the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Month: October, 2016

evangelism…again

A sermon for October 9, 2016

Today’s Gospel is not a story about healing. Through reading the Gospels it is quite clear that one of Jesus’ most prominent and perhaps most important ministries in his time as prophet and teacher was the gift of healing that he was able to provide, healing that surpassed much of the healing that was offered by the mystical healers of his time. And today we hear of Jesus healing ten lepers at once. An astounding feat for sure, and yet, this story is not about the healing act. Today’s Gospel is about an unexpected witness. Today’s Gospel is about our own reaction to the saving grace of God. Today’s Gospel is about how we accept God’s blessings in our life, and to whom we give the credit for those blessings.

We all know that the samaritan man is an outsider. Jesus refers to him today as a “foreigner” which is likely the nicest thing a Jewish religious figure has ever said about a samaritan. And yet, here we have a samaritan man prostrating himself, laying down on the ground completely laid out, completely vulnerable, as the ultimate sign of praise and respect for this Jewish healer who has looked down upon him with kindness, grace, has offered comfort and peace, even to a “foreigner.” And the samaritan man praises God with a loud voice. The samaritan man is not shy in hiding his gratitude. The samaritan man is not shy in hiding his praise and honor to God. The samaritan man is made whole through his faith, and in turn, expresses that faith as a thanksgiving for the healing that he has been afforded. The samaritan man is an unexpected witness to the glory of God and yet it is he who praises God with a loud voice, it is he who turns to Christ and lays himself at his feet, it is the samaritan man that must make us ask ourselves, what is our own response to the grace, the healing, the power of God in our lives?

I feel like I talk about evangelism a lot. Perhaps it’s because I really am just that jazzed about sharing our church that I want to inspire you all to do the same. Maybe I focus so strongly on evangelism because I see it as a necessary (and perhaps only) tool to keep the doors of the greater Episcopal Church open, because this Church is important for this world. Oftentimes, my conversations with you on evangelism involve some sort of shameless plug about an opportunity for us as a community to witness to the power of God at work in our collective lives. I have plugged the new video project about the ministries of St. John’s (speaking of which: the first in the series, on the St. Monica’s Guild, is airing now on the Cathedral facebook page), or I push you to go out into the world and speak truth to the power that is found through following Christ. But, when I read this passage I am reminded what evangelism is really about. I am reminded that evangelism is not about being evangelical. Evangelism is not about developing an elevator pitch to sell someone on the Episcopal Church. Evangelism is not about hitching ourselves to the latest trend in liturgy or music or social media. Evangelism is about being that unexpected witness, that unexpected witness that praises God with a LOUD voice.

And if practicing evangelism means turning back to Christ, to praise God so all can hear, to offer thanksgivings for our healing, even when that healing was assured us through our faith, then what stops us from living into that reality?

This is a question we have to ask ourselves as we reflect on the other nine who are healed by Christ. The other nine remain healed, Christ doesn’t take back their healing because they don’t turn back like the samaritan. These other nine lepers are healed of their illness through the power of God, but we hear no word of their witness. I think the likely various reactions of these nine can shed some light as to why we ourselves can have such a hard time living into the simply reality of evangelism that is modeled for us today by the samaritan.

The first reaction of those amongst the nine is a simple lack of understanding. Understanding how a healer can simply look over them and they would be healed. It cannot possibly have come from this man. The power through grace exhibited is simply too great to comprehend, and as the other nine venture out to the priests to be made well, they simply do not understand how it is they have been made whole.

The next reaction I think would have occurred amongst these nine is a lack of accepting that the healing has come from God. Why would God look down upon these absolute untouchables of society and grant them healing? What good could possibly come from that? How could they possibly be worthy of such tremendous grace and blessing? No, through some mystical mystery they have been made better, but the words of Christ cannot possibly have been the catalyst through which healing has been realized.

And finally, I see the other nine going one of two ways in coming to grips with the reality that they have been healed: ignoring the reality and the truth that comes with it, or being afraid of the tremendous power that has worked through them to make them well.

I think these emotions resonate for me in these other nine, because they are the emotions I think we most experience when we try to grapple with the reality of the work of God in our lives. The power of God, the power of Christ at work in these Gospels, and at work in our daily lives, forces us to face our faith and choose how we will respond.

Now, this is not to say that the other nine never told their story, eventually coming to grips with the reality, but in the moment of realization, only the one “foreigner” a most unexpected witness was able to praise God with a loud voice, accepting and living into the new reality he had been afforded, and letting all know what had happened for him. And, we have to ask ourselves, if we don’t turn back, if we don’t evangelize for Christ, for God, are we the other nine who are healed and walk away, never to be heard from again?

