Pentecost, Sept. 5, 2021

Uncomfortable Words

This is not the Jesus we are used to: the one on vacation, the one with sharp words — this is not the Jesus of “come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest..” (Mt 11:28). This story paints a different picture, one that’s difficult to fathom. He just seems so over the top as he delivers his pithy message to the woman

Historians and scholars alike have tried to parse out what he means when he speaks to the syrophoenician woman, how he’s saying what he’s saying. Still, it comes  across so unkind. Not like him.  Was he joking? If so, we’ve missed the meaning; and, if you’ve got to explain it, it’s not funny.  It may be banter, the back and forth of people being ironic: “oh, get out of here, woman!” “Oh, grow up, Jesus!”  Perhaps imaginable, but not much better.

While we can’t easily figure out what is going on, what is unequivocal is this: her actions, what she will do for her daughter. Barge in, interrupt, be a nuisance, persist… anything. Desperate people do desperate things, even trusting those you don’t know much about. Or you only know by reputation. 

Like handing a child over a barricade to a soldier.

When you’ve pinned your salvation, your freedom and wholeness on someone, you are not going to take no for an answer, no matter how the word is delivered. So armed with a mother’s love, she takes Jesus on. No doubt about that.

These past few weeks we’ve seen incredible and compelling stories of bravery from our armed forces, from our first responders, from people who in times of great distress or emergency have made the choice to put themselves in harm’s way, whether in Haiti, Afghanistan, in Louisiana  or in our own state. We should be eternally grateful to them.

Doctors and nurses, search and rescue first responders, police and firefighters, and of course our armed forces, have acted with determination: professionally, compassionately, heroically.

I’ve always been in awe of people who enlist or join the ranks of first responders. We have had several of our young people here make that life choice. Their motivations vary. Some feel duty bound, some want a way to hone skills or learn new ones. Some want a place to land while they are growing up, investing in their future.  While serving, they deepen their knowledge of themselves, they mature.  Their lives fall into place. Service members, no matter what type of duty, learn and swear to a code of honor, ethics, they commit to certain behavior.  They live by that code sometimes even after they leave the service.

The church shares a similar type of configuration, so it’s no wonder that you find the same type of language among us: we speak of commitments as vows, we talk about faith as a way of life; we as clergy, talk about being deployed when we accept a call at a church; and we all  approach the world with a particular point of view because of this.

But I don’t imagine, we think of our faith as ‘service’ in the same way, though. 

Ours is a more comfortable approach, nothing like boot camp. We have nice rituals and lovely buildings and speak about ‘practicing our faith’ in terms of attending worship.  We expect comfort from our faith, a place to get our spiritual needs met,  a place to retreat from the world. 

But as Jesus himself finds out, even when you try to retreat, the world barges right in and demands action.

It is what James reminds us in his letter: “If you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? … faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”  In other words, there has to be a visible, tangible outcome of faith.  In other words, if you’re going to claim to be a Christian, better put your boots on.

Faith is a practice, not just a set of beliefs.  

James calls out the modern custom of ‘sending thoughts and prayers’ to those who face calamity and catastrophe. “Take care,” we say. And those suffering respond incredulously: “how?” James reminds us that we cannot live our lives of faith from the comfort of our churches; we are called to the trenches, to the places where the poor and neglected live and move and have their being.  And the language of the battlefield, if not the imagery, is entirely appropriate.

Because it’s a war out there. So don’t get too comfortable.

There’s a war for resources right in our State, from Newark to Elizabeth, Manville, and places in between as they try to recover from Hurricane Ina.  There’s a battlefield in every hospital that’s trying to save people dying from COVID.  The disease of addiction is being fought in every neighborhood in this country. California is burning up and Louisiana is drowning. There’s a fight for humanitarian aid in Haiti. There’s a confrontation of ideologies war being played out in Afghanistan, with disastrous consequences. People everywhere are dying, and where they are not, they could be doing so much better if only we would act, live out our faith. 

Because here’s the thing.  The gospel of Jesus makes it clear that salvation isn’t an individual accomplishment. No, “for us and for our salvation” means that we are inevitably linked to each other. My salvation, yours and theirs are irrevocably intertwined. 

