Sunday, September 14, 2008
Hurray for broccoli! Hurray for prime rib!
“Lord, how often should I forgive?”
Pentecost XVIII – September 14, 2008
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton,
rector and pastor
All of today’s lessons are about the sobering, essential task of forgiveness – from the incredible story of Joseph forgiving his brothers (Genesis 50:15-21), to the words from St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans (Romans 14:1-12), and the words of Jesus about forgiving “seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-35).”
Forgiveness is, in my estimation and based on my experience, the single most difficult task of being a Christian – bar none. Forgiveness and reconciliation lie at the heart of the gospel and in the very heart of Jesus, our Christ and teacher.
I haven’t said this flat-footedly, as it were, but forgiveness also lies at the heart of the discussions we are having in the series ‘Religion, Race and Politics’, which we launched last week with Bishop Harris, Dr. Pressley and Rev’d Varghese, who ends the series this Tuesday night with her presentation, “The Reality of Racism and the Dream of God.”
That being said, I don’t think I could possibly preach a better sermon than the one you heard from St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (14:1-12.)* (I’ve attached it below) That’s a different translation than many will get this morning, which, by the way, is not approved for use in the Church. I’m not flaunting that as a matter of disobedience but rather as a point of information.
I encourage you – no, actually, I urge you – to take your bulletin home with you and compare this translation with the one you’ll find in your bibles. I think you’ll find this translation, (actually, an interpretation) by Eugene Peterson, closer to the heart of the man we know as St. Paul.
Here’s what this translation says about those who believe differently than we do: “Treat them gently.” Isn’t that astounding to you? Doesn’t that embody the spirit of Christ who bid absolutely everyone welcome? When was the last time you heard THAT in church?
He also says this: “For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, would it be terribly rude if they fell into criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. . . . “
He also says, “If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.”
Sometimes, I fear, we are so caught up in the details of what it means to be an Episcopalian who is a Christian than what it means to have the faith necessary to follow the Spirit of Christ.
There is nothing like death to put your faith to the test. I was privileged to have three weeks of vacation to mourn the death of my mother on July 29th. I confess to you that I found myself, at times, absolutely inconsolable.
There have been many losses this year which have torn my heart – and yours. This year, we have lost Gail MacNeil, in whose honor the Kaleidoscope of Hope is having their annual walk, even as I speak.
I have been, at times, inconsolable at the loss of this great woman. We’ve also lost Bill Kinnemon, that great, gentle giant of a man whom I loved with all my heart, and before that, Eleanor Kernaghan, that sweet, unassuming woman who surely was in possession of the most generous, gentle heart in all of Western Christendom.
Inconsolable. That’s the word I’ve used. One of the prayers in the words of our magnificent Book of Common Prayer at the time of death is, “may your faith be your consolation.” Yes. Yes. I’ve heard it said in 12-Step Programs that “faith isn’t faith until it’s the only thing you are holding on to.”
How is it that we believe in mystery? The mystery of that “sweet, mystical communion” of which we sing and claim to take part in when we celebrate the “holy Mysteries” of our faith in Holy Eucharist?
Sometimes, I see it in your eyes. You are too polite to say it, but I see the doubt. I see that you want so much to believe me that, when you can’t believe what I say I believe, you believe in my belief.
And, I am deeply honored. Truly, honored. That, my friends, is faith.
And, here I am confessing my belief and my unbelief and asking your forgiveness because sometimes, I doubt. Sometimes, my faith alone is not enough to console me – or anyone else – even though my belief is unshakable. It’s just that, sometimes, my faith is.
That’s as honest as I know how to be with you, and I’m trusting that you rely more on my honesty than either my faith or belief.
I have to interject a funny story about my family as an example of what I'm talking about.
In April of this year, when my mother was making a comeback, we had an important talk. “I’m leaving everything I have to my grandchildren,” she announced, to explain, I suppose, why she wasn’t leaving any financial gain in her will to me or any of my siblings.
“Yes,” I said. “Good,” I said. “They need it more than any of your children.”
“Yes,” said my mother, “but I want to know: What do you want? What of mine do you want?”
We went back and forth for a while, me demurring from anything of hers when I realized, suddenly, that this wasn’t so much about what I wanted but what she wanted to give me.
“Ah,” I said, thinking quickly, “You know, Mom, you have always had a great devotion to St. Theresa, and I remember that you had a statue of her in a small shrine in the yard of our Westport home.”
My mother remembered immediately and smiled.
“Well,” I said, “If you still have that statue, I’m sure no one else would want her, and, if you like, I’ll take her.”
To say my mother was pleased is to make a gross understatement. She was positively beaming as she said, “Oh, wonderful! I wondered what would happen to St. Theresa. She’s in storage right now, but I’ll make sure you get her.”
Two guesses what the ‘hot ticket item’ is in my family right now?
Suddenly, eevverrryyybody loves Theresa!
I find myself praying, “Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And then I add, “Lord, forgive me. Help me to be, as your servant Paul taught, to be gentle with them.”
I only know this much to be true: In those moments when the only thing I am holding onto is my belief, I have found faith.
God forgive me, a sinner of Christ’s own redemption.
May God forgive us all.
And, in the great diversity of God’s creation, black and white, rich and poor, male and female, Democrat or Republican, bound or free from whatever might enslave us, in those moments when our faith is strong or when our faith in what we say we believe is weak, in those all-too-frequent moments when our differences threaten to divide us, may we at least be united in being gentle with each other. For Christ’s sake,
So, hurray for prime rib and hurray for broccoli.
Because, as St. Paul says, ,
“If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.” Amen.
Romans 14:1-12 (RSV)
14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.
6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11 For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God."12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
(The Message: Eugene Peterson)
Cultivating Good Relationships
1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
2-4For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.
5Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
6-9What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you're a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It's God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
10-12So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:
"As I live and breathe," God says,
"every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God."
So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.