So, in considering this one and our draw towards being one of the other nine, we must ask ourselves what expectations must we make for ourselves in regarding the sharing of our faith with a loud voice to the world. We have to consider the praise that we must offer, and what offering that praise even looks like. We have to ask ourselves how can we serve as that unexpected witness? What impact can we make on this community? What impact can we make on this world? What do we share in order to have that impact? What is the truth that must drive us to turn back to Christ constantly and declare our praise with a loud voice? We have to ask ourselves, what truth of healing do we want to share with this world and in turn give praise to God for giving that healing to us, to this world?

I think that we can be that unexpected witness in this world. We can praise God with a loud voice. I think, no I trust, we all have the ability and knowledge to do so. But the reality remains we sit here frozen in our pews, petrified of what it might look like to talk to someone about our faith, about our experiences. And, this is where I will remind you again of this samaritan man. The samaritan man is a model of evangelism not because he is out spreading the word of God, the teachings of Christ to this world, to everyone in the streets, rather he is declaring his praise for God in a loud voice for all to hear as he turns back to the source, as he falls at the feet of Christ. It is in this that we must be moved and motivated, it is in this we must recognize that true evangelism is about praising God no matter who is listening, it is about praising God with your whole being as you come before Christ, present here each week at the altar, and give all of yourself in receiving Christ in the communion, in offering to Christ all that you have in the offerings and gifts we bring to the table each week.

Each and every one of us here today can practice evangelism for this church, for Christ. We simply have to follow the example of an unexpected witness who recognizes the gift that he has received and simply proclaims his praises with a loud voice. Ignoring all else, ignoring who might hear him, ignoring who might judge him as he prostrates himself at Christ’s feet, this unexpected witness does more to spread the Good News of Christ’s message then the other nine who simply accept the healing and go about their lives. We cannot be like the other nine. We cannot simply accept the healing here at this altar week-in and week-out and then go about our lives as if nothing has changed. You are changed at this altar each and every week. You are healed at this altar each and every week. And to be an evangelist, to spread that Good News, simply requires your praising of God for this weekly blessing with a loud voice (out in public, mind you) regardless who might hear or see you doing so.

Amen.

the rich man (white america) and lazarus (murdered black men and women)

A sermon for September 24, 2016

Our country is broken. It has become clear that in the past year the lives of black men in this country are not valued as human lives ought to be. Some thought perhaps that the Black Lives Matter movement would begin to change the conversation of race, the mistrust between police and the black community, the inherent racism that exists in this country. But three years in, it has only been labeled as a fringe group, a militant group, a terrorist group, by white americans who feel their place of privilege threatened. And we continue to see this promulgation of fear. This week two more black men were murdered in cold blood by police officers.

Video of the shooting of Terence Crutcher clearly shows a man who is scared by the response of multiple police officers with guns drawn and an overhead police helicopter, to the report of a black man with a broken down car in the road. No reports of him acting violent, erratic, or anything else had been filed (which still wouldn’t excuse these actions). Terence Crutcher simply had the misfortune of being black in America and dying for that apparent sin. In watching the video it is sickening to see multiple police officers with guns drawn attacking this innocent man. When Terence is tased, he is incapacitated, which an officer, Betty Shelby, takes as the prime opportunity to shoot him dead, claiming that she thought he had a weapon or was reaching for one, neither of which was true, neither of which match what happens in the video.

Until tonight we didn’t have the benefit of video for Keith Scott, shot dead in his car in Charlotte this week as he waited for his children to be dropped off. Even though there exists body camera footage, footage that we must believe supports the police story if that is the story they are so publicly putting forth, footage that would very clearly define this case, has not been made public and the police were doing everything in their power to hide it from public view. And we have to ask ourselves why they waited? If this video that supposedly exists supports what the police are saying, why not make it public? But if it doesn’t, if it clearly shows that another unarmed black man was gunned down, murdered in America by the police for being black (for he hadn’t committed any crimes, officers on the scene were searching for a different person, entirely unrelated to Mr. Scott), how can we trust what the police are telling us? How can we continue to stand by in this country as black men are murdered in the streets by those who are assigned to protect and serve us. Protecting someone, including protecting them from themselves, does not all you to shoot them, to use lethal force to kill them. Serving someone, does not entail responding to a black man with distrust, guns drawn, a carte blanche excuse to murder.

Just this evening a video has been released, and what it shows is that Mr. Scott did not clearly have a weapon in his hands and at no time was he brandishing or threatening officers with a firearm, contrary to their initial reports, and, based on cell phone video released by the family, contrary to what Mr. Scott’s wife is clearly telling them as she watches the officers murder her husband.

