I live in Bettendorf

Pastoral Messages | July 30, 2019

Our summer learning series, Godspan, was created as a kind of hybrid. One of the hot topics in the Quad Cities of late has been “the bridge” – the new I-74 span over the Mississippi. And one of the interesting pieces of my professional biography as I came to town has been the work I’ve done in interfaith relations. So the idea to learn about God’s reaching across religious traditions to engage people in different ways with varied spiritual emphases became Godspan. The notion that God might be at work in ways that are contrary to our expectation is not only thinkable in the Lutheran tradition – it’s foundational.

One key element of the series has been the road trips. On the weekend following each Monday study session, we have been privileged to enjoy the hospitality of a local community embodying the religious tradition we had studied. The Lamrim Kadampa Buddhist Center, the Quad Cities Hindu Temple, the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities, and Temple Emanuel have generously opened their doors and hearts (and sometimes their dining tables) to us. Somehow “world religions” look less alien when the people who live them work at John Deere and St. Ambrose and the doctor’s office and MidAmerican Energy and the school district. And yet….

And yet it can still come as a surprise. When the dress and the accented English and the smattering of foreign phrases and the surrounds of another religious site are unfamiliar, we can still end up a bit disoriented. That may be why one exchange at the Hindu Temple made a refreshing and powerful impact. It brought home what we were learning.

We were being led by a small group of men. One of them, the oldest, is a native of India who was visiting his son here. The younger men often deferred to him out of respect for his age. Yet they were the ones who were more formally our hosts.

One of our group raised a hand. Her question went to the group up front without any specific direction. “Where is your home?” I’m sure she was asking the visitor for his hometown in India, but his son took the question. Without missing a beat and with not a drop of irony, he replied, in his clipped, precise Indian English, “I live in Bettendorf.”

We all laughed. But he had made a key point. “I live in Bettendorf” – or Rock Island, or Davenport, or Moline. I live in the Quad Cities, and it is “home.” I am a Quad Citizen with you, and we stand side by side in our commitment to this community, building it and shaping it and worrying about it and praying for it. Our religions may be quite different in many ways from each other, and God may well be at work among us in both communities. Our cultural patterns may include elements and reflect places from far away, and we have chosen to bring those home to this region along with skills and energy and humility.

Godspan began as a kind of hybrid. I have learned that there was more truth in that than I knew. We are all hybrids of one kind or another. Some are more freshly arrived in this community (I am among the most recently arrived, after all!), so our hybrid identity may be more evident. Others have marinated in this community for long years and witnessed its many changes. In the intermingling of what we bring and what we encounter, in that hybrid process of becoming that is the stuff of life, God is at work within and among us.

We are all hybrid, too, in being neither thoroughly perfect nor utterly despicable. As a Lutheran might say, we are at once a saint and a sinner, praying each day that the former outruns the latter on our way out into the world. It helps me understand why our Hindu friends greeted us and sent us on our way as they did: namaste – “the divine in me greets the divine in you.”

-Peter A. Pettit

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Coming Messenger 3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.[a] 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[a] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The Return to Nazareth 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.