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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Anatomy of a miracle

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

It was my privilege and joy to preach and preside at St. Paul's, Georgetown, this morning. I did so as a favor for my colleague who is the rector and one of the hardest working priests I know. He and his spouse took a rare, long weekend away.

I did the same for him last year. That's two years in a row. And, as everyone in The Episcopal Church knows, after two consecutive years of anything, it's now tradition.

No, I don't have a manuscript of my sermon.

Yes, I normally always do.

This time, I preached from the center aisle, with just a few notes. I did that because I knew that this congregation is small in size and elderly in age, and that they would most appreciate a short, personal, Gospel presence closer to them, in their midst, instead of from a distant pulpit.

I preached about miracles - of Jacob wrestling with the angel and Jesus feeding 5,000.

Turns out, while I was preaching about miracles, another one was happening.

I preached without a manuscript.

Not the first time I've done that, of course. The first time at the principle Sunday morning service.

Ms. Conroy was there, along with my dear friend and brother of my heart, Bill. They said, with no small amount of notable surprise, that I did "very well". Well, at least by their standards, and they both have pretty high standards. They seemed to have two major bars which I passed.

Ms. Conroy said I didn't pace back and forth or up and down the aisle at a pace so as to induce nausea. (A real pet peeve of hers.)

Bill and Ms. Conroy said I didn't say "Umm . . .".  Not once. (Also a pet peeve of Ms. Conroy)

And, here I was, wanting to simply preach the Gospel coherently and with relevance to the lives of the people to whom I was preaching.

What I remember saying - the main point I wanted to convey - was that, inside every miracle is human compassion.

The Talmud says that the Jews are a compassionate people (rachmanim), and that someone who claims to be Jewish but doesn’t show the quality of compassion is not really a Jew. Indeed, the Zohar (the foundational literature of the Kabbalah) even says that when Jacob received the name Israel after wrestling the angel, that this was in order to allow Jacob to become attached to this quality of compassion.

Matthew's Gospel reports that Jesus had retreated to a deserted, lonely place, but that the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

I told a story about my grandmother who had compassion on the factory workers in our town who were part of the early labor union organizing movement which was started by my grandfather, father, uncles and cousins.

Several times a week, she would gather up the vegetables from her garden and the meat from her larder and make a few huge pots of soup and many loaves of crusty Portuguese bread. She would bring the soup and bread to the strike line so that the men would have something to eat.

St. Paul's, Georgetown, DE
As one particular strike went on and on - much longer than anyone expected - we began to see women and children in the soup line. As more people appeared on the strike line, the anxiety level began to rise exponentially. As did the potential for violence.

I am convinced that it was her compassion that caused the miracle of having enough to feed everyone.

She would call out over the crowd, "Not to worry. We'll add a cup of water to the soup and we'll all eat hearty."

And, we did.

I believe that inside every miracle is human compassion.

There can be a miracle in Gaza if the people there remembered something about their true nature and identity; that as children of Jacob, they are a compassionate people (rachmanim). 

There can be a miracle at our borders with thousands of  "unaccompanied children" if the very same American people who insist that we are a "Christian nation" remembered the compassion of Jesus who told his disciples not to send away the 5 (or 10 or 20 thousand, if you add women and children) people who had gathered to be healed and fed but said to them "you give them something to eat."

There can even be a miracle when a certain priest who is pretty wed to her manuscript takes a risk for the Gospel and preaches it from "a prepared heart". 

I do believe that inside every miracle is human compassion. 

I know it not just because I preached it.

I've lived it. 

And, seen it.



Unknown said...

Suppose we're not a Christian nation; we have the separation of church and state in our laws. "Progressives" want us to refuse to impose our morality on anyone; why do "progressives" get to have it their way when it suits them?
And if feeding the 'unaccompanied' is something justifiable without using religious language, then why bother with religious language? As an atheist, I think using "Christian nation" justification is just a pathetic and obvious way to jab people and make them do things they don't want to do through guilt.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, George. Okay, so take a breath. Now, take another one. Now, read what I wrote again. Perhaps you can't see it but when I wrote "Christian nation" my tongue was firmly planted in the side of my cheek.

If those right wing nuts who scream hateful things at frightened children at the border want to call this a Christian nation, then they had better start acting like Christians and display some compassion.

And, in case you had any doubt, no, I don't think we're a Christian nation. Weren't at the beginning. Aren't now. Way past the point of ever being one.

MarkBrunson said...

These days, we're barely a nation. To be a nation requires that a bunch of mewling, spoiled children overcome their personal viewpoints to help one another.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's really bad these days, isn't it, Mark?