Things earthly and heavenly
St. George Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
Facebook: Sirach 26:10
September 18, 2022
It’s not always the case, but this week’s Collect prayer really sums up beautifully the point Jesus is trying to make in that complicated and complex parable of the Unjust or Shrewd Manager. Jesus says,
“No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."
Let me remind you of the beginning of that beautiful autumnal prayer, as things are passing away: “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly . . .”
Not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly.
Let me tell you a little story about something that happened to me this past Monday.
I had just made a visit to one of our Hospice patients over at Atlantic Shores Extended Care Facility. I was parked in that small, unpaved, unofficial, pot-hole filled parking lot on the east side of the building, which, because of the rain the night before, became the autumnal version of what ee cummings described as “mud-licious” and “puddle-wonderful”.
Well, if you’re a kid and it’s spring, it’s wonderful. When you’re an adult and you’re working and you’re on a schedule and you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders, well, not so much. To make matters worse, I put my key in the ignition and . . . . nothing.
The radio went on, the lights went on, but the engine made absolutely no sound. Nothing. Nada. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Bupkus. I tried a few more times. Silence.
My stomach flipped. No, no,
no, no, no, NO! I don’t need this! C’mon, universe! Cut me a break here! I’ve
got two more patients to see and it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Ugh! I
finally broke down and called Triple A and, after being put on hold and
listening to that Gawd-awful muzak punctuated by commercials about the wonders
of Triple A, was told by the nice lady that there was “heavy congestion in that
area; it will be at least an hour before we can get a tow to you.”
And hour! It was hot. It was humid. It was muggy. The sweat was dripping off my brow. I was annoyed and angry but tried to sound calm and chipper as I called my supervisor and my colleague and my two scheduled patients to tell them of my predicament.
The good news is that, an
hour later, almost to the minute, the tow truck arrived. Oh, it wasn’t just a
truck. It was a HUGE flat bed truck. I looked at it and the small parking lot
packed with cars and thought, “OMG! How in the world is he ever going to get me
out of here?”
Out hopped the driver, a skinny, scrawny, scrappy young Sussex County man in maybe his early to mid-20s who introduced himself as “Jess.” He was wearing jeans and a white T-shirt and he looked like he had probably caused his momma a few sleepless nights of walking the floor.
He quickly sized up the situation and saw the exact same challenges I saw. So, he first asked me for my keys to see if he could start the car. He tried a few times and then looked under the hood. It took him a few seconds to locate the starter – which is what I had feared it was – and said, “Yup, probly the starter. Welp, lemme see if I can get you outta here.”
I held my breath as he walked around the car, sizing things up. He looked at the other cars, then looked at the entrance to the parking lot. He paced a bit and then sort of jumped up as the solution seemed to hit his body and then he jumped into action.
He put my car in neutral and then pushed it out of the space. Then, through some miracle of physics or geometry or calculus he probably never took in high school but was just born knowing it, he was able to maneuver his tow truck on the street on the side of the parking lot and then, without jack-knifing it, backed that puppy in so that the flatbed was facing the front of my car. He quickly got the chains attached, artfully dodging all the puddles, and then set the hydraulic into motion to move my Jeep onto the flatbed.
And, just like that, we were ready to rock ‘n roll and head up the street a short distance to the JEEP dealership which I had already called and they were already waiting for me.
I pulled myself up the side of the cab of the truck, put all my gear in front of me, took a seat beside him and fastened my seat belt. When he came in the truck I said, “Well, Jess, I don’t know how much they pay you for this, but it’s clearly not enough.”
He smiled and said, “No, ma’am. No, they don’t. But then again, not too many of us get paid enough or what we’re worth. Not even you, and you’re doing God’s work.” He shook his head at the injustice of it all and said, "So, you know, I just do my best. Anyway."
I don't know why. Maybe it was the heat and humidity. Maybe it was that combined with my anxiety and anger and frustration and annoyance about the situation I was in. At any rate, my eyes started to sweat. (I'm not crying. You're crying.)
So, as he was paying attention to the traffic on the way to the dealership, I fished through my wallet and found two ones and a ten. I shoved the $10 into my pocket. He dropped me off at the service entrance and brought my car round the back. When he came back to give my keys to the service agent, I thanked him for his professional service, pressed the money into his hand and said, "Here, I just want you to keep doing your best."
I wish you could have seen the smile on his face. This tough, scrappy, skinny, Sussex County boy who has probably made his momma weep with worry more than a few nights looked at me and smiled like a very angel. Forget the $10. Two ones would just not have done. No, I couldn’t afford the $10. Then again, I couldn’t afford not to.
Heavenly things vs. earthly things, you see.
Jesus said, “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of taking the easy way out, to throw up our hands and cave to the prevailing cultural values which always devalues the common worker, the one who is often more concerned with that which is of value in the heavens more than on earth – mostly because he has to work with his hands and the sweat off his brow and the smarts he’s picked up along the way of the rough road of life he’s had to travel.
Things like just doing your best, even if your compensation doesn’t reflect your value and worth. Anyway.
Things like stepping up to a challenge, standing up to those who say it can’t be done, and risking being called a fool because you knew the risks and, in the end, didn’t live up to your own hopes and expectations but you gave it your best. Anyway.
To love knowing that the love your give may not be the love you get and yet to love. Anyway.
Is that being ‘shrewd’? Is
that, somehow, ‘unjust’? Personally? I don’t think so. And, I don’t think – not
in a million years – that Jesus would have titled that particular parable using
words like ‘shrewd’ or ‘unjust’.
I think it’s being human. I think it’s being the best human being we can be. I think it’s like what Jesus did in risking his life for the debts we owe and paying for them on the holy cross.
I think it’s like French scientist and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, once wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
It occurs to me that our
collect prayer for today is also perfect to say and, perhaps, remember on this
beautiful autumnal Sunday; this, my second to last Sunday with you,
“Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”
And let the church say,