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Sunday, June 03, 2018


Pentecost II - June 3, 2013 - Proper 4, Year B, Track I
The Episcopal Church of St. Phillip, Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

How do you know if you’re doing the right thing? If you’re making the right choice? That you’re doing what God wants you to do? Even if it means you have to break a rule?

The first lesson from the first book of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) is one of discernment. Samuel hears the voice of God calling him, but thinks it is Eli. Three times, Eli sends him back to his bed. And finally, in the morning, Samuel tells Eli what he has heard and Eli confirms for Samuel that it was the voice of God.

In Mark’s Gospel (Mark 2:23-3:6), we are presented with two instances when Jesus defends his disciples when the Pharisees charge that they have broken Sabbath law. In the first case, the disciples, walking through a grain field begin to pluck the heads of grain. In the second case, Jesus heals the man with a withered hand.

In both instances, Jesus calls the Pharisees on their own ignorance and hypocrisy.  He calls them to observe the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. When Jesus confronts them on plucking wheat on the Sabbath, he says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath;” And, when he confronts them about healing the man with the withered hand, he asks, ““Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

Sometimes, discernment is pretty cut and dry. Other times, it is more complicated. Sometimes we need to confer with a trusted person, as Samuel did with Eli. Other times, we have to trust our own authority. Just as Jesus did we must take the risk and trust our ability to discern the spirit of the law over the letter of the law.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we face these kinds of decisions. If you think back over your life, I’m sure you will be able to tell the story of a time when you had to take a stand for what was morally right, what was decent and kind, what was just the right thing to do, even though it went against what was expected, what was easier or more convenient, even what was ‘the rule’.

I remember years ago – in the early 80s – in the early years of the AIDS pandemic. I was in Boston at the time and I had been working with a young man in his mid-twenties. His name was Jimmy Mac and he was a popular radio personality. He was also a gay man who had AIDS.

Jimmy and I worked tirelessly on the Ecumenical AIDS Task Force, doing educational seminars at churches and schools and civic clubs – anywhere anyone would have us. He was bright and funny and a very effective teacher. And, he became very sick very quickly.

I learned that he was in the hospital and went to see him. In those days, what we didn’t know about AIDS was even more terrifying that what we knew about how it affected the body, much less how it was transmitted. People with AIDS who were in hospital were treated like modern-day lepers. It was not uncommon to see a full tray of food outside someone’s hospital room because no one would dare go into the patient’s room.

And, when you did go into the room, you were required to wear a paper gown, mask, gloves, shoe coverings and to cover your head. That was the hospital rule. When I went to see Jimmy, I dutifully got “dressed” before I entered his room.

Jimmy was so thin and so frail he could barely lift his head up off the pillow to say hello. Still, he managed a brave smile and to crack a joke. “Well, look at you, Ms. Thing” he snickered, “You know, your gloves don’t match your shoes.” And then he coughed so hard his poor frail body shook violently.

I went over to the bed and held his hand, trying to soothe him. “What can I get for you, Jimmy?” I asked. “Tell me what to do to help and it’s as good as done.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Elizabeth, I’ve been here for almost two weeks and, in all that time, no one has touched me. Oh,” he said, “they have with gloves on, but I haven’t felt human skin – haven’t seen a full human face – haven’t heard a human voice that wasn’t muffled behind a mask in all that time.”

“Look,” he said, “I know what the rules are. But, I also know that I’m dying. Please, Elizabeth, would you take off your mask so I can see you one more time? Would you take off your gloves so I can feel you one more time? Would you hold me, one last time, before I go? I know I’m going to a better place, but I sure am going to miss some parts of being human. Would you do that for me? Please?”

And, even though I knew it was against the rules, even though I knew that because his immune system was so compromised, I was putting him at greater risk than I was putting myself, I pulled off my mask. I pulled off my gloves. And, I looked him right in the eye as we both filled up with tears, cleared my throat and said, “Well then, push over. If you want me to hold you, you better move over and make some room.”

And, he did. And I held him. And we cried. In the midst of it, a nurse came into the room, saw us both, smiled and nodded her head. And then, she did something I’ll never forget. It was a simple act of human kindness – her stamp of approval on our breaking the rules. She closed the door.

I guess I stayed with Jimmy for about an hour. The next day, his mother called to say that he had died and asked if I would preside at his funeral. Of course, I said. It would be one of the great privileges of my life. And, it was.

St. Paul says in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “But, we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-12)

I believe that “treasure” we each have within us is the love of God. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, preached at the Royal Wedding:  There's power in love. There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There's power in love to show us the way to live.”

That power in love is stronger than any man-made law or well-intended rule. 

As Bishop Michael preached, “Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.”

The thing of it is that love didn’t change or save Jimmy – he died the next day. And it sure didn’t change the world – it was then and remains now an often dark and broken place. But it changed me. That hour with Jimmy Mac in that hospital room in Boston where I made a small sacrifice for love changed and transformed and redeemed me and I’ve never again been the same. 

Now, my friends, I told you all of that to say this: In churches all over the country this morning many people are wearing orange to bring attention to the crisis of gun violence. Clergy are wearing orange stoles. I don’t have an orange stole but you may notice that I’m wearing orange sandals. And, under my vestments, I’m wearing an orange scarf.

In the 80s, the epidemic was AIDS. Today, the epidemic is gun violence. Our children are dying in schools, on playgrounds, on the streets where they live. Somehow, in the midst of all of this madness, we Christians have to discern what it is God is calling us to do. 

We’ve got to examine the law and move above and beyond the letter of the law to find the spirit of the law. Somehow, we’ve got to find a way forward that does not compromise the rights of others while making good on the foundational principles of this country of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for ALL of God’s children.

We may, like Samuel before us, need the help of a trusted person to discern what God is calling us to do. We may, like Jesus, find the means to trust our own authority to discern what is right and what is good, to find the path to the sacrificial, redemptive love of God, of neighbor and self.

St. Paul reminds us that we have “this treasure in clay jars”. He said, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”

Here's your homework assignment this week: Take home the scriptural insert in your bulletin. Read over the lessons, espeically Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth. 

Ask your self, in the midst of all of the chaos in the world today, how am I making Jesus visible in my mortal flesh? 

Christ lives in me. How will people know Jesus through me? 

I have this "treasure in the clay jar" that is my body. How am I sharing the treasure of God's love with others?

The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way."

I believe the treasure we have within us of which St. Paul speaks is the love of God. May we discover the power of that love so that we may be changed and transformed. And, when we do that, we will change the world.


Track 1

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6


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