Saturday, September 05, 2009

Can We Talk?

“Can we talk?”

When I read over the lectionary Scriptures for today, I felt a burden had been placed on my heart in dealing with them for the sermon.

Lately, when he hears me sigh, my son Jack will say, “Mommy, why you said ‘huh’?”

I’m pretty sure I let out a pretty good ‘Huh’ on this week.

Now, you could probably say, Why even mess with the lectionary Scriptures this week, then? Why not just find another beloved passage to work with, preach another sermon, wait until these passages come up in another three years and deal with them then? But part of the value of following the Lectionary is having to deal with passages that we might not want to deal with, at times when we might not want to deal with them. Yes, there is value in that.

So, I come before you today, and I ask, humbly, Can we talk?

You might wonder why these passages make me ask this. Well, I have to tell you what’s been weighing on my heart the past few weeks, what has been getting me riled up in my spiritual life and in my secular life, in my time of keeping up with current events, and in my time of personal prayer. And, I’ll confess to you what this is—it’s certainly not something I thought I’d be talking about on my – what? – sixth? Sunday here.

So, I’ll stop hemming and hawing and just utter the phrase: health care reform.

I know you don’t want to hear this from the pulpit. I know there might be some of you whose knees just kicked out reflexively, and you’re ready to stand up and walk out that door. But wait, stay with me; I promise, I’ll be gentle. Because what I want to say is not that I have a solution that you should all buy into or that I endorse the views of one side or the other. What I want to say is, Can we talk? Here, at St. Peter’s Lischey’s, in Spring Grove, in North Codorus Township, in York County, can we talk?

Can we talk about what we hear when we read these lines from Proverbs 22: “The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.”

What do you hear in this passage? Who do you think of when you think of the poor? Who do you think of when you think of the rich? Which one are you? And what does it mean to sow injustice? One person’s injustice is another person’s justice – that’s why we need to talk. One person’s definition of rich is another person’s poor. Where do we end up on this if we don’t talk?
That’s why I say today that it’s the heath care debate that I’m concerned about. I don’t want to talk about health care plans or options or reform—I’m having a lot of trouble with the way the debate is happening.

We are not talking—people, across the nation, are not talking. We’re yelling, and pointing fingers, and wishing ill on our adversaries, and what really makes me SAD more than anything, is that some of the meanest behavior is being done in the name of God, in the name of Christ.

Again, I ask, can we talk? Because some of what is being done, or being suggested, does not seem to me to follow the teachings of the Scriptures. It’s just a slinging back and forth of beliefs and retorts and ill-will, but there’s no conversation. So, can we talk?

Last week, the letter of James told us that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father.” James goes on: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” Today, James goes on to caution us against favoritism among our Christian brothers and sisters, and then he says, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him… You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors… For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” He continues, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”

What do you hear in this passage? What does it say about judgment? Likewise, what does it say about mercy, about kindness, about sharing? Are there exclusions? Are there exceptions? Is there something contextual we’re missing? You might say, “I don’t know, Pastor, you tell me.” But what I’m saying is, Can we talk? Can we talk together about what we think this means in our life together, in our context together? I’m not here to preach at you, but to preach to you and minister with you.

I don’t have a monopoly on the meaning of the text; I only offer my interpretation based on the training I’ve received and the time I’ve taken in prayer and study to work on this. But what do you have to say? Can we talk?

Today we dedicate our Christian Education program for the new school year, and we install the teachers who will spend time with our children, and with our adults, time in learning and study, learning the basics of the faith, the foundational stories that we all remember from our youngest years, reading closely over the Scriptures with more critical thinking as we get older. What do we want to teach our children? What do we want to teach our grown-ups? Aren’t we going to teach them to engage in dialogue? Aren’t we going to teach them to listen respectful both to their teachers and to each other as they discuss what the Bible passages mean to them? We, here, together, in this environment, can promote that kind of spirit of loving conversation and even debate, seeking to speak the truth in love (maybe it was a good thing that passage came up earlier in the lectionary for us a few weeks ago) and to discern what the truth really is for us, together.