“You may see your own as a priority,” the woman reminds Jesus, “but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get anything: I will settle for crumbs.” So he does not hold back from the woman, impertinent as she may be. Jesus, agrees or relents –not sure which– and does what is asked of him.  Her daughter is cured. Her act of faith saves someone else. There are so many who will settle for our crumbs.

And while these words may seem hurtful, think of them instead of a call to service. Believe that there are so many ways in which you can put your faith to work. Faith is not about the things we believe, but how what we believe makes us act in the world. And every day there’s a new opportunity.  Every day the world needs saving. That’s what we enlisted for. 

What continues in our liturgy is the affirmation of faith, otherwise known as the Creed, literally, “what we believe…” before we go there, though, let’s affirm what we practice.

Join me in the Prayer of St. Francis page 833 in the BCP

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand’ to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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Pentecost 12, August 15, 2021

Rev. Susan’s Sermon for Proper 15, Aug 15, 2021

Heavenly nourishment

According to an article on NPR, every two years, the  National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey gathers information on health and nutrition in the United States.  This year, they and the CDC have concluded that American kids and adolescents are eating more junk food than ever.   This, despite most of us knowing that junk food isn’t good for you.

Junk food is usually highly processed, convenience food made from ingredients so manipulated that they hardly resemble their origin. So junk food tastes good but has little or no nutritional value, also known as empty calories. That’s important. Nutritional value.  The reason for eating, after all.  

It seems so simple.  Eat what is right for you. Eat what does you good. Eat what helps you grow, keeps you healthy, lengthens your life.  Why don’t we?

Years ago, when the kids were little, I remember standing line with them at one of the major fast food chains.  In the line over was a young mother with an infant who seemed to be only weeks, if not days, old.  Of course I was cooing and making eyes at the baby, and mom was certainly proud of her child.  As we exchanged the usual pleasantries about babies in general, she said she had really been having cravings and couldn’t wait for her fries. I laughed knowingly. But then she told me how much her little one enjoyed them, too. She said, “I mash them up real good so he can eat them.” giving a whole new meaning to ‘do you want fries with that?”

This was something shocking to me. As someone who nursed her children, then closely followed the guidelines for how to introduce solids to infants, I couldn’t imagine feeding fries to someone so young.  No judgement here, just bewilderment. How could anyone knowingly feed their little one this way? But there I was also, bending to pressure, doing the same thing, buying ‘happy meals’  though my kids were older.

Junk over nutrition. Seems like we fall for it every time.

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.“ We are still in the middle of learning about Jesus’ feeding program.  He’s gone from feeding the multitudes, to teaching them to recognize the difference between their cravings and real hunger,  and now a lesson about divine nutrition.

The passage is a bit complicated, and we have to stretch a bit to hear and appreciate what he’s saying: the path to life is through Jesus. He compares himself to bread and wine so that we might understand just how intimate that relationship should be, we are nurtured down to our very bones.

The bread of life is one that becomes part and parcel of us, helping us to grow, helping us to be attentive and responsive to God in our lives. ‘Abiding’ is the word used today, that is, God’s presence continuing to live on in us.

Why does Jesus go down this track anyway? Why does he compare himself to food? Why not, “look, here’s a set of principles, believe in them and you’re done.” “Here’s a set of rules; follow them to the letter.”  or “Here’s a picture of me, keep it before you at all times.” nope. None of the above.  He says mystically, enigmatically, truthfully, “eat the bread that I will give; eat this and live forever.”

And the people respond, “oh really?  I can’t believe that,” getting all hung up on the details of how this might or might not be possible. And so continues this push-pull that humanity has with Jesus offering full nourishment and us craving fast food. We delude ourselves into believing that junk is nutritious.

I think that’s because well, there’s something particularly devilish about junk food and most fast food: those fries taste great! That combination of salt and grease, of texture and flavor, when done right is nothing short of heavenly. It does make me happy. Well, at least the first bite or so.  Then, we crave it because it’s what we’re used to or because we think there isn’t anything better out there for us, we believe there are no other options. We are in denial about how harmful and deficient fast food really is. As the research points out, a steady diet of this type of food has deadly consequences.

But, it’s one thing, if we think we’re indulging in a whim and only do it so often.  It’s another when we buy into the lie we are being sold: that junk food isn’t actually so bad for us, and maybe even good.

