Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another Kind of Holy

Epiphany 7, February 20, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

This is reportedly a true story: It had snowed several inches. The family had two sons of middle-school age, just the right age to shovel snow. Dad, holding their allowance money hostage, assigned them to shovel the walk and the sidewalk—and threw in the driveway as a hopeful addition, one he didn't count on. He settled down to his paper. After an hour he decided to check on his boys. The walk was shoveled, and the sidewalk. The driveway was also crisscrossed with characteristic marks of their shovels. The boys were nowhere in sight. But he noticed that the sidewalk was shoveled down to the end of the block. Along the way he noticed the characteristic boot-print of one of the boys. They had apparently, shoveled the whole sidewalk, not just in front of their own house. As he went down the street, however, he noticed other peoples' walks and driveways were shoveled with the same characteristic crisscross marks of the shovels. At first he thought the boys were shoveling other peoples' walks to make a little extra spending money for the arcade at the mall, but then he noticed just whose drives were shoveled.

There was the elderly widow who had no kids of her own, but cared for her invalid nephew. There was the elderly couple who rarely got out. There were the neighbors on each side. At each house the work was done for someone special, or someone who could not do it themselves. At each house it was clear that the walk was shoveled right up to the door, but there was no indication that the boys had actually approached anyone in the house.

And so he waited, and soon they came home, bringing with them six of their friends. He made no indication that he had followed them or knew what they were doing, but he served them all hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls and gave his own boys their allowance money. As he did so one of the other boys gave him the card that they had left at each home: "Your walk has been shoveled by the Christmas Elves. There is no need to thank us. Just do something nice for someone else this week. Signed—The Elves”

From a human standpoint it is encouraging to see examples of altruism in such young men, we would hope for more of it in our world; in that hope is another hope hidden. We hope for another way of going about life itself, one in which kindness is the coin of the kingdom, rather than the selfishness that is so endemic to our economy. The early Christians were known in the pagan world for one thing above all others. They were known for their care for their own poor, and the poor in their communities. The Roman Emperor Julian in the 4th century noted that the success of the Christian movement (which he called "atheism" because it denied the Roman gods,) was its practical philanthropy. He writes in a letter,

“It is disgraceful that when no Jew ever has to beg, and when the impious Galileans (Christians) support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us!”

When we read about these kinds of things we hope for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The Bible calls this kind of living "holy." In today's Old Testament lesson Isaiah challenges the people and us. “Be holy for your God is holy,” and then he goes on to describe ways of being good to those around us, as if to say in no uncertain terms, that kindness is the way to be holy like God. In today's Epistle lesson Paul talks about keeping the temple holy, which is ourselves, not individually so much as collectively. It is in the different quality of the relationships between Christians that the world's "wisdom" is confounded by our holiness. Holiness is not a personal, but an interpersonal thing. Finally, in the Gospel lesson Jesus seems like he is really upping the ante on the Law. You have heard it said, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." This was part of Hammurabi’s code, and also in the Old Testament law. Jesus says that's not good enough. That's not holiness. Treating people as you would be treated is holiness, loving your enemy is holiness. Doing good to those who persecute you is holiness. It is a holy thing to let the economy of heaven, the coin of the kingdom, invade that of the earth and turn it all upside down, for otherwise, what do you offer the world that it doesn't already have? And to back it up he quotes from today's lesson from Isaiah.

The church in the world is where two economies clash. This coming March 5th the Mexican Consular offices in Austin will be here. They will provide consular services for Mexican nationals in this area who need them—passports, birth certificates, etc. The people who need these services are invisible people, hiding because their paperwork is not complete. They are a needy people. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) will be providing Porta-Potties and portable copiers for the needs of the day. We will be providing a hospitable place where these people who live in fear can get help, and we will provide some shelter from the sun as they wait outside to be seen.

And we will feed them. Some of our people are going to local restaurants asking for donations of food. Olive Garden is donating two big pots of spaghetti. Another place is donating large pizzas. Others will provide paper plates and glasses.

The economy of the world is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It seems to be the only way the world can keep the strong from oppressing the weak, the rich from stealing from the poor. It is a zero-balance justice in which everyone loses something so that everyone can have something. God's economy, on the other hand, is that of generous self-giving. It invites us to a transformed and transforming way of living that only the Holy Spirit can empower, in which we live out our relationship with the Father by living that same generous giving heart out with one another and the world. Be holy, then, as your Father in heaven is holy.

No comments: