Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We’re traveling through “a parable universe” this Lenten season. And I invoke the memorable Mr. Rogers’ song in my sermon title today – “Won’t you be my neighbor?” – because I think it’s important we not overly complicate a parable from Jesus that is, at its heart, profoundly simple. Even little ones can understand one of the most important rules in life is simple kindness. A young child hearing this Bible story in Sunday School can grasp its biggest takeaway lesson without too much trouble: Be good to others. Show compassion. Help those who need help.
Of course, the unexpected hero is an interesting twist. The Samaritan assumed a human connection with the unfortunate man lying in the ditch, no matter that it was across social boundaries and cultural differences. No matter that the person he helped, under other circumstances, might not have wanted him anywhere near. He assumed it was important to act kindly, and worth the risk to do so.
Speaking of assumptions, I remember one time we were doing one of those food drives down at the QFC grocery store at the bottom of the hill, and some of our Magnolia neighbors had a marvelous response when we thanked them for their generous donations: “Of course!” they said. “Of course.” The assumption being that simple acts of kindness like this are – of course! – what we’d all want to do.
But I suspect it’s not the Samaritan’s “of course” to the need he finds before him, or his instant identification of the man in the ditch as his neighbor, or even his being an unexpected source of great kindness, that we adults struggle with each time we encounter this story. The point is simple enough. It’s the implementation of Jesus’ lesson that gets a little tricky.
Bruce van Blair, in his commentary on the gospel of Luke, presents the problem this way:
"Who is my neighbor? I have been listening to the church’s answer to this question my whole life, and I have yet to make any sense out of its answer. The church just keeps saying, “Everybody – all the time.” [But] there are too many people, too many needs. No one individual can respond to it all. So we are forever guilty, sad, remorseful that we have not done more. And even if we give everything, it relieves none of this guilt or sadness because we [still] have not healed the world’s need."
To bring his point home further, van Blair retells the story of the Samaritan this way:
"He was going down the road when he came upon a poor man, bloody and beaten, off by the side. Having compassion, he gathered him up and started carrying him down the road. A quarter of a mile later he came upon another man, also beaten and left for dead. So he laid down the first man and picked up the second, and staggered on for several hundred yards. Then he returned and picked up the first man and carried him to where he had put down the other. Looking on down the road he could now see many beaten forms of unfortunate travelers…So he staggered back and forth, carrying now one, now another, until he himself became utterly exhausted.... His water was gone, his food used up, his money already distributed among the beaten forms lying about. And now he himself lay helpless, hoping some person would come down the road with resolution enough to save at least one of them."
The sheer number of people needing help is unquestionably overwhelming. It actually makes the priest and the Levite’s choices a bit more understandable, doesn’t it? When we put ourselves on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and consider all of the dangers and liabilities and financial implications and the fact that if we stopped for every bleedin’ guy in the road, we’d never get anywhere, and, and, and…
Hold on. Take a deep breath.
Remember our sermon a few weeks ago about finding our particular piece of the broader task of repairing the world?
Bring back that simplest of lessons from today’s text: kindness.
And perhaps cue the Mr. Rogers song again.
As van Blair puts it, “we can get bound up in the technicalities until everything is hopeless. Or we can take whatever opportunities we find to do whatever good we are capable of… The story is simple: Go find somebody to care about... Then do it!”
Over and over in the gospels we find Jesus reminding people that saying the right words, knowing the right answers, believing the right beliefs isn’t all there is to it. Jesus doesn’t just invite us to think good thoughts. He asks us to do good deeds. He doesn’t just ask us to believe in him. He asks us to follow him.
To be fair, he asks a lot. You don’t have to read far in the gospels to learn the bar is actually set quite high, for how disciples of Jesus should behave. But God knows we’re not perfect. We’re called to be faithful in and through our weaknesses.
