Sermon for Epiphany VII, Year C

February 20, 2022

Genesis 45:3-11, 15         Psalm 37:1-12, 41-42                      1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50     Luke 6:27-38

          Yesterday we held the 150th annual diocesan convention virtually.  The bishop remarked that he did not want to be known as the bishop who began virtual conventions.  Last year’s convention was virtual as well – and I must say virtual conventions don’t take near as long, we started at 10:00 am and concluded around noon.  That part is good, but like virtual worship it lacks the personal interactions that occur when everyone is in the same room and there are opportunities to join one another for coffee or a meal – before or after the service. 

          There is worship – which can be done virtually, and there are relationships which require us to get together so we can interact with one another.  Fostering relationships is a ministry.  Still, Bishop Benfield suggested we need to worry less about people not attending our Sunday services because virtual attendance is easier.  Instead, he suggests we should focus on how we might use our virtual worship to reach others.  These past two years have challenged us to take the church outside of our facilities and traditions – and the future of the church is not in our past. 

While some churches (not any Episcopal Churches I’m aware of) have stopped broadcasting services in an effort to force people back in the pews, I have seen people attend virtually who would not or could not otherwise attend.  I have not, I admit, thought much about how to expand our virtual ministry to reach more people.  Someone told me some of the people he has invited to St. Paul’s are reluctant to come because they are nervous about not knowing what to do when. I did suggest he invite them to watch our service online before coming the first time.  Our liturgy is powerful, but it is can be intimidating for some.  If someone watches the online service first, we can then ask them about their experience and answer any questions they may have. 

In the past year Bishop Benfield said he confirmed several people who first attended online.  He believes it is because our worship draws people into a deeper commitment which creates in them a desire for deeper relationships.  Relationships, new and old, need to be built upon the love of God.  The love of God that Jesus speaks of in our reading for today is a love that is accepting of people where they are, not where we think they should be; it is a love that is not judgmental. 

Jesus teaches us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  This may sum up his teaching, but what he teaches is so much more.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”  I believe this passage challenges us all.  Not only does Jesus tell us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who abuse us, turn the other cheek, give to everyone who asks for help, and more, Jesus calls upon us to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Jesus is teaching us more than to just be kind and helpful, it involves being quick to forgive, and giving without expectation of receiving anything back.

          I must admit, I do not give to everyone who asks for my help – whether it is a beggar on the street or someone coming to the church requesting assistance.  I learned a long time ago that my resources and the churches resources are limited.  Out of necessity, I must pick and choose how I spend and give away money.   I do try to help everyone who comes to the church, but as the steward of the discretionary fund I place limits on what and how I do so.  I contribute toward utilities and rent, but I do not give out cash, or food, or gasoline cards.  And, I pay for a night or two in a hotel upon occasion for the homeless or an occasional strained traveler.  But I do not do as Jesus says to do here – I do not give to everyone who comes asking for help.

Because of your generosity, I have been able to help a number of people.  The need, however, is great.  There are people on fixed incomes whose income is barely enough to cover their monthly expenses.  Any unexpected expenses, such as car repair, extreme temperatures that drive up utility bills, or an illness and the cost of its treatment is too much – so they get behind on their rent or utilities.  Plus, there is no homeless shelter in our community and there are a number of homeless people here. 

          I have always struggled with this gospel reading, especially when I’m wearing my collar and walk upon someone in the street asking for money or when someone comes to the church asking for assistance that I cannot provide.  Whether it is lack of funds or simply that I do not have a way to help pay for a tank of gas or provide food, I do not like turning people away without helping in part. 

          In another scripture, a person anoints the feet of Jesus with an expensive ointment.  The disciples object on the grounds that it should have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus says, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”  Jesus does not say they are correct, we need to give everything away.  He accepts the gift she gives him and commends her for it. 

          She chose to anoint his feet with something valuable, rather than keep it for herself.  What we do for others matters and we are not to judge others for what they do or do not do.  I may not be able to help everyone, but I do what I believe I can.  There will be poor always.  I am not to ignore this, nor am I to give away everything I have.  The point is we need to accept the gifts and blessings we have received with gratitude and to share them with others. 

          Jesus teaches us not to judge others, to forgive those who have wronged us, and to give to people in need.  And then he says, “For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”  He is not speaking of giving so that we will receive, but he does teach us that “in giving we receive.”  And, as I said last Sunday, giving reduces our burden so that we might pass through the eye of the needle . . ..

Let us pray.

          All present and loving God who taught us through your Son to give of ourselves to others.  Help us, we pray, to love others as Christ taught us to love.  Help us to give freely without expecting anything in return.  For it is truly in giving that we receive.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.