It’s not the economy, stupid – it’s the PEOPLE!

Sigh.

For some reason, the bigwigs in Washington Do. Not. Seem. To. Get. It.

They are concerned with scoring points, with making sure “their” side “wins,” with “defeating” the other side.

What they are not concerned about is the American people. You know … us. The folks whom the bigwigs are supposed to serve.

Actually, it's NOT the economy, stupid!

We, it seems, are not part of any equation for solving the financial crisis confronting this country.

Well, “we” as in, those of us who are in the middle class or the lower class, or who, alas, actually live in poverty.

If we were part of the equation, then some of these dingbat ideas under discussion in Washington would never have seen the light of day.

I’m talking about the idea of extending the retirement age – again. Only white, privilege males who receive the best health care in the world would think this is a good idea.

The rest of us? The ones who work in factories or stores, who physically labor, who are the grunts of the work force? Who spend our time outside in all the elements? Who climb up and down ladders, or tote heavy items, or deliver things that have been ordered online?

Please. Our bodies break down a whole heck of lot earlier and easier than do the ones of so-called leaders who work, yes, but do not labor.

Every sane study shows that upper-income white males with marvelous health care indeed can retire later. But the rest of us? Get real. (See Ezra Klein’s column in The Washington Post on Nov. 21. He does a great job of explaining this.)

And this is why I’m sighing right now.

Because those in charge seem to be forgetting that they are in charge for one reason:

To advance the common weal of all the people.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s campaign used the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

This year, that mantra needs to be changed.

It needs to say, “It’s the people, stupid!”

As in, PAY ATTENTION TO US!!

The economy can’t get better as long as too many of us are (a) out of work or (b) working in jobs that simply do not pay enough.

And please don’t talk to me about this silly idea that increasing taxes on the rich will hurt the economy. Because that is Not. True.

The richest among us have received extraordinary tax breaks for the last decade … a decade in which they have grown much, much (did I mention much?) richer, while unemployment has grown and wages have fallen.

So … tell me again how giving the rich yet another tax break is going to help the economy?

And if it isn’t going to help the economy, how, pray tell, is it going to help the people of this country?

And if it doesn’t help the people of this country, then, I can assure you, it is not for the common good, and therefore should not be done.

I know that we are headed for a so-called “fiscal cliff” and that I am supposed to be quaking in my boots over this.

Well, I’m not.

You know why?

Because if nothing else, going over that cliff will at least serve as a wake-up call to the folks in charge. Heck, it might even get them to do something about the state of the economy, to help those in need, and to get going on doing the work that needs to be done, for our people and for our country.

I know, I know:

IF we go over that cliff, the middle-class will be hit, immediately, with a tax increase on average of $2,000 per year. In simpler terms, that means an additional $5.50 per day for each of us.

Ouch.

          But it also means that the richest people will have to pay more as well, which means that there will be more money in the budget.

Yes, drastic cuts are supposed to happen as well.

But that’s Congress’ fault, because Congress has failed to act, because Congress has been focused too much on “winning” political games and not enough on doing its actual job.

I also know that what Congress hath wrought, Congress can un-wrought as well.

It was Congress that mandated these stupid, across-the-board cuts.

So Congress can un-mandate those same cuts.

But only if Congress decides to be sane, to quit posturing and to take care of the real business of this country, which is not, as Calvin Coolidge once proclaimed, “business,” but the welfare – the common weal – of the American people.

One more thing:

Those so-called “entitlements”? The ones that conservatives like to attack with abandon, even as they and their family members collect them?

Leave them the hell alone.

No, wait.

Reform them.

In sane ways.

Social Security? It would be solvent for decades if we collected FICA on incomes above $110,000, the current cap for taxation. Really? We only tax up to $110,000? That’s totally insane, you know, from an economic standpoint. It means that the people who pay the most are the ones who can afford it the least, while those who can afford it the most pay the least.

In what economic universe does that even remotely make sense?

Medicare? Stop the insane talk about increasing the retirement age. See the argument above – only upper-class people can afford to do this, and they don’t need Medicare anyway. So they certainly are not the people to be making this decision.

Medicaid? Someone really wants to cut this? Are they, too, insane? Who in their right mind wants to ensure that sick people stay sick? In what economic model does that make sense?

Never mind the nonsense about cutting assistance to those most in need. Those ideas? They need to be named for what they are: Punishment on those who are in need, who are less fortunate, who don’t have a leg up, who can’t get a leg up.

Every sane study out there says that the better we care for our people, the better off we will be as a country.

Bingo! I say we need to catch each other ... that's what community is all about.

And those wacky ideas on closing loopholes and removing tax deductions? Be careful what you ask for, is all I can say. Let’s take just one of those deductions, the one for charitable giving: End that one and boom! Charities are in deep kimchi. I’m sure all those homeless people, and needy people, and any other people receiving help via charities would be fine with having their help cut in order to magically “balance” the budget on their backs.

So you know what I say?

I say, Go ahead. Let’s jump off the danged fiscal cliff. Let’s do so with joy and abandon.

I’m willing to suck it up and pay $5.50 day – if it means that (a) the whole community is being helped, and (b) the people who can afford this a whole lot more than me kick in their fair share as well. (And no, having a rich person pay the same amount as me Does. Not. Count.)

I am not going to like paying $5.50 a day – and frankly, it’s going to be a stretch to do so (I’m not exactly middle class right now). But dang it! If that’s what it will take to ensure that the least among us are cared for, that our government is focused on all the people, that the community will be built up, that the safety nets will be strengthened … well, yeah. I’m in.

Are you?

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Go ahead: Buy. Hope. Prepare. It’s Advent!

OK, here’s the thing:

Come Sunday, we will be in the season of Advent. The season of waiting. The season of preparing. The season of hope.

One of the biggest complaints you hear in the Church is that society in general tends to skip over Advent and move right to Christmas, that Black Friday is more important than anything the Church has to offer, that somehow, we’re taking the “Christ” out of Christmas.

And yeah, in some ways, we probably are.

But I am wondering, right now, if in condemning those who focus on Christmas in Advent, we are missing the point.

If you and your significant other were to be expecting a baby on Christmas Day, wouldn’t you be preparing?

Wouldn’t you be out there, rushing around to get the last-minute supplies?

And go to the baby showers?

And paint the room?

And lay in the food?

And buy, buy, buy, buy?

Wouldn’t you?

So … if it’s OK to do that for your baby, why isn’t it OK to do for God’s baby?

I mean, yeah, some people do miss the meaning of Christmas, and it does become a thing about buying for the sake of buying, and partying for the sake of partying.

But even then, are they really missing the point? Aren’t they focused, at least in some little way, on relationships?

Because isn’t that what all this frenzy is about, in this season of Advent? Aren’t we going nuts because of relationships?

I mean, what if the presents we are buying are the ones that people actually need?

Or what if the presents are the kind that help others – you know, the gift cards that help bring clean water to the thirsty, and food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked?

And what if, in attending those parties, we are celebrating relationships? Community?

And what if, in going to see family for the holidays, we are doing the same thing?

So, here’s the thing:

Be careful what you wish for.

Telling people they can’t celebrate Christmas in Advent means that in reality, we are telling people they can’t prepare.

And last time I checked, that’s what Advent is all about: preparing.

