Thursday, July 23rd 2 Kings 4:8-10

One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.” 2 Kings 4:8-10

A wealthy woman made room at her home and at her table for a stranger traveling through town. A simple gesture of hospitality and care. A simple sharing of “what we have” for “what they need.” Yes, at the end of the story, the woman would receive a blessing…but first she would be a blessing. Welcome to the faith!

This is what we spend a lifetime of Sunday School classes trying to teach children. And this week, we’re sending 36,000 of our teenagers to New Orleans to put those lessons to work. The following is an excerpt from a story in yesterday’s New Orleans “Times-Picayune”:

“The Lutheran assembly is designed to be more than conventional youth Bible-study and worship, although, like any church youth meeting, it will include that,” said [chief planner] Heide Hagstrom. “More to the point, the triennial event is the church’s best effort at introducing teens to the concept of social justice, and to their obligations as Christians to the poor in their own communities…Basically, we’re going to help them learn how to live their baptismal vows.”

On each of the three days a third of the group, clad in distinctive orange T-shirts, will fan out across the metropolitan area to volunteer in hundreds of schools, churches and non-profits that organizers laboriously lined up months ago.

“We tell them to pay attention to what you hear. Then take this back to your own home towns. Find out what’s going on in your backyard … That’s the ultimate goal, ” Hagstrom said.

The others will remain at the convention center, working their way through workshops on justice issues, Scripture study, leadership and other topics.

Each day will end with speakers and worship at the Superdome.

Hagstrom said Lutheran leaders expected to come to New Orleans in 2009, but Katrina forced a deep re-thinking and re-opened the question.

On reconnaissance visits in the spring of 2006, Hagstrom, Weigel and other planners said they were concerned whether the wounded city’s convention industry could handle the logistics. But they were listening for something else as well.

“Every time we go to a city, we approach it not as a consumer … but ask ourselves, what has God planned for us in this place? We’re supposed to be God’s people, ” Hagstrom said. “There are people in need and that’s what we’re called to respond to.”

As it happened, Weigel said, the convention industry was begging them to come. She recalled the day one hotel executive came to a meeting with his foot in a cast.

“I asked him what happened. He said he was up on his roof, fixing it, and he fell off.

“How could you not come after hearing something like that?”

So it was that a sense that New Orleans is a special case suffused meeting plans.

Tuesday morning at the convention center — just yards from where thousands suffered four days in the heat in 2005 — the Rev. Sean Ewbank of Mandeville’s Hosanna Lutheran told a crowd of early arrivals during morning worship, “Make no mistake, you are on holy ground.”

Still, choosing New Orleans was not a slam dunk, several Lutheran leaders said. The city’s cultivated reputation for adult sensuality, not to mention its well-documented return of street crime, meant the decision was not without its opponents, several said.

Some people objected. Hagstrom remembered what she told them:

“We told them this is a culturally significant city for the United States. That there is a gift that New Orleans can give to the rest of us.

“Your understanding of death and resurrection is incredible. Joy and Pain. It’s the theology of the cross. You live it.”

Let us pray: A simple meal, a guest in an extra bedroom, a glass of cold water, a listening ear, a visit to a prisoner, new clothes to replace rags, in the simplest of ways we can extend to others the love which we constantly receive from you, O Lord. May we never forget that this is your will, daily bread and lives of justice for all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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