Year C Proper 17, 28 August 2022
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“We Are Bound Together”
Collect: Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Good morning, sisters and brothers in Christ.
We spoke last week of the worth of each and every Child of God. This topic is closely related, and as important. This week we look at the Interconnectedness and Interdependence of all of us. We all are One.
We may feel we are autonomous, and buy into the myth that we “pulled ourselves up with our own bootstraps,” but we are knit together into the web of humanity, life, the Cosmos itself. When we “Other” anyone we smother the Truth of God.
So often we think we are a single thread. We do whatever we want and there is no ripple effect to our actions. I will agree, we can think of each and every one of us like a single thread, but we are woven together in a sweater, or better yet, a tapestry. Pull one thread, and one can never know the outcome. The effect is unknown and can be potentially disastrous or unraveling to our society.
One of the greatest gifts I have been given in this life is the work I get to do with the Triangle of Hope. Connecting with fellow Anglicans from Liverpool and Kumasi, or better yet, fellow Christians from around the world. We have hard, honest conversations. We share experiences and the joys and upheavals of our lives. Both when we travel and the regular day-in and -out. Seeing how similar we are, and celebrating our differences along the way. We are One, and this short sojourn we are given is to try to be One as best we can to catch a glimpse of what heaven will be like.
In Revelation, we are given John’s view of what it could be like. I do not think it is an accurate picture like a photojournalist would take, but rather a portrait filtered through language and culture of what it could be like. The image that John of Patmos weaves is of every nation singing praise to God in their uniqueness and authenticity. No erasing the differences, but embracing them. We try and model that in our work. I try to keep it in mind in my leading.
In my past, one of the Churches I served had 4 separate congregations, English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, Korean, and Vietnamese. Once or twice a year, we would have a joint service. I always looked forward to the covered dish lunch afterward, because the food was authentic and amazing, but even more, the singing was astounding. We would use hymns that all 4 congregations shared in common with a common tune, and all of us would sing at the top of our lungs. The unity and the diversity, blended together in beautiful harmony, gave me goosebumps. A true embodiment of John’s vision of what heaven would be like, and the lunch was maybe the heavenly banquet to boot.
And it is not only in the good times that we are bound together, but in the horrors and heartbreaks as well.
My British colleagues do this far better than we do, keeping in touch with the persecution of the Church around the world. Very little do we keep track of the atrocities that so many of our brothers and sisters endure in their devotion to Jesus Christ. As the Preacher in Hebrews says:
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
We are bound together, because together we are the Body of Christ. Not just the Episcopal Church, or the American Church, or the Anglican Communion, but the Church Universal, all who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior are part of this Body of Christ, and woven across the centuries as well as the miles.
In 1994, I had the opportunity to go to Israel and Palestine for a month on a long mission immersion experience. In one of the scheduled learning sessions, we met with the Palestinain Orthodox priest, Father Elias Chacour. He told us at the turn of the 20th Century, 90% of Palestinians claimed to be Christian. 10% Muslim. By the end of the 20th Century, by the Church abandoning them, particularly the Western Church, Palestinian Christians for the most part converted. We had forgotten and abandoned our sisters and brothers in Christ. They saw more hope in their Muslim brothers and sisters than in the Church of Christ.
And it is not just situations like this. When one of us suffers we all do. Our prayer list is a gathering of the concerns and needs of our people, their kin and friends. When you or I go to visit folks in their homes or in the hospital, it is a reminder of how we are all connected and interrelated. And now with our streaming service, so many are connected with us in real time through the gift of the internet. We are living in times that are miraculous and confusing, all jumbled together.
This idea and understanding is not limited to Christianity. Buddhist teacher and author Thich Nhat Hahn expressed our interconnectedness and our essential responsibilities from the sheer fact that we are human beings together. He put it this way:
THERE IS NO SEPARATION BETWEEN YOURSELF
AND OTHERS. YOU DO NOT LIVE JUST FOR
YOURSELF; YOU LIVE FOR OTHER PEOPLE. YOUR
PEACE, FREEDOM, AND JOY ALSO PROFIT OTHERS; YOU ARE ALREADY HELPFUL. AND SO, WHEN YOU BREATH MINDFULLY OR WALK MINDFULLY AND CREATE JOY AND PEACE, THAT IS ALREADY A GIFT FOR THE WORLD. LIGHTING UP THE ENERGY OF MINDFULNESS IN THE HEART OF YOUR FAMILY, YOUR COMMUNITY, YOUR CITY, OR YOUR SOCIETY IS ENGAGED ACTION. COMPASSION AND PEACE RADIATE FROM YOUR PERSON.
You have heard me say repeatedly from this pulpit the drive to divide that we have in our time and country is deeply troubling. Call it tribalization or distraction, it is bad. But there is a reason we do this. As we integrate more and more across business, across communication, across the globe, the complexity is overwhelming. Our brains have not been acclimated to these new realities. We escape to tribalism, to segmentarianism, to division so that we can get a grasp on our times. But look back to the early church. Since our founding, the call of Christ has been to connect and include, to invite and welcome. The Kingdom of God was not something you and I were invited into, it was something given to us so we could take it to others. It still is that way. That has not changed.
We never know how our actions have an impact, how our drive to be inclusive, welcoming, and accepting can change people’s lives. I told this story on a Wednesday service back in 2018, so please forgive me if you have heard it before because it fits so well.
In 1989 I was serving in Germany as Youth and Young Adult Minister at International Baptist Church in Hamburg, West Germany. One of the members of our Singles group was a pain. She wrestled with me and argued about everything. But we made sure she felt welcome. To be honest, she really kept me on my toes all the time because of her opposition. The 9 months I worked there while in the middle of college was hard work and when I left I did not see much to show for my time. Or so I thought.
Five years later, on my way home from that trip to Israel I have already mentioned, we had an overnight layover in Switzerland and we stayed at the Baptist Seminary in Rüschlikon, Switzerland. And, lo and behold, the pernicious young woman from my group was in her second year there. God had called her, and little did I realize the impact I had on her. Surprised to say the least, I asked her how on earth she was in seminary preparing to be a pastor. She said that my work was what gave her no excuses. After the Single’s Bible Study at the Church, the burglar alarm came on at 9:30 and we started at 8 pm so all the young adults could get off work and get there. So we met at the church, and then moved the meeting to the pub across the street before the burglar alarm so that we could just hang out. I brought along a little game called Schweinerei, which is called Pass the Pigs in America. You roll two little pigs like dice. And she said, if someone like me, who could have fun and play Schweinerei could be a Christian, she had no excuses. God’s call to include, even sitting in a pub and playing Schweinerei can change a life. We never know how some small kindness, some pleasantry, can issue the resounding call of God. And now she has been a pastor for over 25 years. Thanks be to God.
Our faith urges us to reach out and include. Especially those who are often overlooked or ignored.
James Taylor in his beautiful song about Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled Shed A Little Light sang this:
Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world
Become a place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together by the task
That stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound, and we are bound…
Shed a little light, oh Lord
So that we can see
Yes, dear Lord, help us see. And then help us make it so. Amen
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