After all, isn’t that what John the Baptist kept crying: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!?

So forgive me if I’ve reached the age when I feel it’s OK to get a bit worked up about Christmas. When I say I’m going to a “Christmas” party, and not an “Advent” party. When I let slip with a “Merry Christmas” on occasion.

And forgive me for getting excited about the fact that there’s a BABY coming!

And forgive me for spending a lot of time thinking about what gift I’m going to get for each of my loved ones. I put a lot of thought into this, and a lot of work as well. Will the gifts I give be the biggest and the bestest? Hardly. But they will be thoughtful, and they will be loving, and I will enjoy giving them, and pray that my loved ones will enjoy receiving them.

So go ahead. Go a little nuts if you must in this season of Advent. Because remember: You are preparing.

If you really want to know what Advent is all about, look at this video, Advent in 2 Minutes.

And then remember: Advent? It’s about preparing. And hope.

So go on … go prepare. And hope some, too.

That’s the spirit.

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Dear Congress: For God’s sake and ours, please, just do it!

Dear Members of Congress:

It is time to get back to work.

The election is over.

Many of you won, some of you lost.

It doesn’t matter. You are still the 112th Congress, and you still have a spit-load of work to do.

So go do it.

Now.

For God’s sake, and for our sake, please, just go do it!

I know you’re tired. I know you’ve been working your butts off getting re-elected, that you’ve been traveling a lot, that your throats are sore and your heads are probably pounding, and that your body is, quite simply, ready to quit

So take a few days off — but ONLY a few.

Then come back to DC and do the work we actually elected you to do.

Yes, Thanksgiving is coming, and you traditionally take a long time off for that, and yes, this is a lame-duck Congress, and yes, you really want to rest right now.

But the rest of the country is working – hard – either at jobs or at trying to get a job. The rest of us don’t get to take a break. We don’t get to pass the buck, and neither should you.

Because of your recalcitrance, mixed in with some of the same from the President (who got re-elected, so deal with it), you have managed to pass the buck on darned near everything. Through your intransigence, we are now facing a man-made (and yes, I chose that word deliberately) fiscal “cliff” that is completely your own fault. You don’t want to make hard decisions, you don’t want to compromise your so-called values, you don’t want to look weak.

Blah, blah, blah.

We the people have spoken, and we have not spoken for more gridlock caused by people who cannot, for the life of them, learn to play well together in the sandbox, much less share their toys.

Well, guess what, gentlemen and gentlewomen?

They aren’t your toys. They’re ours.

And we the people demand that you use them well, for the greater good of the American people and the world.

We demand that you pass a jobs bill that indeed will indeed put us back to work. It’s not a hard thing to do, so please: Just do it.

We demand that you pass a budget bill that is not filled with special perks, also known as “pork.” We’re on a diet, folks – we don’t need the extra fat. Face reality: You are going to have to mix tax increases with cuts. You cannot come remotely close to a decent budget – never mind a balanced one – on the backs of the poorest and the neediest.

The automatic cuts? The automatic rise in tax rates for all? The looming limit on the debt? FIX them! Stop messing around and just do it!

Remember: You did not win a mandate for business as usual. You are in Congress now – and many of you will continue in your jobs – because we, the people, need you to work on our behalf. So pass a danged budget that is sane and fair, that raises money from those who can afford to give more, and cares for those of us, the forty-SIX percent (that’s the accurate number) who need help.

No more posturing, no more whining, no more fantasies about trickle-down economics. Face reality, and do the right thing. For God’s sake and for our sake, just do it.

And lest you think that is all you need to do: Wait. There’s more!

We demand that you, Congress, step up and pass a bill that will stop this obscene spending on election campaigns. Billions were spent on this election, in great part because of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is, as I said, obscene. Just think of what we could have done with that money. Think of the people we could have fed; the teachers, firefighters and cops we could have hired; the medical care we could have provided; the infrastructure we could have repaired; the homeless who could have had shelter.

Think about what could have been – and then hang your heads in shame.

So the next time you see a person begging for food, the next time you see a person sleeping on the street, the next time you actually meet a person in need – ask that person for forgiveness, for you, my dear members of Congress, could have done something about this.

And you didn’t.

While you’re back at work, remember: We women in this country? We do not want you messing around with our bodies. No way. No how. So stop your assaults on us. Stop trying to pass moral laws that are, at best, immoral. Get your hands off our bodies. Now.

We demand that you finally, finally, take a realistic look at climate change, and do something about it! I know, I know: Some of you live in a fantasy world in which you believe you can deny reality. If you are in any way confused about what climate change looks like, call Chris Christie. Or Cory Booker. Or Michael Bloomberg. Ask them to take you on your very own personal tour of devastation.

Then, get real about what is happening to our world, and do something about it. Just do it.

In the House, we the people demand that you stop passing stupid – I really can’t think of another word to use here that would be more accurate – bills to rescind the Affordable Health Care Act, that try to impose inane economic policies, that target women and their bodies, yadda, yadda, yadda. Yeah, we know you want to show off your conservative credentials. But the fact is, every time you pass one of these stupid bills, you look like a child taunting the loser of a game: Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah! We won and you lost! For God’s sake, could you possibly act like grown-ups? The fact that the country has spoken should tell you: Stop screwing around. Just do it.

And to the members of the Senate, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world: You, gentlemen and gentlewomen, need to read the Constitution again. Nowhere does it say that a majority is not a majority, that to merely have a bill considered takes 60 votes. This is balderdash and a childish game. So stop it. You have a chance, right now, to finally demonstrate to the people who elected you that you are grown-ups. So end this stupid practice right now and get to work. Just do it!

We have a lot of work to do in this country. We need to get out of a war, care for our veterans, find housing for millions, jobs for millions more, and make sure all those people have health care. Our infrastructure needs urgent help. The people of New York and New Jersey are in dire straits. Our children need better education.

We the people are damned tired of the war between the have’s and the have-not’s. We are fed up with posturing. We are not stupid – we understand economics a whole lot better than many of you do, apparently. We are willing to sacrifice together for the common good. We want to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim jubilee for the poorest. We want to be a community!

And we can’t – not while you’re lolly-gagging around and posturing like puffed-up little Napoleons.

So listen to us, dear members of Congress:

For God’s sake and for our sake, please: Just do it!

 

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Completed any miracles lately?

On All Saints Sunday, Jesus is clearly asking us to finish the miracle he began in bringing Lazarus back from death.

So the question I have for each of us is this:

Completed any miracles lately?

The video of my sermon at St. Matthew’s, Sterling, Va., is below.

 

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Church’s work in Haiti continues

Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Haiti still need our help. Rebuilding a devastated country – one devastated by political shenanigans and hurricanes long before the 2010 earthquake struck – takes time, prayer and the will to continue despite the long odds. 

Please, continue to pray for Haiti: Almighty God and heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being, send your Holy Spirit upon the people of Haiti, that they may know your love, feel your support, revel in your joy. Send your Spirit upon all those who continue to work in Haiti, rebuilding the lives of its people, so that they may be faithful servants who listen without dictating, who work in community and not as solo artists, who care first and foremost for your beloved children, and not for their own glory. Bring health to the people of Haiti, who put all their trust in you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

The latest news from The Episcopal Church Center:

Holy Trinity Cathedral, three weeks after the earthquake.