“Good” because it makes things easier: you don’t have to cook, you don’t have to waste time, you don’t have to mess up the kitchen and so forth.  There may be a kernel of truth in these statements, but objectively, they don’t amount to much. Those meals are really ‘not-so-happy’ ones.

Why are so many American kids eating like this? Several reasons were revealed in the research: Fast food can be an easy option for stressed families; many poor families are beset by food insecurity and have no other options; some, because they don’t know any better.

But also because families in general, are targeted by companies to sell their product.  What they are selling is a false sense of security, what they are selling is a lifestyle, what they are doing is appealing to children, selling a counterfeit happiness to those who have no way to judge.  To a child, it all looks fun and wonderful, so it must be. They count on us to be their guides.

Yet, many of the things adults believe are life-giving, really aren’t.  Power, glory, wealth, prestige, even education and social standing are all but disastrous when we become over-reliant on them.  They can sustain for a while, but not forever. We know this at a certain level, but more often than not, we are willing to believe things that are patently untrue because it’s just easier, like empty calories we think will make us happy somehow.

Like a mother who desires nothing more than the health of her child, and who knows exactly what that is, Jesus offers himself as the most nourishing meal ever. In doing so, he fulfills that vision given to humankind as ‘the Word made flesh.’ 

His words, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” must be heard as an invitation, not as an argument or a sales pitch.  It is an invitation to feast, to delight, to trust, and to be made whole. Believe is what we do when we take him at his word and make him our own. Communion is when we have that experience of God in our own flesh.

Nothing could be more lifegiving. Nothing could be more true. Nothing could be more filling. Nothing could be more satisfying.  Nothing could make us happier. Nothing could be more like Jesus. 

No fries, thank you

Amen.

Pentecost 11, August 8, 2021

Rev. Susan’s Sermon for Pentecost 11/Proper 14 – August 8, 2021

There is a moral story you may have heard that makes the rounds from time to time on the internet, involving wisdom passed down from a man to his grandson.

“A fight is going on inside me,” an old man (sometimes depicted as a native american, but probably not*) told the young boy, “it is a fight between two wolves.  One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The Light Wolf is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you grandson…and inside of every other person on the face of this earth.”  The grandson thinks about this for a moment and then asks, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?”

The old man smiled and simply said, “The one you feed”.

We are in the midst of an extended lesson from the gospel of John. In this passage Jesus tries, over and again, to get people to understand his relationship to God, his relationship to us, and his mission to the world. 

Today, the intention is to have us focus on the meaning of Jesus as “the bread of life,” a key tenet of our faith.  This statement is, at the same time, innocuous and profound: he compares himself to the most basic form of nutrition –bread– to achieve the highest goal — life. 

There is beauty in the simplicity of the statement. He keeps pushing something we’ve noted before: that you are what you eat and what you feed on. is of great significance.  Those of us who have signed on to this belief, have few issues with that concept of him being the bread of life.

You can’t help but notice, then, that there’s a different reaction to his statement in the gospel: there, it met with scorn and contempt. People complain and criticize.   “How can he make these claims?” they grumble. “Who does he think he is, this Jesus?!” “He’s just a local boy, puffing himself up.”  When I don’t like you, what you do or what you stand for… I question who your mother is or  maybe even give you another one, one of my choosing.  

Anger was a common reaction to hear him say, “I am the bread of life.”

I don’t know if it’s the pandemic, the internet,  the political situation, lack of awareness, self-centeredness or what, but anger seems to be the way we react to a lot of things now.  In anger we complain, kvetch, criticize and call each other out for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Every day, it seems, we hear of people behaving horribly, unleashing their anger on any and everyone.  A guy so out of control on a flight, he ends up being duct taped to his seat.  People throwing tantrums in restaurants; food servers receiving the brunt of their wrath because things aren’t to their liking.  Olympic athletes are scorned and heckled  because they don’t meet a couch potato’s expectations. There seems to be an endless loop of reasons why people feel entitled to react in outrageous ways. And anger becomes fuel for more discontent and more brokenness.

There is, of course, a place for righteous anger, times and places where we must raise our voices to quell injustice, oppression and the mistreatment of others.  This kind of anger however, doesn’t or shouldn’t lead to violence.  Indeed, the Christian tradition includes many who were able to speak truth to power while maintaining a non violent stance. 

It’s hard to do though. It requires work. I need to always remember that the first victim of self-righteous anger is me. I speak from experience: there was one time where my anger, so completely off the charts, landed me in the hospital!

Sometimes my anger has me feeling like Elijah in the Old Testament reading:  he’s just so done with his situation, he wants it all to be over. Rather dramatically, he asks to die. He is earnest in his petition, he’s been through a lot. He wants out. Instead, an angel appears and tells him to ‘get up and eat.” The angel even insists a second time, “Get up and eat, “otherwise, the journey will be too much for you.”  And there it is: the bread of life. Strength for the journey.

Just when we are about to be consumed with anger and hatred, just when we are about to lose it, just when we want to check out, be done, escape from the world, the Lord shows up and says: “I am the bread of life; Take, eat.”

What an astounding thing that is: that we are offered always, consistently, without question, the very thing that will bring us back from the brink of death; something that will put out the rage we feel. “Take, eat.”

How can something so basic be so healing?

“The teaching of the church that the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace. That is, that the sacraments are visible physical things and actions that point to an invisible spirit and the love of God in action within us… But it is not only an individual journey for in coming to his table and feeding upon Jesus we find ourselves beside all those others who come to eat and drink – it is the family meal of the church: our families, our friends, our neighbours, those we love and care deeply for, those we are estranged from, those we do not agree with always, and those we do not know. We come as part of the crowd of five thousand who Jesus fed by the lake long ago, and as part of the crowd of millions who today declare Jesus as Lord.” (Susan Lodge Calvert)

And as we are focused on eating, sustenance, and how it creates and builds community, I want to also keep in mind how easy it is to fall into the grumbling and complaining pit.  As St. Paul puts it: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger… Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted…”  

That’s what reminded me of the wolf story, hackneyed though it is. Which part of ourselves are we going to feed?

When we, or the situation we are in, are out of control, it’s helpful to take note of what is feeding our anger and discontent. Be angry, if you must, but do not sin. Rather, turn to what gives life, not what diminishes it. A diet of acrimony and confusion will only endanger your life.  Choose wisely what you will consume; see that you are nourished not diminished.

“Take, eat” are probably the most forgiving words any of us can ever hear.  The words come from the One who offers us nothing less than himself, the Bread of Life.

Amen.

Pentecost 10, August 1

Rev. Susan’s Sermon for Pentecost 10 – August 1, 2021

Here’s an idea:

What if someone offered you the possibility of never being hungry again? Ever.  Would you do it, take that offer? Imagine that: no cravings, no salivating over your favorite dish, no need for a mid-afternoon snack, no falling to the temptation of a sugary dessert. It begs the question if you would even enjoy eating –if you were never hungry.

I can’t quite imagine it, but that is exactly what we hear in the gospel when Jesus asserts: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The gospel story started with the miraculous feeding involving the loaves and the fishes. Jesus was able, somehow, to feed thousands.  Today’s passage takes place in the days that follow.

What’s left of the crowds –some apparently went on with their lives– are still pressing in on Jesus.  They are aware of being in the presence of someone special, but don’t seem quite able to make sense of what they’ve experienced.  To hear them say it, having been made aware of his power, they want more. A word, proof, reassurance, a sign, another miracle, something. 

That suggests that those who were fed were hungry again. Think about that, they were no longer satisfied. How can that be? One would think that they would still be basking in the afterglow of the miracle! 

Jesus pushes back, revealing the real reason why they come looking for him: some are in search of a quick-fix magician, some want a king to fight their battles, some want to be close to power, to be near someone who could be so influential. In truth, some can’t even articulate their desire, but they sure think he can deliver.  

None of them, though, seem to think that their hunger is about their relationship to God.  Jesus refers to that when he challenges those who were fed by the loaves and fishes, that is, those who were already part of a miracle, to focus their labor on “bread that does not perish,” There is no substitute for trust in their creator.

