I bet all of us have looked at an elderly person and treated them differently to how we would have treated them if they were 40 years younger. Often out of perceived kindness, sometimes as a result of our own prejudices and blindness, we have all fell into the same trap.
As regular readers here will know, Pam and I took it in turns to give the homily each week at St. Paul’s Manor. In the homily below I challenged the residents to consider how they think of homeless people. Nothing too strong, but something to think about. Afterwards one lady came up and thanked me for engaging her in the world around her. She said “Life is real, and I’m not dead yet”.
Words to live by.
Homily Second Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 2
Genesis 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
I like a glass of wine, but in no way am I a wine expert. I would like to think that I can tell a good bottle of wine from a bad bottle of wine but I just can’t seem to experience the level of taste that some wine drinkers can. The other month I was at a wine tasting event and the leader of the tasting poured everyone a glass of wine. She told us to swirl the glass and then stick our nose deep (in the glass and take in a deep breath, savor the aroma and then, and only then taste a little of the wine to complete the overall sensation of the tasting. She asked the people in the group “what do you see in the wine?” “I sense strawberries” one lady called out, then from the other side of the room a gentleman shouted out “yes, yes but I also feel the first damp nights of the fall”. The woman standing next to me disagreed “no, no it is much more robust than that can you not taste the richness of the cherry throughout the body”. I was taken aback, I could not sense, smell or even taste any of those descriptions, I just thought it was quite a nice glass of wine.
Our gospel reading today is full of images to be sensed, to be seen, to be thought about, to be considered. Jesus is at the center of the scene. A group of his followers are gathered around him, clambering to listen to his teaching and keen to be in his presence.
Then we see the Jewish authorities, the scribes, who are getting uneasy about this man called Jesus who had taught in the synagogue like no one had taught before and who had the power to drive out demons. He had restored health to Simon’s mother in law and cured the leper. But he had gone further he had broken the Sabbath and the scribes were none too happy.
If this picture was not busy enough let us consider a third scene. In the version of the gospel that we just heard, which is from the NRSV translation, we read “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” So his family went out to restrain Jesus because they had heard that the crowd thought he was mad. We get a slightly different picture in the King James translation: “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said he is beside himself “ a little bit gentler on both Jesus and his family. However the New Living Translation claims Jesus’ family believed that he had gone mad “When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him home with them. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.” The differences in these different translations is all very interesting and has been and continues to be an area studied in great detail by experts but taking a step back, no matter what translation you use there clearly is a group of people in the scene who think that Jesus has gone a little mad or crazy.
So there we have it. One scene and at least three images. The image of Jesus, the son of God, the person who people followed, were inspired by, the person who drove those same people to action. Then we have the scene where we see Jesus as a no good troublemaker, watched with suspicion by the authorities who thought that he was bad. And then we have a third image of Jesus, an image where people think that Jesus has gone too far, who is a little crazy or a little mad. Who do you see in the Gospel reading this afternoon? Is Jesus bad, mad or God?
Directly after these three groups of people are introduced to us Jesus addresses everyone present. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Over the years many people have worried that they have committed the eternal sin and therefore can never be forgiven. I believe that often those very same people, people like you and me, carry around such a heavy load of guilt without truly knowing what the eternal sin really is.
Denying Jesus, the Holy Spirit or God himself is the eternal sin. When we look back at the Gospels it is easy to see Jesus and easy for us to stand back and say that we claim Jesus as our Lord and not as a mad man or an outlaw. But just as Jesus responded to the crowd that was gathered around him in the Gospel, he is just as much talking to us, to you and to me today, and he is asking us exactly the same question. “Who do you think that I am?”
We do have to wait until the second coming to answer that question. For Jesus and the Holy Spirit are here now amongst us. The challenge that we face every day is seeing Jesus.
I am sure that we have all seen a person that is homeless as we walk around Banker’s Hill or Hillcrest. If you look closely you will see that despite having very little a homeless person is more likely to help a person in need than many of us who are much better off. I believe that is an image of Jesus working through others. I have to ask myself a tough question. When I am rushing around the neighborhood and I see a homeless person approaching another person do I see the potential of seeing Jesus? Or do a see a mad or a bad person?
Maybe the fact that Jesus broke a few rules was not such a bad thing. Maybe the fact that he did some amazing things that made people think that he was a little mad was not such a bad thing. Maybe that is a guide for our lives today. When we see Jesus in the things that we do lets us not deny him. But having called to him “Jesus you are my savior, transform me to do your work” then our faith calls us to do something with the gospel, it calls us to action, to work for a better world reconciled to the love of Christ. And in doing so, maybe we will kick up a bit of dust and maybe people will think that we are a little mad. But we will do it with the blessing of our savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Earlier this week I had lunch with a good friend who is also a fellow blogger (see his blog – Karl’s Questions here). After checking in with each other the topic of conversation turned to my summer field placement at ECS. Before long we got talking about our attitudes toward the homeless, people with mental illness and people with addictions. During my time at ECS, whether it be at the ACCORD DUI program or at the Downtown Safe Haven transitional housing facility, I have been spending time with people who are suffering from homelessness, mental illness and addictions. As I get to know folk at ECS I am learning more about their lives and as I do so it is much easier to see the person within rather than the presenting issue. The more time I spend the deeper each relationship grows and the more I see brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling with life and their ability to cope.
I find myself challenging myself: when a homeless person or someone battling an illness wanders into the back of the church do I see a person or a cause? If I am being brutally honest, many a time in the past I have seen the issue/cause and not the full human being. If you ask yourself that same question and strip yourself down to full honesty how would you answer the question?
I believe that an important part of my calling is to fulfill a promise that we make whenever we reaffirm the Baptismal Covenant:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
My field placement is teaching me that I can only fulfill this promise when I walk along side my neighbor and accept them for all that they are. This is the model that Jesus gave us when he called Zacchaeus down from the tree:
He (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10.
Jesus did the unthinkable, he broke the rules in order to be inclusive to all, and to everyone who accepted his call he gives salvation. Jesus called the sinner by name and insisted to stay at his house.
I pray that I continue to learn to look beyond the issue, to see a human instead of a cause. Because an issue or cause is something that we ‘give to’ or ‘solve’. A fellow human is someone who we love and in our love, Christ is manifested.
Next time I am asked if I will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself. I hope I can say with conviction
I will with God’s help.
We were invited to our friends house for dinner,which itself was a blessing as our friend is recovering from brain surgery and we have much to give thanks for. However, on the way there I stopped at a 7-eleven to buy dessert. On the way out as I headed towards my car I heard
Can you spare any change?
I remembered something that I had in my car. I went to my boot (US=trunk) and fished out a ‘blessing-in-a-bag‘ kit. I went back and gave the guy sitting on the floor the bag and just said
God bless you
Indeed it was I who was truly blessed to share in this Holy moment. As I pulled out of the parking lot he was already drinking the bottle of water and had a smile on his face.
The best part of Easter Day was seeing the face of the resurrected Lord sitting outside a 7-eleven.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! He is Risen indeed.