[October 2, 2012] With the third anniversary of the devastating earthquake which destroyed Haiti mere months away, the Episcopal Church continues its emphasis on assisting the church’s largest and fastest-growing diocese.

“It is a great gift and privilege for us to be able to work with the people of Haiti,” commented Bishop Stacy Sauls, Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer.  “I never fail to be inspired by them and their indomitable sense of hope.  The problems and issues Haiti faces would absolutely devastate many.  The people of Haiti continue to face their challenges with faith and spiritual strength that calls forth a like response in all of us.”

The January 12, 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the Caribbean island country and cost many lives. Leveled were churches and diocesan facilities, including Holy Trinity Cathedral with its priceless murals in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

General Convention 2012 named the focused effort for the Diocese of Haiti as one of the priorities for the Church.

The newly reorganized Development Office of the Episcopal Church is coordinating all the fundraising efforts for the rebuilding of the Diocese of Haiti.  This follows the conclusion of the first phase of the project by Episcopal Church Foundation.

“We are thankful to the Episcopal Church Foundation for its grassroots campaign,” Bishop Sauls said.  “The baton has passed to the Development Office, which has been maintaining regular consultation with the diocese on how and where to help, looking at a wide variety of infrastructure needs.”

Bishop Duracin with President Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, three weeks after the earthquake.

To that end, an Episcopal Church team soon will visit Haiti to engage with diocesan leaders and officials. “This mission trip will include a thorough assessment and fact-finding to determine what steps will be taken in the short- and long-term for this all-encompassing project,” Bishop Sauls said.

Currently, Bishop Sauls and his staff are working diligently on a final agreement with an architect for the cathedral complex. He is also planning to lead a pilgrimage to Haiti in early 2013.

And, as another facet of the Church’s work with Haiti, the Church Center is now the home in a rental agreement with Le Consulat General de la Republique d’Haiti and the Haitian Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

For information on how individuals, congregations, dioceses and groups can help the rebuilding of Haiti, contact Kim Moore at kmoore@episcopalchurch.org

To learn more:  http://www.episcopalchurch.org/page/rebuild-our-church-haiti
The Episcopal Churchwww.episcopalchurch.org
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On the web:
The Episcopal Church’s work in Haiti continues
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/notice/episcopal-church%E2%80%99s-work-haiti-continues


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It’s not a competition

Mark 9:30-37

Who is the greatest Christian you have ever known?

Who is the best Christian you can think of?

I want you to take a moment, and think about that.

Get that name or a picture of that person in your brain … everybody have somebody?

Are you as good a Christian as that person?

Do you measure up to the person that you have locked in your brain?

           Ken Follett wrote a book two decades ago called The Pillars of the Earth. In this book, which is a novel of the building of cathedrals in England, there is a stonemason who has an idea on how to build a cathedral. He’s pretty confident that he knows how to build what we now call flying buttresses, but he’s not certain that he can do it as well as they are doing it in France.

So he goes to the abbot, and he says to the abbot, who is a wise man, “Do I have to be the best there ever was? What if my gift isn’t as good as someone else’s?”

The abbot looks at him and says, “You don’t have to be the best there ever was. You have to be the best that you can be.”

My friends, you don’t have to be as good a Christian as that saint I’m confident you each thought of.

You have to be as good a saint as you can be.

Because if you are doing the best that you can do, at any given moment … if in any given moment, you give your best, and it’s pretty darned good, God will look at you and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

And if the best you have to give is really pretty bad, but it’s still the best you have to give, at that given moment? God will look at you and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Because you tried.

You don’t have to be the best Christian there ever was to walk the earth.

You have to be as good as you can be, in that given moment.

• • •

Jesus is walking along, teaching his disciples, explaining to them a little more of what he has already told them – that he is going to have to go up to Jerusalem, he’s going to be arrested, he’s going to be tried, he’s going to be beaten, he’s going to be executed, and on the third day, he will be raised from the dead.

Now, he’s just gotten done telling them this. And Peter – gosh, good beloved Peter, who gets it and never gets it, in the exact same moment, Peter, who is so good at this, says, “No, no, Lord! You can’t go and do this.”

Jesus has just finished saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan, you’re thinking of earthly things instead of heavenly things.” Now he’s walking along, teaching his disciples, they get to Capernaum, they go into a house, and Jesus says to them, “So, what were you all talking about behind my back?”

They don’t want to tell Jesus, because you know what they were talking about behind his back?

“I’m better than you!”

“Oh, no, I’m a better Christian than you are,” – OK, they weren’t using the word Christian in those days, they were saying, “Oh, no, no, I’m a better disciple than you are. I want to sit at the right hand of God.” “No, no, me!”

They were like a bunch of squabbling little kids!

They’re fighting behind Jesus’ back. They’re not concentrating on being the best they could be in any given moment, they’re concentrating on who is going to get the glory!

And Jesus says to them, “No, no, no. You don’t get it. It’s not a competition!”

Being a follower of Jesus is not a competition!

Trust me, my friends, if you are keeping score, God’s going to have something to say to you. When you get to the pearly gates, the first thing God is going to do is rip up your scorecard!

Because being a Christian is not about being better than anybody else at it. It’s about you reaching deep inside yourself, and being the best that you can be at any given moment.

As I said, some days, those efforts are going to be glorious, and God is going to smile upon you … and some days, those efforts are going to stink, and God is going to smile upon you.

Because you tried.

You don’t have to be the best there ever was.

Following Jesus in not a competition. (He Qi's "The Risen Christ")

You have to be the best that you can be.

Mahatma Gandhi once, when talking about Christianity, said that he thought Christianity was a marvelous religion; it was a really great religion. And that the tenets of Christianity were incredible! The problem was, he said, he’d never really met anybody who lived them. He’d never really met a good Christian.

And that’s what our problem is.

We get so wrapped up, sometimes, in competing with each other that we forget that it’s not a competition.

Being a good Christian is not about topping the guy next door or the guy down the street. We are not better than the Methodists down Braddock Road. We’re not. The good news is, they’re not any better than we are! It’s kind of a draw.

It is about how we can live our lives faithfully every moment of our lives.

• • •

How many of you have stood in a checkout line at the grocery store, where there’s a little old lady … who’s taking forever to get her checkbook out … I’m not talking about writing the check, I’m talking about when everything has been rung up and she hasn’t gotten the bloody checkbook out yet … and you’re standing in line, and the Redskins are coming on in, oh, 22 minutes, and it’s going to take you 18 minutes to get home … if this lady will get out of your way! Right? And you can feel the tension rising … and while she’s looking for her checkbook, she’s having a little chat with the lady who’s checking her out, and saying, “Oh, I can’t find this.” We’ve all been through this situation, and the tension is rising, and your blood pressure is going up, and you really are getting mad …

Has it dawned on anybody, that for this woman, this is the most human contact she is going to have in any given day? And she is stretching it out … because this is her human contact? Because when she goes home, there’s nobody who is going to call her, and nobody who is going to visit her?

Would it kill us as Christians to reach out and have a conversation with the woman, to greet her?

That’s what it means to be a Christian.

I’m not talking about the big, bad stuff that could happen to you.

