October 9, 2016

Pentecost – Proper 23

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Psalm 66: 1-12; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17: 11-19


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

In less than one month, our nation will have elected its next president, and soon thereafter at St. Andrew’s we will begin praying for our next president by name.  Whether that name is Donald or Hillary, is for the conscience of our nation to decide.   I don’t know about you, but recently I have heard many passing comments ranging from “I don’t see how she can vote for Donald Trump!” to “Is he crazy voting for Hillary Clinton?”  If you are a supporter of one candidate, the supporters of the other candidate are outsiders to you.  They are the people you don’t want to talk to because you disagree with them politically , and you don’t understand how they could possibly vote in good conscience for whatever candidate is their preference.

This ridiculing of the other – the person who disagrees with you, the person who annoys you, frustrates you – well, it is as old, if not older than, the Bible.  Ten people afflicted with a horrible skin disease see Jesus from afar, and they beg him to heal them.  Jesus does, because his ministry is one of reaching out to the outcast, of reaching across political religious boundaries because he had no use for them.  And so he heals ten people who society ignored and kept at a distance.  Out of those ten who were given a new life, a life free of crippling illness, one returns to thank Jesus. 

The one who returns is a Samaritan – a foreigner, an outsider.  A Samaritan in Israel was a like a lone Clinton supporter at an enthusiastic Trump rally.  No one wanted to hear from them.  And so this former leper outcast who was on the wrong side of the religious fence, crosses it and approaches Jesus, gets down on his knees, and says “thank you.”  The only one. 

A year and a half ago, St. Andrew’s started a third service called “Rhythms of Grace,” a weekly eucharistically-centered service for special needs children and adults.   Why does St. Andrew’s offer such a service?  Because in our society, individuals with physical or mental special needs are often relegated to outsider status culturally.  We are the only Episcopal Church in this Diocese that offers such a service.  As Jesus reached out to lepers, we reach out in our context, to people whose needs for community and acceptance are greater than we can imagine.

When we began the service, initially we did not have a collection taken.  The reason for this was simple – as a myself a father of a child with special needs I know all too well the daily cost of care in terms of specialized education, therapies, medical care.  I write the checks – I know what it costs.  And so I didn’t want to burden families coming to this service with already so much baggage and financial burdens with the guilt of putting some dollars in a collection plate.  

But my thinking around this began to change once I heard a former priest of this Diocese and now Bishop elsewhere issue a challenging and provocative statement about the collection plate.  He said that he would never preside over a Eucharist if a collection was not taken.  When I first heard the Bishop say that, I thought it was an awful thing to say, in effect tying a dollar amount to a sacrament.  How tacky, I thought.  How insulting to a person who had nothing to put into a plate. 

But then he explained his point, which was that in the Eucharist, God offers all of Him/Her self to us.  It is grace, it is mercy at its most profound.  The appropriate response to such a gift, the Bishop said, was to offer ourselves to God, to put a part of us on that altar.  That’s why the collection plates stay on the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer.  We offer a part of our selves, as God is offered to us – it is a sharing of ourself with God’s self – it is why we call it “communion” – we and God commune together.

So we put out a small wicker basket (our collection plate) at Rhythms of Grace.  I will admit, I was scared and apprehensive to do it.  I was embarrassed for the parent of a non-verbal autistic teenager to feel burdened with the responsibility for paying more money on an already strained budget where every dollar is stretched.  

But something happened, and the basket began to fill with cash and check donations.  And not just one week, but every week.  The money continues to come in.  I think it is because for some of these families, Rhythms of Grace is their church community.  They drive many miles past many other churches to come here, because they are welcomed, affirmed, and loved. 

And then, a parent who attends the service with her child approached Lisa Puccio with a request.  The parent wanted to know when our stewardship campaign would be, because she wanted to make a pledge to St. Andrew’s.  I think that goes down as a personal record for the first time someone has ever asked about when the Stewardship Campaign begins!  Usually the question is “When is it going to be over with?”  Our stewardship campaign begins today, and ends October 30th.  Over the next few weeks, you will hear from parishioners sharing their story in service, on videos, and on inserts in your weekly service bulletin.

Each story is powerful, and is one part of the story that you all tell about what God is doing in this parish, in your home, and most importantly, what God is doing in your heart.  AMEN.