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12 Pentecost / Shepherding the Valley #3 - Matthew 28:16-20

Theologians call it "the scandal of particularity."

Why did God choose Israel for special status?

Why did God pick Mary to be the Mother of Our Lord?

If God is universal and God's love is limitless, why is God so selective?

Well, why do people called to love all their neighbors have only one spouse?

Why say black lives matter when all do?

The answer, of course, is that black lives face specific dangers and obstacles that others don't, and the depth of love to which marriage calls sinful, limited human beings makes having one partner hard enough.

For love to be real and not just theoretical, practice and not just policy, it demands specificity— which is why God so scandalously showed up in one particular time and place and face.

The "scandal of particularity" is the only world that I, in particular, know, Annie Dillard writes.

Richard Rohr elaborates: You can't really love universals.

It's hard to love concepts, forces, or ideas.

Ideology is just the ego wrapping itself around such abstractions.

Love—God incarnate—always begins with particulars: this woman, this dog, this beetle, this Moses, this Virgin Mary, this Jesus of Nazareth.

It is the individual and the concrete that opens the heart space for an I-Thou encounter.

Without it there is no true devotion or faith, but only argumentative theories.

We are the particular part of God's church, which is often tempted to hide from devotion behind dogma and theory, that has been planted by God in the San Fernando Valley, a different garden than Mauritania or Manitoba.

In this setting, 42 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to Census Reporter.

Most of our ELCA congregations don't match that.

So there is a gap between where we are and where we are.

Accordingly, one of the areas of focus for our fledgling Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish is

intentional ministry with our unchurched Latina and Latino neighbors.

It's not because they are any more or less special than anyone else—it's because they're here.

Our ELCA has its own scandal of particularity—we are the whitest denomination in the United States.

Our traditions and trappings are saturated in northern European cultural patterns and tendencies.

Please avoid if you can the temptation to rush to value judgment about this.

Receive it as a neutral fact.

White cultural patterns can be a stumbling block (a scandal, to the use the Greek word) that keeps people God adores away from our expressions of church.

The Lutheran legacy of grace-based theology is too often lost to those who cannot cross the language and lifestyle borders to reach it, including many who are wounded, excluded, or chased away by more judgmental but culturally accessible strains of Christianity.

At our particular intersection of geography of history, the Lutheran Latino/Latina harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

So what will the Parish do?

Working from the wisdom and success of Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, the Parish plans to establish base Christian communities organized around Bible study and connected to an existing congregation which holds the new community in prayer.

Direction for each base community will arise from Scripture conversation, relationship building, and shared prayer, intentionally leaving plenty of room for the Holy Spirit to surprise.

English speaking members of existing congregations supporting these communities can be trained to pray with and for the new community in the confidence that God understands

English too, a model that has also borne fruit in the Alpha movement.

This initiative is being supported by a two year, $40,000 grant from the wider church, which will largely be invested in leadership training and coaching...because love wears a face.

Because love enters the neighborhood and speaks the language.

Because God so loved the world that God sent his only Son ... in order that the world might be saved through him....

The whole world: every last woman, dog, and beetle, which is God's end game.

So the risen Jesus sends his committee of eleven doubting worshipers to make disciples of all nations – in as many different ways as there are cultures and languages.

We are just one local franchise in God's cosmic mission—God's impossible pipe dream and ironclad commitment of somehow saving us all, the beautiful scandal of universality.

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