Kindom Friend

July 8, 2018
Reverend David Shinn
Laurie Fetterman

Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

David Shinn: The theme for this year’s General Assembly, our national Presbyterian Church gathering, was “Kindom Building for the 21st Century.” It is reframing the concept of kingdom and its temporal power references and connotations. We are all of one kin, one people, of God. We walk and live our faith in Christ not in a position of dominance and hierarchy, but in relation with each other and with God. We are called to live out God’s value of peace, justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

  1. Herbert Nelson, our State Clerk, the highest officer of our Presbyterian Church (USA), writes, “In St. Louis, (where the General Assembly was held) as in many cities in this country and around the world, those kindom values are sorely tested by racism, economic injustice, social inequalities, and political polarization. Kindom building – creating communities where all God’s children can thrive and reach their potential.” These values took concrete form for the commissioners and participants when they engaged in service, learning, and public witness.

On Tuesday afternoon of the Assembly, several hundreds of Presbyterian took to the street of St. Louis, raised awareness, and raised money against the injustice of the cash bail. Organizers say the jails are full of people being held on minor offenses, unable to pay cash bail. They are incarcerated in prison-like camps prior to due process of trial.

The 223rd Assembly raised over $47k to partner with local organizations such as Bail Project and St. Louis Council. They carefully vetted many cases and loosened the chains of the innocent people from the prison that very afternoon.

This Sunday, Laurie Fetterman, our Board of Deacon Moderator, and I would like to lift up the kindom values in the way we care for each other here in our beloved church.

Westminster has for 160 years seeking and living the call of God for the kindom values of peace, justice, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We earnestly discern for ways to serve God and others. As we continue our efforts, we also live out our call to care and love for each other. We are our best self to serve the world when we are loved and cared for and by our community.

Laurie and I would like to introduce our new care ministry called BeFriender.

Now Laurie, it is my understanding that you and a fellow deacon Steph Svee attended a week-long BeFriender Ministry training. Please tell us more about this new ministry.

Laurie Fetterman: You may remember that I said last year that I really don’t like the name BeFriender-which is not untrue.  But the symbolism and thought in the logo is too compelling to justify changing the name. Hopefully, you’ve been noticing the bits in the Westminster newsletter introducing BeFriender’s thru the logo. Words that say it is a listening ministry. Waves that remind us of baptism – and that all baptized Christians are called to ministry-to be loved, but also to serve.  Hands that indicate mutual trust and support. Sheaves of wheat suggesting Holy Communion & the story of loaves and fishes. With God’s help, there is enough in a mutual relationship, both are nourished. Lastly, we see a church window. We are church with & for each other. Listening, supportive, and nurturing. Looking at the logo is a good introduction to the BeFriender ministry, but I would also like to talk about the principles of BeFrienders.

God is present. Recognizing that through baptism, we are welcomed into the body of Christ. God is present in every encounter with another person. With God’s grace and presence, we can be God’s presence for each other.  I am amazed at how often, when I look thru life’s rearview mirror, I have been able to do or say things that I know I am incapable of doing on my own. How grateful I am that God is always present with me.

BeFrienders is about caring-not curing.  It is not an approach that assumes someone is broken or that there is something to be fixed  Our intent is to offer a safe setting in which a person is listened to, supported, and given the freedom to choose his or her own path.  We don’t know where a person’s journey will lead nor do we try to influence the direction. We hold sacred space-we are a caring presence.

BeFrienders offers a nonjudgmental presence.  We listen to those we BeFriend from their perspective. We provide sacred space in which someone can tell about experiences, thoughts, and feelings without being judged, criticized, or counseled.  We are not fixers-we walk alongside.

BeFrienders are trained to actively listening. In our hustle bustle-everything must have a solution and be fixed-world, I feel that few people get the opportunity to really be listed to.  To be really listened to, to feel like you’ve been heard is a profound thing. If we are quiet and we listen-there is room for God.

Shinn: Thank you for telling us about this exciting ministry and its four fundamentals: God is present, Caring not curing, Non-judgmental presence, and Active listening. As we hear these inspirational principles of the BeFriender Ministry, we see them in our scriptures today.

Our scriptures today all come from challenging backgrounds. Ezekiel comes to us from the context of exile when Israel was soundly defeated by the Babylonians. The foundation of their faith, the temple, was completely destroyed. In addition, the most sacred object, the dwelling place of God, the Ark of Covenant, carried away. The beloved city, dubbed as eternal, was burned to the ground and its people carried away as slaves. As for Paul, 2 Corinthians 12 comes to us as perhaps the end of the 4th of 5th letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Paul, older and wiser by now, was afflicted with a “thorn” in his flesh while confronting the Cynics philosophers who were belligerent, violent, arrogant and power hungry. These philosophers were noted for their hyper-moralism. They weaponized their free speech as a form of verbal assault against their rivals. Furthermore, in Mark, Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two, to teach and preach. They were to potentially unwelcoming situations without personal provision and community support, but with only the presence of God.