What makes us so hungry?  Why can we ever be satisfied? In other words, whatever we hunger for is the reason why we seek Jesus. I suppose each one of us gets to answer that question.  As one commentator put it, “What is it about us? We are a hungry species: we are always hungry for what we do not have, restless to be where we are not, and dissatisfied with what we once thought would satisfy us. We are indeed the sons and daughters of the Israelites, grandchildren of those who followed Jesus looking for bread that would satisfy.” (Susan Lodge-Calvert)

Part of the issue is that there are so many ways in which we hunger. We know there’s physical hunger, mental or psychological hunger but there is also spiritual hunger.  Trying to figure this out takes some work –that’s part of the labor Jesus’ refers to.

While, there’s no shame in being hungry –and who hasn’t downed a donut in a fit of anxiety– but hunger best understood as either desire or denial, frequently trips us up: either we can’t get enough or, even when it should be enough, it isn’t satisfying. We spend time and effort seeking answers, solutions, solace from Jesus without putting in the work. 

So I ask the question again? If someone offered you the possibility of never being hungry again, how would you respond?

Perhaps it’s worth considering what you are hungry for? In your heart of hearts, what do you want? Again, the answer will be different for each of us. Some want peace, some safety, some acceptance, some renewal, some reassurance… the list goes on.  Here’s the thing: God is not a vending machine.  God is not a genie.  Jesus doesn’t have a magic wand. 

 Rather, Jesus provides a handy short-cut for us: what we really want is life –and thankfully, that’s what God wants for us also, life and life abundant. Imagine that! Such good news!

Any one of our hungers should be understood not as something to be fixed, but as a pathway to God; as a bridge, as a way to connect with intimacy and vulnerability to our Creator trusting in his love. Like any child approaches a parent in the search for safety, shelter, comfort and indeed, food, our hunger can bring us into the presence of God.

But, and here’s the catch, there’s work involved.  Yup, the life that we are called to isn’t one of feasting on bon-bons while lounging on a couch.  Our labor involves believing that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and that he addresses, takes care of our hunger by inviting us to live differently. Finally,  this Bread is enough to live on.

This is a new spin on the old adage “you are what you eat.” When we allow what consumes us to be at the center of our lives and relationships, that’s what we become: divided, fearful, resentful, deprived.  Jesus invites the crowds to go below the surface, to recognize the deep hungers that lie beneath all our strivings. This invitation helps us become what we eat in a new and different way as we feast on the bread of heaven. 

If we can accept the bread of life Jesus offers, we indeed become the body of Christ in the world. 

That is what Paul is talking about to the Ephesians. “each of us [is] given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift…The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” 

Looking at it this way, hunger takes on a whole different quality.  Whatever you hunger for is met with grace and purpose through Christ.  We are equipped –read fed– to find what we need as we meet the needs of others.  If we do this, indeed we will never be hungry again!

There is a meal blessing that I’ve used on occasion that I think says it best: “Dear Lord, Give food to those who are hungry and hunger for you to those who have food.”

In Jesus’ Name.

Amen.

Pentecost 8, July 18

Rev. Susan’s Sermon, July 18, 2021, Pentecost 8/Proper 11 

I think one of my earliest memories of being included comes from the first grade. We had just moved to Mexico City. I was new, a stranger, and in school for the first time.  Alone and hugging the wall at recess I was asked to join the game I had been watching the kids play.  It was one of those games that has an ultimate goal, involves a song and has all sorts of rules about how it’s played.  

Of course, I had no clue about any of this. It was foreign to me. I had been watching, hoping, I could figure it out, when one of the girls –bless her!– said, ‘come on, get in!’ “But I don’t know what to do!” I protested.  “Nonsense,” was her reply.  “Everybody knows this game!”

I didn’t. But 6 year olds have a way of making mistakes fun, either by declaring “new rule! New rule!” or, “this one doesn’t know the words yet, so she gets a pass,” giving everyone a chance. Innocent, play is more about being silly together than it is about following the rules.

There’s a special feeling that comes from knowing that you are included, that you might belong. It may be a sense of safety, or calm. It may be knowing that others care. It may be a sense of trust, that the group affirms who you are.  It may be a sense of welcome and hospitality every time you lay eyes on each other. I hope each and every one of us can point to specific times and places where they knew –beyond any doubt– that feeling of inclusion and ultimate belonging. I sincerely hope that this church, this community is one of those places.