I’m not talking about going out and being the best there ever was.

I’m not talking about you going and changing the world all at once.

And I for darned certain am not talking about you saving the world. That’s been done. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon, outside the gates of Jerusalem. It was a Friday, 2,000 years ago. The world’s already been saved, folks. It’s not on our shoulders.

All Jesus asks us to do … is to be faithful … every moment of our lives.

When we’re driving on 495 … and it’s rush hour … we sin more in our cars than we sin anywhere else in our lives! I am convinced of it! (Except at 11 o’clock on Saturday mornings, when we’re all listening to Wait, wait! Don’t tell me! and we’re driving along the road, laughing like hyenas, because it is so funny.) The rest of the time, on 495, during rush hour, we are all getting … tense … and we’re saying bad words, and we’re calling people bad names … right? Everybody has done this? I cannot be the only person …

Take that time, right then and there, to stop and think, Is this what God really wants me to do? Is this what it means to follow Jesus? To call people names?

            I got really upset one day, when I was zipping home from this neck of the woods. I now live over in Falls Church, so the best thing to do is to go down 236, get on 495 North, zip around 495 North to 66 East, get off at 66 East, go one exit, to 7, and then I’m a mile and a half from home. Right? Piece of cake. Easy-peasy, 18 minutes, 20 minutes in normal traffic.

All of the sudden, the exit comes up – and you know, they’ve redone the exits for 66, east and west, off of 495 – and I have to slam on my brakes, because no traffic is moving. We start inching our way and inching our way, and I’m thinking to myself, “All right, hold it together. As soon as you get to 66 East, these are all people who want to get on 66 West.”

Well, I go to get on 66 East, and what happens but there’s a cop car, and he has blocked the entrance. The reason we are all slowed down is not that 66 West is slow, it’s that all of us, all three lanes of us who have been trying to get on 66 East and 66 West together, were now going west.

I ended up having to get on 66 West, and go farther out than where I had started, to get off the highway, to zip around, to get on the highway to go back.

I … was … livid!

I was such a bad person that day! I was so upset. I really was.

There was nothing on the news about this. There was nothing to tell us what was going on, no signs, no nothing.

I kept fuming, “Couldn’t you tell us about this?”

Well, when I finally get on 66 East, and I go blitzing past the exit I should have taken earlier, almost an hour before, I saw a really bad traffic accident.

They had to do an airlift to take someone to the hospital …

… and I felt awful.

I had been so concerned for myself that I had not once thought that maybe, just maybe, there had been an accident, and that someone’s life was in the balance.

In all that time driving, I never once thought about being the best that I could be – because all I cared about was me.

My friends, trust me, this was not a moment when God smiled upon me and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But if … if … each of us were to think about offering our best, especially in those times when we don’t want to offer our best, the world would be a far better place.

It would be such a good place that we could change the world.

As long as we remember: This is not a competition.

We don’t have to be the best there ever was.

We simply have to be the best that we can be …

Every single moment of our lives.

Amen.

 

Sermon preached on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Burke, Va., on 23 September 2012.

 

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Dear Mr. Romney: You have gone too far

Dear Mr. Romney:

I cannot tell you, right now, how much you have enraged me in the last few days. I am beyond being annoyed with you, beyond being merely mad at you.

I am now enraged!

Every time I hear your voice – every time I hear your voice – I find myself yelling at you via the radio or television.

Thank God for the print media – because of them, I do not yet believe I am in danger of having a coronary. I simply turn the page.

Do you know why you have enraged me? I think not, for if you did, you would stop saying some of the incredibly insensitive, stupid things you have been saying. So let me educate you.

First, simply because I don’t pay income taxes doesn’t mean I am a “victim.” I am not a victim. I simply don’t make very much money. Thus, when it is time to do my taxes, I am granted the Earned Income Tax Credit.

In case you are not aware of this, sir, this tax credit is very similar to the ones you take to keep your tax rate down to the insultingly low level of 13 percent.

You yourself have stated, repeatedly, that you take advantage of every single tax break thrown your way. Congratulations, sir, for being smart enough either to (a) hire someone to do your taxes who knows his or her business; or (b) are really good at filling out the forms yourself.

So answer me this: Why is it perfectly acceptably for you to take your tax breaks and not for me to take mine?

I pay every single cent I legally am required to pay in taxes.

If that statement sounds familiar, it is because I am echoing you.

Second, I pay a bucket-load of taxes, sir. I pay state income tax. I pay payroll tax. Because I am self-employed, I pay the entire share of FICA. I pay local property taxes, state property taxes, and state sales taxes. I pay federal taxes for every gallon of gas that I purchase. I support, through my taxes, government, schools, the military, the infrastructure of this country, and a whole slew of other things.

In other words, sir, I am a taxpayer.

What I am not is a victim!

How dare you say that just because I use the tax code as well as you do (on a much, much, can I say again, MUCH smaller basis than you), that I am a victim?!

How dare you proclaim that I expect the government to take care of me?

Did I mention that I pay for my own health insurance as well?

I realize that in the context in which you were speaking last May, you were declaring as already lost the so-called “47 percent” (and may I point out, sir, that you really need to get more of your facts correct, since the correct number is forty-six percent? And yes, one percentage point does indeed a difference make).

I get it. You don’t think you can convince a huge swath of this country to vote for you.

That’s fine. I understand. Because I, sir, am one of those people who will not be voting for you.

But you, sir, went too far. You decided to tell your more ardent supporters that the only reason I won’t vote for you is because I am a victim, a worthless slug of a couch potato who wants to be bottle-fed by the U.S. government.

You insulted me, sir.

And you insulted every person in this country just like me.

And that is a step too far.

I was willing to give you grace about your boasts of being a job creator – which you are not. Your time at Bain Capital was never about creating jobs. What you are, sir, is an incredibly gifted wealth creator. That’s what you did at Bain – you created wealth for your investors, and from all records, you were outstanding at your job. Pretty ruthless when it came to the people who actually worked for the companies you were attempting to build up or turn around, granted. But your investors made more than one pretty penny off your work.

So bravo for creating wealth upon wealth.

I would be happier, I should note, if you would be honest about what you did there, and stop trying to tell me that you created jobs. You did not.

And I was willing to give you grace on your budget proposals, even though I disagree with just about every thing you have said, every idea you have had. Your proposals, combined with Paul Ryan’s proposals, will do lasting harm to this country. You will continue to attempt to use an economic theory that has never, in the history of the world, worked. Trickle-down economics, sir, are dangerous for the overall wealth of this land and its people.

But it’s your proposal, and I give you credit for standing by it.

I even was willing to give you a modicum of grace for comments you made on your first overseas trip as the presumptive nominee. Trust me, I winced and cringed much of the time you were overseas, but I understand what you thought you were trying to say.

I was less willing to give you grace every time you told yet another lie about this country, or about the man against whom you are running, President Obama. You repeat canards that are offensive on a constant basis, and for that, I was not willing to give you very much grace.

But in an attempt to try to give you grace, I decided you had poor advisers who gave you bad information, and that in your rushed life, you did not take the time to say, “Hey, is this really true?”