And again, while faithful discipleship in every area of our lives is a tough calling, maybe some things really are as simple as they sound. Like today’s invitation, through this parable in Luke 10, simply to show kindness and compassion, to someone.
Notice, the Samaritan didn't set off from Jerusalem to Jericho looking for someone who'd been robbed and beaten and needed help, though that would have been an admirable thing too, and many good people have gone out on just those kinds of quests. Here in this particular story, our hero simply helped a guy in need, right in front of him. As Mother Theresa liked to say: “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”
In some cases, the person nearest us could quite literally be a beaten and broken person on the side of the road. So it’s certainly worth considering what sort of help we can offer in those situations. If we don’t feel comfortable giving out cash, can we give food or water? A blanket? A gift card to somewhere they can sit with a hot cup of coffee? Help with some phone calls to find shelter for the night?
And in some cases, the person nearest us needing help could look entirely different. Could be well dressed and perfectly coiffed and driving a nice car, but hiding the fact …that she’s just lost her job… or that he’s treated cruelly at home … or that her child is terribly sick and she is hoping against hope that the doctors are wrong. Or the person next to us could be the waitress everyone else has been dumping on all evening, the custodian at work whose name no one has bothered to learn, or the bag boy at the supermarket who’s being bullied at school.
In some cases, it might be someone we wouldn’t normally encounter, whether because of race or religion or socioeconomic status. And in the “parable universe” into which we’ve been invited by today’s text, remember - those strangers could also be the ones helping us out of a bad situation.
I mentioned last week that part of the beauty of parables is that a story can be about several things all at once?
How does the story of the Good Samaritan impact us, not only when we imagine ourselves as the pious folks leaving the guy in the ditch (already deeply convicting!)… or when we picture ourselves as the Samaritan (are we brave enough to do what he did?) … but when we take a third pass through the story, and picture ourselves as the ones lying beaten by the side the road? What would it feel like to receive grace upon grace, to be the beneficiary of the most incredibly kind and compassionate treatment from someone who couldn’t be more different from us? And who do you picture in your mind’s eye as that Samaritan coming to your rescue? Is it someone from the other side of the tracks, income-wise? Is it someone from another racial group, another religion, another country? Is it someone whose bumper stickers make it blindingly clear that you disagree passionately about everything under the sun? What would it feel like for that person suddenly to be neighbor to you, and lift you out of that ditch, and give you a ride to the hospital, and wait with you in the ER while you’re bandaged up, and then find you a safe place to spend the night, and pay for it, and keep checking in to be sure you’re ok? What would it feel like to receive that much kindness from a stranger?
Finally, since we’re considering whether a broad range of lessons could be contained in a single parable… I’ve always heard the parable of the Good Samaritan as a story about individuals – an individual who is in need, an individual who steps up to help. But a fellow pastor shared recently that he was deeply convicted by a friend of his who asked: "Shouldn't we do something about the state of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, if folks traveling there are being robbed and beaten and left to die? In addition to helping the individual neighbor, shouldn't we also be concerned about repairing the road?" He was speaking metaphorically, of course. It wasn’t potholes that had him concerned. It was systemic injustice, the kinds of economic and political and social realities that leave some people especially vulnerable as they make their way along life’s journey.
I wonder if Jesus enjoyed speaking in parables because each story allows us to ask a whole range of questions like these.
And I wonder how you and I most need to hear the story of the Good Samaritan today.
We’ve said that our Lenten assignment this year is to watch for signs of God’s kingdom, to keep on the lookout for little parables or lessons from God as we go about our everyday lives. In the Lenten devotional some of us have been reading together, Walter Brueggemann reminds us that Lent should be a “departure from … anxious anti-neighborliness” and a movement toward “fearless neighborliness.”
I wonder whether you or I might find ourselves stumbling across a Good Samaritan parable this week. I wonder, too, where we ourselves might be called to practice a fearless neighborliness that would make both Mr. Rogers, and Jesus himself, enormously pleased?
