Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pentecost 16B, 2012: For the sake of the gospel

Proper 19 Lectionary: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

I begin with a quote from one of my favorites, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who said: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

In our gospel reading today, we have that wonderfully uncomfortable conversation between Jesus and Peter. Jesus has asked the disciples who people are saying he is. Having done amazing things – feeding the 5000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves, opening the deaf man’s ears and loosing his tongue so he can speak plainly, Jesus wants to know ‘What are people saying about that?’

The disciples answer that the people think he might be John the Baptist, or Elijah, or a great prophet. ‘Well, you’ve been with me throughout all this,’ Jesus said. “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answers without hesitation: “You are the Christ” (the Messiah, the Anointed One). And Jesus sternly orders them not to say that to anyone else. Why?

Maybe because their understanding was too small. The expectation was that the Messiah, the Anointed One would save the people of Israel. Like King David, the awaited Messiah would free the Jews from Roman occupation and establish peace for Israel.

But God’s plan was much bigger than that. The Word made flesh came to save the whole world, and his salvation would be eternal, not historical.

The time had come for Jesus to have a hard conversation with his disciples. By rebuking Peter, Jesus was reminding them: ‘Salvation is not what you’re thinking. You have part of it right, but there’s a bigger picture beyond your view.

So first, let me tell you what will happen to me, Jesus says. the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected by those whose opinions matter most among earthly authorities, and be killed. It will be humiliating.’

‘Now let me tell you what will happen to you Jesus says. if you keep to your own expectations and plans, if you live your life protecting yourself from darkness and judgment, if you seek the approval and blessings of those with earthly authority – you will die an eternal death.’

‘If, on the other hand, you follow me, if you willingly accept humiliation and disgrace from earthly authorities because you are living according to the teachings I have given you, if you enter the places where souls are in danger and darkness for my sake, if you and bring the light of the good news I have given you to the world, then even if you die doing that, you will have eternal life.’

We Christians are called to go wherever there are people living in darkness and despair and carry to them the light of Christ. We’re to go where the cords of death have entangled someone and set them free.

In the world, you have to prove that you are poor enough, disabled enough, or legitimately sick enough to receive help. And that’s fine for the world – but it isn’t fine for Christians.

This week I met a woman at the Shepherd’s Table. Well, I didn’t actually meet her, I was sent to her because she was causing trouble, so I went to speak with her.

The situation was this: This woman is homeless. She carries her entire world around with her in a rolling suitcase and a backpack. She’s mean and belligerent. She’s been kicked out of most of the area shelters because of her caustic behavior.

Local advocates told us she was trouble and not to give her our names. They said she “causes trouble if you do.” They also wanted nothing more to do with her – their doors are closed to her now.

I was sent to talk to this woman because she was found trying to take a bath in the bathroom sink. When some of our volunteers asked her not to do that, she got angry and began cussing them out.

When I found her, the woman was eating her meal. I began our conversation by telling her who I was and affirming that her desire to be clean was a good and honorable one, and I apologized for not having adequate facilities to provide that for her.

“When?” she asked me, not looking up from her plate of food.

“Today,” I replied.

“Where?” she asked.

“In the bathroom,” I said, and I repeated that she was right to want to be clean, but our facilities were inadequate for that. I promised that I would work to find out where she could shower and let her know.

“Why?” she asked, still not looking up from her food.

“Because I care about you,” I said, “and we want to help you.”

“Why?” she asked – this time looking up at me.

“Because you matter,” I said.

It’s possible this woman is suffering from some kind of mental illness. It’s possible she’s feigning mental illness because it gets her a little compassion.

I don’t know and I don’t care.

I observed, however, that she has learned to have power in an otherwise powerless existence by threatening people, cussing them out and being belligerent. It works. She has an impact.

When I asked the woman her name, she said, “Homeless.” ‘That’s what you are” I responded, “but not who you are. What’s your name?”

“Homeless” she repeated.

“OK, Homeless,” I said. “It will take me a few hours to find out what’s available for you. Since I won’t be able to reach you, please come back and see me.”

“I might” she said.

She didn’t – but I ran into her a couple of days later at the Dollar General store. I noticed her sitting in front of the abandoned storefront next door. I went over to her and said, “Hi Homeless. Do you remember who I am?”

“I remember,” she said.

“I’ve been looking for you. I’ve been looking for what you need.” I said. “You’ve made a lot of people upset around here and they don’t want to help you.”

“I know,” she said.

“I’m still looking for a place where you can clean up” I said. “Do you remember why?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Good,” I said. “Everyone should know that they matter.”

I asked her if I could get her something to eat or drink, but she said she had just eaten and pointed to the food trash her backpack. I asked if there was anything else I could get her while I was out running errands and she said no, she was fine.

I told her I hoped she come again Wednesday and eat with us, that I hoped to have a resource for her by then. She said she’d see me there. I hope she will.

The fact is, most of us haven’t experienced the indignity of being shunned because we’re unclean. Most of us haven’t known the kind of powerless Homeless experiences every day.

Is it any surprise that she’s mean?

Homeless may be suffering from some mental illness, but she is certainly carrying a load of bad experiences along with her rolling suitcase and backpack. And it’s very likely that she has been treated with indignity by people whom she had to ask for help.

Homeless is exactly the kind of person Jesus calls us to walk toward, not away from as the world does.

We can enter the darkness of her world because we bring our own light with us – the light of Christ. We can be patient with Homeless as she learns how to see in the light, just as Jesus was patient with the disciples, and just as he is patient with us now.

People will say bad things about us and judge us as stupid or na├»ve, but that’s OK. It isn’t their approval or blessing we seek. You see, our church isn’t here to win praise for ourselves or to build a great local reputation.

We’re here to carry the gospel to people like Homeless. We’re here to bring the light of Christ into her darkness.

We may not be able to change the world, but we can set some ripples going in the waters of life. We can bring God, who is gracious and compassionate, to those who are entangled in the grip of the grave, even when their call sounds - at first - like a threat.

We can, and we must, reach into the world as it is, and do our part to make it as it should be.

I close with a Celtic prayer I love:

Lord, touch our lives with your glory that we may reach out to others.
Fill our hearts with your love that all may see the love of Christ.
Inspire us to dare new things for you that we may encourage those without hope,
Open our lives to your Spirit that we may reflect your praise.


No comments: