Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Feb 09, 2020

    The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

    Passage: Matthew 5:13-20

    Preacher: The Rev. Sarah Carver

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    I did not get to know my maternal grandmother as much as I would have liked to. She died when I was about ten years old and so I only got to know her through the eyes of my being a child and her being grandma; grandma being the diminutive lady whom I never saw drive, but who always left the house with her plastic rain bonnet and her one beauty accessory—lipstick. I remember that she had soft grandma skin, and a kind smile and an unlimited supply of tissues and mints. Each day in the summer we would go to grandma and grandpa’s house at the lake to swim, have lunch, and probably also dinner, and we would play goldfish with grandma, or have her paint our nails. She liked mayo and onion sandwiches which was silly, and she had her own little set of hot wheel cars for us to play with. Now this is the grandma of my memory—the only way I ever knew her, forever frail and tender. But of course, like there is for everyone, there is so much more to her story. Much of it I will never really know, but the snippets of her life that I have discovered and have had shared with me, reveal a woman that I have found to be inspiring and fun. For years on the wall of our boathouse hung a diploma, and when I was mature enough to take the time to read it, I saw that is was my grandmother’s. She had graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts from the University of Michigan in 1936—a time when most women didn’t go to school. She became a social worker and when she began her career, it was in a tuberculosis sanitarium in Northern Michigan when TB was a kind of an epidemic as medicine wasn’t yet able to cure it. My favorite story about her though, is from the time she was in the Upper Peninsula, at her and grandpa’s cabin in the middle of nowhere—and I mean, the middle of nowhere. Now, a bear and was hanging around the cabin and while black bears are not the most aggressive bears in the world, they can be a nuisance and they can be very destructive. When it appeared that the bear wasn’t going away as quickly as they’d like, grandma apparently took it upon herself to walk up to said bear and spray it in the face with a can of Raid. Now, this is not how I would have handled the situation, but it worked. From these stories, I have images of grandma walking up and down the halls of the sanitarium to help desperately ill people, I can imagine her at school as an eager young woman, and I can see her slight and older self facing down a bear in the wilderness. These stories have shared with me the knowledge that the aged, grandmotherly woman of my childhood had some metal to her--and she used it because that’s who she was. I wish, oh how I wish, I could have really gotten to know her in all her fullness.

                Today, Jesus is helping his disciples get to know themselves as they have only been with him a short time. He is telling them who and what they are as his disciples. He uses the metaphors of salt and light. Commentators will point out that salt had lots of meaning in this context—sacrifice, purity, community and fidelity, to name a few. And to be the light of the world is to light the way for the world. Jesus’ language is bold: You are the light, You are the salt, you are that city on a hill—so discipleship is not about aspiring—but about being what you are: that community of faithful people who are steeped in righteousness and being so in such a way for all the world to see. Discipleship is about following Jesus into the world and participating in God’s mission there, all the while living in such a way that points to the goodness and righteousness of God. It’s living in the world, in these earthly kingdoms as if the Kingdom of God has already arrived. It’s living as if you believe all this Jesus stuff is true.

                I think the church is going through a bit of an identity crisis these days. A lot has changed since Jesus told his disciples who they were and what their job was. A lot has changed from even fifty years ago. Over its two thousand year period, the church’s understanding of itself and its role in public life has really been diverse. From being the fringe outcast in its beginnings, to rising to become the dominant religion and competing with kings and emperors for power, the church of late has seen its influence wane and faith become more of a private matter, even suspect in the eyes of those for whom faith and church are unknown. I think the church is struggling with losing its status. Fewer people are attending church, and we see smaller churches struggling and then closing—this was certainly my experience living and serving as a priest in Michigan. I know that when my little church in Midland was built, all you had to do was open the doors and people would come because that is just what people did then. That is certainly not the case anymore and some church folks find themselves throwing up their hands and wondering aloud: What are we doing to do? Well, we are going to be what we are. I believe we are entering a new season in the life of the greater church and that we have the opportunity to renew ourselves in light of God’s mission in the world. This is a time to be reminded of what God is calling the Church into—and to be reminded of who and what we are: Salt and light, recognizing that there are huge issues facing the planet, and humanity, and that we are called to respond to these challenges with love and faith—believing that God will not abandon us in this work.

