Click here to watch the video of the worship service.
Texts: Ephesians 4:1-6
Thank you, Paulo, for inviting me to speak.
Good morning, everyone!
I am honored to be with you today.
In thinking about the phrase “World Communion Sunday,”
I want to start with the word “Communion.”
Through our baptism, we are members of the Body of Christ.
We are in communion with each other through Christ.
And in the sacrament of Holy Communion we receive
God’s grace through Christ so that we might be Christ for the world.
As St. Teresa of Avila says to us in a prayer attributed to her:
Christ has no body but ours,
No hands, no feet on earth but ours,
Ours are the eyes with which Christ looks
Compassion on this world,
Ours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good,
Ours are the hands with which Christ blesses all the world.
as we heard from the letter to the Ephesians just now,
“humility and gentleness, … patience,
being with one another in love,
making every effort
to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
To many students that I work with at Plymouth State,
the goal of life is to be happy –
and the goal of religion is to make us feel good.
The way the students use the word “happy,”
it’s pretty self-centered.
They mean there’s no pain, no difficulty, no anxiety.
They’re feeling good and life is fine. They are in stasis.
Actually, that is not the point of religion,
nor should that be the goal of life.
Because that is pretty limited.
The goal of religion, as Jesus preached over and over,
is to bind us to our God, or Higher Power,
Source of all that is, the Holy One,
whatever we call the transcendent power and energy in the universe.
And to take the Love,
the unconditional, unearned, overwhelming Love
we receive in that relationship,
and give it freely and generously to others
for their full flourishing
and for the glory of God.
That’s my paraphrase in contemporary terms
of what we heard in today’s Gospel reading.
Hopefully, in doing this, we will find moments of joy –
really, I prefer the word joy, because these days “joy” connotes something deeper, more intrinsic, less situational.
I’d like to turn now to the “World” part of
“World Communion Sunday.”
The parable of the Good Samaritan, in my mind,
addresses that idea.
It reminds us that we have an obligation
to anyone who needs help, support, companionship in suffering.
To see them as fellow human beings, worthy of dignity and respect.
As I said before,
I disagree that religion is supposed to make us feel good.
Instead, it’s supposed to challenge us out of our comfort zones.
And, frankly, I find this parable scary.
The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous.
If I’m being asked to take care of someone
who is naked, beaten, and robbed, I might be attacked, too.
I’m not a doctor, a nurse, or an EMT.
What can I do for such a person?
I could easily be the priest or Levite.
Here, I am reading this parable
as Amy-Jill Levine describes it in her book Short Stories by Jesus
and as Martin Luther King, Jr., narrated it
in his April 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech
in Memphis, Tennessee.
I think neither the priest nor the Levite was afraid of becoming impure,
which is a common way to read this story.
Instead, I think they were afraid of being attacked themselves.
And the way they stepped to the other side of the road,
away from the nearly dead person,
is a natural reaction when one is afraid.
So I have a really hard time placing myself in this parable.
I use those words “placing myself in this parable” deliberately
because I follow a method of reading the Bible
taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola. He was the founder
of an organization of Catholic priests called the Society of Jesus.
Most people know them as the Jesuits,
the most famous of them today being Pope Francis.
St. Ignatius taught something called imaginative contemplation.
Basically, you place yourself in the biblical verses you are reading.
It’s easiest when you’re reading a story,
but you can do it with any part of the Bible.
This kind of contemplation does two things:
When I placed myself in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the scene kept fading to a situation I had been in many years ago.
Before I became a campus minister at Plymouth State,
I was a technical writer for many years
at small software companies in the Boston area.
At one of these companies was a software engineer I’ll call him Matt. He looked like a Marine.
He was tall, about 6’5”,
had a flat top,
and he clearly worked out.
He was physically intimidating, and he knew it.
The word around the company
was that he was difficult to work with.
He headed the team that produced a third of the company’s products. And he was infamous for shouting at people in meetings;
criticizing people mercilessly, even if they worked for other managers; and ripping out people’s code and redoing it.
I never worked on his products,
because he didn’t need a technical writer to document what he created. He could do it himself.
I was relieved
because I was afraid of him.
My only direct experience of Matt
was passing him in a narrow hallway.
He barely gave me enough room to walk.
He never looked at me or acknowledged my greeting.
About a year and a half into my working for the company,
I heard that Matt’s brother had died.
During the week that Matt was out for the funeral,
an executive at the company with whom I was friendly
told me what only two other people there knew:
that Matt’s brother had killed himself.
She was the only person at the company
who knew that my own brother had died that way six months earlier.
I was devastated for Matt,
and wondered what I could do for him.
I found copies of two books
that my family had found helpful
as we dealt with my brother’s suicide,
and I left them on Matt’s desk, with a note.
I was afraid to imply that Matt might need them –
he was such a tough guy –
so I wrote that my mother had found the books helpful,
and I hoped his mom would find them helpful, too.
Matt returned to work and, that morning,
he appeared in my doorway, filling it.
He pointed at me
and motioned for me to come with him.
I followed him warily to his office.
He closed the door and sat behind his desk.
I sat down next to the door.
He thanked me for the books
and then said, “How do I get through this?”
What followed was a half-hour of teary-eyed talk
about how he found his brother,
how his family was reacting, what the past week had been like.
I talked about how I got through each day,
what I did when the pain became overwhelming.
At one point, I stopped talking and started to cry.
Matt came around the desk and hugged me.
It was a moment of grace.
Never again could I listen to people
demonize Matt without defending him.
I had experienced a kindness from him
that I believed others had experienced privately, too.
He wasn’t all bad. He was a fellow human being.
In fact, he had been a Good Samaritan to me.
Just as I had been a Good Samaritan to him.
In the parable,
the Jewish lawyer cannot bring himself
to say “Samaritan”
when Jesus asks which of the three was a neighbor
to the person who had been attacked and robbed.
Instead, the lawyer says, “The one who showed him mercy.”
The Samaritans and Jews were enemies.
Matt and I weren’t enemies, but we were strangers.
We had no connection to each other even as colleagues.
And I was afraid of him.
Matt and I didn’t have to stop and make time for each other.
But we couldn’t not do that.
When I heard of his suffering, I felt it.
When he saw me suffering, he felt it.
We saw ourselves in the other.
And we acted to support each other in that suffering.
That is God’s mercy.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech in Memphis,
he explains that the Good Samaritan
stopped for the battered person because he said,
“If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
At this time in this country and in other places in the world,
many people disagree with how others think and act.
And for good reason.
People are having conversations –
online and in person –
that get heated.
People are protesting
and working to change laws and systems –
in positive and negative ways.
What the parable of the Good Samaritan says to me
today, as a Christian
is that I can never dehumanize another person,
no matter how much I disagree with or fear them.
There is always a spark of goodness –
a soul! – in everyone.
As Christ for others, I am called to act in ways
that preserve the dignity of each person as a human being,
however misguided or dangerous I find them.
And when they do something positive,
something Christ-like, no matter how small,
I shouldn’t be terribly surprised.
As a teacher used to say,
“Good and bad run on the same track.”
How can I have this attitude?
How can any of us act in this way?
On this World Communion Sunday,
we are reminded
to live in communion with Christ and with each other,
in service to the full flourishing of all
and for the glory of God.
It is a daunting task,
but the example and the encouragement of Christ
and the support of fellow Christians
give us hope
that we can answer this calling.
Our guest preacher is Ms. Kathy Tardiff, the Roman Catholic Campus Minister at Plymouth State University
Sermons are meant to be preached and, therefore, all sermons are prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation rather than on proper grammar and punctuation required of written documents.