3rd Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2012
Exodus 20:1-17, 1 Corinth 1:18-25, John 2:13-22
I am very grateful to be here with you this morning, and for our listening together in the silence. I believe that this beautiful thing we share as
One—the Word and Eucharist—deeply changes how we listen and observe, and how we walk in the world outside these windows.
In my daily life I move around a lot—my job with the Madison schools is now truly itinerant. I also read and I talk a lot, and I eat—a lot! And I do most of these things rather fast. I’m not sure what good has come from what it is I spend much of my time doing.
But! Perhaps because over many years I have been surrounded by persons—mostly women and children—who live in poverty, I have been privileged to witness moments of grace in unlikely circumstances. This is not to say that I believe that poverty gives one a moral or spiritual superiority over the economically stable. Poverty does, however, often crowd people together, and this social intensity creates opportunities for moments of great grace, as much as it does the better known occasions of violence.
So just as I may burn with anger that our own community and society continue to throw obstacles into the lives of the vulnerable, I may witness a moment so transcendent that I am stopped in my tracks and—shut my mouth. “Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” St. Paul goes on in Corinthians to say: “in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy, only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit.
So it is for we who believe: daily life whets our appetite for the justice, the inclusivity and the joy of God’s own home. In our worship together we anticipate the fullness of our life with God; and we leave this worship with eyes and ears open to the people and world around us. We must open ourselves to the whole truth: to our own limits; to the gifts of those who seem strangers; To the demands of God’s own justice; And to the astonishing reality that the Risen Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Usually these encounters with truth are hidden in the ordinary, so I hope you will forgive my telling of a more extraordinary story, in this liturgical season of astonishing truths. 10 days ago, at my Friday work site: I saw a beautiful young woman kneel before an older woman, and ever so gently pull clean socks on her swollen bare feet.
I stopped moving, and I heard her gentle voice murmuring kindness in what I could only call a reverential tone. Time froze, though the snow was piling up furiously outside: It was Holy Thursday in that apartment.
“To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
A beautiful young woman, carefully dressed after her day’s work, is kneeling at the feet of an older unkempt woman. The older woman is severely diabetic and confused, a dislocated recluse,and she’s rather anxious. The younger woman is pulling on these feet a pair of her own socks, with great tenderness. She coos to comfort, unhurried though her four children are waiting upstairs. They plan to head to Chicago for the weekend. Heavy snow, rush hour, Friday night: her grandmother with Alzheimer’s is waiting.
But in this moment there are only these feet, and this neighbor, or so it would seem.
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
I stepped out and pulled yet another shopping cart of garbage bags to the dumpster through the magical snow. After hours of tag teaming this gentle mother in pitching trash from her neighbor hoarder’s kitchen we had finally created access for the exterminator to spray just that room. Another hour of cajoling and we had been able to lead the older woman out to where she now sat. I stood outside taking deep breaths of fresh air for another minute, and I knew this:
I have never treated a stranger with the selflessness of the woman I had just witnessed.
For all I have been given, I have never given so freely as this graceful woman, her days slowed down by chronic respiratory disease that made her efforts that day remarkable, and too risky.
A Black single mother just recovering from pneumonia and the theft of her rent money, bright and determined to be the mother her own could not be. Raised well by her grandmother, a Jehovah’s Witness, in the meanest streets on the South Side of Chicago. Here she is, a True Witness: protecting the dignity and numb feet of the very person whose habits for years have been breeding the roaches that invade all these old, decaying apartments. Calming a confused but educated white woman trapped in her mind and her dark, dense rooms. One person recognizing this other as equally preciousness to God.
Some demand signs and others wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others.
I came back in, convinced now that this family should not travel so far in such bad weather. Wanting both to hurry them on and dissuade them from leaving. I offered to stay with our elder, where she sat in the space I work from, until it was safe for her to reenter her own apartment. But my Witness had other plans, and was helped this neighbor to her feet Saying: “you come up to my home. I have a nice couch, you are welcome to Come sit. We’ll help you up so you can be comfortable there.”
Today’s gospel gives us Jesus, Jesus with a Zeal for his father-mother’s house. Jesus urging us to let nothing create barriers in the way of those who would enter God’s own home. Jesus letting us know that there is no entry fee, no sacrificial dove needed, no ritual purity required. Come on up, you are welcome here.
I haven’t gotten there yet, and I certainly wouldn’t make it on my own. But 2 Fridays ago, just a few miles up the road, I witnessed something very holy amid the roaches. Now I am so eager to share this Eucharist +with you and in unity with Christians everywhere+ to lift up and celebrate all our yearnings for justice; All our encounters with a Living God, all our shared commitment to bringing All God’s People together into her home of Justice and Joy.
- Let us turn to Christ the power and the wisdom of God as we pray:
For all leaders of houses and communities of worship, that they welcome and support, challenge and accept challenge from all who seek to belong in their circles…let us pray.
For citizens and residents, elected officials and civil servants around the world, that we will together work to create just and sustainable cities and nations…let us pray.
For all who suffer with illness, poverty, discrimination, addiction, or other affliction. That they may find healing and support, acceptance and dignity, let us pray.
For what else shall we pray? For these, and all whose names are entered into our book of intercessions let us pray…
All Loving, merciful God, you sent us Jesus to be your Word of invitation into the reign of true Justice and Peace. Hear our prayers as we try to find our way home to your unconditional welcome. Help us follow Jesus faithfully to the cross, where every barrier between us and you, our God, is overcome.
We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen