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  • SERMON 9/21/22 Celebration New Ministry, St James OKC

    Proverbs 3:1-6; Psalm 119:33-40; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Matthew 9:9-13 Bearing Fruit Early this Spring, Terri and I planted a few herbs in a small garden container on our back porch.  Even though we have had overwhelming heat and sun this summer, our herbs have grown faster than we can harvest and use.  Terri and I have nibbled on Thai Basil, regular basil, Thyme, parsley, and jalapenos throughout the summer.  We have so much in that little garden, and surely, we can never enjoy it all ourselves, so we need to share the abundance God has given us. We are not professional farmers but rather, we are novice gardeners and "wanna be" chefs who like to kick our homemade dinners with a little spice and herbage.  The garden grows despite our lack of attention and each day, we are surprised by the growth it offers.  A few years ago at our home in Florida, we planted a tomato vine in another tiny herb garden.  We did everything we thought possible to ensure that plant would bear fruit.  We watered it obsessively for days, we staked the plant, so it would have something on which to grow, we used zip ties around the vine to help anchor it.  We added fertilizer and cared for this little plant like it was the most important plant on our property. Despite all our efforts and despite the extraordinary height this plant attained, despite the flowers that emerged several times, the tomato vine never bore fruit; there were never any tomatoes.   The plant never attained its ultimate destiny, which was to provide sweet, succulent, home-grown flavor to our salads, burgers, and sandwiches throughout the summer.  The problem was that our small garden space was being taken up by a non-fruit-bearing plant, and the only solution it would seem would to have pull up the tomato plant, and put something else in its place.   As God always does, there was another plan for that garden that we had not yet seen, nor were we ready to make the changes needed. The Vineyard Jesus said, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Jesus met a tax collector and went home with him for a delicious meal that I am sure included some lamb, bread, and Middle Eastern veggies, all seasoned with some tasty herbs and succulent spices.  As awesome as this dinner party sounds however, we need to remember this little fact about the story.  People back then, did not dine with folks they did not like or with people who were not of an acceptable social status.  You only shared hospitality and the abundance of your garden with only with people you love; least not tax collectors or other so-called outcasts that Jesus was dining with that night. Nonetheless, this "chance" dinner party with a tax collector and his colleagues shows us that God's table of grace is in not just setup for the religious elite, or good pious folks, or good church folks.  No, all are invited and are welcome.  It is open to such people as those who have missed the mark (sinners).  It is open to people who have served faithfully in their vocations and ministries are invited.  It is open to people who have face challenges, trials, uncertainty, and fear.  It is open to people who struggle to make it every day.  All people are invited to the table of grace. For you see at God's table there is always an open invitation to dine, to feast and fellowship, to be filled with grace. At this table there is food, bread and wine, and body and blood.  At this table we feast but it doesn't end there.  We are sent out from the table to go and share grace with others.  We dine together bringing the unique spice and herbs of our individual selves, we bring our gifts, and share the rich tapestry of our diversity and beauty.  From God's table we are called to spice up the lives of our neighbors with the grace and love of Christ in them.  We are the herbs and spices that flavor the grace God offers all of creation. Throughout the Biblical narrative, the God's people were giving this mission of love, but they strayed from it time and time again.  Yet, God is faithful to us and sent prophets to call us back to the path.  Eventually, God in flesh, Jesus Christ came to call his people back to the chosen path of the mission of love for all people, especially those who need grace the most.  In his own words, he tells us, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." Not our Vineyard but God's Sometimes we have our own ideas about what God’s Kingdom should be like.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ time nurtured their own ideas of that kingdom with rules like washing hands at the right time, eating with only certain people, avoiding certain foods, and worshipping in particular ways, which were all a part of a religious system that developed over time.  There were strict laws that were upheld so that one could identify who was in the community and who was out.  That is why so called "sinners and tax collectors" were thought to be excluded from the table.  This kind of holiness in some cases became less about molding a people to be a blessing (the original mission), and more about excluding those on the outside of the insider group.  There were laws that even prevented them from helping a friend in need on a particular day, because that kind of grace somehow incorrectly thwarted the law.  The people forgot why they were brought together in the first place. Early in the narrative of Israel, Abram (later renamed Abraham) was called out by God and he was given a mission to accomplish something for the Kingdom.  God said, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you;   I will make your name great and you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12)  The mission of God’s chosen people, was to be a blessing to all nations, to stand out as a presence in the world of God’s Kingdom lived out in the lives of an entire people. The mission of the chosen folk was not to be exclusive, but to be inclusive and life-transforming through their example.  