I’ve been hearing in the news this week about a pastor, Steven Anderson, from Kansas, who is praying for God to kill President Obama. He preached a sermon just last week entitled, “Why I Hate Barack Obama,” and in it, he prayed for the President’s death. He is the preacher at a Baptist church, and has the opportunity to influence many people who are in his congregation and hear his sermons each week, and he is using his platform to suggest this kind of hate?

I just can’t abide it, and that’s why, only six weeks in here, I’m risking irritating you, dear people of Lischey’s, by using the gift I’ve been entrusted with here—the pulpit—to invite us to converse together in love. I promise, I will not be political each Sunday; I will not even be political once a month; I will listen to you, whether or not I agree with you, and I will mostly preach the Good News that is found in Scripture each week. But right now, at this particular moment in time, at this juncture in public discourse and in history, I need to use this moment to invite you to talk with me, to talk with each other, to talk with your friends and family, to promote love, not divisiveness.

We all want to hear the good news in Scripture, but we must also hear the challenge. What are we hearing today? We’re being reminded that to God, there is no distinction in favoritism between rich and poor; in fact, if we read the Bible closely, we see that quite a bit of the time, the poor fare more favorably than do the rich, throughout the Old Testament, in the Gospels, and in the Epistle lessons.

So what is the Good News for us today? It is that if we walk in the ways of the Lord, if we do justice, and love mercy, and deal kindly with the orphan, and the widow, and the poor person, and the stranger, we are in good shape. If we listen to each other and we speak the truth in love to each other and we work together at showing peace and kindness, we are in good shape. If we encourage others to stop yelling and start listening, to bridle their tongues and open their ears and hearts, we are in good shape.

The Prayer of St. Francis says this:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Let us remember these words as we carry on with our lives of service this week; let us seek to quell heated discussions and hateful remarks in favor of sowing seeds of love and peace wherever we go. Let us hear the quiet voice of God, calling us to be gentle and kind with each other. Let us answer the question: “Can we talk?”

I hope we can. I believe we can. I know we can. Amen.


Songbird said...

Blessings to you in the preaching and may the listening be a blessing to those who hear it.

LMM said...

Very loving and yet calling the question, so to speak. BTW, I, too, am in my 6th week in my new (first!) call.
May those who hear your words be blessings to others!
oh - the word verification to post my comment is "barkfar"!!! how appropro for this week!

Mary Beth said...

Excellent. The Good News.

Sarah said...

Thank you all for stopping by, taking the time to read the sermon, and commenting. Knowing that I had your support helped me get up this morning and "bark far"! It was well-received, too, so I am grateful.

Thanks again.

Deb said...

Powerful, powerful preaching. My prayer is that people in your congregation, the congregation I belong to, and congregations all over the country can not only talk, but truly listen to each other.

Lauralew said...

Wonderful sermon, Sarah, challenging yet loving. Thank you for posting this, and I'm glad it was well received.

Emily@remodeling this life said...

This was beautiful. I am not surprised it was well received. Good on you.

Kathryn said...

Well preached - I'm glad that this got into the local paper deserves wider audience

revkjarla said...

sensitive, thoughtful, and real.

Deb said...

My older daughter is learning the art of "discussion" and "conversation" at college (St. John's of Annapolis). She was telling me about the "talk bombs" people throw which basically end any hope of conversation. May your words, so seasoned with salt, make a difference...

Deb said...

To define "talk bombs" - things which end conversation - those are the comments that a made which instantly polarize the discussion, the positions which are "us/them" inducing. The classic "talk bomb" is to compare someone or some action to Hitler/the Nazis. It's a rare day you find someone who thinks that Nazi Germany was a grand idea. Yet when you bring that into a conversation, it's an effective "talk bomb".

To have true dialogue, you have to think critically and listen intently. I recommend the article on the St. John's website on dialogue found here... I found it quite thought-provoking!