Tuesday, February 11, 2020

When Did We? (Being With #4)


No video this week. Sorry!

1-2 Feb 2020, Christ Mountain Top
Scout Sunday, the Lord’s Table
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 34, pp 769-770
Children, Genesis 18.1-15 (OT Trinity, simple hospitality)
Message, Matthew 25.31-46 (sheep and goats)
Mission Moment, Scouts

Years ago, the regional shelter for homeless men was mobile. Guys would stay at a church for a week and during the day be bussed out to work or elsewhere. At that time, Debbie Evanko was our church administrator, and one of the weeks when the men were here they had a snow day. The guys couldn’t get out of the building during the day, and school was closed. So Debbie’s ten-year old son Jimmy came to work with her. They ordered pizza for the men that day and Jimmy came in and asked if he could eat with them. “The pizza was ordered for the men, not for you.” “But they asked me.” Jimmy and the men ate together and hung out for the day. On the way home, he said to Debbie, “You know mom, they’re just like us. Only … they have time for me.” These homeless men gave Jimmy a gift, and he gave them a gift.

Let us take seriously the cause of the poor
as though it were our own –
indeed as what it really is, the cause of Jesus Christ,
who on the final judgment day will call to salvation
those who treated the poor with faith in him:
“Whatever you did to one of these poor ones –
the neglected, blind, lame, deaf, mute –
you did to me.”
Archbishop Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love: The Pastoral Wisdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, translated and compiled by James R. Brockman, S.J., San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988, p 196.

Today we continue our series of messages unpacking the promise of Advent and Christmas, of Emmanuel, “God with us.” Each week we have approached the text from the focus point of a particular question in the text. The first week, it was the question of John the baptizer to Jesus when Jesus came for baptism: “Do you come to me?” The question points out that Jesus chooses to identify with outsider sinners, that he has “friends in low places.” The second week, the questions were those to the man and woman in the garden and then to one of their sons: “Where are you?” “Where is your brother?” These questions expose our basic conflicts with God and with each other and call us to the practice of reconciliation in conflict. Last week, we had “Where is the house you will build for me?” This question from the prophet Isaiah points out that God’s dwelling place is among us, that we are God’s house. And even if we are fixer-uppers, God is not waiting to move in. Today, we have a question on the lips of both the sheep and the goats: “When did we… see you?”

There is difficulty and challenge in the story: How can our eternal destiny be determined by our works, if our salvation is by grace through faith alone? Here in the story, however, the crucial question is not the working, but the relating. The question is whether or not we relate to Jesus, love Jesus, care for Jesus. The question is whether or not we choose to be with Jesus. Being with us is the passion and joy of God. Pope John Paul II writes, “By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every person”. Being with us is the passion and joy of God. Is being with Jesus our passion and joy? John Paul goes on to say, “It is precisely in the “flesh” of every person that Christ continues to reveal himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection …, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really rejection of Christ.” 
Closing remarks, from Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life): The Encyclical Letter on Abortion, Euthanasia, and the Death Penalty in Today’s World, Random House/Times Books, 1995, p 186.
The unique thing about this story is that being with Jesus is described in concrete terms – in how we learn to be with persons in need, persons on the margins, who are right in front of us every single day. “When did we see you?” Jesus says, “As much as you have done it, or not done it, to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it, or not done it, to me.”

There is a story of St. John of the Cross who was visited by Mother Mary in a time of prayer. For him, this was the best thing ever, such a delight and gift. But, in the middle of the moment there is a knock at the door, a beggar asking for alms. “Excuse me. Pardon me.” He takes his leave of Mary and goes to care for the beggar. When he returns, he is grateful to see that she is still there. “In that moment, your soul hung in the balance. If you had not left to greet the beggar, I would never have been able to visit you again.”
Cited in The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, David Whyte, Currency (Doubleday) 1994, p 62.
       “When did we see you?” But sometimes we are too self-obsessed, even in our spirituality, to step away and see someone else. This week in my personal reading through the Bible I came across this line from the book of Job that describes a person completely turned in on themselves: “They feel only the pain of their own bodies, and mourn only for themselves.” Job 14:22 NRSV. We have all done it and experienced it. “How are you doing?” “Okay, but it has been a tough day.” “You have no idea about tough, let me tell you about my day.”
       Dorothy Day says it this way: "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least."
Accessed 2019 Oct 16

This week I visited with Jim and Edith Miller. They’ve been going through some health stuff, so it was delightful to visit with them. He asked me, “Do you know Saed?” Nope. “He’s my new neighbor. He’s from Syria, then he lived in Moscow and met his wife there. She’s from China. Their oldest daughter is a Penn State freshman and their youngest is in school here. I really like him. You know, I never left this corner (still living on the old family farm where he was born), but the whole world comes to me.” When did we see you? When did we welcome the stranger?
       Our Scouts are here today. The cub scout pack has had a couple events at the Mountain Top Senior Care nursing home. One of them was a craft night with the kids working one on one with the seniors. It is a wonderful way to connect. Eric M, one of the leaders, said he had never been hit on so often, not even back in college. But if you can still flirt, you are capable of human connection, of being with.

One of the things that stands out about Jesus’ story is that he is not treating persons as problems but as persons (Wells). Yes, some are in prison, some are sick, some are naked, some are hungry. But they are people, not problems. If everyone of us walked across the street to welcome Saed, we might change the immigration conversation in our nation. If everyone of us spent time with persons one-on-one in a nursing home, we might change the way we care for elders in our nation. Those are big problems, important problems. But for Jesus, the priority is in the people.
       I am glad that Jesus didn’t look at me and see a problem. He looked at me and caught a glimpse of himself, something familiar. He looked at me and loved me, wanted to be with me. No wonder he urges us to do the same thing, to be with those different from us, those in need, those who may make us uncomfortable. And, in doing so, to discover that we are with Jesus himself.

Resources:
Samuel Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God.

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