God’s patience in dealing with this people set apart to be a blessing is seen throughout their history.  Then Christ came. He was a threat to the religious complacency that came from the people’s misconception of God's Kingdom.  Jesus and his disciples did not follow the hand-washing and other purity codes, they ate with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus healed his sisters and brothers on that day set aside for something else.  Jesus did not merely thwart the system because he wanted to be a “change agent,” Jesus lived into Abram’s understanding of our mission.  Jesus lived it and taught it and died for it.  Jesus turned upside down the misconstrued notions of the Kingdom of God that the religious leaders embraced at the time.  Jesus clarified for us that the Kingdom was not a worldly nation, but a people gathered whose purpose was to be an example, a city on a hill, a lighthouse for the lost soul.  Jesus brought radical change to the Kingdom, so the Kingdom represented the mission of God; transformation, reconciliation, and resurrection (new life). Ongoing mission requires Change In our mini garden a few years ago, right alongside our non-bearing tomato plant, we decided after being so frustrated, to place in the ground a wonderful assortment of fresh basil, a lovely lemon thyme, and selection of Greek oregano.  As those herbs and spices grew like wildfire, over several months, we enjoyed omelets, salads, main dishes and vegetables seasoned with some of the most aromatic and flavorful herbs we ever had.   The food we prepared at home was enhanced, because we added the fruit, or rather the irresistible leaves of our fresh herbs.  It was amazing how the presence of such flavor, aroma, and oils brought a change to everything we prepared for our table. Sisters and brothers you are planted in this neighborhood to bring God’s grace to bear on the lives of your neighbors.  You sit here today as witnesses to the grace, the love, the reconciliation of Christ in our lives, made possible by your participation in the life of this congregation.  Your mission to the people in the surrounding neighborhoods though, may need to be different from years' past, because the neighborhood is different than when the church was planted many years ago.  However, the mission remains the same, because the spiritually hungry need to be fed, the emotionally downtrodden need to be lifted up, and the cold and needy must be provided warm clothes of mercy, grace, and reconciliation.  The Church is called to be a flavorful herbs and spices that make the Kingdom of God possible right here and right now. However, the Church must always be ready to adapt to its situation as the garden changes.  Your mission and how you accomplish must be re-evaluated, reconsidered, and possibly re-formulated often.  You may need to try new things, make some radical changes, and that may mean that you will need to take a look over the next few years and realize that we are being called by God to tweak, adjust, add to, or take away from areas of ministry.  I am sure that in the past, there were ministries here that bore great fruit, but for some reason they do so no longer, so remember that God is always making things new. Tomatoes and Mission Back to our herb garden .... That tomato plant even after several months, never bore fruit.  On a weekly basis, I continued to add additional Velcro stabilizing straps, I watered it, and cared for it, and it continued to grow higher and higher.  The flowers continued to burst forth, but there was never even one tomato that emerged on those branches.  However, I never pulled it up and planted something new because I believed, and I hoped that as long as it was green, and as long as it was growing, it had a purpose.  What I eventually realized was that the tomato plant was actually a part of the entire garden, and its mission was not to bear fruit, but to provide shade for the herbs from the scorching Florida sun.  I added herbs that would grow alongside the tomato vine, and in time it changed the purpose of the whole garden. It became a source of impeccable flavor that would enhance every dish at our table. Our Mission - Herbal Mission So, St. James, as you look over the rich tapestry of congregational life here in this community, you must continue to ask God to give you the grace to grow in a love of Christ.  It is a new day and time to seek the wisdom to make right choices regarding the evolving and emerging mission you have been given.  Pray for the Spirit to bring new folks to God’s abundant table of love, mercy, and grace.  Pray that you have the courage to focus on your mission, that God will give you a renewed vision of mission, so that you can continue to be a rich addition to the vineyard, the broader community where the lives of the least, lost, and lonely around you, need your presence, your love, and your service to God. Sisters and brothers, tonight we celebrate the start of a new ministry with congregation and priest.  I offer you these words of encouragement but more importantly, I give you a loving challenge Fr. Robby, Fr. Cuco, and God's people of St. James Your purpose as a people is to be a lighthouse, an example, a welcoming respite, a faith forming, life-transforming community that helps all people, not just the ones you like, so all might be restored to God and each other.  You all are to be a blessing to all with whom we come in contact both as individuals and as a community.  Stay focused on that mission and be wary of straying away from it.  Jesus warned the religious leaders back in the old days that if a community fails to embrace its mission, the task would be given to others who bear the Kingdom’s fruit.  But I know you all are bearing much fruit now.  So, spice up the life of those around you.  Plant some delicious herbs of mission and ministry in this neighborhood.  Go and invite others to this table to be fed by God's amazing grace.