Because if it wasn’t your advisers’ fault for you proclaiming, repeatedly, that President Obama has apologized for the United States (not true); that President Obama is wiping out work-requirements in welfare (not true); that … oh, dear, the list is far too long to repeat here, but you know whereof I speak … if it wasn’t your advisers’ fault, then you, sir, must be either (a) an idiot (which I do not believe is true) or (b) vicious (which I did not want to believe about you).

That’s not much grace, I grant you. But I’m trying here … so work with me, OK?

But then your comments at your fund-raiser were leaked.

Which is when my blood pressure went up, and I went from being mad at you to being enraged (sadly, I cannot even convey that properly, but imagine, if you would, please, see that word in blood-red, in HUGE letters, with lightning bolts and sparks flying off it – that’s how enraged I am)!

Because in trying to speak a truth, you made a point of absolutely denigrating nearly half of this country.

You made it plain that you hold us in contempt!

You made it sound as though we are not even worthy of your consideration as human beings, much less as a major portion of the people you seek to represent and lead.

And that, sir, is a step too far.

You have made a major mistake, sir.

For I am not alone in my rage.

There are others – many others – who were willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, but who no longer can do so.

If you hold me and others like me in such contempt, do you not understand that we in turn will hold you in contempt?

You simply cannot identify us as money-grubbing, lazy, worthless, shiftless people who do not deserve your attention, or your help, or your leadership, and expect any of us to vote for you!

Even you, sir, cannot be that thick-headed!

So let me reiterate my lesson to you, because, as you well know, there will be a test – on Nov. 6. Please, sir, pay attention.

  1. I do not make a lot of money.
  2. I do pay taxes – lots of them.
  3. I do not expect the country to give me everything I need.
  4. I survive based on hard work, and the incredible generosity of friends and family, many of whom are in the same boat.
  5. I do expect you to treat me, and others like me, with respect. You do not have to like me, and others like me. I get that. But if you want to lead, sir, if you want to be a leader, stop denigrating me and mine. Stop it. Right now.

Because if you want to be president, sir, you are going to have to realize: People like me? We vote.

And we do not vote for people like you.

 

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Discipleship is in the details

Mark 8:27-38

                   Welcome, my friends, to “Take Up Your Cross Sunday.”

                  Aren’t you excited? Isn’t this exactly what you had planned on doing when you got in your cars and came to church this morning?

This is the day when you have to decide: Are you going to take up your cross and follow Jesus?

Now, normally, I can tell you that on a Sunday like today, this is not the focus of the sermons. Look at the front of your bulletin covers. Go ahead, look, look, look. It’s very pretty and should not be wasted. What does it say on the front of your bulletin cover but, “Who do you say that I am?” And so most of the time, when we hit this portion of the Gospel, Proper 19, what we decide to do is have a little chat with each of us about “who do you say that I am?” So that we can each name Jesus.

If we’re not focusing on that, then we like to focus on poor Peter. Peter, who is so quick to say, “You’re the Messiah! I know it!” – remember, this is the turning point of Mark’s Gospel. This is when it becomes open and public knowledge about who Jesus is and what he’s going to do – So we focus on Peter saying, “You’re the Messiah!” and Jesus saying, “Yes, and this is what it means to be the Messiah. I am going to be rejected. And I am going to be killed. And on the third day, I will be raised again.”

What does Peter do? He begins to rebuke Jesus – “No, Lord, you can’t go and do that!” And what does Jesus do, but he turns around and he rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan!”

We love to revel in that, don’t we? Don’t we love to revel in the times when Jesus says – to someone else, never to us – but to somebody else, “Get behind me, Satan!” Because then we don’t have to deal with the issue ourselves.

But the fact of the matter is, today is “Take Up Your Cross Sunday.” Today is the day when you have to decide: Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to follow Jesus? Not just a little bit. But all the way?

Now, most of the time, when people think about taking up their crosses and following Jesus, they think about difficult that is, how hard it is. And that’s what gets in the way of taking up that cross – really taking it up – because, you know, spit, I don’t want to do something that hard.

Does taking up your cross and following Jesus mean that you have to become a missionary and move to Sudan and live in a mud hut with no clean water, no running water, no electricity, and death and disease staring you in the face every moment of every day?

Does it mean that you get to stay in this country but you have to give up everything you own? Your homes – for which you worked so hard? Your jobs – that gave you the money to buy those homes? Your nice cars? Your nice clothes? Does it mean that you have to give up your retirement? Does it mean that you have to give up your kids’ college fund?

Because if that’s what it means to take up your cross, Lord, I’m not certain I’m going to go there with you. I’m not certain that that’s the kind of Christian I’m called to be. That must be the guy down the street. The one at whom you’re always yelling, “Get behind me, Satan!” That’s his problem, not mine.

It’s a hard thing to take up your cross and follow Jesus, especially when you read it in the New Revised Standard Version, which is the version of the Gospel we just read.

But I want to read it to you in a different translation, so see if it has any impact, if it makes any difference in your lives.

Jesus said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.

You are not in the driver’s seat; I am. Do not run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me, and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”[1]

This translation, my friends, is not actually a translation; it is a paraphrase of the Gospel. It was written by a theologian by the name of Eugene Peterson. He wrote this paraphrase – actually, the entire Bible; he’s now finished it – so that people who had never read the Bible, because it didn’t seem to matter to them, didn’t speak to them, and so that people who have read the Bible so much that everything in it is just old hat, been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt-while-I-was-at-it – so that both groups could hear the Gospel in a new way.[2] Both groups would be able to experience God in a new way. And both groups would be able to respond in a new way.

So instead of me asking you to take up your cross today, how about I simply ask you to do a little bit of self-sacrifice?

How about I ask you to let Jesus be the driver in your life?

Isn’t that just a little more palatable?

Isn’t that something that you are probably a little more willing to do?

Anybody?

Guess what?

It’s just as hard.

Because what Jesus is asking us to do is to put Jesus at the center of our lives – in everything we do.

You’ve heard the expression, “The devil is in the details”?

You know that one?

It’s wrong.

Discipleshipis in the details.

"Follow me," by Reynaldo.

Discipleship is in the details.

Everything you do in your life, every minute action, thought, decision, the details of our life – that’s where you need to be a disciple most.

Some easy examples:

When you go to your local coffee shop – I don’t think there’s a Starbucks in town, is there? – so you go into your local coffee shop, if every single time you go in there, you get a disposable cup for your coffee, you need to stop and think again. Because by doing that, that little detail, you are telling God you do not care about God’s very good creation. Would it kill you to have your own go-cup that you brought with you?

If, when you’re driving through Aldie (a small town nearby) at … twenty … five … miles … per … hour … and not one tick above that, especially if “You’re not from around here, are you?” … you know when you come out of Aldie, and you get to speed up all the way to 40, if there’s somebody who is on your tail, just waiting for the lines in the road to change so that they can jump around you, would it kill you to let that person go around you? Because maybe they do have an emergency. Maybe there is some urgency in their life, of which you know nothing.

When you are in the grocery store, and the woman who is checking you out is obviously having a terrible day; her eyes are filled with tears. Discipleship means stopping and talking with the woman. It means holding up the entire rest of the line so that you can give pastoral care to somebody who actually needs it, so that you can give grace upon grace to someone who has not experienced grace.