 Bruce van Blair, The Believer’s Road: A Journey Through Luke, p. 113.
 Van Blair, p. 114.
 A Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent, p. 5
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
My sermon title this morning is borrowed from Anna Carter Florence, preaching professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. A few years ago during the season of Lent, she says, she “started thinking in parables.” She continues:
"I don’t mean Jesus’ parables in Scripture, which I love, by the way. I mean parables that just hit me when I wasn’t looking for them and certainly wasn’t expecting them. I guess that’s appropriate, since the word parable literally means ‘thrown alongside.’ As in: now you don’t see it - boom! - now you do. One minute you’re humming along, everything’s normal, and then, without warning, you just collide with some flash of insight, and you know for sure that the kingdom of God has come near and you just saw a piece of it. You don’t know why. You don’t know how. You’re just glad you happened to be paying attention in the moment it broke."
“What if we simply assumed that parables were all around us, and our job was to walk around looking for them?” she asks. “And since parables are really sermons in miniature, what would happen… if [she] asked her [preaching] students to go somewhere unexpected, every week, and to come back with a parable they had witnessed?” They “started gathering them, and before you knew it, the gathering became a habit… and [their] parable universe, which was only supposed to be a classroom exercise, turned into a way of living and speaking, all the way to Easter.”
Well, this whole idea of “a parable universe” – a play on “parallel universe” - intrigued me, and I wondered if it might also be an interesting way for us to spend the season of Lent this year. What if we read some gospel parables each Sunday of Lent, focusing on kingdom stories Jesus told, and then – equipped with those reminders – headed back out these doors looking for additional parables wherever our week happens to take us? How might it transform the way we see the world, to use a bit of holy imagination, and play a glorified game of “I Spy” together as a church family?
Do you know the game? “I spy with my little eye something blue,” “I spy with my little eye something round?” Well, what if our particular look-out during Lent this year was for images, scenes, snapshots of the kingdom of God?
Perhaps I should back up a bit here, to be sure we all know why we’d be looking for such things in the first place. Jesus often taught in parables, using both longer stories and simpler word pictures to convey important truths about God. This morning in a single chapter in Luke’s gospel we encountered three of these parables Jesus told, all of them in this particular subset sharing a “lost and found” theme.
The first two start out as rhetorical questions. “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?... And when he comes home, he gathers his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that is lost.’” (Luke 15:4-6) “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’” (Luke 15:8-9) Jesus right away supplies the moral of each story. There is great joy in heaven, a giant heavenly party among the angels, over every sinner who repents.
Naturally Jesus could have conveyed the same truth another way. He could have skipped the stories and gone straight to the moral: God longs for sinners to repent. It gladdens God’s heart when we return to him. The spiritual truth is no less important in that more straightforward form. But adding those memorable visuals, of a shepherd racing around the wilderness to find a single wayward lamb, or of a woman tearing part her whole house to find a lost coin… well, you can tell Jesus was a gifted teacher, because those images really help the lesson hit home, don’t they?
Poets know it, prophets know it, teachers know it. Jesus, who was all of those things, clearly knew it. Metaphors, illustrations, and stories work because they can reach us in a different way, and help that little lightbulb go on over our heads. “Oh! I see!”
I’ve preached on Jesus’ parables before and done my best to mine them for meaning by leaning on experts in the field of New Testament scholarship. But if there is a liability to reading a bunch of commentaries on Jesus’ parables, it’s that you end up with all these different arguments about what they mean, as if they could mean only this or that. But what if a parable can mean both this and that? What if that’s the whole point of telling stories in the first place, rather than expounding doctrines about God in lecture form?
I actually love the way parables can open up meaning vs. shutting it down. Stories, or word pictures, can allow a number of different avenues for a word from the Lord to reach your heart, or mine. Perhaps that’s by design.