  • SERMON 8-25-19 Pentecost 11C Proper 16 St. Timothy’s Paul's Valley, OK

    Isaiah 58:9b-14; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17 Bound and Bent Over A recent Forbes magazine article stated, “We spend as much as 12 hours a day in front of our screens.” Further, the report asserts, “Our time on social media shows measurable, causal differences in our mental health.” (6) As we Americans make the choice to remain “stooped over” distracted by our smart phone screens for over half of a day, our relationships and connections to one another are suffering, and so is our health. I was at a local coffee shop the other day, and I noticed this phenomenon in real time. Nearly everyone who was supposed to be enjoying some time with a friend, spouse, or other connection, they were either texting or reading something on their smart phones. There was no interaction between the people across from one another. There was no relationship being cultivated, nor the sharing of one’s life with another. Folks are imprisoned by an electronic leash that perpetually keeps us in a stooped position unable to see others in front of us, distracted from the lives of others (and our own lives), detached from God’s grace and peace, and imprisoned in a false reality not of our making or of God’s making. Maybe in this day where we are divided as a nation and the world, maybe we just need to silence our cell phones, the electronic prisons we inhabit, and start embracing and enjoying the movie of grace playing out all around us. Smart Phones and television screens are not the only prisons we live in today. Our culture pushes us to a false sense of excellence. Many of us are so focused on greatness either vocationally and financially, but there are high costs for that kind of pressure. Long work hours, anxiety filled schedules, over extended finances, and unfulfilled relationships are some of the pressures with which, many of us contend. It seems that life might be more joyful, if we lived in a deeper spiritual peace, a little more simply, a little more balanced, or if we could shrug off the heavy burden of success drive, turn off the screens, and get back to basics. Healed and Set Free Jesus was teaching on the Sabbath in the synagogue. A woman comes in, all stooped over and bound up by her body’s infirmity, and Jesus stops and takes note. It is a good thing he was not texting or playing “Wordle”, or he would have overlooked the woman’s pain, and the opportunity to bring healing. From this poor woman’s life perspective, she was bent over by pain or spinal disease, which meant she could not look others in the eye. She could not engage in relationship from the same level as everyone else. She was permanently seeing the world from a low place in society. She was literally spiritually, emotionally, socially and relationally dead. Luckily, Jesus did not walk around with head down focused on himself. He was engaged in what is going on around him, with eyes wide open. He even broke the norms of culture that day, and touched a woman in public, by which he restored her to full health, and did on a day set aside only for holy rest. In an awkward twist to the story, the leader of the synagogue accused Jesus of breaking the law and accused him of heresy. Jesus responded with an indignant, but clear rebuttal. He told the religious leader (and us) that we all need to set aside the distractions and the legalistic barriers we create, which keep us from holy relationships we should have with each other. Jesus teaches that relationships are of greater importance than the law, cultural norms, political legislation, and yes even our electronic leashes. We are so distracted today that we cannot see what is really important and sometimes, we let the law get in the way of justice. Even back then the religious folk were blinded to the need for justice, dignity, and restoration. For instance, the law back then, allowed on the Sabbath an animal owner to unleash their ox or mule to go and get water, thus restoring them and keeping them fully alive, but what about the woman, a child of God? “Jesus insisted that the synagogue and the Sabbath are not the only things that are holy—so was this woman's life.” (1) Are we like the leader of the synagogue, hell bent on following legalistic certainty above following the call to love our neighbor? Failing to love your neighbor is sin, and we must remember that sin is not about breaking law, it is about breaking relationships. Sin is certainly rampant today. Look at how we treat people today. For instance how do we treat the neighbor we do not like, or the friend or fellow American with whom we disagree. We often want to bind them up and place them in the chains of our own making. What about the children of God bound up in this world by tragedy, unjust laws, and unholy motivations that none of us really want to discuss. These are God’s people whether they are a part of our tribe or not. Ironically, many of us watch the Humane Society advertisements about dogs and cats suffering in cages, shivering, afraid and bound up, and these images break our hearts, and we hold our tiny pups and kittens close to our chest hoping they never experience that fate. However, we are so distracted in this world by the frenzies of our individual lives that we forget, we imprison people both physically, economically, socially, and spiritually every day. We are so focused on improving our own place on the economic and social food chain that we forget what is most important in this life; loving God and loving our neighbor. There are people of God who are truly imprisoned by injustice, indignity, broken relationships, hardships, and even the simplest burdens of life, and we are so preoccupied that we do not see it. We all need a rest ,so we can be of service in God’s Kingdom. Sabbath, Balance, and Ready for Service We all need a break from these distractions, so like Jesus we can see the bent over, burden carrying neighbor who needs our tender touch of grace from God. We Christians need to find some balance in our lives, so we can be refreshed for active service. We all need to love God, so we can be filled up, strengthened, and equipped to love others. We all need a Sabbath. Sabbath is supposed to be a “day set aside for us to rest, but it does not mean that we should take a break from bringing to the world a glimpse of the goodness of God.”