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    Nov 17, 2019

    The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 21:5-19

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Today’s Gospel takes place in Jerusalem, at the famous Temple of Solomon.

     

    Jesus has been teaching here for several days –

                using his very last days, in fact,

    to offer final instructions to the twelve and other disciples.

     

    Since arriving in Jerusalem on a borrowed colt early in the week –

    Jesus has been warning them about what is true and what is false…

    he’s been condemning false teachers, scribes and Pharisees;

    he’s been straightening out the Sadducees.

    And just before this passage begins, he points out to his followers,

    the unexpected generosity of a widow –

    who puts two copper coins in the mite box

    outside the temple gate…

    he invites them to see an unusual sight –

    a person who lives in abject scarcity,

    giving out of her abundance…

    her abundance of love and charity.

    And the first thing out of his followers’ mouths,

    in response to these teachings is –

    “Hey Jesus! Check out the Temple –

    what amazing stones and beautiful decorations!”

    As if they had not heard a word.

     

    Their gaze was fixed at the recently renovated Temple –

    certainly an impressive sight –

    thirty-five acres of buildings,

    adorned with gold lamps, protected by golden gates –

    and massive plates of gold along its walls and rooftops;

    the white marble of the structure shone in the sun like the sun itself.

    The sight would take your breath away.

     

    But Jesus was hoping to move them

    to look and listen in a different way…

    He seemed worried that his message –

    that all of his teachings, were falling on deaf ears.

    He was concerned that what was important for them to see

    was getting blocked by the stars in their eyes,

    or tinted a pleasant pink by the rose colored glasses

    they had willingly put on.

    The Temple was a marvelous sign –

    certainly an image of hope for the Jewish people

    who were sorely oppressed – one more time - in their own land.

    But Jesus wanted them to remember it was also a sign of suffering –

    and of the endurance of a people who had given up much,

    who had been captured and exiled and murdered

    throughout their history –

    as they sought to be faithful to their God.

    In other words, there was more here than met the eye…

    and Jesus was urging them to look through his lens –

    …rather than be distracted by gold-plated turrets and magnificent gates.

     

    It will not be through expensive and showy monuments

    that the world will be saved, Jesus is saying.

    Look, listen, try to see what is behind the grandeur.

     

    His question for them that day

    and for us today, is,

    what are you really seeing…

    and what might be unseen that matters?

    what are we really seeing …

    and what might be unseen that matters?

     

    We live in a world where we have more information available to us

    than ever before.

    Ever.

    And yet, it is often difficult to really see what is true.

     

    Our culture of immediate response and instantaneous gratification

    leads us to think that we can make decisions in that same way –

    and we often rush to judgement…

    when there is more to consider –

    when truth might be blocked by glib expressions,

    by fancy dress, trappings of power, status,

    or by difference.

     

    Jesus asks us, what are we really looking at –

    what is there actually to see…

    and what might be unseen, beyond the naked eye,

    beyond a first glance, that is important to know.

    Jesus is inviting us to remember

                that even in the face of chaos, suffering, wars, persecution,

                            danger, injustice and difficult trials,

                God is working out God’s purposes.

    Only through steadfast endurance,

    through faithful seeking and following

    • looking deeper at what God is doing,

    will we be saved, be made whole.

    Here’s a story about that –

    about a time when I learned a lesson about looking deeper,

    a lesson in seeing what might be unseen and yet, most important.

    When I was at St. Luke’s in Atlanta, I lived in the city –

    right in the middle of downtown Atlanta.

    I loved working in my church – but I hated living there –

    because of the omnipresent hassling by of panhandlers,

    and the daily reality of dealing with urban crime.  

    I liked to take a break at lunch time to get a bite,

    but in the two or three blocks I had to travel to find a sandwich,

    I could be confronted as many as twenty times by folks

    asking for money…usually for food.

    And I wanted to help –

    feeding someone is something I thought I could do.

     

    So I began to carry one dollar bills

    and would give folks a couple of dollars when they asked.

    I did this until the therapist at our counseling center

    told me that for $3 you could buy a hit of crack cocaine.

    Nope. Did not want to do that.

    So I began to carry McDonald’s coupons to share…

    and believe me, I got blessed out pretty regular for that.

    Then the therapist told me that folks would sell those coupons for $3

    and get some crack cocaine. Aw, no way.

     

    So I decided that if someone asked me for money for food,

    I would offer to buy them lunch.

    More often than not, I got that usual blessing out,

    but sometimes folks would say yes.

    One day, when I was entering my favorite sandwich shop,

    a guy outside asked me for money for lunch.

    I offered to buy a lunch instead – and he agreed.

    “Just get me whatever you get for yourself” he said.

    So I did – sandwich, chips, a bottle of water

    and just because I felt generous that day

    a big cookie, one for each of us.

     

    As I was leaving the store,

    a woman ahead of me handed the same guy a lunch.

    And that ticked me off –

    it felt like he’d conned me when he already had a meal coming.

