Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pentecost 8, 2016: Paying mercy forward

Preached while supplying at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Saluda NC.

Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Note: If the embedded audio doesn't work on your device, click HERE for the mp3 version.

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

So… this week, y’all! Really! All of our media outlets - TV, radio, the internet, and social media – are flooded with cries from the hearts of people who are mourning men who lay dead in our streets. There are videos of people who are frustrated and angry, and pleas from people who are overwhelmed by despair, and pronouncements from people whose hearts are broken by hate.

In Episcopalian/Anglican circles, there is a hashtag being promulgated for all preachers to use today, given that our lectionary includes the story of the Good Samaritan. The hashtag asks the question: #WhoIsMyNeighbor

Everyone is in a different place in understanding and processing the shootings of two more black men by white police, and the shooting of five white policemen by a black gunman bent on revenge.

This is a tough moment for us all. I’m grieving too and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the insane hatred that seems to have a grip on our culture, hatred that continues to result in the deaths of our own.

This hatred isn’t limited to the shooters, though. I have “friends” on Facebook and in my life, who are saying the most awful things about people they don’t know, but feel justified in judging.

It brings to my mind the scripture story from a couple of weeks ago about the woman with the alabaster jar whom the Pharisee judged to be a sinner and therefore unworthy. You’ll remember, Jesus asked the Pharisee, ‘Do you see this woman?’

But the Pharisee hadn’t really seen her. He’d only seen what he believed about her. And he judged what she was doing (intimately touching Jesus with her hair loosed) inside that belief and it confirmed for him that he was right about her.

But he was wasn’t right… about the woman or her actions. Jesus set him straight, of course, but the story leads us to believe that the Pharisee left that exchange unchanged.

That happens a lot. Even in the face of transforming love, some people choose
to cling to their judgements and hatred.

Christians don’t have that option. As Meister Eckhart, a 13th century Dominican monk, wrote:

“…Every object, every creature, every man, woman and child
has a soul and it is the destiny of all

to see as God sees, to know as God knows
to feel as God feels, to Be
as God

(...the conclusion of his poem, “To See As God Sees”)

Like the Pharisee in the story from a couple of weeks ago, the priest and the Levite in this parable of the Good Samaritan, also didn’t see the person left for dead in the street – not as God sees anyway. If they had, they would have been moved by pity and compassion and helped him.

To be fair, the priest and Levite may have had very good reasons for not helping the man. Jewish priests of the time were forbidden from touching a dead body, and the man may have appeared dead.

Or…maybe they were in a hurry to get to the worship service they were about to do, and they couldn’t get their robes dirty.

Or… maybe they believed it was a ruse, and a thief was waiting to ambush whoever stopped to help him. That happened a lot in those days.

Or… maybe it was too bloody and the man’s injuries just overwhelmed them.

And what if he died and someone sued them? (OK, that’s a modern excuse)

We all have our reasons… don’t we?

In Jesus’ teaching, the one who did see as God sees was the Samaritan, the heretic half-breed. As one commentator said, “Ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously a heretic, the Samaritan is the very opposite of… the priest and the Levite. The story must have been a shocking one to its first audience, shattering their categories of who are and who are not the people of God.” (Source: quoting Fred B. Craddock)

Which brings us back to the question: #WhoIsMyNeighbor?

Back in my days as an advocate for victims of violence, it was common for the women I served to ask me, “Why are you helping me? Why do you care?”

My response was, “Because you matter.” Isn’t it sad that that was such a surprise to them?

My service to those women, children, and peripherally, to their abusers led me to expand my boundaries, moving me to call for my community to love and serve those whom we, like the priest and Levite, would have preferred to walk past – for a whole lot of reasons.

When we, as a community, entered into relationship with them, tending to whatever wounds they bore (physical, emotional, or spiritual), we and they were transformed, because mercy is like that: the exchange works both ways at once.

Did you know that the root of the word mercy is the same root for the words, merchant and mercenary? The Latin root word ‘merces’ means reward or payment for services rendered and it implies an exchange between the one who pays and the one who is paid.

Think about it. The exchange for us, as people of God, is three-fold: God rewards us (by grace - certainly not because we deserve it or have earned it) and we pay it forward just as graciously to our neighbors.

As followers of Jesus we live the reality that we are a people forgiven, healed, and renewed. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are bearers of the light of Christ to the world, and we are called to make that reality present in our lives and in our world.

So when racism rears its ugly head, which it did with a vengeance this week, we walk boldly into the hate, unafraid, because we’re confident that the Spirit of Christ which dwells in us is powerful enough to reconcile everyone back into Love.

When revenge steals life from us, we forgive and tend to the wounds it left behind.

When we confront a majority of voices who have very good reasons why we should not show mercy, we show mercy anyway, because we are God’s people, followers of Christ, and that is how we love God, neighbor, and self as we’re commanded to do.


It is as Edwin Markham once said in that now familiar poem:

He drew a circle that shut me out––
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

After the last few weeks, it may feel like we’re spitting into the wind; like there’s more to be done out there than we can do. Listen to how many voices are already speaking that kind of despair.

But our hope is in Jesus Christ whose promises to us are true, so we do not despair. We act. Re-read today’s Psalm. That’s how we act. We shatter the categories the world has given to those who are or are not our neighbors.

There’s a meme floating around which says it’s from the Talmud (which is like commentary on the Torah). I don’t know that for sure, but it’s wisdom worth sharing, so here’s what it says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Thankfully, we do this together – as the body of Christ, the Church – so we are never alone; and we’re nourished regularly by Word and Sacrament, which means our strength is never depleted. Never.

I want to close with a blessing I borrowed from the letter to the Colossians. Let us pray.

May we be “filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to [God], who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (adapted from Col 1:9-12)


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pentecost 7, 2016: Manifest divine power into the world

I had the privilege of celebrating and preaching today at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda, NC. My prepared sermon was left behind out of obedience to the Holy Spirit and I preached extemporaneously, therefore, this is available in audio only. The 8:00 service sermon differed enough from the 10:00 service that I've included both here. If the embedded audio doesn't work for your device, I'm including a link that will work.

Lectionary: Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

8:00 service: Click this LINK for mp3 version

10:00 service: Click this LINK for mp3 version