(2) Sabbath is a break from the chaos, a respite to refresh, a moment spent in creation, a time for prayer, contemplation, and rejuvenation. Sabbath is a time for praising and worshipping God. “When Jesus touched the woman, she stood up straight and tall for the first time in 18 years, and she began to praise God. She knew the source of her healing. So on the Sabbath she praised God for this unexpected, wonderful, unbelievable gift of life.” (4) You may say, Canon Eric, “How in this chaotic, draining, demanding, success fueled life can I find time to pray, to sit on my porch with God, to even stop for 10 minutes and put down my cell phone?” Well, if you are going to be spiritually healthy, you have to do it. We clergy have to do it. “But I am so busy, how can I respond to the needs of others, when I am so focused on what is challenging, distracting, and keeping me occupied 24/7,” you may ask. The question you need to ask is not how can I take a Sabbath, but the critical question with which you must wrestle is, “what happens to your spiritual health, if you do not?” You cannot pour from an empty cup, you cannot run the engine of your ministry on an empty tank, and you cannot love God and others, when your spirit does not have an opportunity to refuel on grace. If we continue at the frenzied pace on which we all race, we will miss God’s dream. If we do not stop, put the cell phone down, and open our eyes to others around us and take some time for refreshment, we are going to miss God’s dream for us. Rest, Freedom, and Rejoicing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once preached these words, “God has a dream for this world and a dream for every man, woman, and child who walks upon the face of this earth. That's what Jesus is all about. That's what he's trying to get us to see. God has a dream.”(5) God has a dream for that poor bent over woman in the synagogue. God has a dream for the neighbor you do not like. God has a dream for the friend who disagrees with your policy views. Yes, God has a dream for you! Some of you are held in spiritual bondage right here today, but God invites you to drop your baggage and take a rest. God invites you to experience healing, just like that experienced by the impaired woman that Sabbath day in the synagogue. However, we are hard pressed to experience that kind of healing, because we will not stop, in order to receive it. Jesus’ mission is “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” As his followers, we are also called to partner with him “to bring all people into unity with God and each other in Christ.” We are commissioned to experience healing and then, to go and be healers for others. In order to do that, we who have been bent over and bound by the troubles of life, must purposefully set aside time to sit at the Master’s feet and let him touch our hearts and heal our souls. If we are truly called to be sent out to meet the least, lost and lonely at their level, and to see them fully in the blessedness that Christ sees them, and then love them and lift them up to new life, we need holy Sabbaths every week. We need opportunities for balance, rest, and refreshment. Now we are not commanded to abandon the mission and just be on spiritual vacation all the time, because we will risk losing sight of what is going on around us. We already have God’s blessing to be grace bearers in our lives anew every day, and I know Jesus believes we can do it. He even showed us how, because on a day of rest, he set aside the law, and with outstretched arms of love, touched a poor stooped over woman, who could not even look him in the eye. He raised her to new life and then she went out praising God and giving thanks. You see, serving and resting are not opposites. You can rest and pray, and love and serve all at the same time, but you have to set aside that overwhelming desire to stay in the business of life all the time. You have to stand up straight and see the grace opportunities happening all around you. I encourage each of us, including me to stop and rest. I encourage each of us to spend time each week seeking joy in Christ, living a little more simply and balanced, shrugging off the heavy burden of success drive, and just get back to basics. Oh, and when the movie of grace is playing play in front of your very eyes, please do not forget to enjoy the show, but please silence your cell phones. REFERENCES (1) Berger, Teresa. “Off the Record.” The Christian Century, vol. 121, no. 16, Aug. 2004, p. 19 (2) Moore, Joy J. “Bearing Witness.” The Christian Century, vol. 124, no. 16, Aug. 2007, p. 17. (3) Phelps, Stephen H. “Luke 13:10-17.” Interpretation, vol. 55, no. 1, Jan. 2001, pp. 64–66. (4) Ruth Hamilton: Keeping the Sabbath Holy (5) The Most Rev. Michael Curry, PB (6)

