Sunday, July 2, 2017

Year A Proper 8 2 July 2017 Because Of Whose We Are

Year A Proper 8
2 July 2017, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
“Because Of Whose We Are”

Matthew 10:40-42
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

I got a phone call last week out  of the blue, and the person proceeded to tell me that 1) I did not know them, and that 2) someone I knew well had told them to call me, and 3) they would like to take a moment of my time. He was riding the credentials of a long time friend who had given him my name and number.

It got his foot in the door. And because of the person’s name with which he reached out, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. And Jesus was saying much the same thing. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

We are riding on Jesus’ coattails, and Jesus was riding on God’s.

It is like the old transitive axiom of equality, if you remember your Geometric proofs.
If A=B, and B=C, then A=C.
Jesus was giving it a spiritual context as well. If they welcome you, then they are welcoming me, and they are welcoming the one who sent me. We receive the honor of the one we represent.

I had a fascinating email exchange this week with our Bishop, the Right Reverend Shannon S. Johnston, and I let him know some grand news. While on pilgrimage in a few weeks in England, I will get to go to Lambeth Palace in London and have Eucharist with the Archbishop of Canterbury, if his schedule does not get changed between now and then. I let our Bishop know that I would bring him greetings from him and from the Diocese of Virginia, and anything further if Bishop Shannon so desired. I am being welcomed on your behalf, yes, YOU, and the rest of the Diocese, and on behalf of our Bishop.

Now think on how I need to present myself. How I might need be dressed. How I might need act. How I might need just be. I am no longer just me, I am coming forward in the name of someone I hold dear and respect, and I am privileged to be going in representation of you all and the whole Diocese as well. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly, nor do I see it only as REALLY COOL (which it really is, I must admit), but in that visit, I stand for us and for our Bishop with the Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage and all that that entails. It is time for me to represent, and to do it well.

Being a priest, most days I am in my collar, and I stand out. Being 6’5” I tend to do that anyway, but especially in my collar. People project a lot onto me. Some expect things that don’t matter to me. Some hold things against me that have nothing to do with me. Some don’t know what to do with me.

In the parking garage we are using in our renovations, I was on the elevator going down to the first floor. I tend to park on top because there is definitely more room on the roof, but it is harder to get to. I was standing, facing the door, with my bag in hand. The elevator stopped on the way down to pick up someone else. A lady was engrossed in her phone, and started to step onto the elevator. Before she could plant her foot she looked up, startled, and actually screamed. SCREAMED. Right in my face. I am not sure if it was because I was male, or because I am 6’5”, or because I was still wearing my sunglasses, or because I was dressed all in black, or the combination of all those things. Maybe she did not expect to see anyone. Or, and I hope it was not this, maybe it was because I was a priest. Whatever the reason, once she stopped screaming, she looked at me and said, “You scared me!” Whatever she saw, I did not scare her, but what she appeared to see scared her. Whatever it was that I represented. I was just standing there, holding my bag. I had my bag, but she obviously had some baggage of some sort to elicit a response like that.

I cannot hide when I am out in my collar. People, whether they like it or not, know exactly what I do. I cannot hide it. I have started to have a real affinity with our Muslim sisters who choose to wear the hijab, the hair-covering scarf. We both stick out because of choices our faith has led us to make. I cannot hide. They cannot hide. People see what they want to see, and project on us for good or bad.

People see what they want to see when we all stand up for Christ. This last week I have made some choices, choices that my faith in Christ led me to make. I have attended meetings and events, sent emails and signed petitions, to help encourage the Governor who lives just a block away to commute the execution of William Morva scheduled to die on July 6, just days away. I feel that is what Christ would have me do. I have spoken up against the changes to our health care, because I feel when we look after the least of these we do it as if we were doing it to and for Jesus. Some would argue it is me using my faith to play politics. I just cannot see Jesus saying anyone should be executed. Nor can I see him saying that it costs too much to care for the elderly, the infirm, the un- or underemployed, the widows, and the children. Like Jesus said in our Gospel for the day, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” If that is playing politics, we have forgotten that as baptized believers our first allegiance belongs to the Kingdom of God. And because of the Fourth of July and all that followed I have the freedom to say that. Happy Fourth, everybody.

We are called to stand out. We are called to represent. We are called to be bold. In our Center service on Wednesday we talked about being prophets in a time that so needs them. Prophets speak against the status quo, and ruffle feathers. To use the old cliche, “They come to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” And we also talked about how you cannot, nor should you, set out to be a prophet. One is called to speak, and is named a prophet when people hear the word of God come out of one’s mouth. (I think the Holy Spirit has a lot to do with this.)

Our Gospel again: “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward.” As we are welcomed into the pivotal conversations that come about in our lives, may we step forward in the prophetic name of Christ and boldly declare the faith we have found. A faith that honors and respects all persons. A faith that believes the best, both in people and what is to come. A faith that holds us up even when there are those who are actively stacking the deck against us. A faith that enables us to hear the whisperings of that “still small voice” of the Spirit when it reminds us “I am with you, ALWAYS…” Thanks be to God.

Most of you got the news on Friday that this will be my last Sunday at St. Paul’s. That decision is what it is. I have received loving messages of affirmation and support, and people have repeatedly said that I am taking it well. I am not sure what they expect. If I have learned one thing on this earthly pilgrimage, it is this. Only give energy to the things you can change. Knowing what those things are is often hard, and that is where prayer comes in. In the decision on my position, I have full faith that all parties were doing it in the light of what is best for St. Paul’s and its mission to proclaim the Gospel in the heart of the City. The decision I cannot change, but all I can do is look at how I respond. I can only choose what I do in this situation. And I think this is what Jesus was talking about when he told his disciples to be welcomed, to be prophets, to be righteous persons, to give cups of cold water EVEN TO CHILDREN, the LEAST of THESE. The only thing we can do is choose who we represent, and how well we do that. In an age the screams at us to KNOW WHO WE ARE, I have to lean back on Scripture and remind myself that is is more important to know WHOSE WE ARE.

My path is leading away from St. Paul’s, and I would pray for you that you continue to proclaim Christ boldly in the heart of this city we so love. Never, ever, lose sight of that. You have been planted here for a reason, and when the flashlight of faith shines it usually only shines behind us to see that God has been faithful all along the way, and that we can trust that God will remain with us whatever tomorrow brings. I thank you for the warm welcome you have given me and my family, and I will continually uphold St. Paul’s as we continue our paths following Christ. Amen.