A difficult calling indeed

Gospel of Luke 6:27-38

In today’s Gospel we are being called to examine ourselves, our behaviors, and our attitudes. We are being called to love those who don’t love us. We are being called to do good for those who consider us unworthy, to bless those who withhold their blessing from us, and to pray for those who disrespect us and intentionally cause us harm.

A difficult calling indeed, is it not? Yes, a difficult calling for sure, but a calling that most of us have been made aware of from an early age. A calling that is so familiar it has been converted into an instruction and even given a name; it is called the Golden rule.

I am sure that most of us could share stories about how our mothers taught us to respond to the unkindness of this world and the subsequent mistreatment with gentleness and respect. When the grade school bully pushed us down or stole our lunch money, our mothers may have encouraged us to stifle our natural response to fight and kick and curse and instead encouraged us to respond with kindness and generosity.

As we grew older, we discovered that the adult world, in spite of its complexities, is still very much like our childhood school yards. As adults the bullies have additional titles such as boss, or neighbor, or fellow parishioner. With our mother’s voice echoing in our ears, “be kind, don’t fight, don’t kick, and definitely don’t curse” we struggle to show Christian love and charity to individuals who intentionally cause us harm and disrupt the peaceful flow of our lives.

Now, I admit and in fact admonish that it is essential to establish healthy and appropriate boundaries with individuals whose intent is to only cause harm. The Golden Rule comes with a caveat, does it not? It comes with an expectation. An expectation of how we should expect others to treat us. As clearly stated in today’s Gospel, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The Golden Rule is not asking us to live without locks on our doors, or to willingly submit ourselves to the abuse of others, or to ignore the obvious warning signs of grave danger. The Golden Rule is not a license for others who wish to only take advantage and hurt. No, the Golden Rule is, for those of us who aspire to follow Christ, a challenge.

Today’s Gospel is not a defense for why we should only associate with Christians who share our same personal devotional practices, social leanings, or political opinions. Today’s Gospel is indeed quite the opposite. It is calling us to step outside of our echo chambers, to move beyond our comfortable and practiced acts of charity, and to expand our social circles to include those who look, speak, and think differently than us.

Today’s Gospel is calling us to step out beyond our safe and sacred spaces, to intentionally associate with those who exist outside of these walls. Christ did not call us to be a people who shelter and retreat and hide ourselves from the darkness, suffering, and pain of this world. Rather he expected us to be in the midst of it. To exist in the uncomfortable, with those who don’t cherish or honor or respect our faith.

Today’s Gospel is a challenge to evangelize. To set aside our criticisms and fault-finding and embrace the sinner and gently guide him or her into the loving embrace of Jesus and the forgiveness of God. Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to him we must be willing to take risks. Risks that make us vulnerable and it is in and through that vulnerability that we bring others to salvation.

Today’s Gospel must not be ignored. It must not be passed over with the false belief that today’s hard teaching regarding self-sacrificing charity is no longer applicable. To ignore the man on the street corner or the family struggling to meet their needs with the rationalization that the charity we give will only be spent on alcohol or cell phones, is to ignore the clear instruction that what we have to give was never ours to possess.

Today’s Gospel is an invitation to live in the freedom of Christ Jesus. A freedom that can only be found in the willingness to serve Jesus as we serve one another.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, today as you come before this altar, I encourage you to commit to living this Gospel…the Gospel… in all facets of your life. In your homes, at your work, on your playgrounds, and most especially in those uncomfortable places with unfriendly people. Live there, and serve Jesus there, because that is exactly where we are called to be.

We give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be charitable

Thanksgiving Day
Gospel of Luke 17:11-19 

In today’s Gospel proclamation we heard about the miraculous healing of 10 persons afflicted with leprosy. We are told that Jesus, as he traveled from Samaria to Jerusalem, came upon these 10 individuals who “raised their voices” prayerfully asking for mercy. 10 individuals who were ostracized from their families and their communities. 10 individuals who had no viable option for help or a cure. 10 individuals who were in desperate need of healing.

It is reasonable to assume that the New Testament diagnosis of leprosy does not accurately reflect the modern-day medical diagnosis of this disease. However, there is little in doubt regarding the personal, spiritual, and social consequences associated with this 1st century diagnosis. At that time and in that place in human history an individual diagnosed with leprosy was assured of the following; 1) the disease could be painful and sometimes fatal, (2) Jewish Law required lepers to be separated from all of Israelite society, and (3) lepers were ritually unclean and thus unable to participate in worship. In short, a diagnosis of leprosy, unless cured, resulted in the total and complete discontinuation of participation in society. A person diagnosed with leprosy was prevented from associating with their family and their community, and their family and their community were prevented from associating with them. At worst leprosy was a diagnosis of death and at best a lifetime of isolation and torment.

Yet, in the mercy of God and in the healing power of Jesus, these 10 individuals found the physical, social, and spiritual healing they so desperately needed. The grace of God, freely given in disregard to the social and religious norms of the day, allowed life and opportunity to these 10 individuals; and, yet, only 1 responded to this grace with gratitude and praise. This recorded encounter is not so much about the miracle as it is the response to the miracle.

Today is Thanksgiving, a unique American holiday. Today we, as a nation, repose from our labors and take opportunity to ponder our wealth, our prosperity, our fortune, and give thanks. We give thanks for what we have, and we are encouraged to be generous to those who have not. Of course, we are encouraged to do this by shopping. Like I said, a truly unique American holiday.

According to recent studies 12.8% of Idahoans live in poverty, making the state of Idaho 25th in nation. The poverty threshold for a family of 4 in the state of Idaho is $24,860 in annual income. Yet, as state’s unemployment rate hovers just below 3%, a 2016 United Way study discovered that nearly 40% of Idaho households could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, health care, and transportation.

1 in 8 Idahoans are food insecure, meaning “without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” In other words, 1 in 8 Idahoans are unsure when they will next have their meal. When adults are removed from the equation the number of children in the state of Idaho who are affected by food insecurity increases to 1 in 6.

Idaho is consistently among the states with the highest suicide rates. In 2016 Idaho had the nation’s 8th highest suicide rate. A rate that is 57% higher than the national average.

It is not my intent to discourage or depress your Thanksgiving Day celebrations. I share these sobering statistics only to highlight the ongoing need for the continued outpouring of charity and support to those in our midst who continue to struggle and suffer. As Jesus stated, “the poor you will always have with you” and it is our responsibility, as his followers, to alleviate their suffering and to raise our voices with theirs in asking for mercy and justice.

As the lone Samaritan, who had been healed and returned to honor his savior, so should we give thanks and praise to the God of mercy, for his mercy is given without measure or merit. Today, we give thanks to the God of mercy and justice. We do this not by our acts of charity, rather we give thanks to God for giving us the opportunity to be charitable.