    I gave him the lunch anyway,

    grumbling to myself about being taken advantage of, once again.

     

    For some reason, (later, I would recognize the work of the Spirit)

    I decided to follow that guy in my car and see what happened next.

    I drove slowly up the street as he walked to a nearby bus stop.

    I watched the guy walk up to an older woman,

    who was sitting on a bench there.

    She was obviously homeless –

    there was her shopping cart next to her

    filled with all kinds of stuff;

    she was dressed in dirty and old mismatched clothing.

    She appeared to be both old and sick –

    looking exhausted just sitting and staring on the bus stop bench.

     

    The guy greeted her with a smile,

    then handed her both bags of lunch –

    yeah- both bags…

    taking only the cookie for himself.

    Apparently he’d gotten the food for her.

    Alone in my car, my face burned red,

    I felt ashamed of what I’d assumed –

    so sure I knew all about this fellow,

    at just a first glance,

    without ever having met or conversed with him before.

    I was so comfortable in my world view –

    so distracted by prior negative experiences,

    that I had allowed little possibility

    that God might be doing something new in this moment

                and through this man.

    I had little room for empathy or just a basic curiosity

    about his situation and what might be behind

    his hard and dangerous way of life.  

    It was so easy to judge him, with little or no information–

    rather than to look deeper, to listen harder,

    to do the work to understand the strange and alien world

    in which he lived.

     

    I had not considered before that time

    that a homeless person could teach me more about Jesus

    than any Sunday school lesson –

    because I’d already decided what there was to see.

    I was distracted by my hubris –

    by my certainty that the prevailing view was always the truest.

     

    I was looking at him with eyes of only judgement

    rather than with the eyes of heart and soul –

    where wonder, openness, and compassion

    might have opened up a different view.    

    I did not make that mistake again, I will tell you –

    committing myself to stop, look deeper,

    listen harder before jumping to conclusions,

     

    And I have been rewarded greatly with experiences

    that have enlightened and inspired me.

    Proof positive that this way of seeing

                can be learned…with awareness, practice

                            and the reward of finding out there’s usually way more

                                        than meets the naked and often mis-judging eye.

     

    More than anything today, I believe we need to practice

                this way of seeing…

    of looking, listening, and waiting for others to reveal

                what is real and true and often tender, within them…

    before deciding we understand it all.

     

    More than anything today, I believe we need to ask God

                to lead us to see as God does –

                with the eyes of the heart and soul

    and use our minds to consider

                that things are not always as they seem.

    Seeing in this way can transform a situation

                and a person…

    and even ourselves.

     

    Another story to make my point:

    One day when I was at Seminary,

    my classmate, Jennifer, came to see me.

    She was upset, having just talked with her sister

    who was expecting a baby.

    She and her husband had just learned their first child

    would be born with Down Syndrome.

    Jennifer knew my uncle had Down Syndrome

    so she was seeking whatever information and reassurance

    she could find to offer her sister.

    We decided to walk and talk –

    and no sooner had we started on our way,

    we ran into Linda, a priest in that diocese –

    and the spouse of one of our professors.

    (Here comes the Spirit, again).

    Linda was walking with Twinkle, her dog,

    and Ellen, her thirty year old daughter,

    who was also born with Down Syndrome.

    Ellen and I were fast friends,

    so when Jennifer mentioned that she wanted to talk with Linda alone,

    Ellen and I stepped off a bit

    and spent some time catching up and playing with the dog.

    I didn’t think Ellen was hearing their conversation,

    but, in fact, she caught the whole thing.  

    After a short while, Ellen turned and stepped closer to Jennifer and said,

    “Oh, Jennifer, I am so happy for your sister

    who is going to have a special baby –

    a baby that is special just like me!”

    We were blown away.

    After congratulating Linda on some really great parenting,

    we went our separate ways…

    and Jennifer had what she needed.

    It all depended on how we see this new member of our family,

    she told her sister.

    Yes, this would be who would be someone

    who would have some additional difficulties in life,

    but who could be raised to know she was also special,

    a gift from God,

    someone with so much more to offer

    than a diagnosis or label that spoke only of disability.

    It would all depend on what we ended up seeing,

                she told her sister…

    what we end up looking for in this child.

     

    Jesus is telling us to avoid being distracted by outward appearances.

    Trust, instead, he is saying,

                in the God of things both seen and unseen.

    Be steadfast, endure,

                in the sure and certain hope

                that even in the face of all evidence to the contrary,

    God is at work in the midst of it all.

    Take time to look, listen, go deeper.

    Beyond the glamor, the glitter,

                beyond the stereotypes and false fronts,

    the truth can be known.

    In this time of transition, especially,

                the good news of today is meant especially for us,

    here at Holy Trinity.

    When things are in flux, and things are unknown,

    Jesus invites us to take off our rose colored glasses,

                and look for real signs and portents

                            of God’s presence and action

    which may be found in new and unexpected places, people

                and opportunities.

    Jesus invites us to ask ourselves,

                what are we really seeing,

                            and what is unseen that might make all the difference?