Monday, October 11, 2010

October 10 Sermon (Proper 23)

“Love is unselfishly choosing for another's highest good.” ~ C.S. Lewis
Love, unselfish, & good, words that should describe followers of Jesus. But you would be forgiven if you watched the news lately and saw Christians and wondered if we are loving, unselfish, and good.

1st you had Fred Phelps & his Westboro Baptist Church before the Supreme Court arguing for their free speech as they picket soldier funerals with their hate filled rhetoric. They have picketed at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, several times, and when it was in Philadelphia, I remember having to walk through them. Its amazing to me that Christians would argue that God hates others, and Phelps and his cult think they know God does. They believe they should be able to spew such nonsense wherever they are. There is no love of neighbor in their hate. Sadly, there is no room for God either in their ministry.

2nd you had some Christians arguing that the fire department was right, that the man who lost his house in that TN fire while the fire department stood by, because he had failed this year to pay his $75 fee, did the right thing because compassion is not the only Christian value. "In this case, critics of the fire department are confused…because they have fallen prey to a weakened …version of Christianity that is only about softer virtues such as compassion and not in any part about the muscular Christian virtues of individual responsibility and accountability." I did not make that quote up. Sadly, when faced with someone grieving the loss of much of what he owned, instead of compassion , some feel its right to wag their finger at them. Where is the love in that?

And finally, when an anti-bullying bill came before congress in September, one Christian group argued against it saying it would limit their free speech. They warned their members that such a bill was following a radical agenda that would prohibit Christians from speaking the truth. Such worry does not help the students that are harassed and bullied at school; and no kid at any school at any level should fear going to school; bullying is Not a Christian value and we should be less worried about our free speech and more worried about the victims. The tragic case of the Rutgers student who took his own life is just one more sign that we have failed to take bullying seriously in this country.

It is no wonder that when one survey asked young adults (age 18 – 30) to use words to identify Christians they used words such as: Hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, bigoted, sheltered from reality, motivated by one political agenda and judgmental.
Love is unselfishly choosing for another's highest good.
We are challenged in our lives, to be the loving, unselfish good that God expects us to be, especially when the world sees others Christians acting in ways that hurts our loving witness to the world.

When the 10 lepers approached Jesus asking for mercy, Jesus sent them to be seen by priests, for priests were the ones who designated someone a leper or not, and en route, they were healed. Only one came back to thank Jesus and praise God. And lo and behold, it was a foreigner, a Samaritan. Jesus told him to,
“Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Faith once again was lived out in the other, the one not expected to be faithful. The Samaritan again did the right thing. What happened to the other nine? I wonder if we Christians are like the other nine, who have felt that healing power from God, who have beheld that deep love and peace from heaven above, but have failed to give thanks to God for it and to share that with the world.

Instead we quickly left Jesus, claiming hate in the name of God (be it for Gays/Lesbians, or Muslims or illegal immigrants, or you name it), we are more worried about ourselves than others, and we have left compassion at the door for responsibility. And we have done so because we are not always truly thankful to God for what God has done for us, because we can be so focused on me and my life, that we can’t see beyond our own box, to these needs of those around us.
An American relief worker who was visiting an orphanage in El Salvador, was offered a mango by one of the orphans who had found it on a tree near the orphanage. It was rare to have fruit at the orphanage - the usual fare was very plain and simple, such as beans and tortillas. And so the visitor said, "No, thank you" because she wanted the little girl to enjoy the mango. Later, the visitor's host, who had grown up at the orphanage herself, explained that in El Salvador, one does not refuse such an offer. The correct response is to receive the gift no matter the condition of the other person or the gift, because it is in receiving the gift that the recipient acknowledges the dignity of the giver. [Victoria Cavanaugh, Catholic Digest, October 2009]
To strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being is part of our calling as Baptized Christians in our interactions with the world. And it is always done in gratitude for what God has done for us. As one author has put it:
“Gratitude, in the spirit of the Gospel, is not an expression of thanks for a single act of kindness but a perspective of seeing every human being as worthy of respect as a child of God.” (Jay Cormier)
The soldiers who have died serving this country deserve such respect. The man whose house burned in TN deserves such respect (so do the fire fighters). So do the victims of bullying, and all those who are abused, neglected, and in need. They need our respect and they need our love. We come together each week to offer our thanksgiving to God and we do so in our prayers, in the offerings we give, and from that gratitude & grace we leave this sacred space for a world longing for us to be the Christians that God has called us to be.
“Love is unselfishly choosing for another's highest good.” ~ C.S. Lewis
May we choose the highest good we can offer others through unselfish love following the example of Jesus. Amen.

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