Finding the value in diversity and loving the 'least of these'

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006

Pastor Larry Rorem

Living and Growing

We spend a great deal of energy placing conditions on love, care, compassion and empathy. It is so tempting to let the word "if" qualify our concern for others. Thankfully we have a God whose love is unconditional. In fact, Jesus' ministry centered on caring for the very people that the society of his day found expendable. A verse that reveals Jesus' compassion is Matthew 25:40, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

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Being among the "least of these" is a very difficult reality for those living it. The "least of these" are often isolated by the attitudes of others who fail to realize that we all can potentially fall into that situation. I am considered to be middle class, but two of my children, suffering from serious brain disorders, will always be on the margins of society. My very successful father-in-law, in his late 80s, is no longer able to care for himself because of dementia. Circumstances involving poor choices, aging, accidents, disease, no-fault brain disorders, war and natural disaster can impact all of us in such a way that we can fall into the category of the "least of these."

Our congregation has been "homeless" for nearly two months because of a serious foundation fire and permeating smoke damage. We have had to deal with displacement and inconvenience. Thankfully our caring congregation sees ministry as people centered, not building centered. Several congregations from our community have reached out to provide space, help and encouragement. We are worshiping at the Floyd Dryden commons - the very place where Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church began. The only usage of our building has been for our busy Food Pantry that has fed several hundred since our fire. It is temporarily located inside the front door of the building.

Our congregations ongoing focus on the "least of these" and our recent homeless journey, has prepared us to host a gathering of representatives from all Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Alaska from May 4 to 7. Our theme, "Fill us With Your Love," will be lived out in word and action. As a part of our assembly, people will be going out to agencies and institutions to learn and experience what it is like to be incarcerated, homeless, abused, suffering from a brain disorder, addicted to substances, be a child of incarcerated parents or be hungry. They will be going out with instructions to apply understanding, compassion and empathy to the people faced with these harsh circumstances. Our desire is that people return to their communities throughout Alaska with some new insights about how they can practice compassion and empathy in their congregation and community.

Juneau is our home. It is home for people whose circumstances are very diverse. In our diversity, I invite us all to practice understanding, compassion and empathy. When we relate to people in that way, we bring the community together. We are all a part of the foundation of our community. When we exclude, we do damage to the foundation. Our church building looks good from the road, but because of smoke and foundation damage, it remains unusable. We live in a good looking community that needs to pay close attention to its foundation.

When we fill our lives with the unconditional love of God, those we might define as the "least of these" become people of value. God values diversity and fills us all with the potential to love without condition. May we let God's love be our guide?

• Juneau resident Larry Rorem is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.



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