Not to frighten any future BeFriender ministers in our loving community, I am not equating the trials of today’s scriptural backgrounds to the context of our Westminster community. I am however highlighting that one common thread throughout all these scriptural texts: God is present in the call of Ezekiel, in the faithful work of Paul and his “thorn in the flesh,” and with the disciples serving the people.

They faced tragedy, hardship, injustice, and daunting odds with “kindom” values. This is what we are calling the BeFrienders to do: to serve this community and all who God sent to us as fellow kin, and family.

Now the concept of kin is sadly absent in our country today. Our country is more and divided with families and communities fractured due to the national politics. No matter where we may all land on the political map, I do sense a great sadness in our nation when we are not able to practice civility, uphold moral leadership, and dispute on basic fact and truthfulness. Instead of lifting up each other with encouragement, we dehumanize one another with mockery. We further reduce the immigrants crossing into our border as criminals and separate the children from parents. Fear seems to dominate our land.

Sarah in her sermon last Sunday reminds us not to succumb to fear. Fear will not have a place in our hearts. Tim in his sermon reminds us of the wideness of God’s love to include all people. Meghan’s sermon urges us to express this love in the heart of our city and pray for the city. All of this is to say, God’s grace is leading us to face any and all challenges, and it is more than sufficient. I believe that the grace of God is with us now.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if we as a nation practice the four core beliefs of the BeFriender Ministry:

God is present because it is by God’s grace in kindom values, we can overcome the divisiveness.

Caring and not curing, because we are all wounded by this division and brokenness, let us attend to each other’s wounded-ness and vulnerability.

Non-judgmental presence, because we can all use less of judgment and anger toward each other and to people seeking asylum.

Finally, active listening, let’s truly listen to one and another and receive where we are all coming from.

Then, perhaps, we can be on the path of healing. This can begin here with us.

Laurie, what do you imagine the BeFriender ministry can bring to our church?

Fetterman: Going through the BeFriender training was quite inspiring.  I feel so strongly about what church is and what church can be.  As much as I am inspired and uplifted by beautiful places to worship, I don’t feel those places define church for me.  For me, church is the community. How we live and treat each other. How we share our love and serve our neighbor. Westminster is an amazing church-a very giving community.  I am so happy to be a member of a group of people-church-that serve so well. We are great at serving in the wider world thru our partnerships with other churches and what we hope to do in South Sudan.  We are great in our Minneapolis community, a few examples, .working for social justice, offering hospitality to the homeless when the weather is so hot.

I am excited that BeFrienders offers an opportunity to be church closer to home, to be church for each other.  How wonderful to be able to be Christ’s presence for one another.

Each of us travel such individual paths through life-but we all have in common that change is inevitable. The loss of a loved one, transition in job or job status, loss of health. Even happy changes can be stressful.  A new baby in the family is cause for celebration, but-moving from a family of 2 to a family of 3 can mean feelings of loss of freedom, surprising changes in time available for your relationship with your partner. I could keep going, but I know you understand.  One of the gifts God has provided for us is that we are never truly alone. God is with us. Yet sometimes we still feel alone. God gave us each other for a reason. God can be with us through someone else’s presence. To be God’s presence as a listening, caring, nonjudgmental companion is a profound way of living Christ’s love. My hope is that the Westminster church-the community that is church, embraces the BeFriender ministry that we may live our conviction that Christ works for and through us.

Shinn: I am excited too with the BeFriender ministry is coming to our church. The impact of this ministry is both for our community and for all who comes to our community.

One of my favorite podcast is the TED radio hour. Three years ago, they featured a broadcast on listening and since the 2016 election, they decided to bring it back with additional stories. Among the four stories, they featured a story from the story corps where a recording is made between two people. It was an older white man talking with a younger black woman after the election. The man was the father-in-law and the woman was the daughter-in-law. While they differed vastly from their politics, they still listened to each other. In the story, you can hear them disagree with each other and you can also hear them laughing together. The gentleman thanked his daughter-in-law in the end, “I would have never known you if our lives didn’t cross together, because when I was young, I was taught certain things about people of color.”

Listening as an active generosity and listening as a source of discovery. Listening is also for empathy. By listening, we discover that we don’t have all the answers. In fact, by listening, we will find ourselves to the greater presence of God that we share with the person who is speaking with us.

As Jesus calls and equips the disciples two by two to minister and serve all people in God’s name, we too go forth to serve and love all people of God. Jesus, the incarnate of God, has been our kindom friend. Let us go forward and be Kindom Friends to each other and the world with the kindom values through the BeFriender values.

In God we move, live, and have our being, may God leads us in the journey forward.

Amen.

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