                In light of this changing world and changing church, Evangelical pastor Brian McLaren once made the remark that the church is meant to be a community that has something better to offer the world than what the world has to offer—that we are to be a holy and just community that truly cares for the poorest, that offers a way of life that is truly life-giving. More than once I have heard clergy quip that the church is not just one of many civic organizations. We are beyond that—but what does that look like? What does it look like to do that work and who we are as those ministers?

    A group of about 25 of us have been gathering weekly to explore this. I’ve talked about this before as it is our new pastoral care program, Community of Hope. In our time together we’ve learned that to provide pastoral care to those in need means knowing ourselves as being disciples grounded in Christ and understanding that our work as ministers is to help to heal, sustain, guide, and reconcile those who are suffering, knowing that it isn’t about our goodness, but that it is God’s goodness and love that transcends those pastoral encounters.[1] We have learned that pastoral caregiving is about being able to stand in the midst of another’s struggle and hold those persons in love, listening deeply to their need and their hopes, and tending to their wounds with understanding, prayers, sacred presence, and being able to name that God is in the midst of all of that. In this way, we are being Christ to those in need. We are being salt and light. Now, we tend to think of pastoral caregiving as being that kind of ministry we do only within churches, but really it is how we are to be with everyone we encounter in the world because it is in the world that we are truly supposed to be salt and light. The church, and we ourselves as minsters are not a refuge away from the needs and challenges of the world, we are a refuge within them.

    The Rev. Justin Crisp offers another image by tying pastoral care directly to Eucharist, he makes the case that our “response to God’s goodness is to offer back from God’s creation the gifts of that creation, including ourselves”. He writes:…”human beings are Eucharistic creatures, and all the world—ourselves included—is meant to be the matter of the sacrament.” He says: “I’ve come to think of pastoral care as the concrete means by which human lives are set apart and consecrated as offerings to God, in union with the one offering which our Lord Jesus Christ made of himself. It is a priestly activity—It is the work of the baptized, the totality of whom share in the royal priesthood of Christ and are called to join him in consecrating and offering the world to the Father…”[2] Our work is to consecrate and offer the world to God. Salt and light. So when we come forward to take the bread and the wine, we are not simply receiving the sacrament—we are the sacrament, the body and blood, the thanksgiving, the blessing. Yes, this doesn’t make us special, it makes us called.

    Being salt and light makes me think of when, as I child, I’d fall and skin my knee or cut my foot on the dock and grandma would get the band aid and not only tend to the wound but hugs and kisses would come with the band aid and in the middle of being scared and in pain I knew that I was loved and everything was going to be ok. I think of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer representing people who are poor and who have been treated unjustly by the courts who not only gets the facts of his client’s cases so he can represent them in court, but also enters into their stories of poverty, loss, and mental illness and stands with them in all of that chaos so that he can honor their humanity. I think of the churches that have simple community meals where members and non-members alike can come together over a free meal and get to know one another, and get to know what struggles and needs the community is facing and together begin to seek change. I think of churches coming together to try and make sure the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed and the ill are treated.

    You are salt and light. Know what you are and be what you are. Let the world know you for what you are so that the world knows you love it. Be the church, be light, love, healing, holiness, strength, compassion, fearlessness, be willing to spray a can of Raid in the face of injustice and be all that out there in the world, make it holy, and offer it unto God. Amen.

     

     

     

    [1] Community of Hope Lay Pastoral Caregiver Notebook, Module 2

    [2] https://earthandaltarmag.com/posts/sacraments-in-ordinary-toward-a-theology-of-pastoral-care?fbclid=IwAR3aPSU8Zb-e5VHtwxqLG5el8QJwI9OBL28ut2abf75lYTABK3am_r8t9Yk