Sermon for June 28, 2020

 This week, I fell victim to the perils of a weekend warrior.  I was playing tennis with my family and suddenly I felt a strange twinge, a feeling as if there was a rope in my leg that couldn’t turn.  I had strained my calf muscle in my left leg.  I was unable to walk on it then and even now I must step very gingerly.  You have probably noticed.  In the midst of my troubles, I received so much help.  My daughter has a lot of medical expertise and she made sure that my injury was only a strain.  People got ice for me and walked me to the car and later into the house where I sat without moving.  My daughter wrapped my leg with an ace bandage. 

I think it is hard to stay still and have everyone else wait on you.  I want to get up and go.  But this time I stayed and people ran little errands for me.  Jan has been wonderful by the way, cooking, serving, driving, carrying and doing other errands.  On Monday, Lynn Graff went out of her way and lent me her scooter to rest my bad leg on.  I am pretty wild on that scooter.

My favorite experience was the concern and care given to me by my granddaughters.  As I sat, they both stayed very close to me.  It seemed the they wanted to comfort me with their presence.  Four-year-old Evelyn gave me her small notebook in which she had drawn several pictures.  She told me that she had made the book for people who were injured to enjoy while they recovered.  I was touched. 

So my experience minded me once again of how important it is for everyone to help others out, to be kind in a difficult world, to welcome others. Perhaps it is even more important to care for others in a time when it is so hard to do.  The caring I received was out of a sense of giving.  But I experienced it as a matter of responsibility. My two granddaughters as young as they are felt the responsibility to watch over me when I was hurt. Our readings for this Sunday speak to me about our duty as followers of Jesus.  We have many responsibilities.

I find the reading about Abraham and Isaac to be brutal.   Abraham was told by God to go and sacrifice his only son.  How does that make sense especially in light of God’ promise that Abraham will be the father of all nations?  Well, it doesn’t.  God protected both Abraham and Isaac from sacrifice.  In it though, I find the message that we are to follow God’s will and not our own. Abraham was obedient to the point of death for Isaac even as Jesus was obedient to the point of his actual death.  I don’t think that our duty is to die or to kill someone else.  But there are tough choices to make as Christians.

In Romans, Paul wrote that we have been freed from the law and from sin.  We are no longer instruments of wickedness but through the grace of Jesus Christ we are now instruments of righteousness.  While we have been freed we also have been given a responsibility. In Paul’s words, we are no longer slaves of sin but rather slaves to God.   “We have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted”.  I say it this way, we are obedient to the words and teaching of Jesus. 

The gospel lesson is part of a larger story about the commissioning of the disciples.  Jesus warned the disciples as he sent them off to proclaim God’s love.  They would not be able to take any valuables with them.  They would be rejected.  They would be punished.  They may have to separate themselves from family and friends for their belief in Jesus. 

As Jesus ends this teaching, he gives them words of encouragement.  He told the disciples that some people would welcome them.  Those people would be blessed and sanctified just as the disciples would be for their preaching.  I hear Jesus saying that we should be welcoming to others. It is a persistent message in scripture.  But I also hear Jesus saying that we are to accept the welcome that we will receive.  

What is our duty as Christians during our time?  I would say that we are called to live our lives as examples to others.  We are to welcome and care for others.  We are to sin no more but rather to be righteous.  But I think it is harder than that.  How do we live Christian lives during a pandemic and as our culture deals with deep seated problems?

As I hear a consistent message about duty and responsibility throughout our lessons. I am reminded of the book called the Greatest Generation written by Tom Brokaw.  He wrote about individuals who during World War two made such great sacrifices.  They felt it was their duty to give up everything in their lives to protect our country.  According to Brokaw, most did it without complaint.  Many never spoke about their losses for their country even many years after the fact.  They sacrificed their schooling, their careers and their loved ones.  Many gave up their lives for our freedom.

I would now like to offer some personal perspectives about our duty in the world.  You are welcome to disagree.  I offer these perspectives as a way for all of us to consider what our role is in the world today.

We are struggling with the continued growth in the number of Covid-19 cases especially in Arizona.   We have tough choices to make about how to keep working and provide for our families while we seek to stop the spread of the virus.  Many people speak of their rights.  We all have rights and I respect that.  I feel sorry for the young people in our world today who have been forced to live with so many difficult situations.  Still, I wish we would hear more from people about the responsibilities and the duties that we all have.  What is our duty to help stop the spread of Covid-19?  I consider it my duty to wear a mask when I am out in public?  I don’t like wearing masks myself but I do it.  How do we balance our wish to reopen the church with our duty to keep people safe?  If someone has considered their duties and still concludes they don’t need to wear a mask then I will appreciate them more than when they only speak of their rights.  

Another of our struggles is the challenge of racism and the concern about how police do their jobs, concerns about how people behave.  These issues are very complex.  I have heard lots of different perspectives on these two issues.  Parishioners have shared writings about these issues with me.  My wish is that we choose action.  I am touched by people who have written to me about why police behavior is correct.  I am also touched by Tim Scott, the Republican Senator from South Carolina who has proposed police reforms while also writing that he had been stopped 18 times in his life by police and was thankful he had never been injured or worse. I am also touched by the Phoenix police chief, Jeri Williams, who walked with protestors and sent police out to deal with people who turned violent during their protests.   Can we find a way to support the wonderful work that police do and appreciate their willingness to put their life on the line for us and still look for ways they can do their job better?  Can we find ways to deal with the issues of legitimate protesters and deal with people who loot or destroy public property?  Can we help black people deal with racism and ask them to deal with problems like black on black violence?    Let’s not excuse any behavior by saying the people on the other side are doing it so why can’t I do it.  I am trying to change my ways so that I will be part of the solution, so that by my actions the world moves in the right direction.  I hope that you will pick a problem that you care about and think how you might make a difference even if you just pray about it, even if you reach out again in kindness to others.  I ask you to try and understand the position of people who disagree with you.  I will pray that we find ways to talk about these things that allows people of different political persuasions to work on our problems together.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that “Action Springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility”.  He stood up for his faith beliefs and suffered the consequences.  I ask myself how I can be ready for my responsibility.  In today’s scripture, I hear consistent words about our responsibilities as Christians.  Living a Christian life can give us difficult choices.  May God guide us as we find our way in today’s complex world. 



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