When you are in that same line, and you have the little old lady who is taking forever to find her checkbook – never mind writing the bloody check – and you’re getting tense because you want to say, “Hurry it up!” … stop and think for a moment … that for this woman, this may be the most human contact that she has throughout the day, and by God, she’s not going to hurry it up.

When we stop and we think, in the details of our lives, about what Jesus would have us to do, that’s when we are the truest disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When we give grace to other people …

When we realize that just because you and I don’t agree on something doesn’t mean that we have to be enemies …

When we model a behavior of acceptance …

When we stop talking about them, as opposed to us – because there are no “us’s” and “them’s” in God’s very good creation …

Those little details … which I know do not sound like much, but I can guarantee you – if in the tiniest details of your life, you are stopping to be faithful, you are doing your best to be a disciple of Jesus, to do what Jesus did, which was to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty, to give sight to the blind, and to make the mute speak, and the deaf hear, to make the lame leap for joy …

When you do what Jesus did, which was to welcome the unwelcome, to include the excluded, to love the unloved, to give hope to people whom have known no hope from generation to generation …

When you live your life that way, then you are truly a disciple of Jesus.

That’s what it means to take up your cross, so that in every moment of your life, you think about the impact you are having on God’s creation, the impact you are having on God’s people.

It’s the self-sacrifice of realizing that youme … you … and you we are not the center of the world. The world does not revolve around us.

When we take that moment to step back and to say, “What is it that Jesus would have me to do?” – whether I want to do it or not, that’s not the question – the question is, “What does Jesus want us to do?” – when we do that, then – then – we are truly being disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Then we are taking up our cross.

Then we are following Jesus.

You can’t simply believe that you follow Jesus by proclaiming, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! It’s not enough! Jesus has expectations that we are going to try and live Jesus’ way in this world.

So that we can indeed realize God’s dream for all of creation.

In this day and age, in this country, when we are so set on dividing each other, when we are so set on attacking each other, when we are not bothering to listen to each other, when we refuse to give grace to each, imagine the impact that we could have, if in the details of our lives, we were disciples of Jesus.

               If we stretched out our hand to someone who is different from us, who thinks differently, God forbid who votes differently, and said, “You are a beloved child of God.”

(Don’t be shaking our head! Don’t be shaking your head!)

Just because we don’t agree politically doesn’t mean that we are not beloved children of God, you and I both!

What kind of model could we set?

How would it change the world … if we focused on Jesus and what Jesus wants, and not on ourselves and what we want?

As I said, welcome to “Take Up Your Cross Sunday.”

Do I have any takers?

Amen.

Sermon preached on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, Year B, at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Middleburg, Va., 16 September 2012.


[1] The Message (Bible), article on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Message_(Bible)

 

[2] Ibid.

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Sometimes, you need a handkerchief

Mark 7:24-37

            A few weeks after I began my life as a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, I was sitting under a tree in the Grove, reading for my Systematic Theology class.

            Now, I knew an awful lot about systematic theology – I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic, I went to Roman Catholic schools and graduated from a Jesuit university. So I was actually pretty “up” on what I needed to know for this class.

But that day, sitting under that tree, I made a stunning discovery, one that changed my life. (Yes, a textbook can change your life.) I discovered Anselm of Bec, the 36th archbishop of Canterbury, who died in the year 1109, and who wrote a stunning piece of theology known as the Proslogion.

In that textbook of mine, I read, for the first time, this tiny snippet from the Prologion, from that masterpiece:

“God,” Anselm wrote, “is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”[1]

God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.

I have to tell you, when I read that one sentence, my heart began to race and my body was quivering like a little puppy dog, and my mind was exploding like a supernova, going everywhere and racing around, and I thought, Oh, my God! Yes! This is it! I exulted. This explains everything I’ve ever wanted to know about God!

Think of the greatest love you have ever known – think of it –God’s love is bigger than that.

Think of the greatest suffering you have ever gone through – think about that –God’s suffering is greater.

Anything you can think of, any attribute you can describe, and God, quite simply, is greater than that.

Because God, my friends, is God.

Later on that year, I discovered the writings of Frederick Buechner, who was a theologian and a fabulous writer, and he wrote, among other things, “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. Those handkerchiefs are called saints.”

When I read that quotation, I immediately knew of whom Buechner was speaking for me. He was speaking of Anselm.

Because, for me, Anselm was one of God’s handkerchiefs. Because Anselm could answer my questions, the question that I had for God: “Who are you?”

Anselm answered that. I’m sitting under a tree in the Grove at Virginia Theological Seminary, I’ve been a seminarian for a whopping two weeks, and this little handkerchief fluttered down into my life. And suddenly, all of the possibilities were opened, and all of my theology changed, and every way in which I lived my life changed – right then and there – because I no longer had to ask God, Who are you?, but my questions changed then to, God, what would you have me to do? How can I live into your love, which is greater than any love that I could ever conceive?

            It was an amazing moment.

I believe that God sends those handkerchief saints to all of us throughout our lives, so that we all can know more than we have ever known, so that we can go farther than we have ever gone, so that we can dream bigger than we have ever dreamed, so that we can do more than we have ever done.

God’s handkerchiefs are sent to us so that we can be better than we are, so that we can become the people God wants us to be.

The Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark’s Gospel this morning?

She was one of God’s handkerchiefs.

This is a woman who was considered, by Jesus and by his disciples and by anybody else in this story in the Gospels as an unclean woman. She was Syro-Phoenician. That meant she was a Gentile, and she came from mortal enemies of the Jews. And there she is, dropped into the story. Nobody knows where she came from. Nobody knows how she heard that Jesus was, in secret, alone, in Tyre. But there she suddenly appeared.

She goes to Jesus and bows down in front of him, honoring Jesus, recognizing him for who he is, the Son of God, God’s very handkerchief, given to the entire world, and she says, “Please. Cleanse my daughter, for she has an unclean spirit.”

An unclean woman went to Jesus to say, “My daughter has an unclean spirit. Please, heal her. Please.”

Now I need you to be very clear on this:

She had absolutely no business talking to Jesus. None whatsoever.

She was a woman. And ladies, you don’t go and talk to strange men. Certainly not alone.

She was a woman from the wrong tribe. She was a Syro-Phoenician.

She was a woman from the wrong people, a Gentile.

The wrong faith – also, a Gentile.

She was considered unclean.

Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman (portion of “Forgiveness” by the painter Thierry Ona)

And yet … there she was, begging Jesus… begging him: “Heal my daughter.”

Because, first and foremost, the Syro-Phoenician woman was a mother. And her child was sick. And she needed help. And she recognized that Jesus could do this. That he was, indeed, the Son of God, and he could heal her.

And what does Jesus say? In his pastoral best, he says, “Nope. Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Really?

The Son of God, who came to be with us as one of us, who came to show us what God’s love looked like and tasted liked and felt like and sounded like and yes, even smelled like, the first thing he does is he insults this woman, with the worst insult you can give in that culture? He calls her a dog? And worse, he calls her child a dog???

Let me tell you, I have lived in cultures, I understand this … I have lived in cultures where calling a person a “dog” is enough to start a fist fight. I have lived in cultures where making this symbol (curling a finger to call someone) to come here – that’s how you summon a dog. I have watched two men pick up pickaxes and go at each other over it, because one called the other a dog and went Sssst (and made that gesture). In Africa you do this (curling four fingers under) for a human and this (curling one finger up) for a dog. Dogs are the lowest of the low, they are unclean … they are not my Great Dane puppy, Julian. OK? That’s were dogs are. Lower than even the snakes.

