Last two pages below, listen to the whole sermon at: http://www.huntingdonstonechurch.org/sermons/hunger-september-24-2017
There is no mistake, no sin or flaw, not the worst act you can think of, that makes us or anyone unworthy of love or food or shelter.
The parable Jesus tells of this hungry son gets used to teach repentance, but the character doesn’t sound very repentant. In fact, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine argues that his “lack of remorse is [found in] his line, “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Biblically literate listeners would hear an echo of the empty words Pharaoh mouths…to stop the plagues.” We read in Exodus “Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you.’” (Exod. 10:16). Levine says the people listening to Jesus tell this story would’ve known from this familiar phrase that “The prodigal is no more repentant, has had no more change of heart, than Egypt’s ruler.”
And still, the hungry son will eat his fill. We will never be so flawed that we are unworthy of food or love or shelter.
We can invite ourselves and each other to another way of being, again and again, we can do it quietly, we can make referrals, we can give gift cards rather than cash. We can donate to organizations rather than individuals. We can give spare change or big bucks or sandwiches or hot chocolate or advice or prayer. We can choose tough love, high expectations and mutual accountability. But even tough love must come on a full stomach.
“If you love me,” Jesus told Peter, “feed my sheep.” Three times he said it. Three times Peter would deny Jesus, in his fear, three times Peter would hide from the truth. Three times, Jesus told Peter, love me by feeding others, by filling bellies, by leaning right into the need.
Not just when the hungry person looks like us, looks receptive to charity, looks like they’ll really appreciate the food and know how to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Not just when we can easily stare into this person’s hungry, thirsty, aching face. “But Lord, if we had known it was you hungry, we would’ve fed you, if we had known it was you thirsty, we would’ve brought you a drink! If we had known you were in prison, of course we would have visited you!”
We know what Jesus says, “anytime you care for the least of these, you care for me.”
Read most of it below, listen to the whole sermon at: http://www.huntingdonstonechurch.org/sermons/kneeling-october-1-2017
...Peter is shocked as Jesus kneels to wash his feet, Peter doesn’t understand what Jesus is up to, but he surrenders to the water. Can you relate? Not sure what it all means, uncomfortable, and still we show up for the basin, we surrender to the water, warm on our ankles. We marvel at the hands that caress our soles. We twinge when someone kneels at our feet. We, too, kneel.
Other than love feast, when do we kneel? We kneel with humility to recognize the greatness in another person. We kneel with humility as we propose marriage. We kneel with humility when we ask for forgiveness. We kneel with humility to pray.
At least that’s what I’ve seen in movies – we don’t have kings or lords to kneel in front of these days, but it makes for great TV, a posture of submission, defenseless, offering one’s head to the king knowing he could draw his sword! And I’ve never seen someone kneel to ask forgiveness in real life either, but maybe some of you have? Maybe you kneel in humility to pray, not usually at Stone, but you would be welcome to – if you can find a way to do it in those pews. Perhaps kneeling in submission and humility is a habit we’ve lost, and is metaphorical more often than literal for most of us.
We do kneel with power as we teach a child to tie her shoes. We kneel with power when we help an aging parent out of the car. We kneel with power when we leash our dog for a walk. We kneel with power when we plant seeds and participate in new life.
And of course there is humility in trusting the genius of seed, soil and sun. There is power in asking for forgiveness. There is humility in journeying with the very young and very old, giving to the vulnerable what they cannot give to themselves. How often do humility and power live intertwined? Feetwashing is a visceral act of both power and humility.
The mainstream western world fails to notice this nuance, seeing the powerful and the humble as two groups living far apart from each other. Jesus tells us that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” and “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Jesus raises the “last,” the meek, women, slaves – yet Jesus reminds us that servants are not greater than their masters. Jesus tells Peter, the rock upon which he will build his church, “if you love me, feed my sheep.” What could be more humble than sheep?....
Mary is at Jesus’ feet in both of the stories recorded of their encounters. She sits at his feet in Luke 10 to listen to his teachings, and here in John 12 she sits at his feet to anoint and bathe them, and dry them with her hair. Mary uses tradition to break tradition. It was appropriate for her to be at Jesus’ feet and to wash them in hospitality as his inferior. But Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to his teachings. She leaves the kitchen to sit at Jesus’ feet in a roomful of men.
Mary comes to Jesus’ feet again to anoint them. As a woman clearly ahead of her time, she might have refused to participate in this ceremony of subordination. Rather, Mary, knowing that she has a precious gift to offer, transforms the ritual itself. Mary brings new meaning to feetwashing – she reclaims this space at a man’s feet in service to equality. When Mary anoints Jesus’ feet, she demonstrates that she is a true disciple, listening better to Jesus than the 12 men who follow him from town to town. Mary, unlike the disciples, acknowledges Jesus’ impending death and anoints him as one soon to be buried.
Mary listens when Jesus predicts his death, and she knows something about death. Mary waited for Jesus to come while she watched her own brother die. She faced death when she prepared Lazarus’ body for burial. When Mary kneels at Jesus’ feet her own heart has been broken by death. Mary does not flinch, but faces Jesus’ own death with compassion. She makes a place for his grief and pain.
Did anyone see my sermon title and wonder if you’d hear about football this morning? Kneeling is in the scripture for today – I didn’t pick this Philippians passage because I wanted to preach on taking a knee. Look at the back of your bulletin, at the bottom. This scripture was chosen for today long before Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem. So here we are.
Most of us have a strong reaction, positive or negative, to football players kneeling during the national anthem. The president’s comments last week muddied the waters for a lot of people who initially didn’t like it. One of the gifts Kaepernick has given many young people is the chance to talk about power and responsibility, risk and protest. Even before Trump’s threats against NFL players, young football players on college, high school and even pee wee teams talked about taking a knee, what the symbolism might mean to them, the encounters they’ve had with police. Football teams are more integrated between black and white people than most parts of our society, so I imagine empathy growing through conversations that might never have happened anywhere else because race and racism are two of the hardest things to talk about in the US.
That’s my prayer. Some of that teambuilding and empathy growing has happened on Juniata’s football team, which includes sons of police officers and sons of families in Baltimore and Philadelphia that experience police brutality. I asked Stone member and football coach Tim Launtz about how all this taking a knee has gone for his team. His first priority is to support and respect his players, including any witness they choose. Tim also hopes his team is a nurturing environment for players to have open discussion even about these emotional, complex topics. That may be the greatest good we can pray for now, that open discussion, trust and wisdom be nurtured through our words and actions.
Because only time will tell what taking a knee will mean. When a crowd of men, many dressed as Mohawk Indians, poured tea over the sides of three ships in Boston Harbor, the British government declared it an “intolerable act” and many colonists (future Americans) argued about whether or not the merchants should be paid for the tea, whether the action was too violent. One historian says the Boston Tea Party or “destruction of the tea” as it was known at the time, didn’t make into mainstream accounts of the American Revolution for decades because it embarrassed the historians. If someone asked me about the American Revolution I’d probably start with the tea, with no taxation without representation!