  • SERMON 7-10-22 Pentecost 5C St. John Woodward Ending Pastoral Relationship

    Deuteronomy 30:9-14; Psalm 25:1-9; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37 Neighbors Do you remember the theme song from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood? “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor.” (1) Through his example, his ministry of presence, his compassion, and understanding, Fred Rogers lived out on screen for millions of children in America, what Jesus teaches us about who is MY neighbor. Neighbors used to be more than just the people whose house happened to be next to ours. I grew up in a small neighborhood of 1960’s suburbia, and in my neighborhood, lived as friends. We played football, rode skateboards and bicycles, and played games all summer long together. My neighbors would do anything for me and I would do the same for them. We cared for each another, helped each another, shared snacks, and ate dinner with one another. Strangely, that world seems to be only a memory. something has changed in our psyche and neighborliness is not what it used to be. Today, we Americans seem to struggle with the concept of neighbor. There is so much strife in the world, so much internal divisions, and the idea of friends, allies, and neighbors seems to be a fleeting concept. Some folks live in gated communities where we keep the right kind of people in and the wrong people out. Front porch sitting, where we visit with one another as our neighbors take their evening strolls is not the norm. We live in a culture in which, we pull our cars into the garage, close the door, go into the house, and never even know the names of those living beside us. So, we 21st century Christians now find ourselves in an isolated, private, and non-engaging way of life, and it is no wonder we cannot understand what Jesus is trying to teach us about MY neighbor? Merriam Webster dictionary defines neighbor as “one living or located near another,” or more in line with our Christian understanding, our “fellow man (human).” The Greek word Jesus used for neighbor is πλησίον. It means “any other person irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet.” (3) Jesus takes this well-understood definition several steps further, and teaches God's notion of neighbor is pretty radical, which means it may be radical for us as well. For his audience that day, the words of Lev 19:18 echoed in ears of the legal experts who questioned Jesus. That scripture states, "You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." In Jewish tradition, neighbor was limited to only those within the nation of Israel. For many folks today, neighbor seems to be only those people who meet certain legal criteria, economic criteria, or social status criteria. Jesus redefined loving our neighbor as ourselves clearly and his definition left out the criteria of exclusion. Jesus further explained this concept by relating it to a people who for Israelites were the ultimate outsiders. He made a Samaritan the hero of a parable he told, and this outsider was the true neighbor in the story. Jesus made the hero someone who outside the legal, economic, and social norms of the day, and it was this person who showed us compassion, love, and care for someone not of his own people. This person loved like Jesus loves. The Test In today's Gospel we hear, "A lawyer stood up to test Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Theologian Mark Davis explains the importance of this question asked of Our Lord. He writes, “I do not hear this as a question about ensuring that one gets to heaven and not hell, but a question about the whole matter and purpose of life itself. This is a “what is the meaning of life?” or “what is the chief end of humanity?” sort of question. (2) In other words, the lawyer is asking Jesus, "If I am your disciple, what is my purpose, what is my mission? Jesus does not answer his question, but asks him what the law says. The lawyer asnwers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus tells him that if he will but do these two commands, he might discover is purpose in life and then, know how to live the life God intended for him. That was not quite enough for the lawyer though. A generalized command to love all with whom we come in contact seemed to him to be too demanding, too difficult, and it wiped out the criteria he wanted to use to classify “who is in” and “who is out.” So, he asked Jesus, “who is MY neighbor.” It seems like a simple question and not a bad thing to ask, but the heart of the question is this, “who can I exclude from that list of people I must love Jesus?” If you can help me define who is MY neighbor, I can keep a list of the unworthy, unlikeable, and “less than” who are not my neighbor. Jesus turns the whole dialogue upside down and tells the incredible story about an unlikely Samaritan neighbor. Remember Jews and Samaritans were not friendly to one another. Ancestrally, Samaritans are descendants of the Jewish tribe of Ephraim and tribe of Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) as well as from the Levites. In other words, they were family, but religious practice and doctrine differences made them and the Israelites bitter enemies. It is ironic Jesus chose a Samaritan as the hero of the story. Remember from last week’s Gospel, “Jesus had just been denied entry into a Samaritan village. James and John, in fact, wanted to call down fire and invoke a Sodom-like punishment on that village.” (2) So, it was a Samaritan, and not a holy and