And Jesus calls her a dog.

What does the woman say back to him?

“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Boom!

            Take that, Son of God! Let me show you something about loving! Boom!

Just like that, Jesus has his comeuppance. Because this handkerchief from God floated down in front of him, and said, “Open your eyes. Open your heart. Open your mind, Jesus. This is my child. And I need her to be better, and you’re the only one who can do it.”

And that’s what Jesus does.

You notice that he never says, “Your faith has made her well?” No! He just acknowledges, “Wow. You said that, boom, it’s done.”

Jesus needed to have his horizons expanded, his boundaries expanded. He had blinders on. He was so set on going to the chosen people of God that somehow, he had either forgotten or not quite realized that all people are God’s chosen, that all people are God’s beloved, that all people deserve God’s love, and that all people deserve God’s healing.

He was very, very focused on God’s Chosen People, capital C, capital P, the people of the Jewish tradition. And this Syro-Phoenician woman – an unclean woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit – opens Jesus’ eyes.

From that moment forward, Jesus starts going out, and healing Gentiles, as well as healing Jews. From that moment forward, Jesus starts breaking more and more rules, because he realizes that he is there for everyone, and not just for the chosen few.

Now, before we say, “Well, jeez, Jesus, I thought you were the Son of God, you should have gotten that from the beginning” … before we get all smug knowing the end of the story – because, remember, at that point, even Jesus didn’t know the end of the story … before we feel like, “Oh! We’re better than this because we get it,” I want to ask you something:

What blinders do you wear?

What boundaries do you refuse to cross?

What stops you from embracing the world?

Is it, people who don’t agree with you?

Is it, people who are different from you?

Is it, “I don’t want to go there because it is too hard, too far away, too different”?

What blinders do we need removed and what boundaries do we need expanded so that we can live, most fully, into God’s promise to all of God’s beloved creation?

What is it that we need changed?

I’m telling you, God drops handkerchiefs on us all the time. And those handkerchiefs, they open our eyes, and our hearts, and our minds.

You never know where you’re going to find them.

It could be … the person in the grocery store.

It could be … the stranger who smiles at you as you walk down the street.

It could be … the people who come from far away to work up on a mountain so that they can learn how to improve our lives.

It could be … the successful businessmen who travel the country.

It could be … anybody you meet.

So, I want you watch out for those little handkerchiefs. Because they are in our lives every day, and they are there not to tell us how wrong we are, not  to pull a Boom! moment on us, but to say, “Look at it a different way.” Or, as one of my friends likes to say all the time, “Turn the stone over, and look at it from the other side.”

God sends us handkerchiefs so that our blinders can be removed, and so that we can live more faithfully, not as we think that we should, but as God dreams we will.

God has dreams for us, and we put limits on those dreams.

So what does God do?

He drops a little handkerchief in your lap, so that your eyes are opened, and your hearts are opened, and your minds are opened.

You could be sitting under a tree.

You could be driving through the mountains.

You could be flying across the country.

And you never know …

You could be a handkerchief, too.

Your very presence in somebody else’s life could be enough to open their eyes, and their heart, and their mind.

You could be God’s blessing.

Actually, you already are.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18, Year B, at Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 9 September 2012.


[1] Anselm of Bec, Proslogion in The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm with the Proslogion, Benedicta Ward (Translator, Introduction), R. W. Southern (Foreword), Penguiln Classics, 1979.

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Jump off the ladder!

John 6:56-69

            On the 25th of May in 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood in front of a joint session of Congress and announced that within that decade, the United States would go to the moon.

            He made this bold announcement, this bold proclamation, this challenge, to the people of America, and to the people of the world, at the height of the Cold War, in the age of Sputnik, when the United States and the Soviet Union were in direct competition with each other to rule the world.

            On the 20th of July in 1969, we achieved his promise.

            Neil Armstrong climbed out of the Lunar Landing Module, which was called the Eagle, and he paused on the steps of that ladder, and then he jumped off, and he landed on the moon.

And he said, “This is one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.”

When Neil Armstrong jumped off that ladder, he had no idea what was going to happen. It was this amazing leap of faith for him to do this, because nobody knew what the moon was really made of. Nobody knew how thick the dust was going to be. Nobody knew if he was going to sink up to his hips in dust. Even though the Landing Module was sitting firmly, it had special webbed feet – it had duck feet, believe it or not – so that it could spread its weight out. But he didn’t. He was in this giant, giant, white suit, with these magnificently huge boots, and he jumped off that ladder not knowing what was going to happen.

Millions of us around the world were glued to our televisions and our radios, waiting to hear. I remember sprawling on the floor in my parents’ bedroom, in front of our color TV, watching this scratchy, grainy, black-and-white image, and listening to this scratchy, fuzzy audio, and not knowing what was going to happen.

But he made that jump. He made that leap of faith, because he believed in what he was doing.

Yesterday, we received the sad news that he had died, three weeks after undergoing heart surgery. He died from complications from that surgery. And since the moment we got that news yesterday afternoon, we have been hearing stories about Neil Armstrong. We’ve been hearing about what he went through to get to the moon, and what happened to him afterwards. The United States never sent him back into space. The government wasn’t stupid. They weren’t going to take this hero and let him risk his life ever again. So two years after he walked on the moon, he resigned from NASA, and he went back to Ohio, where he was from, and he became an engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati. As they said in one story on NPR, “Can you imagine taking Engineering 101 from Neil Armstrong?” Can you imagine what that must have been like?

All of the remembrances of him talk about his courage, but they also talk about his humility. In a speech he gave years later, he said, “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”[1]

Those who are remembering him yesterday and today are speaking, really, of his great humility. They are speaking as well of his strong faith. His faith that what he was doing was possible. That it was possible for the United States to achieve the impossible.

When he went up into space, it was his second time. When he went up again, he said that there was a 90 percent chance, he felt, that he would come back alive. But when it came to jumping off of that ladder, to land on the moon?[2] He figured there was only a 50-50 chance of surviving. So he didn’t actually give very much thought to what he would say.[3]

         And yet he comes out with that magnificent quote, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

My friends, this morning’s Gospel – that’s what this is about. One small step for each of us in order to achieve a giant leap for mankind.

Jesus is preaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. It’s is still the same story we’ve been hearing for the last five weeks. We’re still talking about Jesus being the bread of life. Over and over again, he keeps saying this.

When he started out, he was dealing with large crowds. Remember, he had just fed them – 5,000 of them. But when he started talking about bread of life, a bunch of those people said, “Um … no. This is too much.” And they left.

Then, when Jesus repeats again that “I am the bread of life,” now it’s the Pharisees who are objecting. So they leave.

Then Jesus goes into the synagogue at Capernaum, which was a fairly large synagogue, and it was filled with his disciples – not just the ones he called, but the ones who decided that, really, this is the man they’re going to follow. Once again he says, “You’re going to have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” And they said, “No, we’re not.” And they left.

Now Jesus is down, in this morning’s Gospel, by the end of it, he’s down to the twelve. To the ones he had personally called. The ones to whom he had said, “Follow me.”

