Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Proper 5 Sermon (June 5)

Blessed Lord, be near to defend us, within to refresh us, around to preserve us, before to guide us, behind to correct us, above to bless us, who lives and reign with the Father & the Holy Spirit, ever one God. Amen.

Meister Eckhart once preached that "Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion."

Today in the reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ compassion for the widow of Nain, is echoed by our first reading from 1 Kings, of Elijah’s compassion for the widow of Zarephath.

In both cases, we have widows who are on the margins of society, even struggling to survive and God has compassion on their plight at the death of their only sons. The stories don’t speculate but bear witness to the fact that God intercedes into our lives, bringing life when there is death.

The widow of Zarephath asks for Elijah’s help but the widow of Nain was bearing her son to the grave, she did not ask, but Jesus had compassion and in a moment of sheer grace, lifts her son from the grave.

These Resurrections brought joy back to the widows, their sons breathed again, life was restored to the family too. And yet the point of these moments reminds us that God acts beyond our understandings and beyond the boundaries of the other, for these gentiles were rewarded just as much as the faithful. We are all disciples learning on the way as God acts with compassion in our midst.

So how do we show such compassion in our world?

On Thursday people from around our nation wore orange and joined a national movement around Gun Violence Awareness. The movement started after every parent’s worst nightmare.

On January 29, 2013, Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old high school student from the south side of Chicago, who marched in President Obama’s 2nd inaugural parade just one week earlier, was shot and killed while standing with friends in a park trying to take shelter from the rain.

As her parents and friends dealt with loss and pain, they celebrated her life and began to raise awareness about gun violence & its toll on everyone’s lives. What started in a south side high school to celebrate Hadiya has turned into a nationwide movement to honor all lives cut short by gun violence. Wear Orange is also a celebration of life – and a call to action to help save lives from gunfire.

"In the gospel, we read about Jesus restoring life to a widowed mother's only son," Bishop Mark Beckwith of Newark said. "We don't have the power to raise people from the dead, but sometimes we do have the power to keep them alive.”

I see in those wearing orange a commitment to raise the issue of gun violence and to promote communities of hope and life. {An aside: Gun Violence includes suicides, which make up nearly 2/3 of all gun related deaths (34,500). 27,000 people are injured by guns. Orange is the color of safety (for hunters)}

As people gathered in different communities to raise awareness about gun violence on Thursday & today, there was another gathering of people on Saturday night. This group was gathered around a track in Trumbull, to celebrate, remember and fight back against cancer. At the Relay for Life, we celebrate those whose cancer are in remission and are battling the disease, we remember those who have died, and we pledge to fight back against cancer by raising funds and supporting the survivors, the caregivers, and all who are touched by cancer.

At the Luminaria Ceremony, in darkness we walked around the track, with glow sticks in our hands, surrounded by those luminaria lit to remember loved ones who have died and to honor the living. In ACS own words:

“The American Cancer Society Relay For Life represents the hope that those lost to cancer will never be forgotten, that those who face cancer will be supported, and that one day cancer will be eliminated.”

To which we say Amen and we play our part helping people celebrate more birthdays! For Compassion is what we are called to do. And in the midst of this, we heard about the death of Muhammad Ali. In light of his death, this quote came to mind: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” - Muhammad Ali

I can remember my dad who was an avid boxing fan watching Muhammad Ali on TV. But the memory that stays with me about him is from 1981. Muhammad Ali heard from a manager of his that a man was threatening to jump from the ninth floor of a building nearby. After attempts by the police, a phycologist and a minister to talk the man down failed, Ali drove to the scene & volunteered to help. Ali told the man: “You’re my brother. I love you and I wouldn’t lie to you. You got to listen. I want you to come home with me, meet some friends of mine.” After half an hour, Ali put his arm around the shoulders of the man and led him back to safety, witnesses said. The two emerged from the building, ignoring cheering onlookers and drove away in Ali’s Rolls-Royce limousine to a police station. Ali then accompanied the Vietnam Veteran to a Veterans Administration Hospital for observation. (from various news reports)
Such a compassionate act reminds me of the words of Emily Dickinson:

IF I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Muhammad Ali helped save a man’s life. “The Greatest” did not live in vain.

When Jesus meets the widow at Nain, Jesus is moved with compassion - he opens his heart to feel her sorrow and connect with it. The word compassion literally means "to suffer with." Compassion not only changes the person we feel for but changes us, as well. It was true for Elijah and Jesus and it was true of Ali when he met the pain of the man ready to jump.

It is true for us too. We are called by Jesus to recognize and reach out to those whom the world consciously and unconsciously dismiss as unimportant and marginal, to suffer with others and offer them love and support. We are called to live lives of compassion – as we contend against gun violence and cancer, and as we try to live loving lives as our Lord and Savior did. May our first words and actions always be compassionate. Amen.

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