Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 4 Sermon

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, wrote St. Paul to the Romans.
I was in the first selectman’s office the other day, to drop off an Apple Festival flyer and to find out more about the town’s commemoration of 9/11. The buzz at town hall was filled with angst. People upset they didn’t have power yet, others wanting to know why signs weren’t posted about water and showers. The workers at Town Hall that morning were quite calm amidst the storm that day; letting people vent their frustration, trying to help people get what they needed and direct them where to go. Many of those same town workers didn’t have power, water or internet like many coming in that morning. But what they did offer is compassion. What I saw, is that they loved their neighbors.
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law, says St. Paul.
As someone who grew up with Torah, with Law, it is Paul who connects the Law with what Jesus so often talked about Love. And the way Paul phrases this, I wonder if he also had the great Jewish sage Hillel in mind. When asked to sum up the Torah, Hillel answered:
“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Love never wrongs the other or does what is hateful. It helps others. Whether they be fellow citizens, or community members of even one’s friends. But love also recognizes when behavior can hurt ourselves or others and needs to be corrected. I am thinking of the Gospel for today, and a story I recently read:
A college professor was teaching a course in ethics. He introduced his undergrads to Aristotle's idea that ethics is rooted in the virtue of friendship. The professor explained Aristotle's argument this way: "Only a friend knows when to press and when to hold back. A friend has the right to tell you the truth, and truth-telling can be inherently painful." During the semester, the students presented their own experiences of ethical dilemmas they had encountered and how they responded. At the end of the semester, the professor reviewed the students' experiences. He was struck, he said, by the number of stories in which a student avoided challenging a friend who was involved in some hurtful or self-destructive behavior and how the students justified their silence along the lines of “Who am I to judge?” or “I didn't want to risk our friendship.” The professor told the students: "You give friendship a bad name. Whereas Aristotle made friends the basic of ethics, you made friendship the excuse for unethical behavior." [from Bishop William Willimon.]
As one author put it,
“Navigating between keeping the peace and saving a friend from himself/herself is a fine line to walk. We resent being judged, so we avoid "judging others" - yet we are devastated watching someone we love destroy themselves. In today's Gospel, Jesus presents an model of what true friendship should be: trusting enough to challenge each other, caring enough to "risk" the friendship in order to preserve it, realizing that "peace" is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice and compassion. Christ urges us not to silently tolerate the dysfunction in our lives but to confront with love and understanding those problems, misunderstandings and issues that divide us, grieve us and embitter us; he calls us to the hard, hard work of reconciliation and forgiveness, to be committed to seeking solutions to our problems not out of anger or a sense of injustice for what we have suffered but out of a commitment to imitate the great love and mercy of God. Today's Gospel is not a formula for judging those who hurt us but an understanding of the nature of true friendship - friendship that affirms, supports, and, when necessary, challenges with honesty, integrity and love.” (Jay Cormier)
Love never means that we are door mats. Loving is just as easily a No as it is a Yes. But Love is not about judging others as it is about living lives of integrity and doing good to those around us. The Gospel reminds us that what binds us together, Love, is found in the person of Jesus. It is Jesus who makes our community one, makes our community a parish and by sharing in the love that he shared, we live in a way that honors our relationship with God and each other And that is what it is all about.
Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, exhorts St. Paul to the Romans
. What might this armor of light look like? What is this honorable way of life that St. Paul commends to us? What I saw & heard about this week…
· A parishioner who would come here every day to make coffee and bring it back to her friends who didn’t have any power…
· Another who heard about the tree that fell on a house & brought cookies for them to enjoy · Another who shared a generator, even though they had no power
· Another who shared food out of the refrigerator with neighbors instead of just throwing it away I bet we all have similar stories.

(Of workers from far away coming to aid us in our hour of need; of people coming to visit and make sure we were OK)

As so often happens, when the worst things happen, it brings out the best. It was true after Hurricane Irene. It was true after 9/11. It would be easy to gripe about what didn’t go right, but so much of that leads to quarreling and darkness that none of us needs. Instead we need that armor of light, the armor of light that is found when we share our love with our neighbor.

Its not always easy. And sometime out of love, we need to confront rather than comfort. But the love as personified in Jesus, gives to us such hope for our future, such grounding in the joys that are to be found all around us now, and a past that will not let us forget what Jesus has done, that we simply press on with our lives, owe no one anything, except to love one another. Amen.

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