Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Christ in the world -- never just an observer" -- A sermon for Advent IV

A sermon preached by the Ven. Robert Franken at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 22, 2013.

Please continue standing for a moment longer, if you are able, and close your eyes.

Hear the screaming roar of the junkyard crane as it picks up the twisted remains of old cars, bikes and refrigerators and smashes them into scrap.

Smell the diesel. Smell the garbage, and sewage.

Feel the crunching beneath your feet as you step on the jagged carpet of glass and crushed bits of metal and concrete.

Imagine the filthy, toxic mess all around you. Feel it on your skin.

Imagine eating here.

Please be seated.

Now let me open your eyes and glimpse the people who live here.

This back end of a junkyard, an acre or so of roughly cleared space, is home to about 50 Syrian refugees who could not find anywhere better to live. Even this garbage-strewn dump looks good compared with the war back home that has destroyed their houses and killed their families.

They have slapped together 10 crude tents from scrap wood and plastic.

As the Syrian refugee population swells to about a million in a country of just 4.4 million people, refugees are finding shelter wherever they can. Those with money rent apartments, those without seek out space in empty buildings.

But as Lebanon fills with more refugees every day, there are fewer places for them to go. So the poorest and the newest end up in places like this junkyard, where the landlord charges about $50 a month to live among the garbage.

Look around.

Off in one corner is a hand-dug latrine, just an open pit surrounded by a piece of blue plastic flapping in the wind. Everyone uses it.

The center of activity is a black plastic hose that comes out of the ground, connected to a spigot. It is the only source of water here.

“We don’t know where it comes from, but we drink it, we bathe in it and we cook with it,” one man says. “The kids have diarrhea most of the time.”

Kids play everywhere. Most of them are filthy. Almost everyone wears plastic sandals, though some are barefoot. Virtually everyone has cuts or scabs on their fingers and toes.

And in the last few weeks Snow, and nobody here has warm clothes or boots.

Over by the water hose, a woman stands holding her 3-year-old daughter in her arms. The little girl has ugly burn scars up and down her right arm from a bomb attack on their house in Homs.

The mother is now nine months pregnant, with a huge bump under her long purple robe. She says she has no idea where she will deliver the baby. She shrugs and says maybe she will just end up having the baby on the carpeted dirt floor of her tent.

(Edited from: Washington Post "The back end of a junkyard in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon is home to about 50 Syrian refugees", 15 Dec 2013)

It is easy to dismiss stories such as these since they are a half a world away but it has only been less than 60 years ago that Pruitt-Igoe was built in the shadow of this Cathedral and allowed to become one of the greatest urban housing sins in the history of this country.

Today the north side of St Louis continues to be filled with far too much poverty - with parts of it looking like bombs were dropped in the middle of a war zone.

Over 31 percent of the families with children living within the city of St Louis live below the federal poverty line - that's almost 1 in 3 families. Over 48 percent are on food stamps and the median household income is just over $33.000 per year. I wonder how many of us could live on that amount?

St Louis is still rated as the second most dangerous city in the US, even though, as CNN says: "it's a lot safer than it used to be". Two months ago, just north of here, a 16 year old young man was shot in a park, waiting for the school bus. A month later his friend was shot to death. And less than a month ago, a 17 year old boy was shot in the face walking to school. Learning can be hard enough without having to worry about getting shot.

Over 30,000 Missourians are in prison, one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and we incarcerate persons who are black over 5 times more frequently than persons who are white.

Especially in this season, there are tens of thousands of stories of significant need in the community - and and tens or hundreds of millions across our globe.

So what then do we do with the passage out of Mathew:

Come, you that are blessed ... for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the of these who are members of my family,* you did it to me.”

Or what do we do with the story of the Good Samaritan?

It's likely that the Priest and Levite had important business that prevented them for stopping, or knew the dangers of stopping, or were expected home, or had no way to carry the injured man to help. But it does not seem to matter to Jesus - it is the outcast, the Samaritan who is the neighbor.

It is important to look at the story of the rich man and Lazarus, remember:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

You remember: they both die and the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man begs for help from Abraham to no avail.

The Rich mans problem was not being rich but instead it was NOT doing something to give even basic help the need on his doorstep.