By way of example, let’s return to the lengthier story in Luke 15, the story we often call the parable of the prodigal son. But I’ve come to learn it’s really about two sons, each lost in his own way. One who finds himself distanced from the family by disrespecting his father, wasting his inheritance on reckless living, and ending up far from home; the other separated from his dad by his inability to forgive his brother. The father, of course, has been watching all along for the prodigal’s return, so that “while he was still far off,” dad sees him and runs to welcome him back. God’s love is like that, Jesus is telling us. Standing ready to scoop us back up with a giant bear hug if only we’ll turn back to him. The father also leaves the welcome home party for that son, going outside to look for his other son and to plead with him to join the feast. God’s love is also like that. A love so gracious and generous, so forgiving of sinners, that we’re going to find ourselves challenged to keep up with that level of graciousness at times, and may even be called out for trying to exclude those God means to include. A single story with multiple audiences in mind. A story big enough to include those who fear they’re outsiders, beyond the reach of God’s mercy… and those pretty confident they’re insiders, who are bothered by some of the questionable characters God’s letting into God’s kingdom these days.
Of course, these parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost sons in Luke 15 are just a few of the many ways Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God. Dozens of parables are sprinkled throughout the gospels. Each of them offering a helpful way of seeing, a useful lens through which to understand a little something more about the enormous subject of God, and God’s ways in the world. In fact, on a future Sunday we’ll visit a single chapter from Matthew’s gospel that contains something like 8 separate parables all in a row!
I suspect when Jesus told parables, he didn’t so much mean to say “the Kingdom of God is like these things and only these things,” as he meant “here’s a start…try this image on for size.” Perhaps that’s why he heaped one metaphor on top of another, told one story after another? One might touch your heart more deeply, and one might reach out and grab mine. They’re all just ways to try to package eternal divine truths into a form we can understand.
After the sermon today we’ll be singing “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” What if we spent this Lenten season seeking where God’s kingdom is hiding in plain sight, looking for parables wherever we go? What might we find?
I hope you’ll enjoy the hunt. And I hope you’ll even be willing to swap kingdom of God sightings with one another. If so, I’ll work in an opportunity toward the end of Lent for us to share what we discover as we wander through this “parable universe” between Sundays.
If you love being outdoors like I do, you might find parables about God, hints about what the kingdom of God is like, in nature. Certainly the biblical psalmists loved those kinds of images. But kingdom spotting is by no means restricted to hikes through the woods or walks along the beach. After all, today’s parables found their settings at work (for the shepherd with the lost sheep), in the midst of house cleaning (for the woman with the lost coin), and in the messiness of family life when our children might not behave exactly as we’d wish them to (the story of the father and his sons). We’ll see as we continue reading around in the gospels that Jesus set other parables in the marketplace and along busy roads, with farmers in their fields and fishermen with their nets. It would appear, then, that kingdom-of-God-spotting or message-from-God-spotting can happen just about anywhere.
For instance, I was struck one day recently as I stepped onto an elevator that at least four racial groups were represented among the six of us standing there. And I thought to myself: Jesus would have loved this. Since he enjoyed pointing out object lessons wherever he went, I imagined him riding along with us in that elevator and saying – this beautiful mix right here, this is what the kingdom of heaven is like, my friends. For that matter, I imagine it’s also a little like the beautiful diversity of faces represented among all those Olympic athletes in the parade of nations last weekend. So thank you, God, for parables in elevators. And parables in Pyeongchang, Korea during this Olympic season. Because isn’t it a great feeling when the little lightbulb does go on over our heads, even for just a second now and then, and we start to get it? When we start to understand what God has been trying to show us all along?
Certainly the arts can assist us in the search too. I’ll just be driving along in my car sometimes, listening to one of my daughter’s Broadway playlists, when suddenly I’ll realize I’m actually listening to a little message from God hidden in a song, as I did in those powerful lyrics from the musical “Come From Away” I shared with you back in the fall, about showing hospitality to strangers. Or I’ll be struck by a scene in a novel I’m reading – some of you may know the author Louise Penny and the way she works sin and redemption, grace and mercy into her stories about a little Canadian community called Three Pines? Or perhaps you’re fans of Harry Potter, or the Chronicles of Narnia, or of the Star Wars films? They’re all filled with kingdom parables too. Or maybe the visual arts draw you in, either as an artist yourself or as an art appreciator. What lessons do your favorite paintings hold? How might Jesus use that quilt or that sculpture to teach an important truth?
Not everything is a kingdom parable, of course. There are limits, and we’ll circle back and address that issue another time. But if we steep ourselves in Scripture, if we learn the parables of Jesus well, surely it can train us well to see God’s messages elsewhere too.
If you’re intrigued, as I am, by this idea of a “parable universe,” I invite you to enter the season of Lent this year open to the notion that the whole world is God’s canvas, God’s mouthpiece, God’s love letter to us, to teach us what the kingdom of God is like.
Perhaps you'll stumble across a kingdom parable or two at some point over these next several weeks. So you’ll be able to tell us a story, where:
"… now you don’t see it - boom! - now you do. One minute you’re humming along, everything’s normal, and then, without warning, you just collide with some flash of insight, and you know for sure that the kingdom of God has come near and you just saw a piece of it. You don’t know why. You don’t know how. You’re just glad you happened to be paying attention in the moment it broke."
For surely signs of God’s kingdom are all around us as we make our way through this parable universe. Amen.
 Anna Carter Florence, “A Parable Universe” in Journal for Preachers, Lent 2015, p. 3.
 Florence, p. 4.
 Florence, p. 3.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
Two weeks ago, as part of our “Glad You Asked” sermon series, I addressed questions I’d received from the congregation about people you know and love who are suffering. We talked about how frustrating it is not to be equipped with magic wands or otherwise able to fix many of the problems and struggles we see around us. Sometimes it’s impossible for us to fix a given situation, so that all we really can do is show up for people who are hurting, let them know we see them, they matter, we care. And perhaps to help them express prayers of lament to the God who holds them and loves them, through it all.
At the same time, we know that to lift up prayers of lament to God, and to weep with those who weep, is just one piece of the puzzle in terms of a faithful response to suffering in our world. Because while it’s true enough there are situations we cannot fix, there are also an awful lot of situations in which we can make a difference.
If you were here last Sunday, you enjoyed a wonderful example of this, in Laurie Trettel’s report on her mission trip to Houston to help with hurricane recovery efforts there. Certainly the massive scale of the flooding there has created problems far beyond the ability of any single mission team or congregation to solve. But walking into the Gupta family’s home, torn apart down to the studs, and putting up fresh new insulation and drywall? That’s something a dozen church folks from Seattle could do. People show up and roll up their sleeves. A new all goes up. And things gradually start falling back into place for a family that has been out of their home since August. A talented chef with a huge heart devotes a week to providing wonderful meals so that bread can be broken together and new friendships formed. Only a piece of solving the problems plaguing Houston right now, certainly, but such an important piece. And for that one family, of course, it’s everything.
Seeing those slides of actual physical repairs on a home last week reminded me of something that’s been coming up in conversation with my rabbi friends recently - the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, which in English simply means “repairing [or mending] the world.” (This is the Hebrew phrase you see on your bulletin cover this morning, at the bottom of the illustration.) The verb for “repair” there is the same verb used in modern Hebrew for fixing a broken bicycle or a broken table, repairing a computer that’s stopped functioning, or mending a torn shirt. So while the concept of a whole world in need of repair is a broad one, with far reaching implications, it brings with it this down to earth image, and a verb we often use to talk about fixable problems. What might it mean to understand repairing the world in that sense?
Some of you will remember an old folk song written by Pete Seeger, “If I Had a Hammer”? It’s a similar idea. The lyrics speak about things like warning of danger and spreading love. But all using that metaphor of a physical tool, a hammer. Again it’s about our calling to repair the world. To mend the world.
