wheat harvest is in full swing, teachers like me will be back at school in just a few short weeks, and in a month, the kids will be back at school. Where does the time go?
Readings like today’s really get me questioning what I do with my time. Am I spending it wisely? Do I surround myself with people who matter? Am I living in a way that reflects Jesus?
Our second reading today came from Ephesians. I want you to imagine that we, a community of Christians near modern-day Turkey, are tightly packed into the largest home available for the first reading of a new treatise that has arrived, one that will later come to be known as the Letter to the Ephesians. We are gathered to hear it read because most of us cannot read. As the reader gets to the part that says, “You who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…He is our peace,” there is a quick intake of breath and glances towards the door.
The people at this time risked their lives to hear the promises of God. At a time when there was no freedom of religion or freedom of speech, most Christians were forced into secrecy. In today’s world of so many freedoms, do I still practice my Christianity mostly in private? Do I sometimes hide my beliefs unintentionally?
Today’s Gospel from Mark takes place soon after the death of John. Mark and the other apostles are hungry and worn out after their latest mission. Jesus, who was always concerned about people’s basic needs, wants to get them to a secluded place where they can enjoy a meal and get some rest. However, the popularity and following of Jesus and his disciples was growing, and many people noticed the boat. By the time Jesus and his men arrived at their destination, people on foot were already there. They immediately began to bring the sick to him. “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” When all Jesus and his men needed was a vacation, a break, He still put others before Him. Were these wealthy people? Were these people with the nicest clothes who lived in the fanciest houses? No. These were poor, sick, dying, and hungry people. Jesus didn’t care about the superficial things. He loved these people and helped each and every one of them. In a world full of celebrity gossip and reality TV, do I spend my time paying attention to people who need me or am I too worried about Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the latest status updates on Facebook? I don’t have to think too hard to realize the answer to that question.
I recently lost both of my grandparents. My Grandpa Leroy was a Lutheran Minister and my Grandma Orpha was a devoted preacher’s wife. My Grandpa loved this part of the country. He spent a lot of time in Campbell and Walworth County hunting with dear friends. He also loved visiting Klein ranch. Growing up only 20 minutes away from Gram and Gramps provided both my sister and me with many interesting opportunities. Grandpa Leroy was the first pastor at St. Dysmas of South Dakota. He believed with every ounce of his being that every person is loved by Jesus and deserves the opportunity to praise Him and hear His word.
As little kids, my sister and I did not know it wasn’t normal to spend weekends doing yard work alongside inmates from the state penitentiary. At Christmas we even attended a carnival at the penitentiary where we played games, won prizes, and had a great time. My sister and I spent time during our summer breaks helping at the Family Connection house in Sioux Falls, a home for families of prisoners to stay free of charge while they are visiting their loved ones. My grandpa devoted more than ten years serving incarcerated men in South Dakota. The casket bearers at his funeral were some of his closest friends whom he had met while preaching at St. Dysmas. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen happened after the funeral; my grandma was asked what the men had done to be imprisoned. Grandma simply shrugged and admitted that she did not know. It didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.
Grandma Orpha was also an amazing steward of God’s work. Gram loved shopping, but she was thrifty. She would proudly exclaim that she paid a WHOLE nickel for something at a garage sale. What most people did not realize was that there was a reason behind her shopping. She was an active member at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls. St. Marks has a reputation of being a mission church because of all the work the congregation does for missionaries, refugee relocation, and other various charities. The shopping Grandma did was for quilting material to be made into quilts that were shipped to Africa. She also bought used furniture, kitchen supplies, and clothing for refugees from places like Sudan who had been moved to live in Sioux Falls to start new lives in a safe environment. I would like to share with you a letter I recently received from a fellow member of St. Mark’s.
Dear Iseminger family.
This is so devastating, especially for you I’m sure. I keep telling myself Orpha and Leroy would not like us to give up the faith, but this makes one question. I don’t know if we will adjust to losing them – these dear, dear people we loved so much, the faith heroes in my life and for others i’m sure.
Orpha was the heart and soul of much of the Christian action we claim for St.Mark’s. (I know her phone number by heart.) When we say we help with refugee resettlement, that was Orpha. When we say we do prison ministry, much of that was Orpha – the part about getting the required visitor paperwork turned in and scheduling the St.Dysmas worship. When we say we help with gifts of clothing for low-income children at Christmas, Orpha organized the whole thing (consulted with an agency on what children needed what, made the sign up poster, checked to be sure all the gifts were brought and bought whatever was needed to fill in any gaps, arranged for the gifts to be delivered). When things need to be delivered to St.Francis House or My Sister Friends House or Family Connection, Orpha did it. She seemed to know people involved in these ministries. In fact, she was our only contact with My Sister Friends House, a domestic violence shelter, and we do not know how to contact them now. It is a low-visibility shelter on purpose. Orpha always organized our February “Love Pyramid”.
Orpha didn’t just believe, but she lived out her faith every day. She was the living, walking Matthew 25: Welcoming strangers. Visiting prisoners. Feeding the hungry (She and Leroy were Bread for the World members and wrote letters to Congress on behalf of hungry people.) She had a great heart for missions and told stories about churches’ misplaced priorities (illustrating the need for a higher priority for reaching out to the needy).
I pray that I can be half of what my grandparents were. I need to remember the selflessness of Jesus when he and his disciples were exhausted and hungry, and still put others first. And not others who were beautiful, wealthy, and fabulous, but people who were hungry, sick, homeless, and poverty-stricken. I am almost certain I am not the only one today who could use some reminding to live more like Jesus. My prayer today is that we can all succeed in that task. Amen.