24th Sunday after Pentecost—Year B—November 11, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and redeemer. Amen.
This congregation is full of proof that widows in the ancient world and the widows of today are very different. In Elijah’s and Jesus’ time, when women’s husbands died they were fully reliant on their children to care for them since they could not own property or savings on their own. If there was no family to support them, then it was up to society, more specifically the temple authorities to make sure that they were cared for.
But here at LCF we have many widows in our church family who are anything but at the mercy of those around them for survival. Most of the time, they take more care of us than us of them. This congregation, this sanctuary right now, is full of widows who are some of the strongest, most caring, and faithful people I know.
I’m not saying that they are necessarily better than the widows of centuries ago, but just that there are different circumstances today, and that the women of this congregation have lived into their rights and freedoms.
We as the body of Christ are called to bear one another, and so that means we are still called to care for widows, and orphans, and aliens, just as Israel was. However, recognizing that circumstances in society have changed also gives us the opportunity to rethink these categories. Widows…orphans…travelers…these demographics are not really the outcasts today that they were two millennia ago. Therefore, let us take some time to brainstorm: who are the widows of today? What group is commonly forgotten about, pushed out the edges of society, to suffer and die with no attention paid? What demographics are we as the church called to intensely care for today?
Now, you know that the church is intended to show care and concern for all of God’s creation; it is part of Christian vocation, our work. But still today, there are demographics for which society as a whole neglects, pushes down to the bottom, and prefers to pretend they do not exist. Who are they? And how can we care for them as God intends?
I think the lepers of our day might be those with developmental disabilities. Many of us are uncomfortable with such children of God because they might look different or talk different or express themselves in ways that we are not used to. However, they are in fact full-humans, children of God, loved immensely, and we can embody that love for them by treating them as such. For some, caring for them might be helping to find ways to incorporate them into society as full and productive members by utilizing their unique gifts and talents. Or it might be driving them to and worshiping with them at Rejoicing Spirits, a service and ministry designed especially for their spirituality.
I think we too often make it a habit of treating those who struggle with mental-illness like they are possessed by demons. They are not something to be feared. They are not something to automatically lockup. They are full-humans, children of God, loved immensely, and we can embody that love for them by treating them as such.
For some, caring for them might be encouraging them to get the medical help they need and aiding them in doing so. For others, just listening and being patient, not judging them for things they say and do that are part of their disease, is all that is required. Or maybe, the way that you acknowledge that they too are children of God is by attending the Mental Health Spirituality Discussion Group. Your openness and growth might be the greatest caring act of all.
Veterans are another population who can be treated as lepers or as if they are demon-possessed and dangerous. Possibly, you feel particularly called to minister to veterans who are struggling with PTSD and physical injuries. Maybe your vocation is part of your careers—you help treat their wounds or get them through rehab. Or maybe your vocation is to be part of the less formal but still vitally important social healing and re-entry into society and lifelong maintenance. Those are all ways to share God’s love with others.
I think we tend to look at people, kids and adults, with learning disabilities the same way that those of Jesus’ time tended to look at children—as unproductive, worthless, half-humans, who have not yet lived up to their potential to being successful members of society. We look at LD’s as symptoms to be treated. There is no recognition of the need for more elaborate education of parents and teachers, or early intervention, or advocacy, or the extraordinary skills that commonly accompany the perceived weaknesses. They too are full-humans, children of God, loved immensely, and we can embody that love for them by treating them as such.
Many of us at some point will feel a lot like aliens, foreigners, and travelers—far away from home and alone (either physically or just emotionally). We are called to bear the burden of loneliness just as much as we are the burdens of illness and injury. And what better remedy for loneliness and neglect than the Gospel? That good news that each and everyone of us are children of God, washed in the waters of baptism, and bought by the blood of the lamb, our savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. It is that love that can shine through us, the body of Christ, and overcome stereotypes and egos, and empowers us to bear another’s burden, just as someone bears ours.
And the poor…we will always have the poor with us here on earth. The hungry and homeless need to be remembered, cared for, and valued too.
For we all have a vocation. Even those who we see it as our vocation to care for, have a vocation. They are not simply in need of charity and compassion. They too have love, time, talents, and treasures to share with us, to enrich our lives, to be Christ for us.
So in some ways, we are all like the ancient widows at some point in our lives: in need of care, but still able to fulfill our own vocation. Even when it might seem like we are running out of meal and oil, or copper coins, or time, or days to live, we all have gifts from God that are able to do miraculous things, to defy all expectations and social norms. Not one of us, or any one in the world in fact, is simply “an object of compassion and charity;” God is active in and through all of our lives, and therefore we—widows, lepers, foreigners, children, sinners, tax collectors—all of us, the whole of God’s human race are capable of doing “something of great importance.” For ultimately, it is God acting through us. God’s work, our hands. Amen.
 November 11, 2012 Celebrate Insert