Friday, July 31st Matthew 25:31-36

(This will be the last devotion until August 17th as Pastor Kerry travels to South Dakota.)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Matthew 25:31-36

I once exchanged emails with a member of my congregation, then the leader of our social ministries committee. We shared our favorite Bible verses. I, of course, picked one that encourages self acceptance, always a struggle for me, 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. And he picked these verses from Matthew about meeting Jesus as we connect with the lost, hurting and broken at their point of need.

Isn’t this close to the twin hearts of our faith? That God comes to us so that we might come to others? That God’s will is done on earth in reconciling with us so that we might reconcile with others? That God’s will is expressed in simple acts of kindness and courageous moves toward justice?

I think it is. And I think we far too often forget it.

We meet Jesus in the brokenness of our lives and that of others. Hunger, thirst, illness, bondage – these moments of our lives don’t recognize ethnicity or culture or color or creed. I’ve seen it in my life over and over again. When the bridge collapsed this week in Minneapolis it took everyone on it down – and when the rescuers came, they weren’t picky in who they chose to pluck from the waters.

Show me any hospital in the world and I’ll take you to the ICU waiting room. There it doesn’t matter what kind of car you drive or what your house looks like – when you join with others in the common pain of illness and healing, you find community.

All week long I have been thinking about my visit to Woyatan Lutheran Mission in Rapid City, South Dakota. As I shared on Monday, I’ll be preaching there on Saturday night at 5:30 and Sunday at 10:00 am. I’ve been thinking about ministry among Native Americans, about our shared history, about what the good news of God’s love means among us.

Yesterday I spoke of the common humanity we share, life together under and with the God who gives us and all creatures life. Today I want to remind us that the pain of life also unites us.

Reservation life is painful. Excruciatingly so. The Pine Ridge Reservation, roughly the size of Connecticut, about 120 miles south of Rapid City, is home to 40,000 people. The land is barren, bleak and largely worthless. Water is scarce and often polluted from agricultural runoff from the north. 97% of the people live below the federal poverty level. Unemployment is 85%, there is very little industry or means of making a living. There is one under-staffed and under-funded hospital in Pine Ridge. Only a small percentage of people own a car, most walk and hitch hike.

Housing is horrible, always overcrowded, many structures still with dirt floors. The school drop out rate is 70%. The mortality rate among infants is 300% higher than elsewhere in the country. Among adults, the Lakota have the lowest life expectancy of any group in America.

More than half the adult population battles addiction and disease, especially alcoholism, diabetes and heart disease. 80% of the families are touched daily by the ravages of alcoholism. Although the sale or possession of alcohol has been banned by the Oglala Lakota Nation since the early 1970’s there is a steady source of alcohol just across the border in Nebraska called “Whiteclay.” Whiteclay has approximately 14 residents and four liquor stores which sell over 4.1 million cans of beer each year resulting in a $3million annual trade.  Unlike other Nebraska communities, Whiteclay exists only to sell liquor and make money. It has no schools, no churches, no civic organizations, no parks, no benches, no public bathrooms, no fire service and no law enforcement.  Tribal officials have repeatedly pleaded with the State of Nebraska to close these liquor stores or enforce the State laws regulating liquor stores but have been consistently refused.

Did you know this? Do you care? Or do we hide behind caricatures and stereotypes and the same old justifications that have fueled the dehumanization the dominate culture has always shown?

What can be done? At the very least, the federal government can begin keeping its promises under the obligations of treaties which remain valid. The graft and corruption which has always been a part of bringing resources to the reservations needs to be stopped. And the Church needs to be present with a voice of love, acts of justice, and the encouragement of hope.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, come to us in the broken places of our lives to bring healing. Come to us as we offer our prayers for the health and well-being of those who lack the basic necessities of life. Come to us as we meet others in the common bonds of our pain. May your good, loving and just will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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