I say that because we spend an awful lot of time and energy focusing on everything opposite of inclusion: distinctiveness, difference, exclusivity.  We are enormously invested in individuality, independence, using our divisions as if wielding a knife, to separate, isolate, even discriminate and segregate.

This seems to be true throughout history. No sooner than a group coalesces into a cohesive form, it creates a sense of identity by setting boundaries, limits on inclusion and exclusion, ways in which others know that they belong, and whether they are in or they are out.

It’s the wonderful reading from Ephesians that got me thinking about this. How we get to the point of organizing ourselves along likes and dislikes, from the individual to the national and cultural level. How a symbolic action becomes fixed, cemented into ritual, and becomes a way of thinking and then into a way of being, understanding the world and being in relationship with God.

“Remember,” Paul writes,  “that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”… remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world…”

Wow.  talk about being on the outside! About not being included! Gentiles were strangers without hope and without God!  And talk about a way to know and signify this distinction: circumcision.  This being a willing and indelible mark, it was a sure way to tell the difference between one group of people and another. (Though I wonder if anyone actually checked!)

For perhaps obvious reasons, we don’t talk much about circumcision in the church. Can’t say that I’ve preached about it much, but it was, is, a prominent feature of Judaism and a dividing issue in early Christianity.

Circumcision as a token of allegiance, as commitment and service to God can be traced all the way to the covenant Abraham makes with God in Genesis (Gen 17:13). Clearly it was serious business.

 But as a practice, Male circumcision wasn’t unique to the Hebrew people.  In fact, it is the oldest known human surgical procedure, with historical records and archeological evidence dating the practice back to ancient Egyptians in the 23rd century BCE. Not all cultures in antiquity practiced it, not all countries or societies do now. But at one point, it became the mark of distinction, the gate, the way in which some were in, and some were out.  So much so that for the early Christian community, it was one of the earliest controversies the disciples had to work out: Is it a requirement for all who follow Jesus?

Peter first and now Paul, say no. There are other ways to profess our commitment to God. Paul specifically said, “in his flesh [Christ]  has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two…” Of course, Paul isn’t only speaking about circumcision, but indeed about all the ‘commandments and ordinances that are between’ jews and gentiles.  The goal is to make believers of us all, to include everyone, without distinction.

How difficult that is for us to accept that God accepts us all.

In today’s gospel, Jesus looked at the crowds and “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd…” Jesus, just like God does, accepts who we are: a people consumed by petty divisions, ground down by gatekeeping and rules, oppressed by systems that denigrate our common humanity.  Jesus’ heart breaks when he sees this, and he is moved to heal, to teach, to reach, to ultimately include those who were always on the sidelines: the weak, the vulnerable, the outcast.  He doesn’t ask if people follow the rules; full of compassion, he lets them know they are worthy, just as they are. 

Maybe it’s because we are still recovering from the pandemic; maybe it’s because our politics are fractured and our nation so divided. Maybe it’s because the world seems to be coming apart from the effects of climate change and extreme weather events, or maybe it’s just me,  but I feel as fragile and vulnerable as a lamb.

A little compassion would go a long way. 

The words of today’s collect remind us that we are needy and ignorant, weak and blind, always counting on God’s compassion just to get along. God is there for us, but we need also to ask, where is our compassion?

One clue is that we won’t find it insisting on our own way, delighting in individualism, a misguided sense of superiority or by keeping others at arm’s length. In fact, we won’t find compassion without a sense of community.  It will be what brings us together, give us a way forward, because compassion is what motivates us to go out of our way to consider and even address the needs of others because we can see them, their pain, their suffering, as our own. 

Compassion may be a new way, a more inclusive way, to show our allegiance, our service and commitment to God –it’s not circumcision, but it does involve giving up something of ourselves for the sake of others: it might be our time, our resources; it might be giving up some long-held beliefs in order to make room for others, it might mean taking a look at our wastefulness and pausing on our consumption for the sake of the earth.  

What does compassion look like?

In God it looks like a shepherd who deeply cares for his flock

In Jesus it looks like a reconciling cross that brings everyone into his hold.

And in six year olds, it looks like inviting others to play. Amen.