devout insider priest and Levite that showed compassion, care, and love for the man who had been robbed and left half dead. Now what we also need to see in this parable is the extent of compassion, care, and love he showed the poor man. First, he bandaged his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal (he walked while the hurt man rode). He brought him to an inn and took care of him; he even stayed with him overnight and nursed him back to health. He shared from his abundance and gave two denarii (two day’s pay) to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him, and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” The Samaritan did not merely show pity on the victimized man, he shared the suffering of the man and helped him in his circumstances. How then did he become a neighbor? He offered immediate triage for the man’s plight, he transported him, gave him shelter, offered ministry of presence, invested in his healing, and made possible ongoing care. That sounds like a model for us to become a neighbor because sometimes, the opportunity to become a neighbor is surprisingly unexpected. Go and do likewise In my second grade class in school, I learned once again, “Who is MY neighbor.” He wore dirty jeans, holey high top sneakers, and a plaid shirt that had not been washed in a week. The condition of his clothes said a lot about the life he must have lived at home. His name was John Wayne. This was no cowboy with a particularly distinctive swagger and well-known voice. No, this John Wayne was a quiet, shy second grader, who due to no fault of his own found himself every day in a particularly difficult situation. It was obvious that he suffered an impoverished existence. It was obvious to me at eight years old, that he was hurting, when one day while everyone else was eating lunch, I watched him pick up the scraps of potato chips the other kids dropped from their brown bag lunches. On the playground, the other kids made fun of John Wayne, they ostracized him from the group, and he suffered. Oh yes, he suffered. I remember telling my mother about John Wayne that night, and then watching her cry because of what I had witnessed. Soon after that, every day for the rest of the school year, I came to class with two brown bags. One had my name on it and the other had John Wayne’s name written at the top. In both bags, my mother put sandwiches, chips, cookies, and money for milk and ice cream. My mom made it clear that I was not to just give him the bag and then join my friends for lunch, but I was to sit with him and share lunch together. Through a simple brown paper bag, I learned that suffering with others is not merely solving the problems of their plight, but it is sharing their suffering with them. “How do we become a neighbor?” Suffering is the reality in which, all of us find ourselves. Suffering is not fair, life is not always fair, and death is certainly not fair. It is not fair that young children in our own neighborhoods go to school every day with nothing to eat. It is not fair that hearts are broken when a spouse says goodbye to their soul mate at the time of their death. It is not fair that disease, famine, weather-related devastations, and war cause such pain and anguish in the world. Suffering is not fair; it is simply our condition, and none of us are immune to its effects. The higher calling for we Christians is to suffer in love with one another and those outside our closest connections. So, how do we become a neighbor? When we see someone suffering, neighboring includes providing triage (or maybe helping them sustain life in the moment), it included transporting (if it safe for you us we may offer a way to get more help), it included sheltering (helping them find protection from what afflicts them). It included ministry of presence (being with them in their suffering as long as you are able). It includes investing (be willing to give from the abundance God has given us for others). Finally, it includes providing ongoing care (remaining connected to the afflicted until they are able to stand on their own). Becoming a neighbor is how we Christians pass on to others, the abundant grace, compassion, and love God has shown and does show us every day. We are not called merely to show pity and write a check (although that generosity does help in some cases), but more than that, we are called to bear one another’s burdens. Maybe becoming a neighbor is not as difficult as we think, if we can drop the criteria of “who is MY neighbor. Becoming a neighbor may mean just bearing the burdens of the other, or it can be as simple as sharing a brown bag lunch like two little boys did so long ago, and for a few moments each day, one little boy’s suffering was no more. St John’s Woodward has been blessed for the last two decades plus, to have among you someone who understands what it means to be a neighbor. Mother Mary has served you all faithfully with grace, love, and humility. As you leave today and as you are driving down the street and see a homeless man or woman, be a neighbor. As you shop in the store and see a distraught cashier at the register, be a neighbor. As you go to work this week and see your colleague struggling, or as you meet the person living next to you trying to make ends meet, be a neighbor. Remember the Christlike example of Mother Mary and remind yourself, “These are my neighbors.” Then go and do and be what Jesus says a neighbor is “The one who shows mercy, so go and do likewise." REFERENCES (1) (2) (3)

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