Year B Proper 20 WEDNESDAY, 22 September 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Give Till It Hurts”
Collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. What makes it hard is the lack of conversion in our lives. We hold tight to things, in fear, that we will be “taken advantage of” or “being robbed,” or at least I feel that way at times.
Many of you know that we just got back from a long weekend in New York City, and repeatedly we were approached for change or a few dollars. I have always been warned to be wary of helping folks as there may be others watching to see where you have your money on you. I have been to cathedrals in Europe where they put up signs, “Be Wary of Pickpockets.” What they found was pickpocketing went up because people checked their wallets, even just patting a pocket, and tipped off what and where to target.
Kasey gets cold calls a few times a day for people looking for rent, bills paid, and the like. We could never give all the money that is requested. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. Most are fiction. Some weeks we get a few calls from different people with the same story, almost to the word. Bus fare to Petersburg. Sick mother in Roanoke. The specific details make it memorable. The repetition makes it obviously fraud.
When Jesus spoke to the first disciples, this type of shocking, even scandalous, generosity was a wake-up call to the ancient world. Christians converted the Roman Empire through selfless acts of Grace and profound gifts of devotion to God and neighbor. People moving into leper colonies to serve and eventually die of leprosy. To stand in the Colosseum and be slaughtered while praying for the forgiveness of the persecutors, just like Christ did on the Cross, made an impact on a cynical Empire. These folks obviously had something most Romans did not.
When the Church became the Institution that it is, we lost so much. I say this as I stand here in an air-conditioned, clean, beautiful space, being broadcast on the internet to be seen on computers and phones that cost hundreds of dollars. So often we get distracted by our opulence, confusing it with needs instead of luxuries.
I think we should live in tension. Intentional tension. That of bringing glory to God through beauty and magnificense, and following Christ by showing sacrificial love of the poor and needy. This is hard, and the discernment of what to do when is where the rub is. Jesus instructs us also in Matthew 10:16: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
We were in Washington Square Park, the very photogenic Victory Arch looming over us, when we were approached by a man who did not ask for money, but asked if I was a Jesus loving Christian. I said yes. He was unmasked, and getting into my personal space made it more awkward. I quickly masked. So I cut to the chase and have him move on, I said to him that I was not giving him any money before he could ask. It was easy to see the ploy he was playing. He then started screaming at me that I was no [expletive] Christian, and that I did not love [expletive] Jesus. When I read the passage of Jesus' words hit home this morning. It made me think of that interaction. How do I give? How do I show Christ’s love, even to, especially to someone yelling at me and cursing me to my face about what I hold most dear?
Pray for me, to help me find an answer to that. Especially before my next encounter. We often do not know how to respond until we hear the words coming out of our mouth. God bless him. God help him. Hurting people hurt people, and he must be scarred and hurting. God help us all live into Jesus’ words, with sincerity and truth. Amen.