Sermon: Proper 8 Year A*
June 28, 2020
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
An old rabbinic saying proclaims that every human being is preceded by a legion of angels proclaiming, “Make way for the image of God.”
It is difficult—for all practical purposes, impossible really—to keep in mind such an exalted image as we go about our daily lives among other mortals, no matter how much we try to value everyone equally. But the desire for deep understanding of what it means to encounter others who are also in God’s image colors our ministry and our personal lives in ways that have consequences every day.
Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor who ministered to the poor, wrote of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., that challenged him: “Whom you would change you must first love.” Neuhaus reflecting on King’s words wrote: “That means we must see more in other people than they see in themselves if we are to help them in becoming what they are.”
Or from the writings of Ilia Delio in Delio’s book The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013): “What will it take for us to realize that we are unfinished creatures who are in the process of being created? That our world is being created? That our church is being created? That Christ is being formed in us?... The Good news of Jesus Christ is not so much what happens in us but what must be done by us. The choices we make for the future will create the future. We must reinvent ourselves in love.”
An example of this principle is the story about the tribe of Indians who lived long ago in the state of Mississippi. Their settlement was situated next to a swift and dangerous river. The current in it was so strong that if people happened to slip and fall in, they could easily be swept away downstream.
One day the tribe was attacked by a hostile group of settlers. The Indians found themselves cornered, with their backs to the river, greatly outnumbered. Their only chance for escape was to risk crossing the rushing river.
They huddled together, and those who were strong picked up the weak and put them on their shoulders: the little children, the sick, the old, and the infirm—those who were ill or wounded—were carried on the backs of the tribe people who were strongest. They waded out into the river, hoping to escape, and to their surprise they discovered that the weight on their shoulders from carrying the least and the lowliest helped them to keep their footing and for all to make it safely across the river.
Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward.”
We truly represent Jesus in all that we undertake for the Kingdom. But it entails more than simply passing on the wisdom and the message that he has given first to the disciples—and then to us. Friends, never has the need been greater than now for the people of God to embrace this kind of “Godness” or “Christ Love.”
Whether the people are those you consider the ne’er-do-wells on the streets of Hudson, or the immigrant population, or the protesters who want to tear down statues in the South, Jesus is calling us to love them, work very hard to understand them, and try to understand their circumstances, history, and conditions of life. We are to extend the right hand of fellowship to those whose political views are different from ours—oh there’s a big one for you! Maybe the hardest one of all in the current politically tense environment.
But, stepping out in faith and in the love of God, following Jesus’s command to offer a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple is the only way we will be able to love as Jesus loves.
Now let’s take a moment to think about that phrase, “one of these little ones,” because so often people think this means only children. He is not referring only to children. He is categorizing all people who we deem “lesser than” as these little ones. People you might disregard, or disagree with, or in general just do not like.
You can come to church, pray the prayers, sing the hymns, revel in the beauty of the historic nave of our church, or the sound of our fabulous organ, and put your offering in the plate—but if you do not love your neighbor (whoever that neighbor is) as yourself, your faith and practices and snobbery for particular worship styles are worthless!
If you do not carry on your shoulders those who you would rather ignore, your faith and practices are worthless. If you do not love your enemy (you know—that person you can’t stand because of your own messed-up psyche), your faith and your practices are worthless.
Without your striving and seeking God every day to do these things that are hard, throwing yourself at Jesus’s feet and saying “Help me Lord to love as you love,” your faith and your practices are worthless! They are dung! They are dung if you love your pride more than your brothers and sister in need, and travail, and discrimination, and historic systemic abuse.
Think of it this way: God wants to reveal God’s self to humanity by his “agents,” so to speak. That would be you and me if we are truly called to be people of God. I am particularly fond of H. King Oehmig’s writing about the idea of agentry.
He says, “’Agentry’ is a key concept in the understanding of discipleship. That is, the ‘agent’ of Jesus, who went out in his name, was not just a representative of the Lord, but the personal embodiment of him and his authority. When someone met a disciple of Jesus, it constituted encountering Jesus himself. ‘Whoever welcomes you,’ Jesus said, ‘welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’ (Matthew 10:40).
“For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health—Jesus is judged through his agents. Our witness establishes not only who we are, but also who Jesus is—and what level of efficacy the Gospel has. Our level of commitment—our willingness to be transformed by the Spirit—validates Christianity in the world.
“Next, Jesus shows us here that the Gospel is best communicated relationally rather than by propositions. The Gospel was ‘caught’ naturally from person to person—the kind of ‘viral’ model of evangelism through the Holy Spirit. Think about it from the perspective of your own life, and it becomes obvious. Did a proposition get you out of bed, dress you, feed you breakfast, and drive you to church (under normal circumstances)? Did dogma present you to be baptized? Did a proposition vow to support and uphold you throughout the peaks and valleys of your lifelong walk of faith? The point does not need belaboring. If the church is to exist—or thrive—it will be through the agents of Jesus. Folks just like you and me.”
Never has the time been more needful. Never has the harvest been more lush and ripe for picking. Never has there been greater need! What are we waiting for? What the Mississippi Indians did for each other, we are being called to do for those among us who are downtrodden, disenfranchised, belittled, abused, disregarded.
Our black brothers and sisters and our immigrant brothers and sisters need our support, not our criticism or snobbery and disregard. We are followers of Jesus, not of a demagogue politician! Friends, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, in this country if you were born white and a citizen, you are privileged. And privilege has responsibilities. Even those of privilege who are wealthy and educated, but who might not ascribe to faith, understand “noblesse oblige”—the obligation of the nobles or wealthy ruling class.
But Jesus calls us to an even higher calling: The calling of his kind of Love, not obligation. Love that shows itself through sacrifice and action and commitment. Sacrifice of time, talent, and treasure. Sacrifice of personal ego needs and self-righteous anger. Sacrifice of a nasty, superficial, immature mindset. It’s time, my friends, it’s time. Never has the time been more needful… Let us pray.
Lord, send us leaders in the church who make us conscious of how much energy we waste arguing with members of other churches and religions as to which of us is the greatest, or which of us do everything the best way, leaders who will sit down as our teachers, call us and tell us clearly that we are your greatest disciples to the extent that we make ourselves the least of all and the servants of all.
Lord, we thank you for our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and for the National Episcopal Church leadership who support and teach this ethic and mandate of sacrificial love from Jesus.
Lord, our modern Western culture is interested in only the greatest—good customers, those who draw crowds, those we consider winners. And our nation has become callous, critical, despising anyone who is not exactly like us. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.
Forgive our land and call us back to the principles of our early history.
We thank you that in many countries of the world, leaders of your Church are following in the footsteps of Jesus, regardless of what governments and regimes are doing, setting the little ones in the forefront, putting their arms around them, reminding all that in welcoming them, they also welcome you. Let us do no less, oh Lord! In Jesus’s name. Amen.
*Sermon resource: Synthesis, Proper 8 Year A, June 28, 2020, “Postscript.”