Sunday, September 10, 2017 – Creation 1
Genesis 18:1-5, 9-15,
Genesis 21:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20
Signs that Bind
Today we are gathering at our normal times, a sure sign that it’s the start of the program year here at St. Bart’s. I want to share a little St. Bart’s lore with you. Several years ago I put up a sign by the light switches near the door, it said: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
I put it there because the verse from Hebrews is one of my favorite pieces of Scripture, and because I think it’s a good reminder to us that everyone who walks through the doors is a blessing to us. We know that, we are good at that kind of real welcome, but it’s helpful to remember ourselves. Hebrews is a text that’s written to instruct and explain our faith. In this verse, the author references a piece of the story we hear in the Genesis readings this morning, in the creation of the covenant between God and God’s people. After God calls a people to God’s self, Abram responds, and he and his family leave everything they know to go to the land God has promised them. Abraham and his wife Sarah are still awaiting the promises of God, when three strangers appear outside their tent and the couple show them hospitality. From that moment – they are blessed, and Sarah overhears one of the strangers telling her husband that she will bear a child even in her old age, and she laughs. (It turns out to be true, if complicated, and she does bear a son.) “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
So the St. Bart’s lore – I put the sign up. And the day came when our newly crafted altar table arrived, and the craftsman who carved it by hand delivered it. Kris Carr, a former student of theology, and a master furniture maker, who wanted the table legs to be in the orans position, so the table itself is praying the Eucharistic prayer with us – that craftsman. The one who is such a Godsend and blessing to us. When Kris was leaving he stopped short, gasped, and came back to me, (where I was still admiring the altar), and said, excitedly, “Look at this!” And he dropped to lie on the floor and point to the underside of the altar – where he showed me his handwritten inscription of the same scripture. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” We both laughed, astonished, not unlike Sarah… angels indeed.
So in-keeping with our story and showing hospitality to strangers, I have another sign for us this morning. The one by the light switches was a reminder to us, this is a welcome sign to others. “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”
There’s been a lot of controversy in our political arena about who is and who isn’t welcome in our country. My point isn’t to jump into the political fray, but to remind us of who and whose we are. The ways of the world are not the ways of God.
In our text this morning we hear God saying to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation” which is not the same thing as making one nation great. Rather God is making a covenant with Abraham to make a people, through whom all peoples will be blessed. The text continues: “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God’s way is to extend that blessing to all people through the people of God.
This morning we also have Matthew’s Gospel talking about binding and loosing, which we have heard for the last two weeks as well. We recognize some of the strife and strain we hear behind the text, we can imagine what has been going on in the community that Matthew’s Gospel is attempting to address. The arguments and the judgment happening between members, and the need for people to understand the damage that does to the community and to the individuals involved, both individuals involved.
In our text Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
That’s tremendous power and responsibility. Given to the disciples and those following Jesus, to the members of Matthew’s community, and given to us. Unbelievable possibility and potential, or deterrent and limitation. For everyone involved. Everyone is shaped and formed and changed by being involved in the relationships that bind and loose, that bless and extend, that welcome angels unawares. Nothing is one-sided. And nothing is inconsequential.
Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. So how we respond to the issues of our times will matter, not only to those affected by the policies involved but also to us. Because we are part of the equation, we are therefore affected: ourselves, our souls. How we engage the issues of our day either bless or they do not, they either bind or they loose. And the way in which we approach all that is before us matters.
As our country continues to engage in the debate over immigration, now specifically DACA, I caution us to be very wary of the violence and the rhetoric involved.
Borders are not of God, they are lines and divisions fabricated by us, often through greed, war, manipulation, and oppression, through our own devices. Borders are arbitrary, just as the laws that decide who is in and who is out. The difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal one is simply when you got here and how. Unless you are First Nations – you are an immigrant to these shores. This is not your birth right, any more or any less than anyone else’s. To say that another human being is a criminal because they arrived after a certain date seems unwarranted and extreme to me. You can argue that we simply don’t have space, it’s practical, we must
abide by the law, etc. … I understand all that. It’s the vehemence and vengeance involved that concerns me so deeply, because of the damage done to everyone involved. The way these policies are spoken about dehumanizes both those they address, and those whose mouths and hearts speak these words aloud. Both sides of the equation are damaged.
This is not the way of God – God is above all of that. And thankfully, God is beneath all that – with us here in our midst, on the ground with all of the people of all the families of the earth. There’s enough God to go around. Enough blessing, enough grace – to fill the sky with stars. So we can expand our hearts a bit, and ease our anxiety, whatever has us so vexed that we cannot allow “those people” to be fully human in our eyes.
As we consider better solutions than the ‘all or nothing’ our rhetoric and our politics have been reduced to lately – like simply abandoning the DACA program, or building a wall. For beyond the political or economic ramifications, which are significant, much more importantly (and all that matters coming from a pulpit), is what affect it has on us as a people. Particularly on us a people of God: “those people” whoever they are this round, are a blessing, and they bless us, and through them we may continue to be a blessing to others. As we extend the blessings we have received ourselves from this place, from others before us.
We need to be unafraid to bind people to us a little more tightly, particularly those who are not exactly like us. Just as those who came before us were willing to bind our ancestors into the fabric of community so that we might flourish and thrive. So that we might be better stewards of the blessings bestowed upon us… yes, life, and liberty, and community, and God’s blessing for all the families of the earth, the covenantal promises of God’s grace.
As another hurricane sweeps across this country, once again it’s those on the margins who suffering most immediately – who have the fewest resources, who are least able to evacuate, or able to recover from losses incurred. The poorest people in our nation will suffer the most this hurricane season.
Unless we choose to bind them to ourselves. Make them part of our consciousness, extend our circle to include them. If they are of us, then they have weight, they have advocacy, someone will notice what is happening to them, someone will make sure they are not forgotten. And not because they are to be pitied, but because they are a blessing and we need them.
You’ve heard that grace people say, that goes: “Lord bless this food to our use and us to Thy service, and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.” My mentor, Father Rhys, would add a phrase. He would say: “and make us ever mindful of the needs of others, and our need of them. Amen.”
My Friends, there is perspective and blessing, grace upon grace, and the presence of Christ in our midst, when we are together. Particularly when we are together with those who are not like us, but perhaps in need of our attention and care.
Gathered together, in crisis and in calm, together we can become the kind of great nation and people that God and Abraham dreamed about; the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to create here on earth, even as it is in heaven. Amen.