I preached on this same gospel text at Good Samaritan this week, and as so often the case there, it did not go exactly as I planned. One resident just did not like the gospel. “It is dull and boring” he complained, “a long list of stuff that is so much blah blah blah.” I can see his point, as it is true that this gospel gives depth to rules that the people of the time already knew: the social rules about murder and adultery, divorce and lying were well known by the community. What my resident might not have known is that not only does this passage add to the known norms of the time, it also follows right after the beatitudes. It is, in fact, the life teachings and preferred way of living a good life that Jesus was trying to hand on to his followers. Taken in context, this portion of the gospel is all really pointed and prescriptive information for the early disciples and for modern disciples. It is relevant to us today, just as it was two thousand years ago. We might not love this message, but we need it. I would say, in fact, that this passage reminds us that being followers of Jesus means that we belong to a community of followers. Life in community means that we have and hold in common ideas about how to live together. It also means that what I do matters AND what you do matters AND what we do together matters as well. For better or worse, we are here together, and together we support each other on our faith journeys. Together we challenge and support each other. Together we hold each other accountable. Together we dream and work for our vison. We are community.
Some of our strength as community also lies in the people who belong to us but are not here, physically present with us today. For instance, when I was in grade school, I had a favorite teacher: Mrs. Williams. None of you who know me will be surprised to know that she taught music. She was, in fact, loved by all the students; we did have choir separate from classroom music, because we all wanted to be in her choir. Every class was a choir. Mrs. Williams had faith in me, in every student as near as I could tell. She expected our best, and she got it. She officially taught music; she unofficially taught things like the importance of working hard to achieve something, of working together, of knowing your heart and being brave enough to show it in music, thereby creating more than notes – we made art with Mrs. Williams. Later, when I was in my twenties and figuring out my own sexual identity, she was my example again, Mrs. Williams, you see, was a divorced woman raising her children without a husband. Her “roommate”, Julie, was a dance instructor who helped us occasionally with musicals. A closeted lesbian in the 70s, she taught at a Catholic grade school, and even in that time, worked hard to be a conscientious parent and a great teacher. This could not have been an easy path for her. Mrs. Williams was strong in ways that I could only imagine then and in ways that still matter to me today. I bring her with me very often when I am making music.
Anne Reed, a contemporary singer and song writer, has written and recoded a piece of music about our heroes. In it, she sings: What can I learn from you In your lifetime, in what you've been through How'd you keep your head up and hold your pride In an insane world how'd you keep on tryin' One life can tell the tale That if you make the effort, you cannot fail By your life you tell me it can be done By your life's the courage to carry on Heroes Appear like a friend To clear a path or light the flame As time goes by you find you depend On your heroes to show you the way What can I learn from you That I must do the thing I think I cannot do That you do what's right by your heart and soul It's the imperfections that make us whole One life can tell the tale And if you make the effort you cannot fail By your life you tell me it can be done By your life's the courage to carry on Heroes Appear like a friend To clear a path or light the flame As time goes by you find you depend On your heroes to show you the way
I know that you, too, have heroes. Last weekend, Deacon Vant introduced us to Absalom Jones, one of his heroes. Rev. Jones was an important person in our history, yet one that is not talked of as much as might be deserving for his remarkable story or even for as helpful for all of us. I know that Vant’s sharing and the prompts from Vicar Phil and me have encouraged you all to think about your heroes this week. And some of you have photos as well. I invite you to share with someone near you about your hero. Tell a bit of your hero’s story or why they are important to you, and then bring the pictures you to me and we will put them into our collage, along with one adjective that you think captures them.
/time for sharing and gathering of photos/
Preaching the gospel –any part of it – means that we preach the whole of the gospel. Not just the easy or poetic parts, but all the challenging bits as well. Not just the well-known parts like the Sermon on the Mount but today’s portion as well. Everything from the baby Jesus to the Christ risen among us; it is all our story. It means that we are centered around the presence of God in our lives, it is our call to praise and serve God and keep God as central in our lives. Today we are reminded that it means that we preach of God who is of our community, who values and supports us as disciples living in common. That is the good news...we have not only our story and our table, but also each other, those gathered here and now and those we bring along with us: our heroes. We have all the strength and vision, the conviction and imagination of our community gathered, and we bring it to each other around this table. 3