Unfortunately, with the digital age our world has shrunk - and now even Syria or Lui, Sudan are on my doorstep and on yours.

Listen again to Today's collect:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

So what does it mean to "find in us a mansion prepared for himself". I wonder if it has something to do with that "when I was hungry ... thirsty ... a stranger ... naked ... in prison" comment?

Remember the rich young ruler who wanted to know what he had to do to be saved. Jesus says:

"You know the commandments, ....... And (the rich young ruler quickly) said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." (Then) when Jesus heard this, He said to him, "One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.

All those commandment that he kept were about himself - the giving away to the poor was about his neighbor.

It is clear - over and over again that Salvation - this life as Christian is not about us - it is far beyond us. It is about what we do beyond us.

"Love God with all your heart soul and mind AND love your neighbor as yourself self."

That is not an either or statement. And it's not a "Love God and hopefully you will..." statement. It is a both AND statement - the summary of all God asks us to do.

I was asked to preach on the importance of the dismissal as the conclusion of our 4 week Advent series.

In this ancient part of the service, from at least the 4th century - if not before, we give thanks for being fed, we are given a final blessing by the priest or bishop, and then a deacon sends us out to a hurting world.

In the ordination service of a Deacon, the Bishop instructs the one about to be ordained with these words:

As a deacon in the Church, ... you are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.

In the dismissal a Deacon executes a part of his or her function by calling the baptized back into hurting world to do what we promised in our baptismal covenant.

Remember that baptismal covenant where we promise:
- to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
- to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to The Lord
- to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
- to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself
- to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

The first two of these promises are internal - they are what we promise do for ourselves in our relationship with GOD.

And the next three are external - what we promise to do for others in response to our relationship with God

We repeat this every week in our worship:

Three weeks ago Amy preached on the importance of the liturgy of the word and how "the story we declare aloud is the story of who we are and who we are moving into being – it is a remembering that is unavoidably and unmistakably seeped in the past – and oriented toward the future – and it is one that can only be fully understood through the crumbs of that broken bread."

Two weeks ago Mike preached on the importance of the "Confession. Repentance. Absolution. Peace. These are revolutionary acts we take together. Small acts which have the power to change our lives and change the world." - "Change your life! The beginning is near."

And last week Mike preached about the Eucharist as that "amazing gift ... that keeps on giving." The Eucharist "is taking our whole lives … all our joys and yes, all of our wounds, and laying them on the table. And that sacrifice of our lives is holy. And it is acceptable. It is how we worship God. We worship God by giving our lives to God. By laying our lives on this table."

All three of these part of the service are about us . But just like our baptismal covenant which starts about US and ends in our actions to others - every one of these previous parts of the service is preparing us for this final moment in the service - the moment when we are sent into a hurting world to be the ears - the hands - the feet of Jesus.

This week we celebrate the birth of that Jesus. For the three years before he is crucified he teaches us how to care for each other in those wonderful parables we just talked about; and in his actions day to day, from turning water into wine to feeding the hungry 5000 to helping a despised Roman Occupation Officer by healing his servant.

Jesus' example is one of being an active participant in the world around himself - sometimes being an irritant, sometimes the solution, and sometimes the teacher - but always involved NEVER just an observer.

Last weekend at a Christmas dinner in Dallas with colleagues from the firm I have worked with for the past 10 years providing leadership development, I was brought up short by Chasity. Chasity is one of our younger executive assistance, while we were talking about volunteering, over dinner, she suddenly reveled that she had become a widow in 2009. This was something I had never known, or even taken the time to find out. Chasity spends a part of her free time helping other young widows learn how to cope with this life challenge. Chasity, in that moment, showed me how she is Jesus to these young women. Chasity, serves Jesus himself, by serving these women ..... who are members of his family.

In one of Jesus' final acts before he ascends to heaven is his reconciliation with Peter after his public betrayal. Jesus simply asks Peter: do you love me? Peter answers: "Of course I love you". Jesus responds: Feed my sheep

So the Dismissal is that question asked to each one of us, each Sunday - Do you love me? Then "Feed my Sheep!"

Or in today's vernacular: "Just do it!" (With credit to Nike)


In my role of interpreter to the Church of the needs, concerns, and hopes of this world,
I share these words in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.


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