That every one of us is invited to find our place in that project is an idea at least as old as the biblical prophets. We heard this morning first from the prophet Isaiah: “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free…? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house… [and to clothe] the naked?” “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness… the Lord will guide you continually … you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58:6-12)
And then from Micah, in a passage I know is a favorite for a number of you: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? … He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8)
At my interfaith clergy group last weekend we puzzled together over what to do when we want to support an incredible range of worthy causes all at once. When we feel we should be simultaneously working and marching and speaking out about dozens of critically important issues - where do we start? How much of ourselves do we pour into this work? And to what extent do we have to pick our battles, just to keep ourselves sane and healthy? It can be hard to make these kinds of choices. Presumably it comes down to listening in whatever ways we can for God’s invitation to take up our own particular set of tools. And trusting God’s got lots of other good folks on the job too, playing their respective parts.
We may very well need to express our lament, to cry out, brokenhearted, that our world is in the shape it’s in. But we can’t stop with lament. Not when we could pick up a hammer, or a needle and thread, and find a piece of the repair work that can be our piece. Even if all we can do is pound a few nails back into place or stitch a handful of stitches. Because even in this, we can be “repairers of the breach,” to borrow Isaiah’s words. Granted, some situations are so messed up, so tangled that it takes effort even to begin tugging a single thread out of a giant knot, in order to make headway. But surely pulling that single thread loose or giving the knot around it some loving attention is a way of repairing the world too.
Again, we’re not doing it alone. Sitting here in this room today are quite a number of you already doing your part to repair the world. I think, too, about the difference our ecumenical community here in Magnolia has made to the residents of Tent City 5. About the difference so many communities of faith in our city have made to Treehouse for Kids and to Operation Nightwatch and to Mary’s Place. And of course there are people of faith working together across our country and around the world.
Remember that we do this important work with God’s help too. There’s a marvelous scene in the movie “Bruce Almighty” where – after all kinds of chaos breaks loose in the city of Buffalo – Morgan Freeman as God invites Bruce (Jim Carrey) to pick up a mop and join him in mopping up the mess. Each slap and slosh of their big old-fashioned string mops across the floor, back and forth, back and forth, symbolically restoring order and cleaning up the mess. Repairing the world together.
That idea of being in partnership with God is very much in keeping with the Jewish notion of tikkun olam. As I started reading around online this week, to learn more about this important teaching in Judaism, I stumbled across that same Hebrew phrase accompanied by a beautiful black and white sketch of the planet earth being held by enormous hands – God’s hands – and then all over the planet were these tiny silhouettes of human figures, carrying ladders, wielding tools, unfolding blueprints. If your personal tools tend more toward needle and thread, you might picture your particular piece of the world-mending business using that imagery instead. Or maybe the mop metaphor from “Bruce Almighty” is one that resonates for you. The tools are many; the task is the same.
For surely there are as many ways to repair the world, with God’s help, as there are people in it. Agonizing health problems are tackled everyday not only by doctors and nurses but by researchers and pharmacists making great strides against cancer and AIDS and malaria. Others are doing their piece to repair the world through political activism, and through development work for nonprofit organizations, and through engineering solutions to the lack of adequate sanitation around the world. Others through welcoming refugees, and providing meals to those who are hungry, and teaching kids from impoverished neighborhoods how to read, to give them a chance at a better life.
Tikkun olam - repairing the world – this isn’t the kind of project we can check off our to do list, as if it could ever be done to our satisfaction. At the same time, what an interesting sort of blessing to have before us a lifetime of meaningful work to do. We’re not in any danger of running out of invitations to make a difference! And I wonder how many situations in which we currently feel overwhelmed could actually be reconsidered from the perspective of: “OK, but where is my part? What could I fix here? What’s mine to repair?”
