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Sunday, September 01, 2019

Angels with Dirty Feet

September 1, 2019

NB: I have been delighted to have spent the first Sunday of each of the summer months at Old Christ Church. Built in 1771 it is one of a hand-full of pre-Revolutionary War churches on the East Coast which has not been modernized, i.e. no plumbing, no electricity. So, yes, no running water, no toilets (well, a port-a-potty in the back yard), and no AC or heat. It gets HOT in there. I've learned to bring water and wear a black dress over which I wear my white surplice. It's too hot for a cassock. I've also learned that the "congregation" is not a congregation in the traditional sense. There are people who attend faithfully, but only once a year; others only go to church - any church - the months OCC is open. Some people drive from VA or PA or New England because they want to experience a worship service from the 1789 BCP in an historic church. Except for the small handful of volunteer board members, it's a different composition every time. I've found it very difficult to preach to a congregation like that. So, I've learned to keep it light, short and to the point. It's an interesting exercise in homiletics. 

How many of you have a FaceBook Page? Now, how many of you spend at least an hour a day on FaceBook? Okay, how many of you spend more than an hour a day – total – on FaceBook? (I won’t ask how much more than an hour.)

Yup, my hand was up for that last one, too. Once I get on the Internet or FaceBook, it’s like falling down a rabbit hole. I’ll put something in the oven or a load of clothes in the dryer and the next thing I know the buzzer is going off and I’m annoyed because I haven’t finished reading this one last thing.

So, if you’ve spent any amount of time on FaceBook, you start to ask yourself, “Does anyone on FB have a bad day or a bad meal? Does everyone but me have fabulous vacations, a great car that never breaks down, and families that all seem to smile a lot and everyone seems not only to get along but like each other?” 

And, by ‘like’ each other, I’m not just talking about that silly blue thumbs up icon.

After a while, I get caught up in it, too. I confess that when I’ve experimented with a recipe and post a picture of the finished product on my FaceBook page, I do like all the blue thumbs up and hearts and wow emoticons I get. And, I very much like the comments that gush, “That looks FABULOUS!” Or, “Gee, I wish I could cook like that!”

At some point in the midst of one of those times when I have felt very self-satisfied and was very close to the point of gloating, I realized that I had fallen right into the FaceBook seduction of self-promotion. 

Which, I suppose, can be a fairly harmless exercise. The problem, however, is that we can start believing our own press releases.   It’s just a very short slide from the top of that slippery Hill of Hubris to believing that the fabulous persona we have created on FaceBook is real, instead of the fabulously flawed person we really are.

I suppose that’s what happens to people who begin as a public servant and become a politician. They start off truly wanting to serve their country and change things for the better and make a difference in people’s lives and run for public office. 

You may have noticed that in order to do that, you have to be able to get really good at aggressively tooting your own horn. You not only have to be good at self-promotion, you have to be president of your own fan club.

Suddenly, that nice person who used to talk about “we” is talking about “me”. The language is all about “team” but it’s very clear that this is a “one man/woman show”. It’s ‘I’ this and ‘I’ that. 

As Tex Winters, assistant head coach for the Chicago Bulls, once said to Michael Jordon, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” 

“Yes,” said Michael, “but there is in ‘win’.”

Now, obviously, a super talented athlete like Michael Jordan can say that and probably win a basketball game hands down purely on the strength of his performance. But, for the rest of us, our path to victory is highly dependent upon “a little help from our friends”.

Humility seems in very short supply these days, but that’s exactly what today’s Gospel message is extolling. Apparently, arrogance is an age-old problem in the human condition and Jesus is addressing it directly. He says, “ . . . all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

But then, being Jesus, he pushes it even further. He says,  
"When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Well, that changes everything, doesn’t it? If you’re going to have a party, invite those who can not repay you for your kindness, for your reward will be waiting for you in heaven.

Imagine that?! Doing something that costs you something and not expecting anything in return? Not in this life, anyway, in this day and age of transactional ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’, ‘show-me-the-money’ culture in which we live.

You know, just the other day I did read a story – it was on FaceBook, as a matter of fact. Actually, someone took a picture of a sign that was posted on the entrance to a pizza parlor and posted it on his or her FaceBook page. 

The sign read, “Will the person who has been going through our garbage cans at night please stop doing that? Instead, please come into the store and we will give you a couple of slices of pizza and a glass of water. No charge. No questions asked.”

Over in another corner of  FaceBook someone posted a picture of four quarters lined up in a neat row and taped to the top of every washing machine and dryer in a local Laundromat. A yellow sticky paper also attached read, “Cleanliness is next to godliness but wearing clean clothes is heavenly. Pay it forward.”

You can also read stories on FaceBook of people “paying it forward” in a variety of ways. Someone discovers that the person in front of them in the drive-through line paid for their order. Or, the person ahead of them at the tollbooth paid their toll.

Just the other day, someone very dear to me got sick at the grocery store and was sitting on a bench waiting for a family member to pick her up. Out of nowhere, a man in a wheelchair rolled by and asked her if she was okay. She told him that she had gotten sick and was waiting for a ride home. 

The man stayed with her, engaging her in light conversation, until her ride arrived. “You okay?” he asked while she was regaining her composure. 

“Actually, I’m feeling better than I did a few minutes ago.” 

He chuckled and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white person look quite as white as you did. You look much better now.”

Now, in that last case, I don’t know how much it actually cost that man to sit with her until he knew she was going to be okay. I only know that he provided for her the best medicine there is: companionship. That’s an especially precious commodity when one is not feeling well. 

As I thought about my friend’s story, I wondered if the gift of companionship he gave to her was something he didn’t have himself. 

Which made the gift even more precious.

Jesus uses the word "humble" in this morning's Gospel lesson. 

The word humble is derived from the Latin humus meaning earth, ground, or soil. It is reminiscent of the name given to the first biblical figure Adam whose name is derived from the Hebrew word for ground or dust. 

As Adam learned, humility teaches us that life is fragile and we are mortal.

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” We heard that piece of wisdom in this morning’s lesson from Hebrews.

A sense of humility reminds us that some angels can have dirty feet, covered with the dust of the earth. That can only happen if we don’t believe our own press releases. 

Instead, we need to look for the good in ourselves and others – on FaceBook, in the grocery store and even in some politicians.    


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