Pentecost 14, Proper 18 September 10, 2017
Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver City, NM Rev. Paul Moore
LINK TO THE PDF VERSION It’s good for copying.
Sometimes one’s kids get in trouble and reap the consequences. Sometimes one’s kids get one in trouble and one reaps the consequences. One time many, many years ago our son Leni responded to a religious advertisement on TV. The Elder appeared in due time at our door, along with his companions. Now Karisse is much more hospitable than I to proselytizing heretics, so she invited them in, gave them all lemonade on a hot south-Texas day, and then she called me to visit with them.
They made their spiel. The local kids they had brought along watching intently to learn how this is done. At one point, they referred to themselves as a Christian body. (Yes, fools rush in, and I was young.) I told them some of their own theology—which was not denied but not outwardly acknowledged either. I told them that I had studied orthodox Christian theology, and what they were telling me was good and fine in and of itself, that I didn’t pretend to know what God would do with them on Judgment Day, that was thankfully NOT my call, but what they told me just did not fall within the scope of what an orthodox Christian could properly call “Christian.”
The strangest thing happened. The leader stood up and stood at attention, eyes focused on the wall behind me. He began a rehearsed speech about how he had told me the truth and I had rejected it, and therefore, my blood was no longer on his hands. He scooped up his entourage and herded them out the door. Representatives from that group did not visit the house again while we lived there.
What the leader was doing is loosely based on the Old Testament reading today. God makes it clear to the prophet that he can lead a horse to water but he can’t make him drink. He was to proclaim the truth faithfully to Israel, but ultimately, he’s not responsible for their response. Each horse drinks or dies of thirst by their own choice and the consequences are on his or her head. God doesn’t want the people of Israel to die, but when the prophet has told them the truth and they reject it, it’s no longer his fault if they do, it’s their own.
Let’s back up a step. We have Israelites and and we have a prophet. Both of them make up the people of God. Each has a role to play, the prophet is to proclaim the truth, and the Israelites are to listen and respond accordingly. The whole thing falls apart if one of them finks out, but if both do their part the life of the whole is restored. This, of course, is what God wants.
You can look at my little interchange with my friends in South Texas this way. I’m sure they are children of God just like me. You could say that they did what they believed was to proclaim the truth to me. I finked out, which relinquished them of any further responsibility for the ultimate destiny of my soul. In their view God was grieved, and it was clearly my fault.
The difference, of course, is that in the case of the prophet he was proclaiming the truth of the God that the Israelites ostensibly followed. Calling themselves Hebrews, followers of YHWH, they were not actually following YHWH. He was not calling them to conversion, like my friends of years ago, but to integrity. Rather than reaching out he was reaching in; in-reach as opposed to outreach.
The Epistle and the Gospel also teach us about care for the people of God. In the Epistle Paul shows how following the rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself” leads a person naturally to fulfill the other commandments in the law. Other laws have to do with washing and changing clothes and offerings in the temple, which are essentially focused on duties of the person. This one, however, turns your eyes to another. It beats the drum of a theme that runs throughout the Old Testament. Yes, there are all these rules, but at the core of them all are just two:
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,
- And love your neighbor as yourself.
We show our love for God by loving one another. This Church thing doesn’t work with only one person. To try is like trying to play checkers with only one color of chips. The life of the Christian is found in the context of the Community of the Faithful. Our mutual love will drive us to do what maintains that community.
The Gospel lesson from Matthew is one of the very few places the Church is mentioned by name in the text of the Gospels. Here the life of the assembly is addressed. It’s not like there won’t be problems, there will be, so when they arise this is how you handle them. In typical fashion, the Evangelist borrows from Old Testament procedure. First you go alone and try to reconcile. If that doesn’t work, two or three witnesses are required. If that doesn’t work you take it to the whole assembly. If that doesn’t work they don’t really fit and need to be released to the workforce… J This is care for the Body of Christ by the Body of Christ.
We could call this attention to “Body Life.” If we are the Body of Christ this is that essential self-care that keeps the body working smoothly—focusing enough of our energies on maintaining the health and wellbeing of the Community so that the Community has the foundation and equipment to serve the World. Good outreach is based on good in-reach. They exist in balance in the life of the congregation.
Maintaining that balance is not easy. It’s easy to so focus on outreach that we fail to notice when one another is hurting. It’s tempting to put our resources in places that are rewarding, like feeding the hungry and taking care of the sick—and we find that we’re falling apart as a team. It’s even more tempting to focus entirely in in-reach. When money gets tight we cut outreach. We forget that our calling ultimately takes us beyond the Church, and, so absorbed with feeling good about on another, we lose sight of the Gospel mandate to serve the world, and we lose it all.
There are two special days we celebrate here at Good Shepherd that correspond to each of those focuses. Mission Sunday, the last Sunday in Epiphany, focuses on our outreach programs. We have booths set up in the parish hall and we preach the mission of the Church. Today, however, is Rally Sunday. It is time to rally around our own internal needs today, to take a look at what it takes to effectively love one another as we love ourselves. It is the other side of the coin from Mission Sunday.
Both of these Sundays have to do with Stewardship. The water boy at the Super Bowl is a steward. He has control of life-giving water for the players. His job, as steward, is to so manage that water that the players get it when they need it. It’s not for his thirst, though he can drink when he needs to in order to keep up strength to do his job. His focus is on water for the players, and he focuses his whole effort on that end. Stewardship is nothing less than all that I do with all that I have after I say, “I believe.” It is a way of thinking before it is an action taken. The steward knows that he or she manages goods that belong to another. Being a good steward means using that other person’s goods to most effectively meet that other person’s goals.
Mission Sunday is stewardship of the Good News. We have the water of life, and we are God’s water boys. We are here to see that the thirsty world God has created gets to drink when it needs to. We focus on taking the water out into the world.
Rally Sunday is stewardship of the Family. We have the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We bend our actions to the good of the community in whatever it needs to be so that we as a body are healthy and well-equipped for our ministries. We manage that fellowship to God’s ends.
There are booths set out in the Parish Hall if you have not already seen them. They describe the different in-reach ministries of Good Shepherd. You are invited to make a sandwich for lunch. The trick is that the sandwich fixings are distributed among the booths. You get to make yourself a progressive sandwich and visit all the booths.
I invite you to do so as a steward. You have resources; you are a resource. These have been entrusted to you by God for use for God’s purposes. God’s purposes are twofold. We are to reach out to the world, and they are to reach in to take care of the Body. In a real sense, we are all stewards of one another. We love one another as we love ourselves, we take care of one another as Christ has taken care of us, and the resources with which to do so are what are in our hands and hearts.
- Where do you best fit?
- What can you best do?
- What can you best give?
- We’re all in this together.
We take care of one another and the body as a whole. You need the Body, and the Body needs you.