Even they are objecting to this idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Even they are saying, “This is really difficult.”

Jesus knew this was difficult. He knew how hard it was. To follow him and to eat his flesh and to drink his blood means to overturn all of the laws that had been laid down, that had set those people aside. If you go through Leviticus, you will find all the laws that control what the people who follow God, the chosen ones of God, can eat. They can only eat certain kinds of flesh. It has to be those with a cloven hoof, and those that chew their cud. We don’t have cloven hooves, we don’t chew our cud. And Leviticus is very, very, very clear, “You don’t ingest blood.” Steak tartare was not on the menu for the Jews. That rare steak that you order, where you say, “Make it good and bloody”? No! The Law is clear.[4]

So when Jesus says, “You follow me, you do this my way? You eat my flesh? You drink my blood?” he’s basically telling those who follow him, “You’re going to leave behind everything you know, and you are no longer going to belong to your community, to your family, to your faith.”

It’s an incredible challenge, a bold proclamation – to change the world.

Take this small step with me and for me, Jesus says, and you will be making a leap for all of God’s beloved children.

This is the question that we have to face – for ourselves. Right here. Right now. Before you come forward to have the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, you have to make a decision.

But before you make that decision, I’m going to warn you: This is a difficult thing to do. Because if you decide that you really want to eat the Body of Christ, that you really want to drink the Blood of Christ, that this really is real for you … if you are going to accept this challenge, let me tell you something: It means that you will no longer belong in society. It means that you will be outside of society. It means that some of you are going to have to turn your backs on your families.

Because it means that you’re going to have to live in a whole new way. You can’t just take the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and walk out that door and not be changed! It’s what I told you a couple of weeks ago, when we were talking about this. It changes you. It sets you apart. And if you accept this challenge, if you come forward and you eat the Body and you drink the Blood of Jesus Christ, then you already are changed, and you are going to go out into the world and you are going to change the world.

Because it means that you are going to have what’s called an agenda. You’re going to have the agenda that is always, always, seeking to feed the hungry, and to give water to the thirsty. Always, always, seeking to correct the injustices, never shrinking back, never clinging to that ladder of the Lunar Landing Module and saying, “Oh, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t think I’m going to do this anymore.” No! If you’re going to stand up to the injustices of the world, you had better leap off that ladder. Because that is what Jesus is asking you to do.

Being a follower of Jesus is not just saying, “I’m a Christian.” It means you have to live a Christian life. You have to have an agenda that says, “You know what? I believe we can give sight to the blind. I know we can give hearing to the deaf, and voice to the mute. I know that we can proclaim freedom to the prisoners. I know that we can stand up against a society that says we have to be divided; a society that says, ‘I’ve got mine and I don’t care if you ever get yours.’” You have to seek a society that is together for the common weal its people.[5]

If you’re going to be a Christian, if you are going to take that leap off of that ladder, let me tell you, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to come gunning for you. There are a lot of people who are going to say to you, “You know you’re crazy? You can’t do that. That’s impossible. Why would you want to live your life this way? Who told you to make the decisions for me? I’ll do what I want!”

You jump off that ladder, you’re jumping into the unknown. Just like Neil Armstrong did. Just like Buzz Aldrin did a couple of minutes later.

But that’s what Jesus is challenging us to do.

And remember, he’s giving us an out. He makes it very, very simple: “Do you also wish to leave?” Even to his chosen 12, he gave them the option to go home.

Now can you imagine what that must have been like? You give up everything in your life. You walk away from your family, you walk away from your job, you walk away from your inheritance – do you think that Zebedee was really going to turn over his fishing fleet over to those two boys of his, James and John, after they walked off the job and left him high and dry? Uh, uh! – You walk away from all that they way they did … imagine what that must have been like.

And then Jesus comes along, and he keeps preaching this really hard stuff: No! You can’t go along to get along! No! You can’t accept injustice and say, “It’s not my problem.” No! You can’t walk by the person who’s starving! No! You cannot let the naked person stay naked; you have to take your clothes off and given them to him! No! You cannot let people beat each other up! No! You can’t stand by and watch people bully each other in school! No! You cannot, cannot allow the poor to stay poor while the rest of us have more than enough.

Imagine what it was like for Jesus and his disciples at that important, challenging moment, when he said to them, “Do you also wish to leave?”

Amazingly, none of them did.

They didn’t leave because Peter – God bless Peter, who never quite got it even when he got it! – Peter looked at him and said, “Lord, where else are we supposed to go? To whom else can we go? We have come to believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” There’s nothing else out there for us!

You don’t really think Neil Armstrong was going to crawl back up that ladder without jumping off, do you? With all of the time and money that we had put into this, do you think he was really going to cling to that ladder and call Houston and say, “Houston, I don’t feel like doing this”?! He had accepted the challenge. He clearly knew – because he told people about this – there was a 50-50 chance he was not coming back! And he still went ahead and did it … because he believed.

He believed that it was possible for us to explore the heavens.

Do we believe, with that much faith?

Do we have the faith of the disciples, who said, “Lord, to whom else would we go?”

Do we have enough faith to live the life that we proclaim that we are living when we’re here in church … outside the church?

This is what Jesus probably would understand is called a fish-or-cut-bait moment. That’s probably a term that would make sense to him, because he lived with a bunch of fishermen. You either keep on fishing, in the sure and certain knowledge that it’s going to work, or you cut bait and you move on.

So this is your fish-or-cut-bait moment. This is your chance to not only take a small step for yourselves, but to take a giant leap for mankind.

Let me tell you, if each and every one of us decide to get off that ladder and land on the unknown surface of the moon? We can change the world. We will change the world.

If each and every one of us makes the commitment that Jesus is indeed the Holy One of God and that he came here for us, and that he died for us, and that he rose for us … if we accept that and live that, I’m telling you, the world will be a different place!

           We will not have hungry people in the world. We will not have people without clean water. We will not have people who have no access to medicine. We will not have rampant injustice. If we take the time to live the Gospel, to live the promise that Jesus gives us, through his own body and blood – we’re not just eating wafers and sipping port wine here, folks – it’s a lot more than that.

When we come forward, we’re making a commitment to a way of life.

Not just for yourselves.

But for all of God’s beloved creation.

Are you willing to jump off that ladder?

Amen.

 

Sermon preached on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., on 26 August 2012. 

 


[1] The Associated Press, To Hero-Astronaut Armstrong, Moonwalk ‘Just’ a Job,

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=160044021

 

[2]Allison Keyes, In just ‘one small step,’ Armstrong became an icon, NPR’s Weekend Edition, http://www.wbur.org/npr/160059467/in-just-one-small-step-armstrong-became-an-icon

 

[3] Ibid.

[4] Extrapolated and condensed from Rick Morley, “The bloody truth – a reflection on John 6:56-69,” http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/1880, 13 August 2012.

 

[5] Paraphrase of Dave Comstock, member of The Christian Left: ‎”A ‘Christian’ agenda is one that seeks healing, feeds those who are hungry, confronts injustice, eschews wealth, welcomes the stranger, fixes what is broken, is present where people are experiencing ‘crucifixion’ in order to embody ‘resurrection.'” 24 August 2012 via Facebook.

 

 

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