Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sermon: Friends and Family Plan

Sermon for Pentecost 18/Proper 21, Year B
St. Philips In The Hills Parish, Tucson, AZ
Vicki Hesse, September 30, 2012

I speak to you in the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. + Amen

As you may know, My family and I just moved to Tucson
from Virginia, via North Carolina.  Phew!
Moving is a complicated and trying experience. 
We are now in the process of evaluating
what to do about our cell phone service. 
We have looked at the main providers –
AT&T, Sprint, TMobile, US Cellular, Credo Mobile…
There is one that intrigues us – from Verizon,
called the “Friends and Family” plan. 

This plan allows the customer to identify
five to ten numbers to dial for free –
well – included in your monthly rate –
and these numbers do not count against your plan minutes. 
Today’s Gospel message explores this notion
of a “friends and family” circle –
any perimeter around whom you will talk within your plan. 

Here’s the thing - God has already expanded
our circle of friends and family. 
God has already widened who is “in” our community. 
God’s love spills out over any pre-defined circle. 

Albert Einstein once said,
“We are part of the whole which we call the universe,
but it is an optical delusion of our mind
that we think we are separate.
This separateness is like a prison for us. 
Our job is to widen the circle of compassion
so we feel connected to all people and all situations.”  
Widening the circle of compassion is today’s topic.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation from last week’s story.
The disciples were gathered with Jesus
 in a house in Capernaum,
a fishing village on the shore of Galilee. 

The disciples and Jesus had just arrived,
hot and tired, dusty and hungry. 
This house was where (as mentioned last week)
they had been silent about
their “who is the greatest” argument. 
To this argument, Jesus had reminded them,
“whoever wants to be first must be last of all and
servant of all.”

This is where today’s story begins. 

So here they were, in their familiar hometown. 
They were surrounded by familiar walls,
familiar scents, and
familiar shadows cast from a setting sun. 
They were likely sharing a familiar meal
when this discussion occurred.
One of the disciples, John, fessed up.  He
told Jesus what else had happened
on their walk from Galilee. 

“Teacher,” he explained, “We saw someone
casting out demons in your name and
we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” 

As John told this story,
the other disciples probably nodded with knowing affirmation.
John ratted out that someone
who was not from their group
was healing in Jesus’ name.  The nerve!

That someone was not in their circle of friends and family.
John described their efforts to protect Jesus,
“…we tried to stop him…” –
to preserve access to Jesus’ healing powers
so that it can be used for those who are “in” the circle. 
That person was healing someone –
but not in the same way that the disciples were taught,
not doing it with permission from Jesus and
not doing it in the right place, the church or synagogue. 

They might have just been on the side of the road. 

We can imagine all the eyes shifted from John
to see what Jesus would say about *that*.

Does John’s perspective ring any bells for you? 
Does it feel familiar, this effort to stop some
from healing in a way that we don’t agree?

These days – with this strange, wobbly economy,
we know there is a shortage of jobs. 
We also hear that there are people
coming here “taking” those limited jobs. 
We want to close up our circle and
prevent them from crossing into our zone. 
Those people are not in our group,
we hear. 
Those people are not doing it with permission. 

This sense of who is in or who is out happens
in our daily lives quite a bit. 

I recall working on a chaplain team in a hospital. 
A funny thing would happen. 
we would be called to visit someone in spiritual crisis and
one of the nurses would come in, hold their hand,
and begin praying with them. 
Hey, wait a minute, we might think,
we are the chaplain, not you! 
We found ourselves trying to prevent access to healing powers.

On a more mundane level,
have you seen that bumper sticker that says,
“Friends don’t let friends xxx,” fill in the blank. 
Friends don’t let friends drink coffee from *that* coffee shop
or eat at *that* fast food restaurant or
shop at *that* giganto-mart or …

Whatever it is – what do we do with people
who are our friends but violating our community values?
What about those who are not in our group but taking
advantage of our community values?  
Those people are not in our group! 

Who is “in”?  who is “out”? 
How would Jesus have us include or exclude?
When Jesus heard John’s explanation to protect
his circle of friends and family,
Jesus turned and said to them,
“Do not stop him. 
For no one who does a deed of power
in my name will be able
soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Whoever is not against us is for us.” 

Oh.  The disciples paused. 
Here they tried to do a good thing
and Jesus turned things upside down again!

Jesus expanded the circle of God’s love.
With arms sweeping wide,
he gestured the size this circle. 
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” 

Jesus continued to reframe
who had access to his, Jesus’, power,
and who was to be welcomed into the disciples’
friends and family plan. 

Pointing to each of them, he replied,
“Whoever gives YOU a drink of water
because you bear the name of Christ
will by no means lose the reward.” 

In case they missed, it,
Jesus continued in hyperbolic language
using proverbial sayings familiar to them.
Jesus ensured the disciples that God’s circle is quite wide. 

Jesus re-drew the boundaries
so that those who were “with” him
included as many people as possible. 

And for us,
Jesus has re-drawn the boundaries
of our friends and family plan. 
Jesus continues to offer God’s love
to as many as possible – who are we to limit it? 

Our circle is wider than we can imagine. 
God is working in our lives on behalf of others
and in others’ lives on our behalf. 

It is a testament to God’s creative power
and humanity’s attentive ear,
that people leave their familiar hometown,
their familiar culture and their loved ones,
to seek a better life in a place of apparent abundance. 

In our chaplain group, we began to realize that
despite our desire to control
access to God’s healing powers,
nurses and families and even doctors would pray
for and with those who were suffering.  And it helped.

So what does this grace mean for us today,
in this gathering of God’s people at St. Philips? 
How do we live into this awareness of God’s expansive circle? 
As Einstein said, “it is an optical delusion of our mind
that we think we are separate….
Our job is to widen the circle of compassion
so we feel connected to all people and all situations.” 

Well, we have very specific guidance from the letter of James, to at least pray for others.

As you remember, when you came into church tonight
we asked you to write your first name on a card. 
We have placed these in a basket. 
When that basket comes by,
I invite you to take one name card out. 
Take that name and pray for that person
who may or may not be someone
in your friends and family plan. 
It’s okay,
they are in God’s expansive circle and
God knows who they are. 

Because, as you expand your circle of love,
You join in God’s expansive circle of love - 
the one in which we live and move and have our being.

Today’s good news is that
God expands the circle and widens the walls. 
We can love each other because already, God loved us. 
Welcome to your new friends and family plan –
with ever-widening circles!


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