It can happen in a thousand little ways. For instance, I may not be able to prevent bullies from treating people with contempt, whether those bullies operate from a playground or a penthouse or the White House. But I can certainly do my part to treat people with respect and kindness, compassion and understanding, myself. So while I couldn’t prevent that angry customer from disrespecting the lovely woman who cuts my hair a couple weeks ago, I sure tried my best to be the kindest customer she’d had all day. In the grand scheme of all of the world’s gaping wounds, that may seem the tiniest of band-aids. But in that moment, for that one person, it could still be a pretty big deal.
As another example, I can’t prevent powerful people from speaking, preaching, or tweeting horrible things about people of color, immigrants and refugees, Muslim Americans. Because boy, would I make them stop, if I could! What I can do is get myself and anyone else who’s interested to another incredibly hospitable open house over at that Redmond mosque a few of us visited last month. I can introduce you to some of my new friends there. And I can stand shoulder to shoulder in prayer with a congregation there that is incredibly diverse, both racially and in terms of countries of origin. A small step, certainly, but a small piece of a terribly important project. Mending the world. Repairing the world, one individual action at a time.
It also seems to me that tikkun olam, repairing the world, is an excellent response to fear. As part of this same “Glad You Asked” sermon series I was also asked how to cope with the regular blows to our psyche that pound away at us, with so many frightening news stories each week. I know I’ve lamented with plenty of you, and also felt pretty stuck at times, simply wondering: How can this be possible? Why are such awful things happening? We can feel helpless in the face of problems of worldwide magnitude.
But you may also remember that on one of last week’s slides, Laurie showed us that wonderful quote about faith – that it’s taking the next step when you can’t see the rest of the staircase? I’m challenging myself to take that next step. To choose faith over fear, action over inaction. I’m not sure it’s within our power not to feel afraid – fear can be a perfectly understandable reaction - so perhaps the key is to notice our fear …and then to take that next step anyway. To focus on what I can do something about, and to start there. To be one of those little silhouetted human figures with a ladder or a hammer, tackling one small project on that great big planet God’s holding in God’s hands. And always to remember there are a whole lot of other people around me picking up their own tools and getting to work too.
I don’t know if any of you have heard a song called “Do Something” by Matthew West? It begins this way:
I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble … thought
How’d we ever get so far down, and
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did … I created you”
The chorus goes on to ask:
If not us, then who?
If not me and you?
… it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something.
I’m challenging myself this year to move beyond that feeling of fear and helplessness, and to pick up my particular tool kit and get to work.
We’ll be talking at our church officers retreat in a few weeks about ways for us to do this as a congregation too. A lot of work over the past year has gone into repairing our own church home, this beautiful building in which we’re privileged to gather. Once that’s behind us, how might we redirect energy to repairing the world outside these walls, or even to repairing the world by inviting others into this beautiful home of ours? And given the vast number of ways we could proceed, are there specific areas in which we could all come together to help? Might there be a single focus within that broader project of tikkun olam that could unite us as a church family? How might we ensure the children of the congregation play an important part in that effort? For surely we want them to believe the world can be better off than it is right now, and that they have an important part to play in making it better. Let’s equip them with kid-sized hammers, if you will, so they know they don’t need to wait until they are older to help repair the world; they can make a difference right now. While we’re at it, we have plenty of adults here whose work schedules or family responsibilities, or whose age or illness prevents them from participating in certain kinds of projects - can we find ways for you, too, to play an important role? In other words, in addition to each one of us putting our individual tool kits to work here and there, might there be a piece of world repair that belongs to us all here at Magnolia Presbyterian Church?
Both of this morning’s Scripture texts remind us that tikkun olam, repairing the world, is a form of worship, and that more than any type of song or prayer, more than any religious ritual, God longs to see us fighting oppression, doing justice, exhibiting kindness, welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry and satisfying the needs of the afflicted.
Let’s find ways to pick up our respective tool kits and get to work, repairing the world one small break, tear, knot, or scrape at a time.