By The Rev. Roger Bowen
Comments/Announcements before worship begins:
It’s been a tough week – and so it is good that we are here together this morning – thinking and praying for what some are calling “this fractured nation that seems at times to almost be at war with itself.” It’s good to be here – to love others, to recharge our spiritual batteries in order to serve others better, to remember God and our Lord Jesus. The prophet Amos’ plumb line might find our country out of whack this week. And, as the prophet Jeremiah warns, we must not treat the wounds of our people carelessly and cry “peace, peace” when there is no peace. We must work for justice, even in our grief.
Some of the folks over at Emmanuel Episcopal Church will be going up to Allen Chapel and its mostly African American congregation this morning to offer solidarity and support in the wake of all the shootings this past week. Emmanuel’s rector, Shelby, is inviting their congregation to go after Emmanuel’s 10 a.m. service is over. And we Trinitarians are invited too. Allen Chapel service begins at 11. So, we will be a little late, but the support will be felt once those of who can, arrive.
Lastly, hear this:
A man crosses the street in the rain,
Stopping gently to look North and South, because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him,
No car drive to near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
But he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say: “Fragile, handle with care.”
His ears fill up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing,
with one another.
The road … will only be wide; the rain will never stop falling.
Naomi Shihab Nye, poet
This Gospel reading for this day is Luke 10:25-37.
10:36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
10:37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
As you have just heard – “When Jesus said to love your neighbor, a lawyer who was present asked him to clarify what he meant by neighbor. He wanted a legal definition he could refer to – in case the question of loving one ever happened to come up. Maybe he wanted something on the order of: “A neighbor (hereinafter referred to as the party of the first part) is to be construed as meaning a person of Jewish descent whose legal residence is within a radius of no more than three statute miles from one’s own legal residence unless there is another person of Jewish descent (hereinafter to be referred to as the party of the second part) living closer to the party of the first part than one is oneself, in which case the party of the second part is to be construed as neighbor to the party of the first part and one is oneself relieved of all responsibility of any sort or kind whatsoever.”
Instead, Jesus handed that lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan … the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. That lawyer’s response is left unrecorded.” 1.
As you might not know, we just returned from Haiti again … a wonderful trip with our Trinity Church representative, Jim Cramer, and 8 other diocesan missioners, some within our Haiti Collaborative’s 7 Episcopal churches, and others from further SW in our diocese. Jim’s reflections on the trip will be the lead story in this month’s parish newsletter. So, I hope you will indulge me – a little Haiti story this morning: bandaging wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, showing mercy. Lessons pointing to what we should be doing, for sure. And, we learn from our Haitian partners. I certainly think we learn more about following Christ from them than we learn from CNN and the evening news. Especially, during this most discouraging week.
If you support this parish’s outreach – and all of you do – you know, that St. Marc’s in Cerca la Source is our partner church and school in Haiti’s Central Plateau. It was a dirt-floored, falling down, school for less than 100 kids. Now it’s a beautiful, vibrant K-8 school for 250 happy students.
“In order to be a good advocate for poor people, it helps to put yourself in a situation where you allow your soul to be fractured by the suffering … and to feel their determination, their courage, their mercy, and to see how they sometimes, too, bind up the wounds of the injured, and pour oil and wine on them. ” 2.
On a Sunday morning a while back, the congregation of St. Andre’s Church in Haiti’s Central Plateau town of Hinche not far from our partner town of Cerca la Source… that congregation invited the very poor people who live in the street to come and worship with them. They did that once a month, maybe more. Many very poor people came – people with no house, no roof over their heads, maybe they had no families… they came to Legliz St. Andre once a month to worship and then to eat, because after the mass, after worship, the congregation fed them diri ak pwa [rice and beans.] Now this is a whole “other” level of “street people,” from what we think of when we hear that.
Some of those who came had no legs. Many of them could not walk. Their arms were malformed too. They lived on the ground because they could not stand up. They moved in the dust and dirt, sliding along on pieces of wood or cardboard. They were dirty. Some of them could not speak.
So, on one of those Sundays, before the mass we shared together, Pere Walin asked me to help “Bless the chairs.” I did not understand. He said Pere Roger, when I tell you to, “please bless the chairs.” I said, “Mon pere, what chairs? Where are the chairs? ” He told me, “you’ll see; you will understand. And you will bless the chairs.”
So, after that, the worship began and we sang, we prayed, we listened to the Gospel, Pere Walin preached, and then … then he told the acolytes… “Go get the chairs!” The acolytes went outside. They went behind the church in their very white albs, and they returned with five plastic lawn chairs. But, the parishioners of Andre’s had fixed those chairs…they had changed those chairs – they had attached old bicycle wheels to them. And so, they were wheel chairs now, home made wheelchairs.
And then, Pere Walin said to the acolytes, “bring the people here.” The acolytes walked into the congregation, and they found five people who could not walk, five people with no legs or twisted legs and broken bodies, some sitting on the floor… and they picked them up, like little babies almost, and they carried them to the front of the church and put them in those five chairs. And for the first time in their lives, those five people were not living down in the dust and dirt. They were sitting in chairs, wheel chairs, and they could move! It was a miracle for them. It was a miracle. St. Andre’s fed their empty stomachs with rice and beans, but they also fed their empty souls.
And then Pere Walin said to me, “Pere Bowen, now… bless the chairs.” But I could not speak. I could not say a word because I was crying. I was crying because they had fed my empty soul too. They had picked me up and put me in a new, beautiful place. They were the church doing its best work. Despite the distractions of a difficult life that you and I cannot even imagine, they were the hands of Jesus. They were feeding His sheep… those five sick people … and they were feeding this priest – me, and they were feeding others in the congregation who watched this happen… and they were feeding many other people too, because I have told this story many times in the United States.
So, we learn from our Haitian brothers and sisters … we learn so much. They see with the eyes of the Good Samaritan… and they are not distracted by their hard, hard life circumstances … they do Kingdom work.
But, you know, we also learned from the broken people who were carried to those wheel chairs. The man in the ditch. The Bible is most extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably graces the people on the bottom, and not the people on the top. Examples? … like the rejected son, the barren woman, the sinner, the leper, the outsider, the man with no legs who scoots around Hinche on a piece of cardboard…. those are often the ones chosen by God.
If we do not watch carefully, we’ll miss seeing deeper meaning in little moments.
So, our Haitian brothers and sisters, draw people to Christ by often showing us a light that is so lovely that we want with all of their hearts to know the source of it. I need that reminder this week.
As Bishop Desmond Tutu once told us: “We are only the light bulbs, and our job is just to remain screwed in.” I think he could have been talking about them too. They seem to remain “screwed in.” And they can help us, the best of them help, help ME anyway – help us to remain screwed in too, even in the midst of the guns and shooting and retaliation and crazy election rhetoric of this awful week.
Too many metaphors, perhaps.
So, let’s stop here … or better yet, let’s begin here. Let’s go and do likewise.
- Our author friend and former prep school chaplain, Fred Buechner, said that in Wishful Thinking.
- Jim Kim, co-founder of Partners in Health, Haiti, at a Dartmouth College forum