It’s summer time in Minnesota, which means hot days picking hay bales, long nights gathered with friends around the bonfire, weekend escapes to the lake, county fairs and summer camp and for many of our youth, summer service trips with church groups throughout Minnesota, across the United States and beyond.
As people of faith, we are called to love and serve our neighbor and our world, to encounter God in the other. Now there are certainly endless opportunities to do this right here in our own community. Hopefully, as youth and adult leaders return, they return with open eyes and renewed compassion for the needs in our community. Sometimes we need to leave what is familiar for a time, to take a step into a new space, in order to experience again and anew and in ever expansive ways, the love of God.
Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization that works with young people affected by life in and among gangs, offers this insight as he reflects on his work: “God can get tiny, if we’re not careful.” Now God certainly is not tiny, but our perception of God can grow so narrow, can’t it? It can be so easy for us, perhaps especially in the comfort of the familiar, to fall into small assumptions about who God is and how God operates, and perhaps more pointedly, narrow assumptions about who is loved and who is not, who is in, who is out and where the presence of God is alive.
This is where entering into another place, another culture, joining with others who do church in different ways and engaging and connecting with people who may not look or sound or think or live like us, can break open our experience and our understanding of the love of God - the expansive, unimaginably wide-open love of God. When it happens, when God breaks through and breaks open the limitations we attempt to put on God’s love, we get to bear witness to the bravery and courage of the woman who stands on the street corner, vulnerability laid bare, asking for help. We recognize the desire for love and connection in the child who is disruptive and can’t seem to follow directions, and we get to share in God’s work of love there. We see the face of Christ, and behold his love for us and for our neighbor, in the face of the kid who cannot understand our language, nor we his, but who is so happy that you have come to play.
For some reason, it is easier to find yourself open and attentive to these experiences of the love of God when in an unfamiliar place. It is not impossible to experience and even to participate in the expansive heart of God right here because God is present in this space too. God is present in all of the beauty and brokenness of humanity wherever it is found. In Mexico, in Washington State, in Duluth, in Kanabec County, Minnesota. So, go in peace. Serve the Lord.
Sierra Westerman is the pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brunswick.