Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sermon for Year C Epiphany 3

I was wrong

I imagine we all have a few people we consider our heroes
but have never met in person.
They are people who inspire us,
or challenge us
or offer us wisdom for daily living.

Fred Craddock is one of my heroes.
Fred is a well known preacher and teacher, now retired—
As much as Fred Craddock will ever retire.
He has inspired countless seminarians and priests and pastors
and congregations
with his gifted sermons and his poignant stories.

I want to share a Fred Craddock story with you this morning.
Here is Fred’s story:

My mother took us to church and Sunday School;
my father didn’t go.
He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home.
Sometimes the preacher would call,
and my father would say,
“I know what the church wants. Church doesn’t care about me.
Church wants another name, another pledge,
another name, another pledge.”
That’s what he always said…

“The church doesn’t care about me.
The church wants another name and another pledge.”
I guess I heard it a thousand times.

One day he didn’t say it.
He was in the veterans’ hospital,
and he was down to seventy-three pounds.

They’d taken out his throat, and said,
“It’s too late.”
They put him in a metal tube, and X-rays burned him to pieces.
I flew in to see him.
He couldn’t speak, couldn’t eat.
I looked around the room,
potted plants and flowers on all the windowsills,
a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed.

And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat,
on that was a flower.
And all the flowers beside the bed,
every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups
from the church.

He saw me read a card.
He could not speak,
so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it
a line from Shakespeare.
If he had not written that line, I would not tell you this story.
He wrote,
“In this harsh world,
draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”
I said, “What is your story, Daddy?”
And he wrote, “I was wrong.”

That is Fred Craddock’s story.

I was wrong.
It is so easy to make simple judgments.
It is so difficult to say those three words: I was wrong.

Our scripture readings today are all about the church.
And yes, I am not so naïve
that I don’t know that every church—including St. John’s—
wants to grow.
Every church wants more members
and yes, every church can always use another pledge.

Our dreams are always much bigger than our bank accounts.
I believe that is because we dream with God.
And God has BIG dreams!

But another member, another pledge is not what the church is about.
The people of Israel gathered as Ezra read to them the word of God.
They wept because they knew how far they had wandered
from all they knew to be right and good and true
and of God.

The stood there and they knew:
We were wrong.

And because they were able to admit that, to see--
they were promised joy.
They were welcomed home.

The part of the letter to the Corinthians that we hear today
is one of the most moving passages in all scripture.
It is perfect metaphor.
The Body of Christ—
And you a hand and me a foot and you an ear and you an eye…
every part is essential and every part is absolutely different.

The Church—the Body of Christ—does not need three of me
and two of you and four of him and seven of her..

The Church needs each one of us—
because God has created us so perfectly unique,
so marvelously different,
so absolutely essential to the wholeness of the Body.

Paul is saying to his friends,
each of us has different gifts.
each of us is called to offer our gifts
and to respect and accept the gifts of others.

We need one another.
We are wrong if we think we are self-sufficient.
We are completely interdependent.
Our interdependence comes to light in almost blinding reality
in the situation that has followed the earthquake in Haiti.

When we lose every material possession,
We discover what really matters.
When we lose the people in our lives that really matter,
our suffering can only be lessened
by those who hold us and suffer with us.

We need each other.

This week a number of aid organizations offered
to evacuate the Bishop of Haiti.
To take him and his wife to safety,
to a more comfortable situation.

He said, “No.”
He said, “These are my people. I am staying with my people.”

The Bishop and his wife who only a week or so ago lived in a fine home
on the grounds of the Cathedral complex
lost their material comforts—
but they did not lose “their people”,
their church, their community, their Body of Christ.

Bishop Jean Zache Duracin
is staying with his people
living in a tent city on the streets of Port-au-Prince.

The bishop recognizes that Paul
was not just talking about a diversity of spiritual gifts.
Paul wrote to his Christian brothers and sisters in Corinth
and said,
as different as we may be,
as different as my hand is to my ear
or my foot is to my nose—
as much as you drive me crazy at times,
We need each other.
We are part of each other.

Last Sunday evening as I watched the news,
they showed a church service happening outdoors,
in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
An Episcopal church service, I was quick to notice.

And the reporter asked one of the men who was there worshipping,
“What is there to celebrate?
What can you possibly be thankful for
After all that has happened here,
After all that has happened to you.?”

And the man looked at the reporter
with a look of surprise on his face and replied,
“Because we are here.
Because we are here,
Because we can still praise God together.”

The Church exists because each one of us is different.
Each one of us has gifts that no one else has.
No one.
If we want new members,
it is because we need their gifts—
the gifts of whom they are
as human beings,
as children of God.

We are not whole without each part of the body of Christ.
If we think we can exist without some one,
we are wrong.
If anyone thinks they can exist by themselves,
they are wrong.
Without each other,
we are blind and deaf and lame and broken.

Jesus stands up in the synagogue
and using the words of the prophet Isaiah says:
Here’s what we are called to do and to be as the Church.
Forget our differences,
Here is what will bind us together.

We are here to bring good news to the poor.
The poor are not just people without money.
The poor are those
on the margins of our world.
on the margins of our church.
on the margins of our own lives.

We are here to proclaim release to the captives.
This is not just about prison ministry—
or in Jesus’ time, about freeing the slaves.
We are all held captive by something—
alcohol, drugs, work, self-centeredness,
dangerous relationships, anger—
God longs for our freedom.
The work of the Church is
to proclaim to the captives
that release is possible.

We are here to restore sight to the blind.
We are here to give one another courage to say,
“I was wrong.”
“I once was blind, but now I see…”

We are here to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And what does God want from us and for us?
God wants us to know that love is here for the taking.
God wants us to know
that whatever our worldly family situation
We are always loved and welcomed as a child of God.
And the church is the home of the children of God.

God wants us to be able to say,
“I was wrong,”
and know we are still loved,
and still welcome.

In this harsh world,
Draw your breath in pain
To tell my story.

This is what the church is called to do and to be.
To tell the story.
To be together. To celebrate our diversity.
To love God and to love one another.
To be the Body of Christ in the world.

+ + +

The story by Fred Craddock can be found in the book CRADDOCK STORIES, edited by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001).

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