Sermon Easter 5, Year C
May 2, 2010
I have a very simple message today.
Sometimes the gospel message is just very simple; and there’s no need for subtle interpretation or beautiful sentences or crafty story telling.
I’m talking about this word, from Jesus in John’s gospel: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Or as that famous song puts it, “They shall know that we are Christians by our love.”
I notice that Jesus did not say, “They shall know that we are Christians by our beautiful building… they shall know we are Christians by our preaching.” Not even by our beautiful music.
No, it’s by our love.
As one preacher famously put it, “If we were arrested for the crime of being Christians, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”
Which raises the interesting question, How will they know? What is the evidence for this love?
This question was answered beautifully 2 weeks ago in Fr. Jamie’s sermon on John 21, in which Jesus asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and each time Peter said “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” to which each time Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
Each time he asked Peter that question, Peter got more and more agitated; and Jesus had to say it three times - Feed my sheep; feed my sheep; feed my sheep – because he knew both how simple, and yet how very difficult, this proof of love is.
Our love is proven when we feed God’s sheep. And here at Church of the Incarnation, we actually kind of take that literally.
We prove our love, for example, at St. Andrew’s mission, giving away tons of food on Tuesday evenings, and putting on a community dinner twice a month.
We find proof of that love in Daphne V. and her kids, who on the Tuesday after Easter put on a beautiful Easter dinner out there at St. Andrew’s, with table cloths, flowers, decorations, Easter eggs and candies for the kids and gift bags for everyone, assembled by our youth group.
Proof of that love is found in the Rausch’s, and the Cramers, organizing the church pot luck suppers like the one we had last Friday night.
It’s Bob G. and Roger B. and the Nykamps and the Rausch’s and Lynn C. and everyone else who brings in donuts and homemade snacks on Sunday mornings – last week Ron brought in cream puffs even! Cream puffs! What greater proof for the love of God is there than cream puffs! And offering those treats in abundance, first for our homeless guests who come to Farlander on Sunday mornings, before anyone else.
It means being happy that we are privileged to feed our homeless friends; its having more than enough on hand, so those who are hungry need not be ashamed or ever made to feel inferior; it’s happily serving someone 3 or 4 servings if that’s what they want, before even thinking about feeding ourselves.
Proof of that love is found when no one ever is made to feel there’s not enough for them; and if there ever is a scarcity, it means always feeding our hungriest and youngest guests first. It means always treating our homeless guests with enormous respect and hospitality.
Proving our love is found in Marilyn P, cooking for The Living Room, our day shelter for homeless women and children; and Alice L. and everyone else who comes in to cook; and Peggy Z spending her mornings with the homeless children of The Living Room.
It’s Jose and Carla traveling to Honduras to serve the children there; it’s the women who run our thrift store, Heavenly Treasures, raising $15k a year for outreach, 50 cents at a time, and cheerfully giving clothes away to the homeless women.
It’s found in the Women of the Guild, putting on a rummage sale every summer and giving away the proceeds to charities.
And of course, proof of that love is not just found in food, but also in the food of relationship. It means, when we’re in Farlander Hall, actually daring to have a real conversation with someone we don’t know – like our homeless guests.
It means being in relationships that stretch us a little bit.
It means Mike and Patty H., and all the volunteers who give their time tutoring and offering support at the Luther Burbank School.
It’s never letting a newcomer feel ignored or unwelcome. It means that when we’re in Farlander Hall during coffee hour, we’re keeping an eye out for people on the edges of the room. It means that if we’re locked in a conversation with an old friend and we spy a visitor alone sipping coffee staring at the bulletin board, wondering if anyone would speak to him, it means letting go of our conversation, taking our friend with us, and going over to that person and introducing ourselves. And it means doing that, no matter if that person looks rich or poor, attractive to us or unattractive, and whether or not they look like a “good Episcopalian.”
It means offering the food of relationship beyond our comfort zones. It means getting to know one another on deeper levels; and reaching out beyond our boundaries to people of other faiths. It means responding to the offer of relationship that has been extended to us by the Unitarian Universalists, and the Roman Catholics, and the Jews, who all tell us they’d like to get to know us better and would like to work with us on issues of common concern. I believe it means saying yes to those relationships.
It means listening carefully to one another – especially to the poor, the marginal, the powerless. And it means not just giving them what we think they want (“Here have another donut!”) but giving them first of all the respect of a listening heart – understanding that they have something to offer us, just as we might have something to offer them. It means looking for relationships, not handouts.
It means taking those relationships seriously; which means taking the world seriously. It means that some people may not want our donuts; they may want to be able to drive down the street without being stopped by police because they look Hispanic – and they might want us to care about that, and help them do something about it.
It means that some people may not want our donuts, they might want to know we care about the fact that their child is sitting in the county jail because that's the only place he can get treatment for mental illness. It means actually wanting to help to change that horrible situation.
Its only because we are doing all of that, that we can enter into this gorgeous sanctuary and listen to this gorgeous music and know that all this beauty expresses our relationship to God; that, when we are done feeding the world, we can come home here, and be fed by this gorgeous building, this exquisite music, this Holy Communion.
It’s just that simple. The gospel is profoundly simple. Which is kind of bad news for those of us who would rather have something really complicated to think about, rather than have something very simple that we are expected to actually do.
My prayers is that we, who have so much to offer, will always have the grace and the courage to enter into these surprising gospel relationships, which come alive over bread and wine, as well as over coffee and cream puffs.
Somebody say… AMEN.