We, white Americans, must stand up and say enough is enough. We must stand up and say that racism has no place in this country, in this world. As Christians it is our duty to stand with the least of these in any society, and right now, the least of these in America are black Americans, specifically those unarmed innocent (for according to the constitution we are all innocent until proven guilty and convicted by a jury of our peers) black men who are murdered in cold blood by police officers who are acting as judge, jury, and executioner, acting outside the bounds of what should be acceptable in any society, let alone one that values freedom and personal rights above all else. We have a responsibility as Christians to put an end to this madness. We have a responsibility as Christians in white America to leave our enclaves of peace and comfort, and become one with our brothers and sisters of all races, all walks of life, but particularly with our black brothers and sisters, because right now in America it is pretty clear that black lives do not matter at all. And when you or your friends or your family members get upset when someone says black lives do matter, when you or your friends or your family members angrily reply all lives matter, you are saying that really only white lives matter and black people need to shut the hell up already.

As Christians we cannot keep quiet any longer. As white Americans we cannot keep quiet and ignore the inherent, systematic hate that exists in this country any longer. As people who are eligible to vote this year, we cannot allow hate, anger, racism, and fear drive our or anyone we care about decision making. We must stand up and change this country, change our culture, change it all, because if we don’t it is clear today from the Gospel where we are headed.

Today’s Gospel is not a comendation on being wealthy. Today’s Gospel is a comendation on being complacent, on being unaware, on ignoring the pain and hunger that is literally laying at your front door. The rich man sits in his home, gorges himself in his comfort, enjoys the finer things in life, keeps himself insulated from what is happening in his community, what is happening at his front door. Upon his death, the rich man is being tormented in Hades. He sees Lazarus, the poor man who laid at his door, the poor man whom he had no use for in his life of luxury, the poor man he didn’t even have time to look down upon, far off in the distance, having been carried away by the angels he, Lazarus, stands with Abraham. And the rich man orders Abraham to order Lazarus to serve him. The rich man is concerned with his own suffering. I am in agony. I am in pain. I am in need of Lazarus to serve me so that I may be given respite. Tell this poor man who had no standing in our previous life, who begged at my doorstep, to do my bidding, to serve me. The rich man is implying here that even though he languishes in torment, his place before death should still afford him the right to treat another human being as a lesser, to use them for his own gain, to continue to not see them as an equal member of God’s one family.

And Abraham refuses him. Abraham says to the rich man, you’ve had your fair share, you enjoyed the good life, and now Lazarus, whom no one did anything for, gets to enjoy an everlasting life of peace, because all manner of evil was done to him in the previous life, and that life of inequity has been washed away through God’s love. And the rich man, apparently not paying any attention to what Abraham is saying, orders Abraham to order Lazarus to go and warn his brothers so they may not meet the same fate he has. And again, Abraham refuses. He speaks of the knowledge that has been left by Moses and the prophets. Abraham even foreshadows Christ’s resurrection in stating that these brothers wouldn’t even listen to someone who rises from the dead.

The rich man doesn’t get it. The rich man doesn’t get that his life of luxury, comfort, purposeful ignorance, complacency and implicit support of the structures of society that let him live in peace and comfort, keeping Lazarus hungry, sick, outside on the doorstep, are the very reason why he is now suffering. If he did get it, he wouldn’t be trying to order Lazarus around even now. If he did get it, he would’ve done something about it during his life, he would be confessing and accepting his fate.

We, white Americans, are the rich man. We, white Americans, are the only ones who can come out of our suburban enclaves, leave our gated communities, and engage with all of our brothers and sisters, particularly our black brothers and sisters who are coming to know only fear in this world as they are gunned down in cold-blooded murder on our doorsteps.

The bodies of Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott are laid at our doorstep this week, laying there as Lazarus laid at the rich man’s gates. And in today’s Gospel we are challenged to respond. We are challenged to recognize that the bodies that lay at our doorstep do not have to be there. We are challenged to recognize that we can open our doors, we can welcome all in, we can offer peace and comfort for all, if we are simply willing to see these bodies at our doors as the human beings, the beloved children of God, that they truly are, and not some “Bad dudes” as the officers who murdered Terence Crutcher described a black man whom they first encountered with guns drawn, a man who was a father, a man who was returning home from classes at the local community college.

Our country and our world are broken. This is a reality that is part of our human condition, because we refuse to do anything about it. We think that we can go through our life, living behind our gates, ignoring what’s happening to those on our doorsteps because it’s not directly happening to us. But it is happening to us. And if we continue to ignore, if we continue to turn our gaze away, if we continue to dismiss what is happening to our black brothers and sisters, then we will meet the same fate of the rich man. We will find an eternity of torment. We will find an eternity of agony. Because we did nothing to stop the torment and agony that is happening in our lives today.

Amen.